Washington, DC’s Ethiopian restaurants are well-known. Yet, I tried Ethiopian food for the first time in Ethiopia. The food was new to me. It was perhaps not so different from the bhorta of Bangladesh, but it was a world away from the sancocho of Colombia, and the burgers of America. When I was in Ethiopia, my friend took me to a restaurant serving traditional Ethiopian food. First, we sat at low tables about the size of chair. The food was served on a large platter (about a yard/meter wide) on which the waitress placed our different dishes along with the national bread, injera, a spongy flat bread. The waitress brought a silver pot and poured water over my hands so that I could wash them, although I only ever dream of using my right hand! We had a boiled egg, stewed greens, a curry, etc. I found the food to be on the sour side and immediately thought of certain friends who love sour foods — like lemons.
As we were at a tourist friendly, the other guests appeared to be a mix of expat Ethiopians, families, and the national football (soccer) coach. For dessert, we had coffee. After all, coffee comes from “Kaffa” in Ethiopia. It was strong in the “Turkish” style. I enjoyed it.
During the meal, traditional dances of Ethiopia were sung and performed for us. I’m sure that the stories being told in the dances were those of battle, courtship, and harvest, and they involved a style of dance which required high impact step aerobics and what is fondly called the “chicken” dance. As the evening progressed, the men changed into costumes that seemed to allow them more air during their feverish dances while the women continued to put on more and more clothing like sweaters and headscarves. I don’t know if any of the restaurants in DC have dance performances like the one I saw in Addis but I found the dance and the music uplifting and I’d watch it again.
Here is my list of 10 foods to taste in Bangladesh. I have not included biryani because, of course, you will try biryani while you are here! Right? Speaking of right, remember to use the right hand only when eating…
1. Fuchka (and chot-puti which is basically the same ingredients but chopped up): It’s a street food. Small dough balls which are stuffed with a chickpea (garbanzo) salad made with jalapenos. Can be spicy. It is served with a tangy tamarind vinaigrette. There is usually the option to have this served not spicy which means the addition of a yogurt sauce on top. Many vendors mix a special black salt into the yogurt sauce. See #10 for a similar aroma.
2. Bhorta: the biggest secret food. It’s a style of “mashup” foods and other small dishes like mezze/appetizers/tapas. Best restaurant is in Old Dhaka but try to eat it homemade.
3. Rumali: This is my personal favorite because I like yeasty stretchy dough with grilled meat. “Rumali” means handkerchief so the bread is as thin as a handkerchief.
4. Jhalmuri: It’s a street food. A savory puffed rice treat usually served in a recycled paper cone (as in, you can read someone’s homework on the paper) with a paper scooper as a utensil.
5. Sringara: A street food. Also, commonly served at parties. It’s a deep fried dough ball or triangle. Like a samosa.
6. Pithe: A biscuit with sculptured designs unique to the maker.
7. Hilsha: The national fish. April and Bengali New Year is the time to eat this bony fish. Bangladesh is a country of fish eaters.
8. Jallaby: Also a street food. It’s like a deep fried funnel cake cooled and soaked in sugar water.
9. Mishti doi: Sweetened fresh yogurt. The yogurt in Bangladesh is almost always fresh and made in clay pots which are tossed (ultimate earth to earth recycling). It’s funny because many expats will keep these clay dishes and the Bangladeshis don’t really understand why.
10. Bhorhani: It is a drink made from yogurt but it is mixed with “special black salt” which is sulfuric. This drink is often served at special events like weddings. The Bangladeshis say that the drink cuts through the fattiness of the biryani served at weddings. I didn’t like this drink but I do like lassi and most other yogurt based drinks. I’m just not a fan of the sulfur aroma.
When in Bangladesh, also try the lime soda, fresh juices, fresh mangoes, and coconuts. I liked the lime soda because it was always served with sugar syrup and fresh squeezed lime — a good way to keep scurvy at bay! Of course, there are many that I did not include on my list: “black berries” which look like olives and are bitter in flavor. Rice cakes. Unripe guava is often served and you will see vendors selling these pale green fruit cut up with some spice on them. And so on (I’m not Andrew Zimmern so I’m not including only “bizarre” foods, but, you may not like all of them. I personally liked the unripe guava but found the black berries to be too bitter for me). Also, try the Faluda. It’s a sort of milk shake dessert item with vermicelli noodles and super saccharine sweet syrup (see the photo of the pink milkshake?).
Lastly, I always get asked if I get sick when I eat street foods or anything in Bangladesh. Follow your gut… food that sits out and reaches that dangerous (is it 58 F?) point where bad bacteria fester, should be avoided. Right? I was lucky but I also calculated my risks and I didn’t take that many. Usually, I let my Bangladeshi friends guide me. They always kept me safe. Oh, and if you are lucky, you will get to try many of these foods at weddings, including the biryani. Enjoy!
Finally, I reached my goal of trying 100 eateries in Dhaka (I did it in 18 months which is six months ahead of my goal). If you wish to read my previous restaurant reviews, please do: part one, part two, part three, part four, and part five. Or, read about where I find the restaurants to try. I base my reviews on food quality, service, and price (I set less emphasis on presentation and atmosphere). Later, I’ll blog about the FAQ (frequently asked questions) that I get about restaurants in Dhaka including where’s the best sushi… but first, the top ten.
THE TOP TEN
1. Goong, “the Castle”. New name, same location, Road 50, house 12B, Gulshan — look for the wooden fortress style gate with the red and blue yin yang symbol(13/13) (Previously called Dae Jang Geum and not to be confused with the Dae Jang Geum which opened down the street). Korean palace food. A meal will run between 1,000-6,000 Taka ($12-80) per person. But worth it. The best food in town. Even if you don’t like Korean food or fish… get one of the many other dishes on the menu.
2. BBQ Tonite, Dhanmondi (13/13): Meat on stick. Delicious outdoor atmosphere and smoky grilled meat. Delicious fresh flat breads including “rumali” which is thin yeasty stretchy “handkerchief” bread, paratha (fried bread), and naan.
3. Northend Coffee Roasters (12/13): Coffee and baked goods. Must try: cinnamon buns warm from the oven. Now they have a berry crumble that is super delicious.
4. Bamboo Shoot, Gulshan Avenue, Gulshan (10/13): Chinese. Special Chinese (scribbled Chinese characters on a scrap of paper) menu on weekends. Take a Chinese person with you and have them insist on seeing the Chinese menu. This place also serves Sichuan hotpot.
5. Golden Goose at Lakeshore Hotel, Gulshan (9/13): Continental. I had a good pizza, good naan, good salad, etc. here.
6. Roll Express, Gulshan (9/13): Butter Paper Dhosa filled with potato is one of my favorites here. The chicken reshmi roll is also good cold as a takeaway sandwich.
7. Spaghetti Jazz, Gulshan Circle, Gulshan (8/13): Italian. Closest thing to a thin Italian style pizza in Dhaka. Pasta is home made. I get my garlic and chili carb fix here.
8. Panini, Road 19 in Banani (8/13): The spaghetti with garlic and chili is made with smoked chili flakes and the scent may haunt your dreams.
9. Istanbul, road 118, Gulshan (8/13): Turkish food. Fresh cheese and freshly baked bread. Weekend buffet for 1,000 taka. Turkish. Road 118. You can’t even tell you’re in Dhaka. It’s a massive multi-world restaurant with wood fire oven, Las Vegas painted sky ceiling, and a two level castle for children. They have a creamery on location and sell fresh cheese and bread. Soon will have a level with hookah/nargile/water pipe.
Movenpick, Gulshan Avenue across from Pink City (10/13): Ice cream, Swiss style. Also serves one sandwich type. Must try: a warm freshly made waffle with pecan ice cream and maple syrup.
Spitfire, Gulshan Avenue, Gulshan (8/13): Continental/Western food. Same good juice as Saltz upstairs. Must try: serves warm bread rolls with every meal.
Diner 360, Madani Avenue, on top of VIP photo (8/13): Diner food. Some local dishes. Inexpensive. Steak dinner for $11.
King’s Confectionery, Road 11, Banani (7/13): Baked goods. Sells chicken with curry. Must try: Donuts on a stick.
Villa Ideas – formerly Ideas Manzil, Road 79, House 19, Gulshan – food by appointment only – call or email (11/13): International guest house with private set menus – Bangladeshi, Indian, Thai, European, and seafood. All the food was fresh. The antique shopping was also fun. Unique location much like a secret garden in Dhaka. You must contact them ahead of time to arrange the menu. Owned by an expat who grew up here.
Dhaba, *** Road 10, (was on Road 12), Banani (7/13): Street food in a safe but dark environment. Try the phoughka. Good garlic naan. ***Apparently they have moved to a brighter location.
Prego at the Westin Hotel (7/13): Pizza, pasta, appetizer and a juice for $80. Insanely expensive.
Splash at the Westin Hotel (7/13): Poolside bar.
Bakery at the Westin Hotel (8/13): Good baked bread. Coffee is Illy and they have imported the South Asia Illy Italian expert. Ciao!
Time Out Cafe, Road 10, Banani (9/13): Indian-Bangladeshi-Asian. Note: Dhosa, wings, and noodles can all be had in their courtyard. It’s in the hip area of Banani. Young Bangladeshis like it.
Mallika Snacks, Rupayon Mall near Agora, Gulshan (8/13): Phoughka. It’s a local place and it’s more a snack place. Best phoughka in the Gulshan area. Very local place.
Le Souffle at the Bellagio (6/13): French. Must try: the red mirrored bathroom. One of the few places with a liquor license. Popular with business clientele. The most expensive restaurant in Dhaka. 6,000 Taka for dinner for one.
KFChicken (9/13) on Road 13: Batter fried chicken. The best fried chicken in Dhaka.
AND THE REST
Sakura Golden Rice (5/13) near road 118: Chinese/Japanese/Bangladeshi. Reopened and still mediocre watered down food.
Topkapi, Gulshan Avenue(6/13): Buffet. Mostly Bangladeshi and Thai food. The papaya salad was not bad and it was spicy!
Emerald Thai (8/13): Thai. Located in Uttara near the flagship Arong store but very hard to find… interior decor is elegant but the food is not Thai spicy. Made for the Bangladeshi palate.
New Cathay (8/13): Chinese. This new location in Banani, on Road 11, is modern looking but the food and the waiters are as good as they have been for 25 years.
Gloria Jean’s (7/13): Cafe with food. Nice enough atmosphere inside and a place to hang out and grab a light bite to eat. Wi-fi and perky staff seem to be some of the reasons there’s hype about this place. I’m not really into it but then I don’t need a cafe to work from.
Orange and a Half cafe (7/13): New place! Cafe with coffee, shakes, desserts, and sandwiches. Located in Tejgaon, the industrial zone. The cafe is hip looking and located in the Shanta Western building. The owners want a “western” level place. Let’s see if they can reach it. For not, it’s coffee is okay, some of the sandwiches and cakes are okay… let’s see how they do once they have been open for a while. Their goal is to match Gloria Jean’s.
Nagasaki (7/13): Japanese. This place is like stepping back in time 50 years… there are holes under the tables so that you sit Japanese style but don’t have to sit on the floor if you are out of practice. Soggy rice. Not fresh sashimi. Located out in Uttara.
Just Juice, Gulshan Avenue (4/13): Juice and sandwiches. Has a few seats out in front and is otherwise a very small shop.
Attin, Road 24, Gulshan (9/13): Arabic. Located on Road 27 in Gulshan, this is a hipster sort of place with a rustic loft feel. The middle eastern appetizers are not bad and the waiters are talkative.
Cuppa Coffee Cafe (7/13): Continental/Bangla-Asian. Located with a great view of Gulshan II circle, the people watching is the best thing about this place. Usual hit or miss with dishes covered in mystery white “special sauce” or red ketchup chili.
Baristo (7/13) – Road 6, Banani: Cafe/Italian/Smokers Lounge/Lounge. Opened in February 2013. Have the coffee while sitting in a car… this is a large place suited for large groups. Will soon have hookah/nargile/water pipe.
American Burger (5/13) – Road 11, Banani: Burgers and fries. Okay fries. Burger was okay. Small, take out sort of place with three tables.
Rush Tex Mex (5/13) – Road 6, Banani: Burgers and fries. The advertised Mexican dishes were mysteriously not available… small place with two booths. Fries were okay.
Spicy Restaurant (4/13) on Kemal Attaturk: Opened March 15, 2013. Usual burgers, kababs, banglese (bangla/chinese) stuff. Also has Wifi, I think. Has four booths (or half of the table is booth and the other side is chairs) and a table for six.
Atrium (7/13): Chinesey Bangla food. Some Indian. The lunch buffet for under 600 taka is okay. The exterior Japanesey garden and tables could be nice if it weren’t right on one of the busiest roads in the area.
Quesadilla (3/13); The quesadilla was actually okay. Not greasy and edible. The “Mexican pizza” was like a basic frozen pizza with some charred crumbled beefish added plus a few loops of green pepper. The nachos were a plate of fried wonton skins covered in brown beans, cheese, and decorated with swirls of “mexican” sauce — a slightly sweet pink sauce. The garlic bread with melted cheese was so tasteless as to be useless.
Samdado, near Westin (6/13): Japanese/Sushi/Korean. Old established place to take business clients at lunch. Note: saw a rodent skitter across the floor during our incessant wait for the bill.
Crepe-au-Lait, Gulshan, near Thai Kitchen and London Sausage House (5/13): Crepes, savory and sweet. Hip new place filled with hipsters. Note: Savory crepes were not bad. Service is slow.
Kozmo (6/13): Cafe. Hip place in Banani. Various Indonesian and other cuisines on small menu. Note: Mini chicken kebabs are cute.
Bella Italia, Gulshan Avenue (7/13): Pizza and pasta. The Penne a l’Arabiatta (spicy pasta) was the best dish. Note: It’s in the building with Royal Thai and the sign for Roy Rogers Roasters.
Dhansiri, near Gulshan 2 circle and Westin (6/13): Bangladeshi. Next to the Westin. Acceptable local food when you need have people who want to eat Bangladeshi food.
Sura BBQ, Road 71, Gulshan (7/13): Korean BBQ, same owners as Sura. Across from Soi 71. Note: It has LA style kalbi (beef rib slices). Most of the food had something missing from the flavor. Too bad. The raw fish was bad.
Do Mi Ok, Road 11, Banani (7/13): Korean BBQ. Try: the cubed daikon radish kimchi was crunchy and acceptable. There was no traditional napa cabbage kimchi served. Rest of the food was uninteresting.
Shwarma, Banani (3/13): Shawarma and mini pizzas. This place is so popular but I can’t really figure out why. The “meat” was chewy and not in a good way.
Cheng Chong, Banani north of Kemal Ataturk (7/13)): Cantonese. Fried rice was good. Corn soup was good. Will try more stuff later.
Spices (3/13): It’s the airport restaurant. They serve fresh juice and all kinds of other items.
The Village, Gulshan Avenue (8/13): Pakistani. Kebabs. Much talked about place. Food okay. Large space is good for business and clients. Noisy. Humid interior has a roof but no airconditioning in the main area. Note: Quirky interior.
Mainland China (7/13): Cantonese. The restaurant revolves at about one rotation in 70 minutes. The food is okay although everything seems covered in “chili sauce” which is fairly common in Bangladesh. Its a sweet red ketchupy sauce. Mainland China is to the north of the airport so almost impossible to get to for dinner during non-Ramzan traffic. Note: the place has a good view.
California Fried Chicken (2/13): Fast food. The service is slow, the marketing looks promising, and the food is awful. Weird rubbery dark meat with bone in the “burger” and the strawberry shake was like bubble gum. Note: also sells cakes and snacks from a separate counter.
Shing Heong (5/13): Cantonese. Average to not good southern Chinese food. Note: they plan on serving dim sum soon.
Club Gelato, Road 11, Banani (3/13): Gelato and cakes. Seems promising but then the flavors are all fake and faker. Disgusting really with a chemical aftertaste. Note: serves coffee and looks like a good place to go.
Urban Spice, Road 11, Banani (8/13): Indonesian. Food is acceptable. Tom Yum soup was good, though not Indonesian. Best chicken satay in Dhaka. Note: Decor is modern and chic.
Hotel Al-Razzaque (5/13): Local Bangladeshi. Very local place downtown Dhaka. Note: So authentic that expats are “protected” from using the bathroom.
Coopers (6/13): Bakery. Dry cakes. Note: popular with locals.
Nandos (7/13): Chicken South African style. Yup, just like in South Africa. Note: Yes, it’s the chain from South Africa.
BBQ at the Ascot (3/13): Continental. Note: Strange small pieces of meat. Some things okay. Some not.
Boomers (4/13): Bangladeshi Chinese fast food. Very popular with locals. Note: The pizza with sweet canned milk on top is too sweet for most expats.
@Corner , Gulshan 1 cirlce (6/13): Thai. Considered by many to be the top Thai restaurant in town. Note: It is located on the top floor of a shopping mall walking past the open latrines can scare newbie expats.
The 8 (7/13): Pan Asian. Great variety. Pepper steak will make you choke from the fumes. Note: looks nice and elegant inside but the food is only okay.
Izumi, Road 118? (8/13): Japanese. Elegant interior. Large. Good for business clients. Note: Interior is dark. Black walls.
Kasturi, Banani (7/13): Bangladeshi. They claim to be the best Bangladeshi restaurant in the world… Note: They have an outdoor patio dining area. It is truly local food if you avoid the Indian and Chinese items on the menu.
New Kings Kitchen, Iqbal Tower, Banani (5/13): Cantonese. Note: they have karaoke.
Saltz, Gulshan Avenue (8/13): Seafood continental style. Like an underworld theme park. Must try: the fresh juice.
New Mermaid Cafe, Gulshan 2 circle (9/13): Large airconditioned location on Gulshan Circle. Note: wish they had an elevator but maybe that would not be eco-friendly.
Rok, Banani (8/13): Meat of choice on volcanic hot rock. It’s a gimmick. Note: interior is more swanky than caveman.
Sajna, Road 11, Banani (7/13): Indian. Good for business meetings. Must try: Can’t think of what.
Red Shift (6/13): Cafe. Rooftop. Note: It’s a coffee shop. Enough said.
Flambe (4/13): Random menu but not much to offer. Note: some dishes okay but not a repeat kind of place.
Pan Thao, Road 12, Banani (8/13): Best Thai food in Dhaka. Note: Service can be slow… slow.
Thai Kitchen, Gulshan (8/13): Thai cooked by a Thai cook – must try: chicken dumplings steamed.
Oh Calcutta (8/13): West Bengali food – must try: Luchi/puri = fried bread. Elegant interior and good for business clientele.
El Toro, Gulshan 1 (3/13): Mexican. Must try: going on a night when they have avocados.
Soi 71 (7/13): Thai. Must try: the play room in the basement. Good for business clientele.
The Steakhouse (8/13): Steak. Must try: Australian beef medium rare.
Khazana (7/13): Indian. Must try: the naan? This place is the place recommended by Indian business clientele.
Heritage (7/13): Indian/Bangladeshi. Must try: the buffet lunch for 450 Taka? Also popular with business clientele.
Don Giovanni (4/13): Italian. Must try: fried cheese.
Wasabi at the Bellagio (5/13): Japanese. Must try: a drink at the bar. One of the few places with a liquor license. Popular with business clientele.
Arirang (3/13): Korean.
Koreana (7/13): Korean. Must try: jigae.
Sura (3/13): Korean. Must try: shabu shabu.
Best Western (2/13): Hotel food.
Cream and Fudge (6/13): Dessert. Ice cream, homemade waffles, and cake. Why don’t they serve the freshest waffles when ordered? Note: The toilet sign is out of this world…
Ichi, Road 11, Banani (7/13): Japanese. Looks like “South Pacific” inside and the ramen is too authentic smelling for me.
Cafe Italiano, Road 11, Banani (7/13): Italian. Illy brand coffee in K-cups. Good view (fourth floor) of Road 11. I could see folks hanging out to do some telework here.
Korean Guest House, Gulshan (4/13): Korean. The Bangladeshi manager lived in Korea and speaks Korean.
Olive Garden, Road 24, Gulshan (6/13): Chinese. Bare bones interior but clean. Why go? To laugh at the plastic pandas in the aquarium.
Melange, Gulshan (4/13): Who knows? It’s a melange! Looks like a brothel inside.
Royal Park Hotel, Gulshan (7/13): Sri Lankan. They have a buffet. It’s okay food. Don’t order pizza.
Sky Room, Kemal Ataturk, Banani (3/13): Not sure what the cuisine was… some of the salad was so awful smelling that we worried it might be poison.
Chang Pei, Kemal Ataturk 22, Banani (1/13): Chinese. The place is lit with a weird dim green light. The ladies’ room is labeled, “SHI…” because someone rubbed off the arms on the “E.”
Maple Leaf at Sweet Dreams Hotel, Kemal Ataturk 60, Banani (2/13): Whatever-you-like cuisine. This is located in a 24-hour hotel with only men waiting on the leather couches… it took 90 minutes for our pineapple juice to arrive, the glasses covered in plastic wrap. The glasses still had the tidal marks of juice up the sides of the glass from the rickshaw ride (I’m fairly sure that there was no cook or kitchen at the “restaurant.”)
The title of this blog post is a tribute to the Washingtonian’s annual roundup. As they say here, “shesh”… done. I am done. From now on, I’ll only eat at the places I like. Reshmi chicken…
Bangladeshi food includes these specialty which involves many dishes of mashed up vegetables, served cold, some spicy, and some saucier than others. There are also small dishes of fried fish, chicken, and it is all served with a plate of white rice. All the dishes are brought out and at the end, one pays only for what one has tried. There were so many different dishes from tomato salsa, eggplant, white root vegetable with green chiles, potatoes, taro root, red spinach, green spinach, and so much more. The whole of our meal cost under 500 taka ($5) and we only found this place because we went with a Bangladeshi friend. The restaurant is quite large once one has gone in through the “hole in the wall” doorway. I almost missed it entirely and kept taking photos of the wrong doorway. As always, thank goodness for local friends!