Combining Cultures – Mahfuzul Islam

Hear from Mahfuzul Islam, the CEO of Jhal NYC, a social venture that helps empower Bengali culture, through employing stay at home mothers and new immigrants and prepare them for paths they seek to transition to, thus creating a community for these marginalized groups.

 

Tell us how the journey of Jhal NYC began.

Jhal began on a whim. My cousin Alvi and I went to the Queens Night Market, which is like a mela with food from all over the world, because we’ve always had a deep affinity towards food. It was the first of its kind for Queens, and we were very excited that something like this existed in our borough. We decided we wanted to join and serve jhal muri and fuchka because those are foods that are prominent specifically in Bengali culture that most Americans are not familiar with. We wanted to expose Americans to Bengali culture, so we made sure to use items that would spark conversation; our table cloth was our grandmother’s Nokshi Kantha, we kept our ingredients in containers made of clay, and we had a lantern brought from a village in Bangladesh. The excitement that we got from being ambassadors to Bengali culture is what began our journey of creating Jhal NYC.

 

So what was the biggest challenge in combining the experience of living in New York while tasting classic Bengali cuisines? 

Combining living in New York to Bengali culture was actually the most satisfying aspect of Jhal NYC. Jhal NYC is an embodiment of everything that we were interested in, and everything that made us who we are. 

Do you have any plans of expanding the edge beyond NYC?

We’ve already had events New Jersey and in Rhode Island. We have a team in Toronto that we’re excited to lead the Bengali-Canadian community. We hope to have an event in California this summer. There have been Bengalis’ that have reached out to us as far as the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Australia. With Jhal we hope to unite the diaspora wherever they are in the world, and build a connection to Bangladesh that has never happened before. 

 

Do you have any message for young entrepreneurs in Bangladesh, especially the ones who might be looking forward to initiate something in NYC?

Connect with Jhal NYC! We have been trying to build projects in Bangladesh for some time now. In terms of initiating something in NYC a good place to start would be to concentrate on connecting with the Bengali-New York community, and seeing what kind of issues parallel back in Bangladesh. I think people in Bangladesh would be surprised to know that there are struggles that working class Bengalis have in New York that well to do Bangladeshi’s in Dhaka can implement on and provide resources for. 

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