A Bangladeshi ‘Living Room’ in the Bronx

Mohammed "Khokon" Rahman hosts a World Cup viewing at his restaurant in Parkchester. (Photograph by Chris Crowley)

Mohammed “Khokon” Rahman hosts a World Cup viewing at his Parkchester restaurant (Photo by Chris Crowley via Real Cheap Eats)

If you want to taste authentic Bangladeshi food, and see a glimpse of its culture and community activism in the Bronx, Neerob restaurant may be the place to visit. Located in the commercial center of the borough’s Bangladeshi community on Starling Avenue in Parkchester, Neerob has served as the community’s unofficial center of activities since its opening, says Chris Crowley in a profile published in the New York food guide, Real Cheap Eats.

The community’s population in the borough has more than tripled to approximately 8,623 in 1,468 households since 1990 when the borough registered just 582 residents of Bangladeshi origin. The growth of the community in the Bronx is attributed to rising rents in Brooklyn and Queens, which remain home to a larger Bangladeshi population.

For Mohammed “Khokon” Rahman, who opened Neerob around 2009 after emigrating from Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, the restaurant is “simply the city’s best introduction to Bangladeshi cooking.”

Neerob, like Parkchester itself, is a place where people come to start a new life. Newly arriving immigrants, often with little money in their pockets and no English language skills to speak of, often find themselves directed to Rahman. He helps them find jobs and, through his real estate connections, homes.

Rahman says he opened the restaurant because of the growing need in the community for it.

“I started the Bronx Bangla School [an after-school program] because the children’s parents couldn’t speak English, and they needed help with their homework,” Rahman explains.

“I do real estate, as you know. I always meet the people, I ask, ‘What do you need in the community? What do you lack?’ I figure out, the only thing they lack is a good restaurant. I saw a need.”

The restaurant has over the years served as one of the most frequently-used business addresses by people from pretty much all walks of life for community gatherings, social activism and even educational purposes.

Drop by Neerob on any given afternoon and you’ll find a glut of local leaders eating bhartas, sipping milk tea and chatting. One summer afternoon in 2012, the restaurant functioned as a makeshift office for local men gathering to demonstrate in support of Bangladesh’s war crimes tribunals. More recently, it has played host to dozens of raucous soccer fans during World Cup games.

(Photo by James Boo, Real Cheap Eats)

(Photo by James Boo via Real Cheap Eats)

Michael Max Knobbe, executive director of Bronxnet, is one of many who have benefited from the restaurant serving as a community hub. It was his introduction to Mohammed Chowdhury, president of the Bangladeshi Society of the Bronx, during a casual meeting in Neerob that led to the possibility of producing television programs that are made for and by Bangladeshis of New York.

New York-based photojournalist Nabil Rahman (no relation) also received support from Neerob and its owner while raising funds for his photo exhibition “Eyes on Bangladesh.”

Besides looking after his family and other businesses, Rahman spends his spare time in conversations with like-minded community leaders and activists, including Abdus Shabur, his brother-in-law, former doctor and current president of the Bronx United Bangladeshi Club.

“This restaurant, yes, is like a living room,” Shabur says. “We feel together here. This is our community restaurant. We are here until 3:00 a.m., gossiping, enjoying ourselves, feeling that it is a Bangladeshi environment inside the restaurant. There are a lot of white people, black people, Hispanic people that are coming to have this food. We feel proud of it. We feel really proud of it.”

Visit Real Cheap Eats to read more about the growth of the Bangladeshi community in the Bronx.

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