[Bangladesh] Lunches


(Peter) #1

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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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?

  1. 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.

  1. 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.

  1. 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).

  1. 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)

  1. 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.


#2

amazing post. thanks!


(Peter) #3

Most welcome. Love Bangladesh - like Pakistan, is less-touristy than India, and has surprising, oftentimes wonderful experiences in store for visitors.


(Anti Everything :@)) :@)) ) #4

Another nice set. Bangladeshis seem friendly and warm.

SE Asia holds little interest for me now (HKG being an exception) but I have plans for south and swouth-west Asia. I’ve taken Sri Lanka off my “list”, Bangladesh looks like it has a chance!


(Peter) #5

Why remove Sri Lanka? I’d always wanted to visit it, and especially see the wonderful creations of Geoffrey Bawa.

Mind you, Sri Lanka is as clean, compared to India, as Bangladesh is incredibly dirty. I failed to understand why Bangladeshis seemed okay with throwing garbage everywhere - even the lawns in front of the beautiful Cubbon Hall at the elite Dhaka University are practically strewn with rubbish. The mind boggles.


(Anti Everything :@)) :@)) ) #6

Same here. National decorations are dog crap and rubbish. And this is a western and “developed” country.

Got the Sri Lanka guide book a few years back, read it, researched it and the country dropped to the bottom of the list. Duel pricing, surprisingly quite expensive, almost everyone will try to rip you off, you are accosted by con artists and scammers constantly. Sounds unpleasant and stressful. Even the guide book must mention all of this.


#7

What about the lovely giant mud crabs :thinking:

That statement pretty much kills it for the Mrs… sigh…


(Peter) #9

That’s sad.

Bangladesh is at the other end of the spectrum - very similar to Pakistan which I visited a few years back: there are virtually no tourists, and every foreign visitor is treated with a mixture of curiousity and big-hearted generosity. In some ways, I’m pretty glad I get to see Bangladesh before the scourge of tourist-related commercialisation takes over the place.

As it is today, we travelled hundreds of miles each day and all we saw were vast expanses of greenery, people who live the way they’d done for ages, and amazing archaeological sites with no one but us around - a similar place in India or China would’ve been inundated by large, noisy tour groups.

The time I visited the Moghul-era Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, Pakistan, 2 years ago - I was the only non-local in there the whole time, gawking and taking photos. Everyone else looked like they stepped out of the pages of the National Geographic.


(Peter) #10

Sri Lankan crabs are the stuff the legend - absolutely beautiful.
In Singapore, we use them for our iconic chili crab dish.


(Peter) #11

I hate to say this - but urban Bangladesh must be the dirtiest place in the world. I’d never seen such conditions in other parts of South Asia. Bangladesh is the only place I’d ever been to which actually makes India look “clean” in comparison.


#12

How about hygiene in food? Is that of any worries eating street food?


(Peter) #13

Our guide is pretty good in steering us away from street food stalls which looked dodgy. Usually, busy places are pretty safe to eat at, as the food is fresh. That said, however, I’m not sure if an American or European’s constitution can handle local food there. I don’t have any problems - but you might have seen Singaporean or Penang/Bangkok street food places, so we’re perhaps better prepared to handle South Asian ones.


#14

We didn’t have problem eating street food in Vietnam, Thailand, MY, but mild pain in Cambodia, we had prepare medicines, and we didn’t skip a meal. I bet Bangladesh might be in the same category. We have a tendency to overeat when we travel though, which is a much bigger problem.


#15

Thanks for sharing. Great pictures. Makes me want to get on a plane right now and eat my way through Bangladesh.

May I ask what time of the year you visited Pakistan? I was at Badshah Mosque 2 years ago, and there were a few tourists there. I have quite a different view of Pakistan than yours. I love the old, adventurous Pakistan. It was much like what your Bangladesh pictures look like. The new Pakistan, especially food in the large cities, is very boring to me. Although my relatives frequently tell me if I lived there, I would feel differently; i.e., I would prefer the boring version. (Besides the food which they finally agree was a casualty, but one they are comfortable living with.)

The northern areas of Pakistan are flooded with tourists now. I’m glad I visited many years ago when the roads were so dangerous, just getting there felt like you were on a 3 hour roller coaster. Now, litter and pollution ruin the natural beauty. For some reason, litter in the cities doesn’t bother me as much because I’m just used to it. It’s going very slow, but I’ve seen progress over the years in getting people to use trash cans.

May I ask how you find tour guides when you visit countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh? Do you just take a leap of faith, or are there agencies you can trust?

Edit: One thing I wanted to add, you can find places like this in China, but be warned. Had I not been “trained” in Pakistan, I would’ve been freaking out like the rest of my group in China last summer (and we were the only non-Chinese in the group.) Our regular living arrangements were okay, but some of the “field trips” were not for the faint of heart.


#16

At least in Pakistan, the hygiene of the real food isn’t good. Everyone reacts differently. I always get sick for week when I visit before my body finally adjusts. (Thankfully my child inherited the impossibly strong stomachs of my in-laws.) If you just want to see the sights in major cities, there is plenty of sterile, boring food you can survive on, though. Personally, I’d rather be sick for a week than eat chutney from the supermarket or sandwiches from Dunkin Donuts.


(Peter) #17

In August. I was on a 3-week business trip, though - so it was a very different experience: formal dinners on most nights, and only get to do sightseeing on the two weekends I was there. Armed bodyguards stuck to me at all times, which felt a bit embarassing.

I found Dhaka Holidays from the Internet - but they are a fantastic bunch of people, very professional and responsive.


#18

Wow, in August! That’s very brave. No way you’ll see foreign tourists there at that time. And it always seems like most of the well-to-do folks are off visiting North America and Europe during that time, too. So you actually got to see domestic tourists from different parts of Pakistan.

Also, using a company you found on the Internet is very brave, too. It gives me some courage to take a risk and visit Southeast Asia. I’m always worried how I will get around in a short amount of time if I go to those places. In China, most non-Americans tourists, short-term students, and businessmen had very affordable English-speaking guides, but I couldn’t figure out how exactly they found them. I’ve always been afraid to trust companies over the Internet. Thanks for sharing!


(Anti Everything :@)) :@)) ) #19

You had me at…

My partner is fraught with anxiety after hearing a short summary of “I have a death wish and think it’s fun to go on a holiday in hell” haha.

How is air quality there? If it’s like China then I’d have a big problem. I would be sick as a dog from the food anyway.

Did you take that photo above? I don’t see any rubbish on the ground.

Thank you for this series. I’ve leant a few things and do think Bangladesh still has a chance to get on my “list”. Eating crabs/seafood is the one reason I’m still thinking about Sri Lanka. Maybe I go somewhere known for their crab dishes and eat a lot of them for a week (not 3) and that’s it.


(Peter) #20

Air quality in Bangladesh is not that bad as they have very little heavy industries. Most vehicles are beat-up trucks and clunky buses - you have to come see it to believe it. There are roughly 600,000 people-powered rickshaws in Dhaka alone - perhaps the main mode of transport there.

Yes, I did: but then, it’s in Pakistan, which is relatively cleaner than Bangladesh.
Roads in Pakistan are also inestimably better than those we encounter in India. Bangladesh has the worst roads I’d ever experienced.