The love affair
Street food is yummy. It's cheap and doesn't put a stress on your wallet. A bunch of friends can spend endless hours, chitchatting and having cha and shingara, without bothering about the bill, or the table manners. Add to that, the food that is offered is deshi and traditional - it is deeply rooted in our…well, taste buds!
Love is blind, so they say. Hence, our love for street food doesn't lessen due to the unhygienic conditions that go in the preparation. True, a few people have cut this genre of food entirely off their diet, and many say they don't eat street food nowadays as much as they'd like to.
But that's a tiny stratum of people talking. Most of us don't bother much. In fact, after several observations and experiments, one can safely conclude on the The First Law of Street Food: the hygiene maintained is inversely proportional to the taste. The less hygenic it is, the better!
The street rulers- fuchka and chotpoti
The most popular item is definitely fuchka, and the most popular place where you get fuchka seems to be Bailey Road. I'll give Dhanmondi the runners-up trophy. Sitting in a car with friends and having fuchka while chitchatting and listening to music is really pleasing. Or, grabbing a seat beside Shongshod Bhaban and eating while enjoying the view is another splendid thing to do.
Chotpoti is famous too. The hot and spicy flavour, with onions, chillies, eggs and of course, the crispy top layer of crushed fuchka shells, is absolutely irresistible. It's amazing the experience you get with just twenty to thirty takas.
The complex jhalmuri!
Jhalmuri has been here for…God knows how long. Yet, people never grow tired of it. And, this food is not as simple and easy as it looks. One needs a very high level of expertise and experience to master the art of making jhalmuri.
Grasping the intricacies of choosing which ingredients to add, the chemistry and the cost, is not easy. Even the style and duration of shaking that jar full of jhalmuri is an integral part.
A hotshot chef from a posh restaurant won't be able to survive even one day on the street. On the street, rules are much different. Mama chefs are in power.
Pinpointing one location for best jhalmuri is a rather controversial thing to do. People have jhalmuri in front of the respective institutions that they belong to, be it schools, universities or offices. The street-smart mamas know exactly what to offer. And, seeing many of their customers frequently, day after day, they know the right ingredients to use.
They also customise the jhalmuri a bit for every customer; for example, you might prefer yours extra hot while your friend may not like tomatoes.
Once the vendor and his customers are in sync, addiction takes over.
Of tea, smoke, and stories
Tong er chaa- tea from the wayside stall- is 'undefeatable'. The shoddy stalls offer you more than very sweet and steamy tea. Nothing beats having your group of friends sit on the benches of those tea stalls, or the pavements, and do what you never get tired of doing - having a meaningless, inefficient and yet very refreshing conversation.
With your friends around, a cup of tea in one hand, happiness is bound to happen. And each cup of tea costs what, just around six bucks!
Other good stuff that are out there…
Popular snacks include shingara, pakora, dalpuri and chap. The entire area of Dhaka University, including New Market and Nilkhet, and Farmgate (below the over-bridge, to be precise) provides you the best snacks at most reasonable prices. Fried chicken have now made their entry to the street. Try them out because (a) they are yummy, and (b) because each piece costs only twenty-five takas! I'll suggest you try them from Gulshan #1 and Gulshan #2 Circles.
Paying respect where it is due
I'll be committing a sin if I don't mention old town as long as food is concerned. Hats off, hands down, bravo: Puran Dhaka's food is awesome to such a degree that nothing comes even close. Old town provides you street food on almost every street, road and narrow alley there is. They make the best foods and they charge the least. A very interesting and delicious example of olden Dhaka delights is a version of jhalmuri, which has koliji (liver) in it. This can be found in Palashi, Azimpur, and you can wash it down with Gur er Shorbot, another favourite item of the locale.
That's it, actually. That's what street food is all about. Superb taste, cheap price and unlimited adda!
By M H Haider
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Model: Opi, Rafiq, Shaon, Monty