Being part of an undivided India years ago, there is some similarity between the cuisine of Dhaka and that of eastern India
A gloriously noisy and chaotic place bubbling with energy, Dhaka is immersed in its cultural offerings; and food plays a major part in it. A Dhakaite’s (people from Dhaka are often referred as Dhakaite) favourite beverage is rong cha – coloured tea. Those who prefer sweeter tea will have dudh cha or milk tea, which is rong cha with a small spoon of condensed milk. Savoured alongside are cookies, sweet bun and patishapta, a crepe with the filling of coconut and sugar. It’s a completely different experience to have tea and other accompaniments across the shore on Sadarghat inside a shanty or inside a dilapidated small boat turned into a tea-stall.
I was visiting ‘Pathshala’, a photography school in Dhaka, and students at ‘Pathshala’ insisted that I must try pitha, a winter delicacy, it is round in shape, soft and fluffy. I went to the famous Bailey Road Pitha Ghar where I tried the poa pitha, a fried pitha made out of rice, eggs, flour and banana. Bangladeshi cuisine is generally spicier than Indian cuisine and I got a hint of it when I had the chitoi pitha made of rice and water which was served with super spicy mustard paste. To get rid of the burning sensation on the tongue, I had shahi ras pacan pitha, which was filled with rice, moong dal, sugar and all of which was cooked in ghee.
Lalbagh, an area in Old Dhaka, is very popular for its foodie offerings, a couple of shops near Lalbagh Fort sell bakarkhani. This firm, crunchy biscuits are available in three varieties; sweet, cheese and salty. It is cooked in a clay oven. You can also get packed bakarkhani in sweet shops but it will lack the magic of the hot and fresh ones. The sight of singada and dal-puri gave me the feeling of walking and exploring the streets of Kolkata in India.There were a few snack items which were quite different than the usual findings in the Bengali fare in India. Your trip to Old Dhaka would be incomplete if you don’t have a chilled sherbet – sweet curd blended with lemon juice and topped with rose water, at Nurani cold drink.
My dinner at Boisakhi restaurant in a very posh area of Dhanmondi was new to my taste buds. I settled for egg bhorta (gravy) and Taki fish bhorta for starters, Pangash fish curry and Chital fish cutlet curry for the main course. The Taki fish bhorta — made with a mix of five spices — was flavourful and savoured with steamed rice. If you are adventurous enough, you could try pigeon roast too.
There are other much-talked about biryani joints like Hazi Biriyani at Nazira Bazaar. I enjoyed Borhani, an accompaniment with biryani. It is a curd-based drink with sugar, garlic, black salt, green chillies, mustard seeds, ginger and mint. Borhani is both sweet and spicy!
The soft and syrupy Lengcha, Rasmalai, Rajbhog, Cream jam and Pera Sandesh are the sweets you can look forward to relish. Boss, Madhuban and Paradise are the popular chain sweetshops across Dhaka. The local ice-cream brand ‘Polar’ offers shor malai ice-cream, shor malai is a local sweet. As I boarded my flight back, all I had was memories and a lingering taste of Dhaka.
By: Ravikiran Rangaswamy