by Aarushi Agni
The corner of Gorham and Bassett is known for being a hub of student living. On game days it is not uncommon to catch students wearing all red, jovially jaunting in the direction of Camp Randall or the nearest sports bar.
Here, “Madistan” (pronounced mad-is-th-ah-n), a Mediterranean/Pakistani/Halal restaurant, has made its unlikely home between Domino’s and the Bassett Street Brunch Club.
But for the large contingent of nearby residents of South Asian, Muslim and Middle Eastern descent, the need for delicious homestyle food has been almost ever-present. Being Indian ourselves, spoiled by nearby parents, my brother and I made it top priority to visit Madistan.
There was a general buzz of excitement as I traveled with my brother and friends to try out Madistan for the first time. As soon as we entered the restaurant, we greeted people we knew, other South Asians, who were trying out the restaurant for the first time.
Excitedly, we encountered the menu– a blend of South Asian, Lebanese, and American food composed by the kitchens of the Shaikh family. We ordered to our heart’s content.
The aloo mattar special, a traditionally South Asian blend of tomatoes, potatoes and peas over rice tasted just like my mother would have made it, while the Chicken Tikka roll was a delicious variation on a familiar theme with spiced chicken meat and pickled vegetables.
“The food here is very homestyle,” said Prateek Sharma, a customer of Indian descent, in reference to his aloo mattar. “And it tastes very fresh.”
Other menu items include chicken shawarma, falafel sandwiches, samosas, and gyros.
Owners Amin and Naheed Shaikh were thinking mainly of their two college-aged children when they started the restaurant. Amin Shaikh, who has run several businesses in his hometown of Milton, WI, explained that he wanted to create a haven for students who needed cheap, healthy Halal and vegetarian options.
“Lebanese food is considered the best food in the Middle East as far as taste,” said Amin Shaikh. “That’s what we’re trying to do with the shawarma. And the best restaurants in New York use halal meat because it is considered better. So we wanted to offer that,” he said.
Shaikh mentioned that the spring rolls, samosas, and vegetarian specials also cater to the many Hindu vegetarians. Naheed Shaikh, Amin’s wife, is responsible for cooking the Pakistani food, including samosas.
“It’s a good feeling– we had a kid come in and tell me that he called his mom right after eating, to tell her he was no longer missing her food,” said Amin Shaikh, laughing. “So those little things about running a restaurant feel good.”
The name, Madistan, evokes several different feelings as a customer. When naming the restaurant, Shaikh said he meant to combine the sounds of the words of Mediteranean and Pakistan. Madistan is a portmanteau of Medi- and -stan. But since Madison is the city we’re in, it’s “Mad-istan,” said Shaikh.
“It’s a great help having kids here. Amna [my daughter] is a big help, and my son is a big help, and my wife comes in the morning…we live 40 minutes away,” said Shaikh.
Shaikh sat down with me to answer some questions during his shift. While we conducted the interview, he occasionally paused to give instructions to his daughter, Amna, while she worked in the kitchen. I overheard him telling his daughter Amna to take the tea from the kettle in Urdu.
“Do you speak Hindi?” asked Shaikh, seeing the understanding on my face. I replied that I did, somewhat. Urdu and Hindi are sister languages.
“Hindi and Urdu are very similar,” Shaikh agreed. “That’s one thing that keeps India and Pakistan together. Language keeps people together.”
Language — and good food.