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FOR THE LOVE OF FOOD

Birthday banter - part II

By kaniska chakraborty

My birthday was on a Monday. Not the greatest day to celebrate a birthday. More so, when it happens to be the day one lost his father. My birthday is with a dose of Greek tragedy.

It's been ten years and still there is a raw wound somewhere deep down. For the first five years, I used to take the day off. Slowly and inevitably, life settled back on rail after that.

Now, I feel my father's absence acutely in the morning. By the time lunch rolls in, I pretty much get on with it. How my mother copes with her loss is another story altogether.

My wife planned for a dinner out for the three of us -- my mother, herself and yours truly. We wanted to try some place new. My wife's birthday treat at Mocambo has pretty much got me off Calcutta continental food for some time. I can only take so much of the one-dimensional unctuous thing so fondly called “white sauce”. What is it, really? At best, a bad béchamel.

We had heard of this little place called Byloom, near Gariahat. Friends have been raving about their food. People coming from outside Calcutta were being taken there. We just had to go.

So after an early exit from work, we went to Byloom. A lovely façade welcomed us. Walked into a small outlet full of pretty fabric and clothes. The café was at the back.

When we saw the menu, we realised that it is not a dinner place. While there was the 'luchi kosha mangsho', there were also the 'mutton shingara' and 'mangshor ghugni.' Classic tiffin fare! To add to it, Byloom closes at 7 p.m. Not the most suitable timing, even if you are okay with 'mangshor ghugni' dinner.

Off we went to another new place we heard of. The Tea Café. Tucked away in a narrow lane behind Vivekananda Park off Southern Avenue, this was a place for dinner. We heard that they serve Goan food. Thought of all the rechads and vindaloos and xacutis and bibincas and got seriously excited. They had exactly three Goan dishes.

The menu was an eclectic mix with sandwiches and Kerala curries and pastas. I ordered a fish cooked in banana leaf, Kerala style. My wife ordered a fish which the waiter confirmed was a Goan preparation. The name escapes me. My mother steered clear of all controversies and ordered egg korma and paratha, solidly out of a Keralite kitchen.

While we waited, we also ordered a Greek salad (the waiter confirmed real feta cheese and not imitation) and jalapeno poppers. You can imagine how mixed the menu is.

The Greek salad was crispy from the fresh veggies, tangy from the feta (yes, real) and salty from the olives (not Kalamata, ordinary sliced black olives). It came with a couple of sesame bread sticks. We loved it. Not Goan but tasty.

The jalapeno poppers were cream cheese stuffed inside large chillies. Definitely not jalapenos and definitely not spicy. In fact, quite the opposite. The taste was so mild that we needed the accompanying hot sauce to eat it. My mother's egg korma arrived first. With a side of flaky parathas. Halved eggs sat in very thick gravy, showing the pale yolks, smeared with brown gravy streaks.

My wife's fish was a fillet of Calcutta bhetky (much as I love bhetky, it does not belong to Goan cuisine in my mind) with a serious looking sauce of ginger, garlic, coconut, and red chilli.

My order came in a banana leaf parcel. Opened it and an unidentifiable mass stared back at me. It also had a copious lacing of the similar garlic, ginger, onion, coconut, and red chilli sauce. We ordered appam as well. Nice appams came, with the edges just browned to give a bit of lovely texture.

I must say, the standout dish was the egg korma. Beautifully balanced spices. Chillies not too overt. The parathas flaky and soft. My dish and my wife's tasted very similar. Over the top, spicy, rich. The lovely Calcutta bhetky never had a chance to stand up and say hello amidst that kind of cooking. We shared an Oreo mousse. An average chocolate mousse with crumbled Oreo cookies with one Oreo cookie as the topping.

The place new. The food average. But who cared as long as I had the two people who matter most and who love me most. A classic case of company over food.

Photo: Kaniska Chakraborty


RESTAURANT REVIEW

Banani's Cantonese buzz

There were murmurs doing the rounds in some of Dhaka's foodie circles that there is quite a unique eatery somewhere in Banani that specialised in serving authentic Cantonese cuisine. While by all accounts the food was delicious, the prevailing opinion was that the ambience was nothing to write home about.

Given our long-standing commitment to providing our readers with the low-down on Dhaka's food scene, Star Lifestyle decided to take a look at Cheong Shing Chinese Restaurant, a restaurant that has been around for ten years but has only recently been making waves, especially with its move away from its Banani 11 home to a new venue -- road 18 in Banani.

Ambience
This is the best place to start, as appreciating Cheong Shing can only be achieved when you come to terms with its peculiarities -- its ambience.

Walking into the restaurant we were struck by the utterly basic decor. The place is fairly devoid of finesse with simple square tables with four chairs to each. The authenticity of the place however chimes through when you see a pair of chopsticks to go with every place setting.

The restaurant is housed in what surely was a residential dwelling, which somehow works in lending it a homely feel that is in keeping with the décor. There is no music, the whole setting screams basic.

However, it is this no-frills and downright thrifty ambience that gets you thinking about the food that, despite the ambience, your friends are raving about. There are other things that point to good cuisine.

There are always foreigners occupying one or two tables, and Chinese faces there are a common sight, boding well for the authenticity of the joint.

Service
The service pretty much follows on from the ambience. Do not expect smiles or overly helpful waiters. But they do know their business. It is, by all measures, an extensive menu that you are ordering from, and the waiters are equipped to give you their opinion on almost every dish that you ask for. For example, one of the waiters was very candid when we tried to order the Chang Cheng Special Soup, saying that Bangladeshi customers very rarely like it.

In short, the service is nothing to write home about either, in keeping with a lot of Bangladeshi establishments which focus on delivering the basics. But at Cheong Shing, an advantage is that the owner is usually present -- probably because in accordance with expatriate Chinese custom, he lives in the same building -- and if you have a problem with a certain dish and speak to him about it, it will be replaced or taken back free of charge.

Food
This category is what Cheong Shing is all about. The menu is extensive in its scope, with 146 dishes across the categories of Appetisers, Soup and Broth, Seafood, Chicken, Goose & Duck, Special Cuisine, Vegetables, All in Clay Hot Pot, Beef & Lamb and Rice & Noodles.

Now unfortunately, we could not sample the extent of the menu, which will take months of dining, especially because of the generous proportions served. But judging from the dishes that we did order, we can say that the hype is justified. The first spoonfull will solve the mystery of why this place, with its unembellished ambience and basic service, has become so popular.

Let us start with the soup. We ordered the Vegetable Soup with Egg and the Beef Soup with Egg White in Hangzhou Style. Both were excellent. What struck us about the vegetable soup was that, unlike a lot of places in Dhaka, the veggies were absolutely fresh and the broth teemed with the flavours of the greens within. Even for die-hard carnivores, this would be a treat. The beef soup with egg white was also pretty special, with the egg whites actually well-formed and not dissolving into the broth as happens in many places.

The wontons on the other hand were disappointing. They were not crispy enough and the stuffing seemed inadequate.

For the main course we ordered the Beef Fried Noodles, the Fried Spicy Beef and the House Special Food Hot Pot. In a clay pot, chicken, beef, lamb and prawn are cooked together -- you can choose to see it cooked right at the table -- to create a mix of flavours that surprisingly go quite well.

But what stole the culinary show was the Fried Spicy Beef. The meat is wonderfully tender and crisp at the same time, and the spiciness just right. Let us just say that it is hard, on subsequent visits, to not order the item even as you tell yourself that you must sample more of the menu.

Even though we cannot tell you about each and every item (we will certainly make the effort to eat as much as we can in the future), from the high quality of everything we did try, we can say that Cheong Shing is uncommonly good as far as the food goes.

Value for money
This is a tricky one. Despite their stripped down ambience, the food is not cheap. If you are a heavy eater, it will probably cost you around Tk.1200 per meal at Cheong Shing. Of course, Dhaka is home to restaurants much more expensive than that, but the ordinary decor might leave you wondering if the price is worth it. We thought that because of the generally excellent standard of food, diners should be happy to pay the prices on the menu as long as the standards are maintained. Judging by their regular clientele, standards have been upheld for the last ten years, so there is no reason to fear that it will drop now.

Our rating: 3.75/5. The food is superb, but the ordinary ambience has to be taken into account as far as a restaurant goes. If you take the food home, it would probably jump to 4.5 but then this would not be a restaurant review, would it?

Address: House 44, Road 18, Block A, Banani. Phone: 9854370, 8819758

By STS


SHOP TALK

MORE THAN POTS AND PANS

A disorganised cupboard is the bane of any kitchen. Without having exactly what is needed or not knowing where it is located, makes organising any event, from a party to a simple dinner, a rather difficult one. Check out our checklist of needed utensils and see if you have them all. If not, its time to go shopping and we tell you for what and where.

By Osama Rahman
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed

SMELLS LIKE RAINBOW SHERBET
Sherbet glasses are a perfect addition to the dining table. First on the list, sherbet-filled glasses stand for what we haven't been indulging in as much as we'd like since the month of Ramadan. Hence, get your sherbet glasses fast and go a little colourful and adventurous while you are at it.

JUGGLING THE QUESTION
You may have the sherbet glasses, but serving your guests just the glass seems a bit 'meh' to us. It's best to place the jug full of sherbet in front to begin with. And speaking of that, yes, you need a new jar. Jugs, like clothes, need to change according to the time. However, you can't go wrong with a traditional glass jug or the newer more retro ceramic ones. If your jug requirements are met, then move on.

ICE, ICE, BABY
You can never have enough ice. This is a fact that everyone is sure to agree with, especially in the sweltering September months when ice is the most basic of all human requirements. Now, the question is whether you have an ice tray or not. Although most fridges come with an ice tray or two, one of them just isn't enough. Get a few more and serve your sherbets on the rocks. Different shapes and sizes for ice boxes are available so do look around.

OUT TO DRY
Right after a drink you do need to clean up but this is also mandatory after meals and when it comes to cleaning up, we don't mean the table but you also. Napkins and tissues do so wonderfully and it does seem classy when you dab at your mouth's corners right after meals, or so it seems. Go with the traditional tissue roll or toss in the floral napkins for a more decorative feel.

THE HOTS FOR POTS
We always need hot pots. Why? Because they keep food steamy and the taste of a hot meal beats a cold supper any day. With guests coming and going, the food is bound to get cold and constantly re-heating it will spoil the taste. Therefore, hot pots are a smart investment and also a necessary one.

DIPPIN'
We need dips now more than ever. A decade ago we didn't know what dip was but now that we do, we demand to be served dips along with absolutely anything oily and fried. So, now you need dip servers, because just tossing it anywhere isn't cooling anymore and placing a little dip or sauce on the side of the plate is a bit pathetic. Compartmental serving dishes can help serve sauce and dips together and it also looks great.


ON TREND

Creating tranquility

Ikebana is a form of Japanese floral decoration. The significance of Ikebana lies in giving an everlasting artistic life to transient flowers through the repeated act of arrangement.

Ikebana is not only beautiful to look at, but also inspiring; it teaches one to see things in a new way and appreciate simplicity. It is not just flowers in a vase but it is also considered to be an art of human communication.

Thankfully, as complicated as it may sound at first, there is a course one can take to ease through the process. This course is very helpful for students, service holders, businessmen and anyone who always remains under pressure and seeks mental peace and relaxation.

Ikebana training is even a part of counselling to those psychologically disturbed as it provides the calm and the refuge we all seek.

This course also teaches how flowers can be commercially decorated. Commercial application of flowers is also included, which provides an opportunity to earn for those who can spare the time for some extra funds. This is the step for those who wish to add 'Florist' to their repertoire.

The Institute of Innovative Design is the place to learn this soothing skill. This institute maintains an international level of teaching methods for Ikebana and delivers lectures that are at par with original Japanese Ikebana. The course material also covers the combination of our country's local flowers to the Japanese Ikebana. The course also teaches how to sustain the life of your plants longer than normal.

For more information regarding this course or other courses offered by this institute, please head toward House #37, Road #15, Block D, Banani. You can also visit the website: www.iidesignbd. com. #9899038, 0173 3969644. It is time to create a piece of tranquility for yourself instead of relying on someone else.

-- LS Desk



SPOTLIGHT

A meal underrated

Nobody seems to pay heed to the age-old saying, “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dine like a pauper.” But breakfast is a very important part of the day -- physically and mentally -- as it can make or break the mood for the day that lies ahead.

A mug of coffee can set the right mood, especially if you have a long, challenging day ahead.

“I wake up between 5 and 5.30 in the morning, and naturally the first thing I do is make some coffee,” Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks Coffee, once told Fortune Magazine in an interview.

Indeed, coffee can be a good stimulant to help wake up properly. Coffee World, Cuppa Coffee and Barista are perfect places to go to in the morning for breakfast.

The aroma of coffee that welcomes you as you step inside these places is enough to set a good mood. Coffee World has a small but very delicious assortment of breakfast items. The outlet situated in Dhanmondi opens at 10 a.m. whilst the one in Uttara opens at 9 a.m.

Cuppa Coffee Club has a wide variety of items they offer for breakfast. The menu is quite similar to that of the normal menu for other times of the day -- burgers, salads, soups, sandwiches and many more. Hence, if you are looking for a big meal in the morning, this might just be the place for you. It opens at 10 a.m.

These are very comfortable and elegant places serving amazing coffee, where you can open up your laptop and finish the last bit of that report or arrange your schedule for the day. The good service they provide is important; you don't want to go to office with a spoiled mood.

However, if you are usually in too much of a rush to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee, then the best option would be to hop in the car with one.

There are many simple yet practical coffee mugs, such as the ones that come with a cap, which can be very helpful for you.

Restaurants in Motijheel provide good deals. If you happen to work in Motijheel, you probably know by now about the numerous small restaurants that serve the people working in this major financial and business area. The good thing about these places is the efficiency with which they work, as the people they cater to are mostly from offices.

Some of us don't have this rush in the morning, though; at least not every morning. Morning can be a very personal moment, a time to sit in the veranda with a cup of tea and a newspaper.

Or, it can be a time to wake up only to find your friend next to you, still sleeping, and another two or three lying on the mattress -- a makeshift bed -- on the floor. Last night's sleepover was fun, and it would be time to have breakfast together.

Kozmo has always been a good hangout place (not that it is the wrong place to go if you are in a rush, though). All the branches of Kozmo are open by 9.30 a.m. They have two sets of items for you to choose from -- breakfast platter and light breakfast.

On the other hand, if you crave sweet or baked food, King's is a great place to go to start off your morning with. It opens at 7 a.m. and offers the regular menu.

Blue, Cafe Mango and Club Arabian are three places in Gulshan-2, all in one site, offering excellent breakfast deals. Blue has a variety of items, including omelette with cheese, nachos, burritos and kebab roll. Meanwhile Arabian Cafe promises everything on their regular menu for breakfast as well.

You can opt for Bengali cuisine as well. The two outlets of Dhansiri Restaurant in Gulshan-2 (not the outlet in Dhanmondi) are open by 7 a.m. Their breakfast menu includes mouth-watering Bengali food like mutton paya, beef paya, brain bhuna, dal kalija, bhuna khichuri, chicken soup, halua and many more.

Star Kebab is of course another place that has become insanely popular across generations and different segments of people. It doesn't fail you during lunch and dinner -- it will not fail you in the morning either. And, after a hearty meal, their splendid tea should be enough to make your day.

Also, don't forget the many small shops that make naan, paratha, bhaji and other items that are so popular in the sub-continent.

Old Dhaka is of course, the master when it comes to food. The morning is a busy time for restaurants there; the items you get are endless. It starts from a cup of tea with paratha bhaji and goes into hefty meals like tehari, polau, etc.

Old Dhaka knows how to have breakfast, king size, and the rest of us should follow suit!

By M H Haider
Photo : Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Model: Zamshad
Location: Kozmo, Dhanmondi


 

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