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Check it out

New eatery in town

Walking into the café, the overwhelming feeling is one of homeliness. Zafar Khan, who jointly owns the place with his wife Farzeen Quader Chowdhury, spelled out his mission statement: “There are so many places in Dhaka that attract teenagers; we wanted to have a place that attracts a more mature clientele. I am not saying that teenagers are not welcome here, they definitely are, but our target demographic are people who are a bit older, who can come here and relax with their colleagues or their spouses.

“I have often felt out of place when I visited a lot of the cafés here, through no fault of theirs. It is just that when you are surrounded by people most of whom are of a different generation, you are bound to feel out of place. And I am not even that old,” he concluded with a chuckle.

The café is fitted with sofa sets all of differing upholstery, done deliberately to avoid the 'packaged' feel that a lot of similar places exhibit. Customers can come in, take a seat, put their feet up and relax in one of the many cosy corners while reading from a selection of international newspapers. Being situated in Gulshan, home to a rising number of multinationals and embassies, it is understandable that the owners want to attract an upscale clientele. The prices are high-end without being exorbitant. The music emanating from the speakers is of a sedate nature and comes from satellite radio channels, another indication of the kind of customers the café wishes to attract.

“Being located in Gulshan, we wish to attract a lot of international travellers and they will feel right at home with satellite radio wafting in through the speakers,” offered Khan, and went on to add, “We have a rising number of foreigners in Dhaka, and Bittersweet Café is a place that they can come to and just hang out without feeling like outsiders.”

The focus visibly is on quality. The fact that it is run by a family (Chowdhury's mother was spotted in the kitchen supervising activities) and not by a big corporation, spills over into the overall ambience of the café, with it's non-standardised sofa sets imbuing a feel of familiarity, as if it was your own living room.

The food is mostly light with a wide selection of desserts, as well as meal items such as gourmet burgers, pasta, lasagne, soups and sandwiches. The chef used to work at the Westin in Dubai, thereby ensuring quality of the highest order. The coffee beans are imported, and so are the burger patties.

There are also plans to introduce a breakfast service at the café in early mornings for people to stop in before starting a busy day at work.

The opening night saw the guests entertained by music played on the piano, accompanied by acoustic guitars; entertainment that underscores the mature feel that the café wishes to espouse. The owners plan to host such events once a month, including jazz nights, poetry recitals, etc.

Why Bittersweet? “Well, we do not want to force the issue and shout out from the rooftops that this is the best place in Dhaka,” elucidated Khan. “We thought of “Bittersweet” because we want people to come and judge for themselves how they like the place.”

The café is situated on the eastern corner of Road #53 in Gulshan #2, and can be reached from the streets by a steel staircase leading to the second floor. Business hours are from twelve noon till late at night. The place has wifi, so it can be a refuge for workaholics and social networkers alike.

“I think our big selling points will be the satellite radio and the desserts. The cheese cake, in my opinion is the best in Dhaka,” Khan said with a smile. Indeed, the cheese cake is delicious. But why take our word for it, go check it out yourself; you could do worse with an evening out.

Address: Bittersweet, 2nd floor, Bashati Avenue, House #10, Road #53, Gulshan #2.

Photo courtesy Bittersweet

Smoked hilsa
1 (1kg) hilsa fish
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp ginger juice
½ tsp garlic paste
2 tbsp green chilli paste
1 tbsp tomato sauce
1 tbsp breadcrumbs
1 tsp butter
salt, to taste

Separate the head and the tail, keeping the middle portion. Then take this portion and de-bone and cut into fillets. Marinade the fillets with the ginger and lemon juices, garlic and chilli pastes, for 10-15 minutes. Then boil the marinated fillets in 1 cup water for another 10-15 minutes. Once the water partially dries out and the fish is cooked, gently lift it out of the pan, (the skin will come off on its own), and place on a baking tray lined with foil. Then carefully remove the remaining fine bones with a thin-edged knife. Slowly cook the gravy that remains in the frying pan with tomato sauce until slightly thickened. Pour thin sauce over the fish, then brush with the butter and finally, sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top and bake at 220o until light brown.

Sweet and sour hilsa
1 (1kg) hilsa fish
1 cup sliced onions
1 tbsp ginger paste
2 tsp garlic paste
2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp chilli powder
½ cup oil
3 tbsp tamarind sauce
2 tsp sugar
4 to 5 green chillies
1-cup water
salt, to taste

Cut fish into pieces, then mix with the turmeric and salt and shallow fry gently, until light brown then put aside. In a separate wok, heat the rest of the oil. Add onions and sauce, then add the rest of the spices and a little water, then cook for around five minutes. Then add the rest of the water and cover and let simmer. Once the gravy has thickened slightly, add the green chillies and after cooking for further 2 minutes, remove from heat and serve with rice.

Now and then

I was born and brought up in Calcutta and have been witness to many changes in this apparently static city.

The phasing out of trams; the addition of another bridge across the big, brown, slow moving river; the dwindling of hand pulled rickshaws; the imminent shutting down of the only synagogue; the swanking up of Chinatown; the emergence of malls; the increase in conspicuous spending, and so on and on....

Those are to name just a few. But the biggest change has been that of palate. The eating habit of the average Calcuttan has changed almost beyond recognition. From “chops and cutlets” to “egg or prawn chowmein”. From "shingara" to egg chicken rolls. From “mach bhaat” to “fried rice and chili chicken”. And the biggest of them all from tea stalls to swanky cafes.

Forget the green painted or the whitewashed walls of your friendly neighbourhood tea stalls. None of the wooden rickety tables and chairs. Not the tea boy clad in dirty shirt and ragged shorts. Every neighbourhood worth its salt has a brightly lit coffee place. Gleaming aluminium chairs and tables; spotless glass tops; uniformed waiters; English speaking people behind the counter; computerised bills; and an average spend, which is about ten times what used to be spent in a tea stall of yore.

The other day, I was walking down one prominent road in south Calcutta while an overflowing garbage bin assaulted my olfactory sense. But there was something very different about the smell of garbage that day. It made me turn and look. As opposed to a rotten fish smell and general damp odour, this bin reeked of stale coffee. And sure enough, a little ahead, there was a brightly lit, well-decorated modern café. They serve frothy cappuccino, milky latte, and chocolaty mocha and weak black coffee. You get savoury patties, sweet pastries, soft muffins, crisp cookies. Some cafés are designed around hues of red, while others are yellow in theme. Some sell coffee from exotic locales. Others stick to good old Indian stuff.

But there is one thing common to all. They all sell tea. With milk and sugar. Like good old times. So worry not if you are a true blue Calcutta lover like me. In every change, there are some constants. And that keeps the faith going.



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