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Spices of the street

Street food holds a magical fascination in our country. Consequently, a lot has been written and said about it. But thankfully, there's always more -- a new item on the road's menu, a new location, or perhaps a perspective or theory that has not yet been unpeeled; twists and turns and U-turns taken by the flavours from the road.

Most people's thoughts jump to phuchka and chotpoti when they think of street food. Indeed, these two items are hot on the menu. Stalls of phuchka and chotpoti can be found everywhere in Dhaka.

However, innovation and new twists have penetrated the phuchka-chotpoti business. Bhelpuri is a common food now; but this item was not seen in abundance a couple of years ago, compared to its prevalence today.

The concept of bhelpuri itself is interesting and allows for some good old time hangouts. Friends surround the vendor, who stands with a huge bowl on a tool in front of him. You start off by ordering only three for yourself, thinking not to indulge in too much as hygiene is surely a concern; after five minutes you ask for a couple more, and in no time, you realise that you have gobbled a dozen!

Yet another innovation has very recently started although it is yet to be widely discovered. Miniature pieces of phuchka -- about ten on a plate -- are served. There is no extra tiny cup of tamarind juice provided in the middle of the plate. Instead, the whole plate is filled with the juice, and then the phuchkas are placed/dipped in the plate, complete with hot spices sprinkled on top.

Due to the small size of each phuchka, you basically put one entire piece in the mouth in one go.

However, the epic phuchka-chotpoti is not the genesis of Bangladeshi food. Many senior folks of previous generations did not taste these foods in their youth. But they had their own source of entertainment, of course.

Deshi snacks have existed for numerous decades. Murali are long-shaped, thin, sweet snacks made out of flour. Kodma is an extremely sweet, roundish snack. White in colour, the delicacy is made fully out of sugar.

A variation of kodma is nukuldana. Tinier then kodma, and often shaped like a flower or at least the petal carved on its body, it holds a single roasted pea inside.

Not just flowers, Bengali snacks take the shapes of a lot of animals too. Misri is a snack that is shaped into fish, elephants, etc. These are a big hit in Boishakhi fairs.

These items are still available in Dhaka city, sold by vendors on carts. A few items on the menu, however, are slowly becoming scarce in New Dhaka, but old town continues to hold them dear.

Sadly, the newer street food items have given tough competition to these Bengali snacks. The deshi snacks, however, rule in fairs.

A long while back, these, and various other Bengali snacks such as mithai and murir moa, were the most popular. On lazy afternoons, vendors used to pass by residential streets yelling about their produce -- a phenomenon now becoming extinct.

Not that the vendors of the present do not offer you street food. Popcorn is a contemporary delight that has made its place in the streets of Dhaka. Sitting trapped in traffic is enough to comprehend that.

Other than popcorn, you get candy floss too, both with very reasonable price tags. These items did not exist some years ago.

Indeed, the traffic jam “industry” is thriving, and a group of people or someone (no one ever asked who!) have been doing good market research on consumer insights, bringing new products every now and then.

For example, who would have thought that, one day, vendors will be selling strawberries to the commuters stuck in the congestion? But if you think of it, Bangladeshi-grown strawberries on the streets is not a bad idea -- packed in transparent plastic boxes, they promise refreshment.

Therefore, the concept of street food is not, nowadays, caged by snacks. The street food menu has diversified to a large extent.

That doesn't mean that fruits, as street food, are new. Aam shokto and various pickles and bhortas are seasonal favourites, very popular in front of schools and colleges.

On the other hand, there are street food delights that have existed for a long time, but still have not attained mass acceptance.

Bheja fry for example, is a very popular item in Old Dhaka, Bihari Camp and some parts of Mirpur. However, it is yet to reach a large segment of untapped clientele. Bheja fry -- fried brain literally speaking -- is considered to be an “extreme food” by many, perhaps because of the idea of eating brains.

It is not, though, not in a world where man has enjoyed eating the iguna and bull testicles.

A lot of things have hopped into the frying pan of our streets. Chicken broast, French fries, fried rice and noodles have, in the recent years, gained acceptance of the masses. Thus, the notion that these foods are the monopoly of air-conditioned fast food places is not relevant anymore.

It is not an unusual scene these days to see chairs laid out in front of carts selling corn soup and Thai soup.

A lot of experiments have been going on, with many success stories.

Indeed, the range of items is huge. How can we forget shingara and chaap and tehari and innumerable others?

But, whatever you eat, the final cup of tea from one of the roadside tea stalls -- as sweet as poison if you will -- is possibly the best ending to an adventurous street feast.

By M H Haider
Photo: Lifestyle Archive


By Tanziral Dilshad Ditan

Shoto Borsher Pothik by Shahadat Parvez
Date: 5 to 8 June
Time: 3 pm to 8 pm (everyday)
Venue: Dhaka Art Center, House #60, Road #7/A, Dhanmondi (Gallery 1 and 2)

The number of photos taken of him, the number of pictures drawn of him and the countless sculptures created of him, is beyond imagination. However, Dadu's identity is not only limited to all this; Momin Ali Mridha (affectionately called Dadu) had become an irreplaceable personality, and possibly synonymous to Charukola and its students. Airtel salutes Shahadat Parvez's effort to create a Photo Album dedicated to Dadu. Parvez had captured various moments of this iconic personality for a long time and a selection of 70 photographs have now been compiled in an album by Oithijo Prokashoni.

Shoto Borsher Pothik is a rare opportunity to discover the life of Dadu, through the eyes of one of his ardent fans.

BDCyclists 64GoodActs - Act 03
Date: Sunday, 9 June
Time: 5 am to 8 pm
Venue: Cox's Bazaar to Teknaf

64GoodActs is an initiative by BDCyclists -- a venture that will take participants through a tour of the 64 districts of Bangladesh, targeting an act of benevolence in each district that is visited. Act 03/64 takes cyclists from Cox's Bazaar to Teknaf, where materials will be handed over to students at a local high school.

BDCyclists believes that we always say we love our country and blame others that they are not doing their job. This effort will be on a very small scale but should be soul satisfying, being able to give something back to nature, and the wonderful people of this country.

There is absolutely no political or corporate involvement; it will be a BDCyclists community effort.

Log on to: facebook.com/groups /bdcyclists

Raedon at Decibel of Doom Chapter-One
Date: 9 June
Time: 10.30 am till 7.30 pm
Venue: National Library Auditorium

Underground band concerts are once again back in town. There is a limited number of slots available for those who have a passion for music and a desire to perform on stage. Interested band members are requested to contact -- Shourov (0175 863 3461), Muntasir (0167 526 6581), Sadip (0183 585 6120).

Ticket price: 100


The mosques of Baro Bazaar

Location: Baro Bazaar, Kaliganj, Jhenaidaha
Baro Bazaar is a small town located in Jhenaidaha district and is scattered with mosques built during Khan Jahan's reign. Khan Jahan Ali with his 12 followers first came to Baro Bazaar in 1418; at that time the place was known as Muhammadabad.

The name Baro-Bazaar is said to have come from the 12 followers of Khan Jahan Ali. Even before the arrival of the preacher, Baro Bazaar used to be the home of rich merchants and was the center for trade routes. Over time, all these mosques were destroyed in an unusual manner at exactly the same height. It wasn't until 1977 that the excavation of these mosques began.

There is a common folklore amongst the locals that rather than being excavated, many of the mosques somehow miraculously hopped out of the ground by divine powers. Of course, we have no idea how much of that is the truth.

Getting there:
Dhaka to Jhenaidaha:
From Dhaka take a bus straight to Jhenaidaha. We went there using Hanif Non-AC bus and boarded from Kollanpur. The fare per person is Tk.400. The time required varies depending on the Aricha ferry but you should be able to make the trip within 6-8 hours.

Jhenaidaha to Kaliganj: There is a local bus called the “Gorai” that makes regular trips to Kaliganj from Jhenaidaha. The ride takes roughly an hour and costs Tk.30 per person. Given that the seats are not comfortable, the more adventurous ones might have more fun making the ride on the bus-roof (avoid those branches!); there is also a Tk.5 discount if you do so.

Kaliganj to Baro Bazaar: From Kaliganj you have to change transportation again. You can either take another local bus to Baro Bazaar or ride one of the motorised vans (called “Nosimon” to the location. Both cost around Tk.10 per person and take 45 minutes.

Visiting the sites: Since all the mosques follow similar architecture there is no point in visiting all of them (unless you are a scholar). Book a Nosimon and visit the ”Golakata” mosque first. There you will find a map of the entire area and where each of the historical sites is located, and you can plan accordingly.

Best time to visit: Anytime is good. The summer heat can be very confounding though!

What to expect: A 350 year old sword and a hand-written Quran inside of the Golakata mosque, and a very conservative environment. Beware of the local rural politics!

In your backpack: Water bottle, dry food, umbrella, glucose/saline and torchlight.

Nearby places to stay: The nearest place to stay is Hotel Shahi in Kaliganj. Double bed rooms cost Tk.200 per night. Be careful, hygiene is not in their priority list.

Money matters: For a one day round trip, minimum costing is Tk. 1,500.

For photographers: Some of the mosques still have a beautiful interior, so you might want to take you wide angle lens along.

Adventure rating: Baby steps. 2½/5.

By Adnan M S Fakir
Photos courtesy of Finding Bangladesh
Check them out at facebook.com/findingbangladesh



Just Juice

Ever since Humaira returned from Australia, she noticed that simple, healthy beverages are hard to come by in this metropolis. In no time, she and her husband Shihab felt that a juice bar can help fill that void. After careful thought Shihab, Humaira and Rumman (Humaira's brother) finally introduced a little take away corner at Gulshan 2 and “Just Juice” was born!

The motto of Just Juice is to provide simple healthy food and drinks with an assurance of quality and service. To maintain such high standards the trio decided to get the entire family involved. Hence all pastry and certain cold cuts are homemade (while others are sourced from Bengal Meat) and delivered to the store. The fruits are carefully handpicked; the bread comes from Cooper's, custom-made, just for Just Juice.

Apart from fresh juices, the store also offers smoothies, sandwiches, cakes and freshly-brewed coffee.

Since its inception in mid-February, the customer reaction has been tremendous, proving that quality products are truly what the average Dhakaiite wants.

By Tanziral Dilshad Ditan
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Model: Shaon

Sacred Mark Soaps: For the conscious consumer

The shine from everyday commodities tends to wear off at a rapid pace. After the first few days of using that brand new soap, toothpaste or shower gel, the attachment with it starts to diminish. This is solely because the values attached to these objects are crassly commercialised with no intrinsic layer when all others have been peeled off.

The new age consumer thirsts for much more than just a brand or a few buzz words to boost sales and persuade us; the new age consumer craves products which appeal to their consciousness. This is where Sacred Mark soap comes in.

A brainchild of Mennonite Central Committee Bangladesh (MCCB), Sacred Mark is an enterprise which provides alternative employment for former sex workers. Sacred Mark's first foray into the business world starts with its 100 percent natural Sacred Mark Soaps, which have already carved a niche for themselves in foreign markets such as Canada, USA, Korea, Italy and Australia, although the demand in the local market is just starting to go up, with only 5 percent of total production circulating in Bangladesh.

The soap is natural, handmade and of course environmentally friendly, as it retains the biodegradable nature of its ingredients. As an almost entirely new product in the local industry, Sacred Mark Soaps have not undercut any job and two years of development work have ensured that it is up to standard. However, with a patent pending, it is yet to be mass marketed. Priced at Tk.100-Tk.150 and available in a number of essences, the soaps mostly cater to the demands of foreigners in the city. Three different types are also available for body, hair and for babies.

MCC, starting off in 1970 for the relief and rehabilitation of cyclone survivors and has come a long way since then. With projects in over 65 countries, MCC is responsible for creating thousands of jobs in the country alone and has also created whole enterprises instead of just jobs.

With every purchase of a Sacred Mark Soap, a contribution is made towards society and towards rehabilitating women who have seen the worst of circumstances. That contribution is the intrinsic value that consumers are looking for and that is where Sacred Mark needs to capitalise.

Sacred Mark soaps are exclusively available in only selected outlets. Folk International, Road #108, House #19, Gulshan, Dhaka-1212. Viator Bangladesh Limited, Road #7/A, House # 60, Block # H, Banani, Dhaka-1215. Source, 1/1 Asad Gate, Mohammadpur, Dhaka.

By Osama Rahman


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