A Food Adventure in DC – Oaxaca Off the Map

“Are you up for a food adventure?” YES!

The most photogenic dish - a tostada with chicken.
The most photogenic dish – a tostada with chicken.

While there are thousands of restaurants in Washington, DC, few of them truly transport you overseas with one bite of huitlacoche. Sitting around the card table at Taqueria Jugalita will make you feel like you are on an adventure. If you want to go too, here’s how:

1. “Atencion: Solamente Sabado y Domingo, 7 am A 7 pm”

2. Choose your teammates… exclude anyone who cannot handle sitting on a plastic chair in someone’s living room.

3. Cash only. BYOB if you want B. Otherwise, they sell soft drinks.

4.Go to 1445 Park Road, #211, Washington, DC 20010 (That block of Park Road is a tiny example of world fusion with Los Hermanos and a pho restaurant side by side). Ring on the doorbell, wait for the keys to be thrown down to you. Go up to apartment (do not take elevator as it may not work).

5. Try something “bizarre” like beef tongue taco, corn smut (“huitlacoche” – “wheat la coach eh” in my non-phonetic phonetic), or organ meat. Try the sauces on the table. The portion sizes are also “normal” so not as huge (for example, the quesadilla is about the size of a taco since it’s made from one home made corn tortilla — see photo below).

Two servings of quesadillas.
One pork skin quesadilla and one potato and pepper quesadilla.

6. Expect to pay $3.50 per taco (so $7 for a plate or around $14 for a meal). It’s not dirt cheap food and not as cheap as street food from a food truck.

7. Practice your Spanish. Enjoy.

This green "salsa" is spicy!
This green “salsa” is spicy!

Tour Dhaka in One Day – Visit Bangladesh

Tourist in Dhaka? I get asked where to take friends and family when they visit Dhaka. Depending on how long the visit (hopefully it’s at least a week so that your guests can recover from jet lag), here is my run down of what to see and do, and frequently asked questions (FAQ):

When to visit? In the winter. The temperature will still get up to 70-90 F. You know that saying about “mad dogs and Englishmen”? Well, it’s true. If you go outside in April-October, you may become a mad dog from the heat. Not sure if you will become English…

The river in Dhaka.
The river in Dhaka.

Travel agencies and tour guides? Yes, use them if you want to. You can usually talk your way to about 2,000 taka per person for a group of six or more for half a day. Most tour companies include riding around in a minivan, called a “micro-bus” in Dhaka, bottled water, and long talks about the sites. That said, at almost every site, actually all the time, you will be surrounded by friendly Bangladeshis eager to talk to you, about the site or not. The official guides, or random fellow who opens the site for you, appreciate a tip (10, 20 taka for the random fellow) as almost anyone likes a tip (like the guy watching your car).

Self-guided? It can be done… if you want to attempt it in one day, here is how I would do it (but, I would try do this over two days leaving the Liberation War Museum and New Market for a different day):

“Bangabandhu” – site of assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, father of the current prime minister of Bangladesh. It’s located at Road 32, Dhanmondi. Opens at 10 in the morning. There is a nominal fee and you cannot take anything (no purses, no phones, nothing), into the museum. Leave it all with a driver in the car. Agree on a time when the driver will come get you.

Parliament: It’s an award winning building. If you want a tour of the inside, you will have to work your contacts.

Lalbagh (there is a bath house and weaponry if you get someone to unlock the door for you): It is the site used when the TV show, the Amazing Race, came to town the first time. But, it’s so much more.

Pink Palace (Ahsan Manzil): It’s a pink mansion turned museum. It has large steps which allows for a sweeping view of the riverfront.

Eat at Nirob — Lunch (if the traffic is flowing, you could be here by 1:30 p.m.)

Old Dhaka/Hindu Street:¬†Buy shell bracelets (called “shakha”). These are usually worn by married Hindu women as a symbol of their wedded state.

Bracelets made from conch shell.
Bracelets made from conch shell.

Liberation War Museum: This is not for the faint of stomach. Gruesome photos and explanations about the war in 1971.

Dhaka University – Curzon Hall is a notable building.

New Market: buy whatever you can find, from lace, sarees, curtains, carpets, etc.

BBQ Tonite: enjoy the smoky courtyard atmosphere and grilled meat on a stick… if you have the energy.

On another day:

Boat trip on the river (can include visits to jamdani weaving workshop, jute factory, etc.). These day boat trips are relaxing once you get on the boat. They usually include lunch on board. Book through a tour company. They will pick you up and drop you off at home. One of the companies even has a boat shaped like a peacock. There are many companies but I liked this one: Tourist Channel Bangladesh… 02-8189273. Or 9130260. CEO is Iqubal Hossain. Touristchannelbd@gmail.com. It was 50,000 taka ($633 and the boat can hold 25-35 adults and 10 children, or something such combination) for the whole boat for the day including the bus to and fro, and lunch and tea. They were efficient without being overly “talkative.”

Rickshaw factory tour: Arrange through a tour company. If your guests can visit Dhaka when the Rickshaw Relay happens, even better. (The Rickshaw Relay is a fundraiser which is popular with expats.) There are half a million rickshaws in Dhaka, so you will see many of them, and I’m sure that any one of the rickshaw drivers would be happy to let you drive them around if you want to give it a try.

Go to the spa. Get mehendi(henna) tattoos. It wears off after a few weeks.

Shop in Gulshan: Shops include Aranya, Jatra, Aarong, Folk International, and Artisan (where “reject” Western clothes are sold, like TJ Maxx or Ross).

Fly to Cox’s Bazar, the world’s longest beach, or Sylhet tea country, or take a multi-day cruise in the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest. Look for the Royal Bengal tiger. I know people who have actually seen one in the wild.

Attend a wedding: If you ask your Bangladeshi friends, they are usually very happy to include your guests. Then your guests will have the fun of getting dressed in the traditional Bangladeshi clothing.

Explore! Or try some of the restaurants and find more than the 100 I tried.

Keep in mind that the traffic may change how much you can see in one day, or on any day. Take water, mosquito repellent, light cotton clothing, a good camera, nuts or other snacks, and sun protection (hat, umbrella, scarf). I have been on these tours in June and I sweated so much that I began to hallucinate that I was a fish. But, I got lots of photos!

How Did the Chicken Get on the Scale?

I have never considered how one weighs an egg. At the Lincoln restaurant in Washington, DC, they serve the deviled eggs on an egg scale. The deviled eggs were not delicious so it made the gimmick of the egg scale seem all show; and no substance. I was excited when I ordered the deviled eggs with “duck crackling” but was disappointed. The duck skin was served as miniscule frigid speck (yup, a pork fat pun) on top of the deviled egg. But, it was the yolk mix itself which did not taste great. I think there was too much mustard and not enough pickle flavor. It would have been better with a sweeter flavor. But, at least it looked good?

Deviled eggs with duck crackling and lox.
Deviled eggs with duck crackling and lox.

The kale salad, on the other hand, was magical.

Curtains Up!

Curtains in all colors.
Curtains in all colors.

As with almost everything in Dhaka, you can have a curtain maker come to your home. Or you can buy ready-made curtains. The curtains in Aarong or Jatra are more expensive than the curtains in New Market. In fact, there is a whole “curtain row” in New Market. It is near the “book street” entrance. This is also the area where you can find art stores and art supplies. Some of curtains range from 500 taka to 1,500 per curtain. These curtains are standard size of about a meter/yard wide so you may need several to cover a window.

Go to New Market on a day when the traffic will not be as epic as it is on a weekday. Some of the shops are closed during Friday midday prayer so I usually plan to arrive around 3 p.m. in the afternoon. Curtains up!

The beaded curtain was 1,500 taka and then 1,100...
The beaded curtain was 1,500 taka and then 1,100…

L for Lips and R for Rub – Milk and Honey in Your Purse

I’m slightly obsessed with travel-size containers. I like things that will fit in my purse (leaving enough room for my huge camera). Unlike in Bangladesh, where I almost never thought about cold weather, the cold weather in the U.S. in January made me realize that I need to carry lip balm and moisturizer in my bag. I was standing in the Container Store evaluating the options and realized that nothing was small enough. As I looked at their fashionable contact lens containers, it struck me! I would re-purpose a contact lens case. I used a cheap contact lens case.

Milk and honey at the fingertips.
Milk and honey at the fingertips.

Left for lips and Right for rub.

I decided to use some products which are as “natural” as possible. I recommend both. I simply cut the lip balm (it is egg shaped inside) and placed it in the lens case. The lotion was even easier to squeeze in. But, you could use whatever products you like.

For other small containers, I recommend REI for all things travel. I just like to go there to dream and imagine all the inventions and adventures to be had.