Shuvo shokal from colourful Dhaka,
Special Foodie Edition
It’s been no surprise to either of us to discover the fact that Bangladeshis take their food seriously. Shortages of said substances usually do wonders in galvanising the thoughts on the subject, eh what? But, most people here are not starving. Not even the stray cats and dogs are emaciated.
Most of the sub-continent is lacking a middle class who worry overly about the culinary experience but like their Indian counterparts they concern themselves with ensuring that the occasion is celebrated in some way. Whilst not generally characterised as a fine dining experience, there is a genuinely broad offering and much of it with a peculiarly Bangladeshi flavour (pardon the pun). In the six weeks we’ve been here, we’ve tasted some sumptuous food and dined in quite a variety of restaurants as well as tasted the ubiquitous street food.
At restaurants the wait staff hover just a little bit too close but their proximity is borne of a genuine desire to help one enjoy the meal. The cooks and chefs are invariably proud of their craft and grateful for any positive feedback (and always eager to share such acknowledgement with their confreres). At school the vast team of cooks and chefs are very proud of their work. One chef – Amale – is known for his sculptures of fruit and vegetables.
Street food is cooked, sold and eaten on the spot. In fact, it’s certain true that some locals eat nothing else. Among the hand-held delicacies are shingaras, a bit like small vegetable somosas. Fuchkas are the most revered local delicacy but neither Linda nor I have quite developed a taste for these yet.
Perhaps the outstanding feature of the local cuisine is the sweets. Linda has become very partial to these. There’s a wide variety with many different names but suffice to relate, they are very agreeable.
Last week we were able to sample a locally-made beer (!?!). It’s called Hunter (?). It was good enough for yours truly to have a second but probably should be taken in moderation. It reminded me somewhat of Johnson’s famous dog which walked on its hind legs: It’s not so much a surprise to see it done badly, but a bigger surprise to see it done at all.
dining out in Dhaka
This is the land of lateral thinking when it comes to food. Restaurants sometimes occupy several floors of the same building. It’s not uncommon to be seated at a restaurant only to have a number of dishes brought to the table on the expectation that you will send away what you don’t want. Or take the example at a local Bangla restaurant (curiously named Mag Pai). We sat down as a group of four, asked vaguely for chicken, lamb and rice – with no other detail – and awaited dishes resembling same. (They were delicious.) The lateral thinking is a pleasant new dimension to dining out. (Remember, the author of that experimental chain ‘Lentil as Anything’ in Melbourne is a Bangladeshi national.) Here they are not prone to the tawdry gimmickry we see so often in the west.
Everything here is reduced to the fundamentals, without it acting as a re-fuelling station for the humans. It’s refreshing to note that the reverence for the occasion has not transmogrified into the pretentiousness of the foodie sub-culture so well-known to us all. Needless to say, we are enjoying every morsel.
Sorry foodies, no recipes, and no, “Oh, what have you done with the sauce?” moments. This is as foodie as I get!
khoda hafez from Dhaka