Khao Bangladesh, Khao!
A Special Tribute to Our Street Food Industry
By Sabhanaz Rashid Diya
They don't come in fancy outlets that serve chilled Oreo frappes or honey dew chicken wings. They don't bring you hot Aarong Chocolate Milk with whipped cream, call it Chocolate Mocha and charge you 110 taka for it. They don't ask for 15 percent service charge and 5 percent VAT.
They're cheap, readily available on the roadside (although, now becoming extinct), served in newspaper-folded plates and might be 'unhygienic' for some people's taste buds. Here, the elements of a class chef, efficient waiter and nagging manager are all compiled in one person, who we have bestowed with the affectionate Mamu label.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, punks and geeks! Welcome to the Dhaka street food industry. Our mobile bistros serve you fresh, hand-made and delicate cuisine at the lowest prices imaginable. With the essence of local spices and flavours of Dhaka traffic jam, this range of deshi 'fast food' will leaves any Bangali craving for more.
For starters, our street eatery serves a wide variety of delicacies. They're fast, light and cheap, and having a couple of these can easily satisfy your hungry stomach. These are available in most places, can be consumed at any hour of the day and in any occasion. The king of street 'appetizers' is undoubtedly fuchka. Fuchka is the all-season, all-location, all-occasion jhaal item in the menu that is a favourite to all. Be it in the middle of a crowded fête with your Dad, or with friends in the middle of the street; the crunchy fuchka has a fulfilling chili-and-salty stuffing with a tinge of tetul tok (tamarind) that is a treat for all. It is so incredibly popular that it is as available in roadside vans as it is in fast-food eateries in New Market and shopping malls. Where fuchka is served in a plate containing six or seven pieces and the tok placed in a cup in the middle; bhelpuri is served individually in square paper folds. The stuffing is similar to that of fuchka, with an extra dose of cucumber slices, chopped onions and green chilies. Bhelpuri-mamas are difficult to find, but are often seen outside school gates and around the Dhaka University campus.
Moving onto our lighter range of appetizers, jhalmuri is a common, yet exquisite mix of puffed rice, chopped onions, cucumber slices, tomato cubes, chanachur-badaam, green chilies and mustard oil. It's a proven fact your Mum cannot make jhalmuri taste better at home than what it tastes like in the streets! Jhalmuri is the most readily available item on the menu, found in every corner and neighbourhood imaginable. A slight variation of jhalmuri is chanachur, comprising of the same ingredients minus puffed rice. A spicier upgrade and a fleeting success in the market is the Jamai-Bou Chanachur. Usually bought in plastic packets and taken home for a 'crunchy' evening with the family, they are available in vans with Jamai-Bou written in bold on the glass. Served in paper packets and prices ranging from 5 to 10 taka, jhalmuri-chanachur doesn't need any occasion to munch inside your mouths!
Our final category of street appetizers includes all forms of bhajapora (as they are commonly and collectively termed) such as piyaju, shingara, daalpuri and chhola bhaja. Usually found outside small, local neighbourhood hotels in places like Jigatola, Moghbazar, Nilkhet, Mohammadpur and more; they take a longer time to prepare and are fried in oil in big pans. Between the prices of 3 to 10 taka, bhajapora is available around the year; although the sales reach a peak during Ramadan and summer.
For this heavier course in the meal, the street food industry offers tehari and chaap. Usually found in local, neighbourhood hotels with names like Al-Madina Super Hotel or Nanna Mia's Khabar Ghor, tehari is cooked inside huge haaris and served in paper boxes. Tehari is a mixture of greasy oil, beef and rice that is a fulfilling treat during any busy afternoon. It is most popular in summer; one finds them randomly available in big haaris on the roadside, such as outside Bangladesh Medical College in Dhanmondi.
Chaap, the local version of steak, is the ultimate solution to any hungry Bangali's craving for meat. Chaap reigns over the street food industry like a lion reigns over the jungle. The undoubted pioneer of chaap is Kader Mama, who set up his illustrious establishment near Abahani at 12/A Dhanmondi. Nothing beats the mouth-watering taste of steaming meat with a cup of extra-sugary tea on a winter night, under the moonlight with a couple of friends.