Interview: Mamun Hassan, Curry House Owner

The winner of our Best Curry in Prague poll on life, business, and Indian cuisine in the Czech Republic

Eva Samšuková

Written by Eva Samšuková Published on 10.07.2014 14:45:45 (updated on 10.07.2014) Reading time: 5 minutes

Mamun Hassan opened Curry House in Prague’s Palmovka neighborhood a few years ago. Originally fom Dhaka, Bangladesh, Mamun first visited the Czech Republic in 1990 and fell in love with Prague immediately. Joining the gastro business as a chef in 1994 and opening an Indian-Bangladeshi restaurant later was a natural decision for him even though it meant living apart from his family, who stayed in Dhaka, for many years. Now he and his wife live in Prague, running the family business and taking care after their 2-year-old daughter.

What was behind your decision to move to Prague?
Some of my friends studied here and I came to visit them for a week. I fell in love with the culture and the people and in the end I stayed for 3 months. I came back in 1994 to become a chef. At that time, there was only one Indian restaurant in Prague, Mayur.

Had you always been in the hospitality industry before opening your own place?
Before that, I was in England for 10 months in 1990 where my uncle had a restaurant business. I caught a little bit from him, which was good for me. But my father in Bangladesh had a construction business. 

At that time, did your family follow you to Prague?
My whole family supports me in everything I do. My son was 8 months when my wife moved here in 1995, but I sent them home after awhile. It was a really a hard decision. Now my grown son will go to university in September and I have a small 2-year-old-daughter. After 17 years! She was born here.

Interview: Mamun Hassan, Curry House Owner

What was the biggest challenge you faced when opening Curry House?
Earlier, Czechs didn’t like Indian cuisine very much. Everybody just thought Indian food is spicy or palivy. Slowly we tried to explain and show them, that we have something sweet, something mild, something grilled. Also, not many people were able to speak English at that time and we didn’t speak much Czech either so the language barrier was hard. But I never wanted to give up.

Do you think Indian cuisine has become more popular recently?
Yes, of course. In 1994 there were only two Indian restaurants, in 1997 there were three, in 2001 five places, in 2005 eight or nine venues and later more and more take-aways and restaurants. Now, you can’t even count them. Maybe in the next two years we will have 70!

What is it like to run an Indian restaurant in Prague?
For me it is like art in the kitchen. I like to talk to my customers, ask how they feel about everything, and I always learn something new from them. I like to try something new and I follow what my customers want and make sure they get it. That is the key I think.

Interview: Mamun Hassan, Curry House Owner

Is the Indian community here a close-knit one?
I think there are around 400-500 Indians or Bangladeshis living here. In every community, there are some competitors and jealous people. But people who run other Indian restaurants in Prague are real businessmen. Last year, we sat in one of the restaurants and talked about how we can improve.

What exactly do you find most interesting about living in Prague?
Freedom. Also, Czechs are getting more familiar with foreigners living here. Czechs like our culture, because we are trying to offer our best to them. In Bangladesh you can’t do whatever you like for political, religious, or family reasons. Everything is under control. Here, if you’re good, no one disturbs you.

Are there any similarities between Czech and Indian cultures?
The hospitality of people is the same. Czechs are really friendly and honest, exactly like us. 

What do you think is behind your “Best Curry in Prague” win? What distinguishes you?
How we behave towards our customers. Everytime a new customer comes, we ask What do you like? If you like it spicy, tell us how spicy. Because we have 1-6 chilies. When someone requests extremely spicy, I say: Ok, let’s try 3 chilies and if you can eat it, next time you can try 4 or 5. Ninety percent of my customers are regulars and I know what they like. You usually don’t experience such an approach in other restaurants. 

Interview: Mamun Hassan, Curry House Owner

Are there differences in local dining customs? In India you eat with your hands, for instance.
Yes, that’s right! At home, we always use our hands. I believe that the hand is the most natural and best tool if you want to really enjoy your food. Sometimes some customers ask me if they can use their hands. Of course they can! I have a lot of Czech friends I invite from time to time and we all eat with our hands.

How do you choose what’s on your menu?  
Myself, my wife, and my nephew who is also a chef, discuss what we want to have on the menu. We taste the food and discuss how to make it better and when we like it, we say: Put it on the menu. Everybody makes Butter Chicken, but you can never have it like we do it. We also try to keep it traditional. Most of our recipes come from Dhaka, Bangladesh and we [get inspiration] from the Indian community living in England.

Did you have to adjust some of your dishes to the local palate? 
No, never. We make every meal on spot so we can ask people what they want it to be like. We always ask everybody what they expect.

Interview: Mamun Hassan, Curry House Owner

Do you ever act as chef at Curry House? Can we have a meal prepared by you?
Sometimes I have parties here for my friends and I cook for them, but I teach all my chefs how to cook our recipes the right way so it is similar when they cook and not me!

Where do you shop for ingredients in Prague?
It’s very hard. Earlier we [got our] supply from England, now we travel to Berlin or Frankfurt to get the best ingredients. There are some shops in Prague like Capatior Shalamar, but still it is better to go abroad.

Having been selected the best Indian restaurant in Prague, what are your future plans?
I would like to open a really nice and luxurious restaurant a little bit [more upscale] than this one. Maybe next year or in two years. I also plan to open an Indian-European restaurant in Dhaka. I think a similar approach will be successful there, too: If you do it the best, you can make it the best!

Have you tried Curry House yet? What were your favorite dishes?

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