Art Supplies in Dhaka

The art shops in New Market.
The art shops in New Market.

Buying art supplies in Gulshan is not easy as easy as buying art. There is one store in Landmark mall (on the ground floor in the right hallway) in Gulshan 2 circle. They have canvasses and oil paint, etc. But if you want to buy fine point drawing pens and art paper in different grades and weights, then head to New Market. The art stores like Modern and ABC are located near each other by the south gate, also known as Book gate, of New Market. Coming from Gulshan, you drive between Chawdni Chowk and New Market, then make a right turn. There are art supply stores in Old Dhaka but that requires more time. And as always, go on a Friday so that the trip will not take so long. Some of the stores are closed for Friday prayer so after 2 pm is best.

Art paper in many colors.
Art paper in many colors.

One thing about shopping. Make sure to ask for the cheapest items. For example, we asked for poster size water color paper. They showed us the 250 taka German brand, the 120 made in Britain brand, but did not show us the 60 taka Chinese brand until later. The store owners understand a fair amount of English which is nice but you still need to persevere to get the cheaper options explained to you. All the prices are still cheaper than in Gulshan. The stores have lots of really nice supplies which is a delight to find in Dhaka.

Also on “book street” in New Market, are several wedding invitation stores.

Beggars In Bangladesh – A Reality of Life in Dhaka

This is part of Dhaka traffic.
This is part of Dhaka traffic.

Beggars are part of daily life in Dhaka, as they are in India. They are on every street, often with missing limbs, physical deformities, and naked babies hanging from their arm. Many foreigners feel sad and uncomfortable by the presence of beggars. For many expats, the hardest part is when out and about in town. When sitting in traffic (which is a huge part of life in Dhaka), the beggars will hobble their way through the traffic. They will tap on your car window. Sometimes they bring hungry babies to the car. Sometimes, they make eating motions with their hands. If you walk in Dhaka, the beggars may touch your arm and some may follow you. Usually, a guard or policeman (almost every building in the expat areas has a guard and there are uniformed police everywhere) will shoo away the beggars. During Ramadan, the number of beggars surges in Dhaka because they come to where the money is and because part of the Ramadan tradition is for people to give charity (called Eidy). There are many children beggars and articles have been written about how these children are part of gangs run by pimps and that giving money to these children perpetuates the situation. One thing is for sure, if you give anyone money (buying the beggar child’s stickers — a common device), they will remember you for all the rest of your days in Dhaka. When expats roll down their window or keep the door open to give money to the beggars, the beggars will make it difficult to roll the window up or close the door. Sometimes, the beggar will hang on to your leg and not let go even when you walk away. This adds a disconcerting element to an already uncomfortable situation for many expats. The beggars have no time for fear.

Every time the car stops in traffic, this will happen.
Every time the car stops in traffic, this will happen.

If the beggars are hard to handle, you can get tinted windows for the car. Or you can learn to ignore it. The more you ignore the beggars, the quicker they will move on. And never make eye contact.

Even the Bangladeshis get hit up for money.
Even the Bangladeshis get hit up for money.

Normally I don’t take photos of them but I took a few for this blog posting (though not of the countless mangled children).

Instant Noodle on the Street

This stir fried noodle stand was in Kuala Lumpur
This stir fried noodle stand was in Kuala Lumpur

One of the foods found almost everywhere is the instant ramen noodle. Except in India and Bangladesh. But that may be changing. I recently saw a commercial for Maggi brand noodles with the patriarch of Bollywood eating instant noodles. Ramen is a soup in Japan and Korea. To sell these in India, the instant noodle dish in the commercial was less soupy. Using the noodles for a stir fry is how the noodles are used in Malaysia (that magician at the night market made the best I’ve had) or Cambodia, and so on. Since the culture in South Asia is to eat with the hand, I would have thought that advertisers would push something handheld, but maybe that’s the next part of the ad campaign (this is not an advertisement for any brand). In the U.S., instant noodle is sold in cups making it easily handheld and easily eaten with a fork. Many other ways to eat the ramen noodle and 27 of those ways are here. One way not mentioned here is wrapped around prawns and deep fried like at Goong.

Why are instant noodles so good even if they are not good for us? It’s “umami” which is the Japanese word for that something special that makes food so delicious.

Umami making in Cambodia.
Umami making in Cambodia.

Rickshaws in the Monsoon

Note the head protection.
Note the head protection.

And now for the weather. The monsoon arrived. When it rains, the rickshaws are still a popular form of transportation. The driver will often cover his hair in a plastic bag (banned as carrier bags two decades ago) and the passengers get a blue tarp to pull over their legs.

Double protection.
Double protection.

Iftar – Breaking the Fast

Phul Pitha, a Bangladeshi flower shaped cookie.
Phul Pitha, a Bangladeshi flower shaped biscuit.

For those who fast during the month of Ramadan (called Ramzan here in Bangladesh), breaking the fast at sunset, called iftar, is a celebration. Iftar on Fridays, the holy day of the week for Muslims, is often the day when the whole family can get together. As a foreigner living in Dhaka, I was invited to many iftars. Some are restaurants which serve an iftar buffet. And some at home. I was recently at a friend’s house for iftar and served the beautiful bicuit in the photo above. This biscuit, a phul pita, was crunchy, nutty, and slightly sweet. Plus, it was made by my friend’s grandmother. A masterpiece only surpassed by the host’s hospitality.

There are traditions to iftar. Most people try to get to their iftar location at least 45 minutes before sunset (which changes the rush hour pattern during Ramadan). As the sunset approaches, everyone sits at their place. At the minute of sunset (announced by the mosque announcements and followed on TV), breaking the fast starts. Usually, iftar is started by eating a date and drinking some lemonade. The iftar plates are individual plates with a variety of bites ready for eating as soon as the sun sets. After breaking the fast, Muslims will go and pray before returning for more food. Jalallaby (fried swirls of dough soaked in sugar water), haleem (a meat lentil stew/soup), and pakora (fried vegetable chickpea dumplings) are some of the most common items served for iftar. There can be ten or more dishes served, more when there are guests. I really enjoyed the split pea salad with ginger (in center of photo below) as this was the first time I tried this dish. The yellow peas were crunchy and the salad tasted fresh and spicy.

My iftar plate. From the top: pakora, dates, lentil salad, jalallopy, deep fried eggplant, and in the center, split pea salad.
My iftar plate. From the top: pakora, dates, lentil salad, jalallopy, deep fried eggplant, and in the center, split pea salad.

For most Bangladeshis, who normally eat dinner at 9-10 in the evening, iftar is just the appetizer course. Enjoy!

Eid Mubarak!

FAQ: Where’s the Best…. in Dhaka?

As I mentioned in previous post about the 100 restaurants I’ve eaten at in Dhaka, I will now answer some of the most frequently asked questions I receive. Most of these places are on my map of 99 expat places.

Where is the best sushi in Dhaka? At Izumi. This is probably the leading Japanese restaurant in Dhaka. On road 119 or nearby.

Where is the best sashimi in Dhaka? If you want sashimi (raw fish), then go to Goong, the Castle (a Korean restaurant that does many seafood dishes, raw and cooked).

Where is the best Thai food in Dhaka? Pan Thao on road 12 in Banani. Thai Kitchen in Gulshan is okay too. There is a new Thai place in Banani (two parallel streets behind Banani Supermarket) called Luam that makes a few dishes that are passable as well… Thai food is one of those ubiquitous cuisines you find advertised everywhere in Dhaka (along with Chinese and Italian).

Best steak? Goong. Even though it’s a Korean restaurant, they have imported beef there including Kobe beef (also called Wagyu — the famous Japanese breed of cows that get fed beer and get massages). The Steakhouse also has good steak. As does Diner 360 which has a bargain price as well.

Kobe or Wagyu beef at Goong restaurant.
Kobe or Wagyu beef at Goong restaurant.

Best Korean? Goong, the Castle.

Where is the most romantic restaurant in Dhaka? Mermaid Cafe has a few booth cabanas. Spaghetti Jazz has candles (well most do) and is dark. Panini in Banani has seating arrangements that allow for canoodling. See question below.

Where should I take my wife for our anniversary dinner? Le Souffle (it’s fancy and French), Spitfire, Saltz, Soi 71, Panini, Goong, Steakhouse. The restaurants in the Westin are expensive but they are romantic.

Which restaurant is best for taking children? Soi 71, Diner 360, Goong all have play areas or rooms for children. Istanbul has a castle for children.

Where is the best pizza in Dhaka? For American style, La Forchetta and Pizza Hut. For Italian thin style, Spaghetti Jazz and Bella Italia.

Where is the best burger in Dhaka? Have not found one I could eat all of but some like American Burger and the one at Panini was not as bad as I thought it would be.

What is the best ice cream in Dhaka? Movenpick.

Best cafe to hang out in? Northend Coffee Roasters, Cafe Italiano, Roll Express, Gloria Jeans

Where can I get the best dessert in Dhaka? Movenpick (eat in the cafe), Mr. Baker, King’s Confectionery.

Best bakery? King’s Confectionery, Mr. Baker, Do Mi Ok, Northend Coffee Roasters, and Bellagio.

Where are there nachos in Dhaka? Panini.

Where is the best fruit juice in Dhaka? Panini (ask for no added sugar, watch them make it in the sound muffling room), Roll Express, Saltz, and most places.

Best Turkish? Istanbul on road 118.

Where is the best fuchka (many spellings) in Dhaka? That guy in Lalmatia that I blogged about. If not him, Malaka (go up the escalator) in the mall next to the Agora shop on Gulshan.

Where is the best biryani in town? I can’t say. The Dhansiri restaurants do good local food.

Where is the best dhosa in town? Best in town is Roll Express, Time Out, or Dhaba.

Best Bangladeshi? Someone’s home but otherwise, it depends on what you want. Go to BBQ Tonight, Dhaba, or Nirob.

I will try to update this if I get asked other questions. These are my personal opinions since I have not been to the thousands of other restaurants in Dhaka.

***Is there an Ethiopian restaurant in town? Nope.***