Bangladeshi food ahoy!
The metropolis of Dhaka. Come morning, light dribbles down the flanks of the high-rise edifices, calling out to people for another day of sweat-inducing workaholism. There are reports to turn in, meetings to attend and very importantly, business deals to be closed over lunch. Be it meals for corporate figureheads or some cozy weekend family eat-out, there is no lack of eateries with the international tinge. Restaurants dish out Lebanese, Italian, South Indian, Korean and what not. But this Boishakh, we want to bring back to you the art of Bangladeshi food, and the restaurant to show us just that is Kasturi.
Established in 1980, Kasturi has become somewhat a legend. Ask a connoisseur of food about where to find the best Bangladeshi food and this is the place he would invariably recommend.
Tucked in a corner of Purana Paltan, the shop has a history to showcase. In 1980, Kasturi commenced business on a very small scale. Kawsar Ahmed, one of the founders, learned the preliminaries from his cousin, the Late Ali Ahmed. “There were only 10-12 seats, I remember,” he says, “We used to do everything on our own: the groceries, the cooking, the serving, everything. Gradually, people started coming in. Initially, we served rich food like 'morog polao'. Paltan, being a centre for businesses and offices, a large part of our clientele were office employees looking for some homely lunch. We started by sharing whatever we ate with them. Soon enough, more and more people were coming in. As a result, we started catering homely Bangladeshi food.” Then came in Iqbal Ahmed Khokon and Ali Ahmed's eldest son, Khan Mohammad Imtiaz, to further boost the venture.
One of the most endearing things about Kasturi is its hospitality. Over and over again, it emphasises the importance of making people feel at home. The staff is friendly and the ambience is not overly flashy. “We make sure that customers are served to our best standards,” says Kawsar Ahmed, “We keep in mind what they like in terms of food and what they do not. I believe that is the reason people want to come to Kasturi again and again. Most become very loyal customers, and we get on really friendly terms.”
The menu consists of a range of bhortas (shrimp, hilsha, taaki, eggplant, potato, etc.) and bhajis. There are also vegetable dishes, fish, chicken and beef curries. The preparations are exclusive- deep-fry, dopiaji, bhuna, etc. And of course, there is the chitol kebab Kasturi has been known all these years for.
Interestingly, even now, Kawsar Ahmed does the ingredient shopping himself. He picks out the best fishes, meats and vegetables in order to ensure quality. “We do not want to become commercial. That is not our objective,” he says, “We plan to make sure that we stick to the factor that brought us this popularity in the first place- homeliness. The customers are entitled to the same standards that we had in the 1980s.”
Furthermore, Kasturi is often flocked by foreigners. The restaurant has also opened many eyes; those who thought Bangladeshi food was synonymous to Indian food are surely reformulating their views.
While it generally adheres to simple homely items, Kasturi takes orders for special occasions and parties. It can cater heavy food like polao, khichuri, biriyani, rezala, kebab, jorda, firni and borhani.
An interesting point to note, despite its popularity, Kasturi has no other branches. For the past thirty seven years, the shop has stubbornly stayed in Paltan. The reason? “As we have mentioned before, we do not believe in commercialism. Branching out would make it difficult for us to hold on to the homliness of it all- operating on a larger scale would mean forgoing a lot of things, for instance, we cannot go to the bazaar ourselves. This, in turn, could affect the quality of food.
“But yes, we have been offered a franchise in Gulshan. With wider expertise, we can now ensure that we maintain the same quality of food.”
So make a point to drop by, and revel in the style of food Kasturi has to offer. Bangla power!
By Shahmuddin Ahmed Siddiky