Travelling across Bangladesh is like traversing a beautiful tapestry of amazing colours. But even as we encounter hidden gems at every corner during our journey, we always looked forward to lunch-time, when we’d converge upon interesting culinary oases which never fail to excite our senses & satisfy our palates.
The following are some of the lunch spots where we enjoyed some very delightful Bangladeshi repasts.
Aristocrat at Sirajganj
This restaurant is perhaps the only “proper” place to eat for miles around. Located in the little transit town of Sirajganj, where large antiquated trucks make their pit-stop along the way to other frontier towns. Their chicken “dopiaza” and beef “bhuna” were both very tasty. The side-order of mixed vegetables turned out to be the largest serving of all the items we ordered, but was very tasty. Bengali cuisine utilises fresh root vegetables and do not overcook them, unlike many other regional Indian cooking styles. Lightly spiced, the mixed vegetable dish was a delight.
- Sabbir at Naogaon
Sabbir is almost like a speakeasy eatery - and we went on a half-hour “about to be wild goose chase” before a full-veiled woman pointed us to the right direction. Trudge along a narrow alleyway, then climb a flight of dilapidated staircase before you come across the restaurant’s worn-out door. Open it, and you’re faced with a noisy, crowded restaurant teeming with diners. People are warm and friendly - though a crowd gathered to see “weird foreigners take photos of their food”.
We had some very good “kachchi biriyani” - spiced rice cooked with mutton, which had some lovely textures from the tiny-grained, fragrant local rice. We also ordered mutton bhuna - spicy, curried mutton chops with a lovely fragrance from cumin, coriander, chilis and onions.
Finding the restaurant was a challenge - who could have guessed it was almost hidden at the end of this alleyway?
- Food Express at Ishwardi
Another one of those pit-stops where you won’t find any other alternatives for miles around. Food Express does a more than decent job with its mutton and chicken biriyanis - in fact, tastier than anything we can find in Singapore.
After lunch, we noticed a small coffee shack next door and decided to try out its local coffee & snacks - “shingara” is the Bengali version of Indian “samosa”, whilst the “poori” is similar.
- Rajasthan Hotel at Faridpur
We had some of the best food in our journey south towards the Sundarbans at Faridpur, a charming town with some really good food places. It was here that we tried one of Bangladesh cuisine’s must-not-miss food items: the selection of “bhortas”, i.e. balls of mashed potatoes, rice, meats and other ingredients - all hand-rolled into ping pong-sized balls. It’s Bengali cuisine’s answer to Chinese “dim sum” or Spanish tapas.
The meal was stupendous - but the sight of the spartan open-kitchen in a yard at the back of the restaurant was an eye-opener: most of the spices were hand-ground, and the ingredients hand-chopped. Cooking was done over firewood braziers.
People there were warm and very friendly.
Food stall near the harbour at Hularhat
Hularhat is the tiny village which also serves as a port for getting on the old paddle-wheel steamship that is to transport us from the Sundarbans swamplands upriver to Dhaka, on a slow 16-hour journey.
We had a delicious chicken-and-potato dopiaza here - spicy, but totally delicious.
The owner of the eatery was proud to serve us a variety of his special preserves and hand-ground spices to accompany the steamed rice. Not sure if Americans/Westerners can take to these, but we Singaporeans tend to be pretty adventurous (and with perhaps stronger stomachs as well).
Biroti along the Dhaka-Chittagong Highway
This large, gaudy eatery along the dusty, extremely busy Dhaka-Chittagong Highway is not one of my fave lunch spots for this trip, but they do serve a mean stack of “porota”, flaky, tasty & absolutely addictive. We dip these into the mutton “bhuna”. chicken “dopiaza”, and “sobji baazi” (spiced, braised squash, gourd and green papaya)
Hajir Biriyani in Dhaka
One of the most popular biriyani spots in Dhaka. This eatery on Motijheel Street attracts a huge lunch-crowd, and the queue can wind round the block.
Dhaka, the massive often-chaotic capital of Bangladesh is a constant assault on the senses. 14 million-plus inhabitants, its streets teeming with hundreds of thousands of rickshaws, trucks, derelict buses. It just has to be experienced first-hand.