November 27, 2023
When you step into the Al Aqsa Restaurant in Parkchester, Bronx — named after the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam in East Jerusalem, Palestine — you are likely to hear “Asalam walaikum” and “Alhamdulilah!” Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammed ascended to the Heavens at the site of Al-Aqsa, a night known as Al-Isra’ Wal-Mi’Raj.
But don’t come to the restaurant looking for Palestinian food. What you’ll find instead is biryanis, fish curries, kebabs, and bhortas (one of the owners’ favorites is shutki bhorta). Two Bangladeshi Americans founded the restaurant in 2007. “All kinds of people come to my restaurant, not only Bangladeshis,” Mohammed “Zakir” Hasnat said. He said they named the restaurant Al-Aqsa because of the site’s significance to Muslims.
Though Bengalis and Palestinians may appear to share little on the surface, most Bangladeshis will tell you that the Palestinian cause for self-determination is one with which they strongly identify. And so, a restaurant with such a name in this largely Bangladeshi immigrant community is perfectly fitting.