the journey continues…
WITH Pohela Boishakh only a week away, the foodies around town are gearing up to celebrate our culture and everything Bangladeshi...our way. Any Bangladeshi would say that one of the best things about our culture is the food, be it the simple pleasure of dal bhaat, the addictive lure of the ilish, or the unadulterated delight of biryani. Our quest to (re)discover the delights of our cuisine, took us all over Dhaka, which is dotted with restaurants satisfying this very demand. The following is a list of the top five places which we think are best to sample deshi delicacies.
Close to home
When was the last time you dined at the neighbourhood eatery? In all probability it was quite some time ago. Go to a restaurant (read bhater hotel) and chances are plenty surprises await you! Surely the ambiance is the first thing that will draw your attention. Competing in the competitive market, the eateries have under gone a face lift. The tiled floor, newly painted walls, sometimes the large glasses adorning the walls may all seem new to you.
And of course there are some dining joints that haven't changed in the last few decades-the familiar surroundings, the same food, the seemingly unhygienic kitchen and serving utensils.
Price hike has brought in changes in the menu as well. Say for instance the ubiquitous 'lotpoti'. Made from chicken 'spare parts' (read wings, legs, head and liver), as one my friends used to say, it is possibly the best breakfast option outside your home. These days, the 'lotpoti' has been replaced by koliji (liver). Foodies' don't complain as it is equally savoury and certainly a delicacy of Dhaka.
The mixed vegetable, however, is still there; a staple for many who are regulars at the neighbourhood restaurants. The non-vegetarian dishes are often taxing on the stomach, and hence, never a staple.
This happened at a hotel in Komolapur a few days ago. Friends were having breakfast after a night of sleepless 'Oscar fever'. Upon enquiring about the menu, the bearded waiter replied nonchalantly, 'koligi, dim mumlet, shobji, gosh, dal, porota, soup'.
“Soup”…now that's something you don't expect to have at a bhater hotel. “Chicken Soup” he replied upon our query.
We ordered one of everything- the sleepless night had made us all hungry and we were always a voracious lot. And believe me the Soup was simply out of this world. Actually a broth cooked in low heat overnight, the chicken softened to state where the meat and bones had become inseparable.
And of course, there was the porota. Fried in as little oil as possible, it goes well with almost everything the way-side joints serve.
In our list of eateries that you should visit this Pohela Boiskhakh, the Neighbourhood Eatery is number five!
Quenching the thirst
Chowk Bazar, Old Dhaka is synonymous to good iftar dishes in the month of Ramadan. Few, however are aware of Nooranie Soft Drinks, a year-long attraction that has been a traditional treat of old Dhakaiites.
One can only believe the above upon seeing the demand of the drinks served at Nooranie. With only three variants served at the bar, they make sure that no one can drink just one! A second helping is a must.
The recipe behind their success is of course a secret and possibly lies in the making of the yoghurt, hand-blended into a glass of lassi in front of the customers. One can only guess on the ingredients used - yoghurt, sugar, rose-water, a pinch of salt. This however is left completely to speculation.
Their lemon juice is also a foodie's delight. Lemon green in colour, the juice tastes a wonderful blend of sugar and salt, just in the right proportions. Priced at Tk 10 this is a must have.
Pohela Boishakh is a day associated with activities. The summer heat brings in a need to savour drinks. So, number four on our list, we have Nooranie Soft Drinks.
Of legacy I speak…
Hajir Biryani has been a cherished delicacy in the Dhakaiite's palate. Biryani is a possible misnomer for the dish, tehari being more close to the variant served. Our inquisitive minds have often wondered on the cooking secret of the biryani, and of course we never made our way into the lime long secret. “It's made of mustard oil”…duh! Any foodie worth his salt can figure that out. But frankly, when a plate of delectable hajir biryani is served before you, who in the world would ponder on the secret that lies behind it.
The restaurant lies on a small way side room at Kazi Alauddin Road, Old Dhaka, and has been there since its initiation. One of the curious feature of the restaurant is that it opens one in the morning, and the evening. Legend has it, that they cook only two large vessels of the meal, which ensures preservation of the taste associated with the dish.
The serving area being strong for the great demand of this dish, take-aways are a popular option. Here lies another interesting fact. The food is served in a top-open box made of dried, jackfruit leaves. This too has been a time long tradition and probably has nothing to do with the aesthetics of serving. Inquired why, we were told, 'Preserves the taste'.
For the legend and the quality of food served, Hajir Biryani takes up number three on our list.
A small adventure
As far as fried meat goes, the chaap is well nigh peerless in most Dhaka foodies' estimation. The Bihari camp, at Mohammedpur is famous for its roadside shops selling a range of fried foods that has customers coming back for more.
Although some worry about the state of hygiene in the shops as they are quite ramshackle, such doubts can be dispelled if the waiters and the cook are told to be careful. Moreover, all your food will be cooked practically under your noses. So, leave all those fears behind, and embark upon a special taste adventure.
Hotel Mustakim is the largest of the shops there, and possibly the best. The mogoj bhaja there is literally to die for. For those who have not been there before, expect to be stunned by the great taste in a setting where you would never have expected it. Besides the mogoj bhaja, popular items include khiri kebab, boti kebab and, of course, chaap. Have these with luchi, which are quite light, enabling you to have as much of the fried delights as possible. They also offer a chicken corn soup with a distinct, spicy Bangladeshi twist.
Hotel Mustakim, in Bihari camp is number two on our list.
Back to base
Deep in our hearts, our favourite meals are those we eat at home regularly. They require no special flourish and are simple and satisfactory. That is why we have placed Kasturi at number one. Having been in business for nearly thirty years, they certainly know how to stay at the top, and exemplify what is meant by Bangladeshi cuisine. They do this by providing high quality food done in the style we are used to at home. Although many restaurants have used the Kasturi name, they have no affiliation to the original at Purana Paltan.
Quality, at Kosturi is maintained by constant monitoring. The owner himself ventures out every morning to market to purchase the supplies needed to keep the eatery running. The day's menu is then put out depending on what is available and in season. Their menu contains everyday staples such as shada bhaat, chingri bhorta, Ilish bhorta, mishano shobji, rui maach dopiaju, and all of them are delectable. Also, as the food is bought that very day, it is always fresh.
There are so many places to include that any top five listing is inescapably arbitrary. Bangladeshi cuisine is one of the shining lights of our existence, so, on Pohela Boishakh, just get out there and give the taste buds a treat, the Bangladeshi way!
By Mannan Mashhur Zarif and STS
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed