Why do I travel? Why do I click? Is it to see new places and meet new people?
Yes, it is.
But the complete list would be: to see new places, to meet new people and to eat the food they eat.
Yes, Food, is a Big reason for my travels. Wherever I travel to, the local food is a “Must try” Action item for me. My Travels in Bangladesh have been no exception.
Bangladesh is an extremely fertile country. Fertile lands and benevolent rivers produce plenty of crops with little effort. Bangladeshis are thus a race of foodies. They love their food – the Traditional as well as the new are received with open arms.
Bangladesh in general, and Dhaka in particular has been through various phases of history and nowhere is this influence more pronounced than in the food. From the little lanes of Old Dhaka, rises the waft of world famous Kacchi Biriyanis and Mutton Teharis, reminding you of those days when the Mughals ruled from Kashmir in the North to Deccan in the South and Gujarat in the west to Bengal in the East. Even though Mughal food is very popular here, Bengalis have retained a deep love and affection for their traditional food.
The street corner Bangla Hotels will greet you with mouth watering Sorshe Ilish (Hilsa with Mustard) and Golda Chingri (Lobsters). Bengalis cannot survive without their Mishti (Sweets). Countless sweet shops across the length and breadth of Bangladesh will regale you with Umpteen varities of sweets like Tangail Chom chom, Pitha and Bogurar Mishti Doi to mention just a few. What say Mates, want to join me on a guided culinary tour ?
However, just a word of caution, for those are looking out for detailed recipes, I apologize. I am a foodie, I dig into my food from the word “Go”, I finish clean, burrp, but I never bother to know how it was prepared. Sorry about that, but you will have to put up with it. Also, I wont be able to provide you detailed travel directions to our Culinary Travel spots, I will leave the research for details upto you. Apart from inconveniencing you on these two counts, let the fun begin, Bon Apetit!!
Our Journey starts at Dhaka, the capital of this country.
Dhaka has a very syncretic culture, the Mughal influences jostle alongside the Traditional Bengali influence, our food travails start with a little eatery serving some of the best Mutton Teharis in Dhaka. Haji Biriyani is thus our first must-visit spot in Dhaka. Though the main Branch is situated at “Old Dhaka” , the one most easily accessible on a weekday is located at the main entrance of Basundhara Residential layout.
This small eatery has a no-frills service. You have only one menu to choose from, Mutton Tehari. A Tehari preparation is very much like a traditional Pakki Biriyani (Oops , coming to it later), the only difference being that the meat is cooked as small pieces.
Haji has perfected the art of cooking Mutton Tehari, the succulent pieces of meat will just melt in your mouth. At any time of the day(Service starts from 1.00 PM and continues till 7.00 PM), you will find a stream of busy-bodies, office executives, school/college goers, Grameenphone employees (Grameenphone, the country’s leading Telecom operator, has its Headquarters very near Haji Biriyani, now this is called a benevolent employer). The Huge cauldrons of Haji Biriyani are always full, order your food, and within 10 minutes, your plate is at your table, and you start digging into it right away.
Think of Mughal food, And Can the king of Mughlai, Biriyani be left out ? Dhaka specializes in the two main brands of Biriyani, the Kacchi as well as the Pakki. Ardent Biriyani lovers probably know the difference, for the uninitiated, here is a small writeup. Kacchi Biriyani is cooked with the raw meat, the Rice , spices all put in a big Metal cauldron (Copper/Steel), the mouth of the vessel is then sealed with wheat gum, and the meat cooked in Dum style – with the pressure that is built inside the vessel.On, the other hand, for Pakki Biriyani the meat and rice is cooked separately , herbs and spices are added, finally the two are mixed and served.
There is another place which has become famed over the years for its delectable Teharis and Biriyanis. “Shaad Tehari Ghar”, located at Lalmatia, Dhanmondi, is manned by a woman only staff. This cozy little place serves lip smacking food. The owner , a pretty woman, greets you warmly, a petite young lady takes your orders, and soon steaming hot, fresh food will arrive from the all lady-chef kitchen.
The most famous and easily available Biryani eatery would definitely be Fakruddin’s . With an army of Franchisees, you can spot Fakruddin’s Biriyani at most popular Dhaka locales. Fakruddin’s Kacchi Biriyani is its signature dish, for Biryani afficandos on a short trip to Dhaka with little time to spare, I would recommend this place. Over the years Fakruddin has gone global, farnchises have sprung up in Dubai and Singapore. Old timers rue this globalization of Fakruddin, saying that globalization has degraded it. However, go ahead and have a try, I am sure you wont be disappointed.
Most of us staying in this subcontinent are aware about Khichdi, the quintessential Rice and Lentils dish mostly reserved for Rainy days. Bangladesh has a different variant of it, and its called Bhuni Khichdi. Unlike the mostly semi-solid gold that the Indian Kitchens dish out, Bhuni Khichdi is dry and cooked with Meat and lots of spices.
Also conspicuous by its absence is the sumptuous Potato that is customary in the traditional Khicdi. If you are in Dhaka, and want to sample it, then head to a small eatery called “Dhanshiri”. Try out the outlet at Gulshan 2 Circle. The Bhuni Khichdi is served in a copper utensil, placed on a Burning flame. On a cold day, with the blue luminescent fire burning under the vessel, the khichdi seems to be even tastier.
Now that we have gorged on heavenly Mughlai delicacies, lets salivate for earthy Bengal food- “Bangla Khabar”, as the locals call it. Bengalis are famous for their preparation of fish, fish in any form, fried, baked or steamed. But that’s only one side of the coin, Bengalis can cook a wide variety of delectable greens as well. So lets turn our steps towards all that “Sonar Bangla” has to offer.
We will go to a small eatery in Old Dhaka called “Nirob” or “Silence”. Located at Nizamuddin Road, it is very popular with the local people. The name of this place probably comes from the fact that once the food is served , its variety and taste makes the chattiest guest “Silent”. The USP of this hotel is that it offers around 19 different eatables in small plates to the guest.
The guest pays for only those items which he/she eats. The items are unique, many of these are not cooked in many Bangladeshi households any more. There are “Vortas” or vegetable stuffing of different kinds. Sample a few :- Fish, Prawns, Egg Plant Preparation, Banana Stuffing, Fish eggs stuffing, Lentil stuffings, leafy greens, Sweet Tomato Chatney. After such a heavy meal, you will probably end up paying only a meager Taka.600 or around USD 8 only. Here at Nirob, you can also order “ilish Mach” or Hilsa fish. Sorshe Ilish, or Hilsa cooked with Mustard is something, you should definitely try.
All this while we have focused mainly on Nov-Vegetarian food, vegans don’t get disheartened, though less in number, but there are great places for you as well. Lets travel to Tangail, a small town around forty kilometers from Dhaka and famed for its weavers who produce the Famous “Tangail Sarees”. “Shri Radha Govinda Bhojonalya”, a small Eatery, located beside the Tanagail Kali Temple, serves pure Vegetarian Vaishnav food. This eatery doesn’t use even Onions or garlic to prepare food. However the food is simply out-of-this-world. You need to be here to believe how a small eatery can serve such clean, fresh and piping hot food.
At a very very reasonable rate(The most expensive dish here costs only BDT. 15), you get to eat 3-4 different types of vegetable preparation; some of these preparations are rarely prepared even at Hindu homes nowadays. The best part of the meal is the customary desert, a different sweet preparation each day.
Now that we had enough of the main course, what about Desserts?? You are at Bangladesh, and how can you miss out sweets? Since we finished the lunch at Tangail, lets linger on a bit more, and savor Tangail Chomchom. Chomchom, a sweetmeat prepared with flour, sugar and milk is very popular throughout the Indian Subcontinent. The story goes that at a small village near Tangail town, there was a sweet-maker who stayed at a Burnt-House, colloquially called Porabari in Bangla.
The sweet maker used to prepare the traditional Chamcham, but with a twist; he used to mix the sweet water of the Dhaleshwari river, a tributary of the River Jamuna. The twist in the taste produced the Famous “Porabari Chom Chom” Brand. Nowadays, every nook and corner of Bangladesh has a cheap imitation of the original, all calling themselves “Authentic Porabarir Chomchom”. Try out Chomchom at a famous sweetshop called Gour Ghosh . The sheer Terracotta texture of the sweet will unsettle the biggest health freak. It comes in various sizes, there have been chomchoms weighing uptill 1 Kilo.
And the sheer taste of the sweet, as I write this bit, I cant help control salt water from running down my tongue . For a day forget all your inhibitions, eat loads of it, feed your companions(if U have gone in a group) and carry back tonnes of it for your friends and relatives, know for sure it will be the shortest and easiest route to their hearts. Also try out the Rosomalai, Mishti Doi(Sweet Curd) and Gulabjamun as well, it will add on to your “sweet “ memories.
Bangladesh is also famous for a different variety of sweet called “Pitha”. Towards the end of winter, with the advent of Sankranti (Winter Solstice), rural households prepare sweets made of Rice powder. The ingredients can be different, but rice powder is a must in “Pitha”. One of the most popular Pitha during this season is “Khejur Rosh Pitha”, or Rice sweets soaked in boiled syrup of date-palm. Date Palm juice is usually collected throughout the night in earthen pitchers hoisted on palm trees.
In the morning, when the Pitchers get filled with the Copper coloured Liquid, rice is finely ground and turned into various shapes using a mould. These Variously shaped rice moulds are now boiled along with the date-palm syrup till these moulds soak in the syrup and ingrains it. If you are fortunate, and get invite from a rural home, then, cross the many rivers that you need to cross, take the flatbed vans that you need to ride and reach the distant village home just for this sublime savoury. But for those, who are not so lucky, here’s a easy way out for you, try “Baily Pitha Ghor”, a sweet shop which specializes in Pitha. Although it has got branches in various localities of Dhaka, I am acquainted with the one at Basundhara residential enclave.
Burrrppp!!! Now that we had a heavy lunch and a equally sweet dessert, its Time for High T folks. What sort of Tea are you fond of? Raw Liqueur or Tea with Milk? We are going to have a totally different out-of-this world Tea. But, for this, we must travel to the northern end of this country, to the hilly T-Growing district of Sylhet. Around 200 Kms from Dhaka, Sylhet has Air/Bus as well as Railway connectivity from Dhaka. Bordering the Indian state of Assam , Sylhet has long been famed for its globetrotting enterpreunial citizenry (who think Sylhet is a Different country altogether) and its Tea. No wonder that this place should earn distinction by innovating with Tea.
Nilkantha’s Tea Cabin ; has become a Brand name in itself, and believe it or not, a major tourist attraction. It has been featured in the lonely planet as the “Top 5 things to do in Sylhet”. Its USP is the unique 5 layer Tea which it prepares. A treat to the senses – The eyes atleast (Many People feel that the Tea is too sweet to taste) . When the gentleman called Nilkantha opened his small T-Shop at Sreemangal district of Sylhet, and had a Brainwave to create Tea which would five different components, each distinguished by five different distinct layers, little did he know that he would become a culinary celebrity. But here he is today, the recipe of his Tea being as secret and confidential as “Coca-Cola” Formula. However, Nilkantha and his family hasn’t stowed it away in Swiss Bank Vaults.
They have a unique way of maintaining it though, While the tea is being prepared, nobody is allowed to witness it except the family members, thus ensuring that the recipe passes on from Generation to Generation. Recently, many clones of this famous T has sprung up, we witnessed a small “Tea-Cabin ” selling 7 layered Tea inside the Famous Lavachara National Park at Sreemangal. Try it put for yourself, and come back with your own review of the Tea.
As the day comes to an end, and the sun sets, we find that the Road has taken us Far and wide in search of Food. We have savoured a lot, but a lot is still left to be savoured. It is evening, and its time to relax with Friends. Sitting at a small cozy café called “Bitter Sweet” at Gulshan-2 , Dhaka, chatting with friends over a cup of Hot Cofee, you will realize that the Journey is far from over. The Road will keep beckoning you, after all there is much to be tasted.
The Road to Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar Beckons. Along with the smell and sights of the ocean, Shutki Mach or Dried Fish cooked with sacks of red chilly and spices will do all that it takes to rejuvenate you (Not for the weak Hearted Though). Coomilla with its famous sweet Roshomalai awaits you as well. The World Heritage site of “Sunderbans” has invited you to salute the King of the Jungle and taste the Divine Honey that it offers. Barishal asks you to visit her and taste fresh water fish that her numerous rivers offer. What say Mates, Let us get back on the Road for Food?