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.***

Six Seasons of Bangladesh

Bangladesh is an alluvial delta with lots of water.
Bangladesh is an alluvial delta with lots of water. Umbrellas are for sun and rain.

Monsoon is only one of six seasons in Bangladesh. The following is how I would describe the seasons in Dhaka.

Spring (wear yellow on February 13 to mark spring!): February 13-April 14 (20-30 C = 70s and 80s F; humidity is 60 %) or “Hot with Mosquitoes and Why Am I Sweating in February?! Oh, Because It Is 90 F!”

Summer: April 14-June 15 (30-45 C = 90s and 100s F; humidity is 85 %) or “Hotter with Mosquitoes and Constant possibilities of Heat Stroke.”

Monsoon/Rainy Season: June 15-August 15 (30-40 C = 90s F; humidity is 95 %) or “Too Wet, Sweaty, and Hot for Hordes of Mosquitoes-Oddly Not As Hot As It Was.”

Autumn/Fall: August 15-October 15 (30-40 C = 90s F; humidity is 90 %) or “Hot and Dengue Mosquito Season.”

After-Autumn/Late-Fall: October 15-December 15 (20-30 C = 70s and 80s F; humidity is 80 %) or “Hot with Mosquitoes But It Is Almost Wedding Season.”

Winter: December 15-February 12 (15-30 C = 60s and up to the 90s F; humidity is 60 %) or “Wedding Season.” Which is still mosquito season.

A beautiful Bangladeshi bride.
A beautiful Bangladeshi bride during wedding season.

As the national costumes remain the same all year round, the men wear lungis and women wear sarees and shalwar kameeses, but in winter, they wrap a cloth like a shawl and a head wrap around their head. To a Bangladeshi 20 C is cold and in the winter when the temperature can drop to 10 C, there are deaths. The Bangladeshis also find warm weather pleasant since they are used to it. Most houses and apartments do not have heating and many have only one air conditioning unit.

In my experience of two monsoons, I have been surprised. In 2012, there was no monsoon. And in 2013, it has rained but not in the torrents that I expected. I have seen worse rain storms in Kuala Lumpur and Washington, DC.

The prevailing theme (you may have noticed) is that all throughout the year, there are mosquitoes and on any day, it can be 90 degrees! I have had heat stroke in December, February, and March, perhaps because I did not expect such hot weather in those months. The result has been a rather silly collection of sun hats.

Small Bites of Bangladesh – Fuchka, Phoujka, Phoughka

A plate of stuffed shells.
A plate of stuffed shells.

At every wedding, at many parties, and ideal street food, are the small balls thin dough called “foodge-kah.” These are chickpea (garbanzo) beans that are ground up and made into deep fried shell balls. The vendor will crack the shell and stuff it with a mix of chickpeas, onions, and chiles. These will be topped with shredded hard boiled egg and served with a tamarind sauce.

The vendor in Lamatia.
The vendor in Lamatia.

The guy that makes the best fuchka is located in Lamatia, Block D, turn down the road at Asia Bank. It is located on a parallel road to BBQ Tonite, my favorite place in Dhanmondi.

The vendor in his hot cart.
The vendor in his hot cart.

Rickshaw in Monsoon Photo

In the long hot rasping breath before the monsoon, my mind turns once more to images of Bangladesh. Decades ago, the only impression I had of Bangladesh was monsoon rain and flooding. Now, I have met the man who took the rickshaw photo of my imaginings.

The photographer, Zahid "Badol", with his photo of boys playing in the mud.
The photographer, Zahid “Badol”, with his photo of boys playing in the mud.

Obviously, to my vivacious and educated Bangladeshi friends, this image is so passe. “Why must you foreigners have only such images in your heads?” To which I reply, “This is not a bad image.” I see the rickshaw puller in the monsoon flood and find it an image of tenacity and perseverance. Not a bad thing to be known for, wherever you are.

A rickshaw puller in the monsoon.
A rickshaw puller in the monsoon.

Dhaka-townian’s 100 Eats and the Top Ten Restaurants in Dhaka

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.

Look for this gate.
Look for this gate to find Goong, the castle.

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.

10. Nirob, old Dhaka (8/13). Traditional Bangladeshi mashup or “bhorta” foods. (it’s best to get invited to a Bangladeshi friend’s home for home cooking).

RUNNER UPs

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.

Caspian, Agora building, Gulshan Ave. (6/13): Persian. Must try: Baklava bites.

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…

Reshmi chicken from BBQ Tonite in Dhanmondi.
Reshmi chicken from BBQ Tonite in Dhanmondi.

Bangladeshi Mashup or “Bhorta” in Bangla

Bhorta dishes.
Bhorta dishes.

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!

The doorway to the restaurant.
The doorway to the restaurant.

Happy, Healthy, and Educated Slum Kids – ABC Charity School

A brilliant smile of health.
A brilliant smile of health.

A toothbrush is a small sign of hope. But, at the Eglal’s ABC Charity School in Dhaka, the fact that the kids brush their teeth every day, get fed every day, and get an education every day — is a tiny sign of hope. The children at the ABC school all live in the slums of Dhaka. These children are lucky that they, once they get admitted to kindergarten, will receive a bilingual education, free health care, free lunch, daily showers, uniforms, toothbrushes, and mentoring through high school and, hopefully, beyond.

It only costs $250 to sponsor one kid for one year, and all the money goes to the school. The volunteer board, the volunteer teachers, and so on, do not take any of the money. There are a few staff who do get paid, but mostly the donations go directly to the education and welfare of the kids. While there are a plethora of charities to throw oneself into in Bangladesh. I chose this one. Visiting the school allowed me to see how little money it takes to provide a bit of protein and vegetables for a healthy mind. Food for thought.

Education in Bangla and English from kindergarten!
Education in Bangla and English from kindergarten!

Another thought is how well run this place is without the bureaucracy. When the school and board members realized that some of the children (many who are being raised by one a single parent) had to leave school to go work, the school put into place an incentive which when paid to the family, keeps the kid in school. So basically the kid’s job is to go to school. How nice is that?

The school goes through the eighth grade, after which the children are place in high schools. These graduates come back to teach at the school when they themselves are not in school. One young woman says that her hope is to go on to university after which she wants to return to run the ABC school.

These girls are so eager to learn.
These girls are so eager to learn.

The ABC school was started about ten years ago by a teacher at the American International School Dhaka. She has returned to the U.S. but her students now have “pen pal” skype sessions with the slum kids of the ABC school. How cool is that?

One egg a day. The kids can eat more rice and vegetables but protein is expensive.
One egg a day. The kids can eat more rice and vegetables but protein is expensive.

It is said that they more you give, the more you will receive. I hope that the kids at the ABC school get way more than I have given them.

Parents picking up kids at the ABC school.
Parents picking up kids at the ABC school.

7 Best Restaurants in Dhaka

Vegetarian bulgogi at Dae Jang Geum. It is made from yellow beans.
Vegetarian bulgogi at Goong. It is made from yellow beans.

***Updated October 27, 2013*** I’ve tried over 100 restaurants in Dhaka. These are the seven that I keep returning to. I have now made a map of them so that you can find them. Read my reviews of the others here: roundup part one, part two, part three, part four, and part five. Or, read about where I find the restaurants to try. In very clear order, here are the seven best:

1. The best restaurant — Goong, the Castle, road 50, house 12, Gulshan (look for the wooden gate. Previously called Dae Jang Geum until another restaurant named Dae Jang Geum moved in on the same street. Also, not to be confused with the Dae Jang Geum in the mall downtown). Korean palace food. Best sashimi in the country. If you want raw fish, get it here. Great vegetarian options as well (vegetarian bulgogi called Kong Bulgogi is Chef Kim’s bean product which almost tastes better than meat). If you want to eat at the best restaurant in Bangladesh (even if you don’t like Korean food), then this is the place for you.

2. BBQ Tonite, Dhanmondi: Meat on stick. Delicious outdoor atmosphere and smoky grilled meat. Some of the meat dishes like “reshmi chicken” are incredibly spicy even to a Bangladeshi. The “Kandahari chicken” is not spicy. Great freshly made flat breads of which the “rumali” roti or “handkerchief” bread is my favorite for it’s thin stretchy warmth.

3. Bamboo Shoot, Gulshan Avenue, Gulshan: Chinese. Special Chinese only (written in Chinese) menu on weekends. Take someone Chinese and insist on seeing it. This place also does authentic hotpot (boiling pot of soup in which you must cook your own food) and it may be the only place in the country.

4. Roll Express, Gulshan: Flat bread sandwiches. Dhosa. Fuchka/Phoughka. It’s a popular brunch place although they do not serve American style brunch. This is a good place to take new visitors or newbies to this part of the world. There is a nice courtyard as well. They do have fresh juice and other menu items but I tend to stick to the “reshmi chicken roll,” “paper butter dhosa,” and “fuchka” as these are good introductions to the food of South Asia and Bangladesh.

5. Spaghetti Jazz, Gulshan Circle, Gulshan: Italian. Only some of the food is good but try it out. Very dark interior lit with candles so it could be considered romantic except that you’ll usually run into other people you know there.

6. Spitfire (and Saltz above it is a seafood place), Gulshan Avenue, Gulshan: Continental. Fresh rolls. But service is excruciatingly slow.

7. Istanbul, road 118, Gulshan: Turkish food. Fresh cheese and freshly baked bread. Weekend buffet for 1,000 taka. But apparently dropping in quality.

A large crepe called a dhosa.
A large crepe called a dhosa.

Plus, one coffee shop: Northend Coffee Roasters. This place is better than most coffee shops in the U.S. It is run by an expat couple. For those who like a “do-gooder” feel, this place also does philanthropic/development work in their staff development style, and goods sold (khanta blankets are made of old sharees by women as a form of income). Or just come for the cinnamon rolls and atmosphere.

There are some others that are okay like Diner 360 and Dhaba. Lastly, I have intentionally omitted Le Souffle/Wasabi at the Bellagio because their food is sometimes good and sometimes bad. I cannot recommend a place that is unreliable. Also, the Prego at the Westin Hotel is not good enough for the price.

Again, these recommended places are on my map. Enjoy!

Restaurants in Dhaka – Part Five

80 down… here are 61-80. Read roundup part one, part two, part three, and part four to read about the previous 60 eateries I’ve tried in Dhaka. Other than word of mouth (!), read about where I find the restaurants to try. I also scout for new places when I’m out and about and I welcome recommendations.

The lunch buffet at Istanbul is only 1000 taka.
The lunch buffet at Istanbul is only 1000 taka.

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.

Ideas Manzil (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.

Mallika Snacks (8/13): Phoughka. It’s a local place and it’s more a snack place. Best phoughka in the Gulshan area. Very local place.

KFChicken (9/13) on Road 13: Batter fried chicken. The best fried chicken in Dhaka.

Sakura Golden Rice (5/13) near road 118: Chinese/Japanese/Bangladeshi. Reopened and still mediocre watered down food.

Istanbul (12/13): 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.

Topkapi (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 (10/13): 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.

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 (4/13): Juice and sandwiches. Has a few seats out in front and is otherwise a very small shop.

Attin (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 (8/13) – 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 (7/13) – Road 11, Banani: Burgers and fries. Okay fries. Burger was okay. Small, take out sort of place with three tables.

Rush Tex Mex (7/13) – 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 (5/13); 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.

Istanbul restaurant bakes their own bread including this round bread called a simit.
Istanbul restaurant bakes their own bread including this round bread called a simit.

I’m encouraged by the emergence of new places. I’ll blog another time about the best places where I go more than once. Go out and explore!

Framing Block Prints in Bangladesh

A block framed with a background of fabric printed with the block in the frame.
A block framed with a background of fabric printed with the block in the frame.

For the creative person, Bangladesh is a wonderland of fabrics and possibilities. Much to the amazement of some of my Bangladeshi friends, some of us buy the wood blocks to use as artwork. I will have more of these made to give away as gifts in the future.

A framed box with four block prints on sale at Cezanne Gallery in the UAE Mall in Gulshan.
A framed box with four block prints on sale at Cezanne Gallery in the UAE Mall in Gulshan.