Something to chew on
Food is the centre point of all our social activities. From birth to death, life is garnished with food items for all occasions, be it an aqikah, wedding or even funeral. Somehow, we humans have found a method to come together to share a common interest. Besides the two Eid celebrations, weddings and engagements have been major festivities because that is an occasion for relatives and friends to get together and enjoy a good meal.
But apart from the mandatory feast for every occasion, the practice of eating out has become the latest ritual. Families that are a little affluent prefer to dine in public places rather than at home, even when the home cooked meal is more nutritious and tasty. Eating out itself is a form of entertainment. This trend has been increasing in Bangladesh, and with more people seeking the public table in a restaurant, a swarm of eateries have opened to cater to this new prosperous middle-class.
There was a time, not too distant in the past, where the only place to go to were dimly lit Chinese restaurants with orange or red décor oozing out a hybrid smell, a cross between a hot and sour chilli sauce and yesterday's unwashed T shirt. Other options also included Biryani places smelling strongly of goat and grease. Now, however, pasta from Italy, gyros from Greece, waffles from Belgium, burritos from Mexico are all available just a few streets away, in whatever direction. In fact, there are certain locations where there are clusters of food outlets. Take for example the avenue linking Gulshan one and two. Scores of pricey restaurants line this strip covering exotic cuisine from Continental to Mexican. The best thing about these places is that they each have their own ambience and each is a refreshing change from the other.
Heritage in Gulshan is designed like a Mughal palace and offers what is called 'fusion food' exclusively created by the world famous chef Tommy Miah. Saltz on Gulshan 2 looks like a huge deck of a ship with fishing nets and all. It offers some of the choicest seafood in delectable recipes. Spitfire, just below Saltz, is like a diner in a good old Western offering all kinds of exclusive continental food including pricey, scrumptious steaks. Another steak place that has great desserts as well Flambé, also in Gulshan 2.
If authentic atmosphere is a must with authentic cuisine, there is Le Saigon, the only Vietnamese restaurant in Bangladesh. With their wooden floors, classical décor and exclusive Vietnamese cuisine, you could be sitting right downtown Saigon instead of the middle of Gulshan Avenue. Then of course there's El Toro giving a typical Mexican ambience along with their unique tasting cuisine. There are also plenty of Thai places in Gulshan such as Thai House (easily the most popular), Thai Garden, Royal Orchid and @ Corner. Great authentic Korean food can be found in Arirang House and Koreana, both of which specialise in the sizzling dishes cooked right on your table! Meanwhile Samdado excels in its delicate Japanese cuisine.
Italian food, like Chinese, is something that has universal appeal and Dhaka has a whole group of Italian places selling good old pizza and pasta. They include Little Italy (in Ashulia), Bella Italia (Gulshan 1), Spaghetti Jazz (Gulshan 2), Don Giovanni (Gulshan 2), Ciao (Hotel Sonargaon), Italian Bar and Bistro (Hotel Sheraton), la villa (La Vinci Hotel) and a few more. If its Mediterranean food one craves for, there's Casa Greek (Gulshan Avenue) and an interesting looking Lebanese restaurant called Arysha.
Together with the medley of memorable menus, fast food too has caught on like wildfire. The trend is also moving towards the fast lane to the likes of American Burger, Helvetia and Fortuna Fried Chicken (FFC). FFC (located in Uttara and Gulshan) attracts a large crowd for its special beef and chicken burgers and its spicy chicken broast selection is a must for any fast food lover. These fast food places are not only reasonable, but they are catering to a growing number of food lovers who keep going back for the casual environment. In certain outlets, one can watch the game or listen to some music while simply having some fries. Its also great for quick parties as the food can be quickly prepared. Buckaroo (in Uttara, Sector 7) is also quite popular, though a little far off. It serves the famous Cowboy burger as well as spicy Chicken Wings which is sure to leave a hot, burning impression on your taste buds. The other genre of fast food is what one gets at Pizza Hut, A&W and Chicken King, all international franchises with pricey food items, but a little change now and then never hurt anyone.
Another trend that has been worth the wait is the number if cafés cropping up at various nooks and crannies of the city. Café mango, with two branches (in Dhanmondi and Gulshan 2) gives a true café flavour offering a whole range of teas from Earl Grey to Jasmine and has other tasty snacks too. Kozmo Lounge (in Dhanmondi) with its modern avant-garde look attracts many young café-goers.
Then there's the whole range of confectionary shops that also offer a limited range of snacks. King's Confectionary, Hot Breads, Hot Cake and several other bakeries for instance have made their home in Banani Road 11 and attracting a significant number of clientele. Fancy ice cream shops are also very popular such as Movenpick, the ice cream boutique, Baskin Robbins and of course, Club Gelato, which also has a great collection of mouth-watering cakes and pastries.
There are always distinctions in food category and more so in the fast food genre. A lot depends on who the client is and how long one wishes to take over a meal. Fast food is not only within their price range but quick to consume. If the purpose of the meal is actually to quell one's hunger, one may just pop into a fast food joint for a quick take out. For the younger generation, the purpose of the meal may be slightly more complex. Take the case of the 'Laili Majnus' seeking a hideaway from the prying eyes of relatives and … more relatives. Their desire is for a quasi-public place while having some quiet time to themselves. These couples may just order a small dish and pick at it for hours, or until the thought of an irate parent slithers into their paradise. Then there are groups of young people, all homeless it would seem, who gather together to peck at pizza and pop till the last crumb is consumed, the last bottle sucked dry and the last whisper of gossip squeezed out of one another. Then they go home - for dinner. What other choice do they have except, in the case of more adventurous couples, small time sports in smoky snooker and billiard centres?
Shameem, a regular connoisseur of foreign cuisine is quite happy with the changing trends. "It's quite positive to see so many food options opening up and the fast food joints are always a welcome change," he says. He points out that in Bangladesh, eateries with foreign food are still quite expensive compared to neighbouring countries. In places like Bangkok and Kuala Lampur, the cheapest form of food is fast food and you don't even have to dress up to venture to one of these spots.
One thing that is rather nice about the fast food places is the fact that they are very clean and well lit, points out Anita. “You can clearly see what you are having and the hygiene of the whole place is very appetising,” says the 27 year old, a regular at one of the fast food places in Dhanmondi. “I can also bring my daughter here and she can play in the children's corner, another imaginative addition to most eateries everywhere. I can have some time to myself as there are always people to watch over my kid,” concludes Anita.
Food still continues to be the main attraction of any event. The difference in the present days is the wide range of choices of food joints and restaurants that one can choose from, much to the delight of the food fanatics of Bangladesh.
By Imran H. Khan
Photo Direction: Khaled Mahmud, Head Office
Photo: Zahedul I Khan & Munem Wasif