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!
For some expats, the biggest souvenir they buy in Bangladesh is a rickshaw. I decided to buy one for the blogging experience. There are many places where you can get them. Apparently the folks at River Tours will arrange a sale for you. If you want a used one, it is unlikely that the local rickshaw puller owns his own and so he may not be able to sell it to you. A colleague bought two rickshaws so I got the shop information from him.
Then I enlisted the help of two Bangladeshis. One arranged for us to go out to the rickshaw “shop” and made an appointment with the rickshaw maker for us. The shop we went to was back in the rabbit warren of streets to the north of Baridhara (it ended up being somewhere near the train tracks, for those of you who know your way around Baridhara). Without my Bangla-speaking Bangladeshi, I would never have found this shop. The shop was more of a “parts” shop and there were no shiny ready-made rickshaws for sale. That said, looking at the photo, now I see the tires on the roof.
Rickshaw Maker: Hasan
Address: Maria Cycle store, 97/1 Joar Shahara Bazar Road, Dhaka.
The rickshaw took one week to build, it weighs 250 pounds, and cost 20,000 taka (about $250). I paid 5,000 taka in down payment and rest on delivery as you can see from the receipt but you can pay all of it at once if you prefer. If I had bought two or more, I would have received a bulk discount (and remember that everything can be negotiated so I could have perhaps haggled to a lower price. Frankly, I was distracted by the gentleman on the right in the photo who was performing depilation in his nostrils — I could not take my eyes off his fingers!).
I left the decoration of the rickshaw completely up to the craftsmen making it. At one point, the shop owner called to find out which name I wanted painted on the back and my friend told him to put my name on the back! I will most likely paint over it at some point. The rickshaw also has the maker’s telephone number and name painted on it. I like how my rickshaw is decorated although I would have chosen to not have guns painted on it, despite this being the tradition.
The rickshaw was ready a day early and the rickshaw maker wanted to deliver it as soon as possible. I asked why the urgency… they did not want it to get dirty. It was delivered to me fully assembled and driven by a professional rickshaw driver. Since then, it has only been driven by two people. I will mostly keep it in my future home, as a piece of installation art. Some people have suggested I take it out and give rides on it…
Yesterday, a friend recently sent me the link to World Market’s site advertising Bangladeshi rickshaws on demand for $3,000! But, theirs are not meant for actual use (it says so in the ad). Therefore it is better to buy one while in Bangladesh.
Normally, I try to post a new blog every sixth day, but because of yesterday’s rickshaw email, I decided to publish this now.
The answer to my previous post’s trivia game of “M’s Adventures moves to ______?” is: It is a country with a river famous for being the most _colorful_ in the world. Thanks to the random person on the Internet who decided to play along.
One day in Bangladesh, I was invited to a friend’s house and saw these painted stairs. They were painted as a wedding present. This colorful daily reminder reminds them of their friend, and their wedding, every day.
This would probably not work in the U.S., but one could offer some other gift from the heart.
A few days, a few months, may go by, but eventually, most expats will acquire some form of domestic help. Bangladeshis have domestic help in their homes and it is a way of life here. Bangladesh is rich in human labor and affordable (to us expats) domestic help is one of the advantages (or just part of the realities of life here) of living here. As an expat, we can afford to pay our domestic workers a good salary, provide a place to live (some are live in), and the arrangement seems to work. I appreciated having help, especially my driver (mentioned him last time), but the key is to find what works for you. I will try to cover what I’ve learned about domestic staff employment but I may have to come back and update this as I recall more details (as I know that this is of great interest to some). First of all, for many expats, this will be their first experience having domestic help. For many, it is the first time, they are the employer with employees. It takes work to learn how to be a good boss. Okay, on to nuts and bolts:
How many staff? Depends on your needs/wants. I had a housekeeper who cooked and cleaned. I paid him extra for extra work helping at parties. I then switched to a part time cleaner who came three days per week.
Where do you find good staff? My advice is to ask around. Find someone who is as picky (oh sorry, as “quality conscious”) as you, and then try to find domestic help like they have. Also, keep in mind that what works for them won’t always work for you. It is easy and hard to find good employees. Sometimes, you will get accosted in your building by staff who tell you that this is their turf and that you have to hire them because they have always worked in that building. Take it as you will (or won’t). Some find this style too aggressive. Also, outside the building, there will be people coming by looking for work (everyone knows that you are new). Another thing, all the domestic staff probably know each other. It’s a network. Many are related to each other (or can bring a “cousin” who can work for you).
Interview: Yes, do. Also do a trial period. One staff I had to let go, sobbed and begged… and showed up days later to beg again, apologizing. But it wasn’t a matter of apology. It just didn’t work.
Contract? Yes, you can draw one up but your staff may not be able to read.
Live in or out? Many domestic staff also live in (all apartments have a “servant’s quarters” but mine was small. I guess free housing is free housing, but, I use my “servant’s quarters” as a closet).
Salary (including insurance, healthcare, bonus, uniforms, and tea money): Here goes… As expats, we pay double what they pay (and we don’t make them work as much) so we are attractive employers.
Driver (mentioned him last time): A driver is a skilled person and they make between 12,000-20,000 taka ($150-250) for 40 hours per week. Drivers have very loose schedules. Some work six days per week but only a few hours per day. Most are sort of “on call” and that’s why they get paid (to wait around). Average pay is 14,000-16,000. Most drivers are men. There is a school for female drivers run by an international non-profit but they also teach men to drive. So far, I’ve heard of one professional female driver but there must be more. Hopefully, your driver has a real license. Some people send their other staff to driving school and this benefits everyone.
Cook: To only be a cook is the top position unless there’s a housekeeper who doesn’t get their hands wet (these are rare). Have them make you a meal to test out their skills. Many of the cooks in the expat pool have worked for other international families and can cook cuisines from all over the world. I know of some folks who diligently taught their cooks how to make their dishes the way that they liked them. I had planned on making a menu of what my cook could make so that he could take it on to the next employer, but I never got around to it. The cook can also go buy groceries. Some can make meals for you without you having to tell them what you want, and this can be a boon to some busy people.
Housekeeper or cook/cleaner/bearer (bears your tea to you): The salary range for an expat’s housekeeper is 12,000-20,000 taka ($150-250) for 40 hours per week. Housekeepers make more than bearers and cleaners (if an employee is a cleaner or bearer only, they make less). They can also do your shopping for you and fetch your dry cleaning etc.
Nanny/Aya (or caregiver): Some families have more than one (one for each child and one as a babysitter. Why not). Some expat families even hire caregivers for their elderly family members. The salary range is lower 10,000-18,000 taka. The aya/ayah/nanny is a fixture in expat literature and the separation from the aya is the most traumatic.
Gardener: Many expats hire someone to grow vegetables for them, plus normal yard work. They get paid around 12,000 taka per month.
Dog walker: I have heard of people hiring part time dog walkers but I would guess that a full time one makes about 8,000-10,000 taka per month. Funny story, one of my friends found that her cook had been giving the dog tea… if you know how strong Bangla tea is, then you know that that dog definitely needed walks!
Bonus? Yes, a 13th month salary at Ramadan for Muslim staff and at Christmas for Christian staff. Once per year unless you want to give them more at another time (second Eid) BUT that is not the norm. This “bonus at second Eid” question is one of the most frequent questions that I hear. Plus, almost everyone gives their staff gifts of belongings like TVs, clothes, bags, computers, etc. especially when trying to organize for a move. The staff will often ask to be allowed to buy or have the things that you don’t want. Almost anything from America is a hot item. Sometimes, the staff will give you gifts. Try to not accept them as they usually can’t afford it (like a 2,000 taka sari).
Uniforms: Much is said of this. Usually something about two uniforms per year or the money to buy or have made a uniform. The amount I was asked for was (negotiable like all other prices in this country) 2,500 taka. I think that for most staff, this is a form of income. That said, some staff do wear uniforms. There is a certain dignity in wearing a uniform when at work, and that I understand.
Tea money? Many people give their staff tea money or lunch money. This is how they supplement the low wages. Tea money of 1,500 taka per month is extremely expensive tea and is more likely to be food money. To expats, $13 is nothing but I’m guessing that a Bangladeshi can buy a cup of tea for two or three taka.
Other expenses: There will be other expenses that the staff ask for money for: their children’s weddings, school fees, hospital fees, a new cell phone, etc. etc. It is up to you as the employer to decide if you want to pay it or lend it. Some people withhold some of the salary and keep it as insurance or savings for such events (make it part of the initial salary discussion). In the true spirit of “if you don’t ask…” You will get gotten but you can probably afford it. On that note, you will hear lots of “You have so much; and I have so little.” Many people will pay for the staff’s children’s school fees (what’s $120 to you when you can provide an education. It’s a form of charity).
To end the discussion of money, you (or I did) may likely pay salary + tea money + uniform + “emergency life expenses” per employee. I’ve heard some expats say, “it’s less than car insurance in the U.S.”
Other duties: In general, if you have a good relationship, your staff can do many things for you that will make life easier. I had my driver do all sorts of errands from getting my lace fixed (yes, one guy who can re-weave cloth for 100 taka) to buying jersey (very hard to buy in bolt form here) to finding a place to sell bottles. Some people actually have their staff help as “lady’s maid” and do massages, hair removal, pedicures, manicures, hair cuts, or paint mehendi/henna on you. There may actually be some people who have a “lady’s maid” but I haven’t heard of any (my friends aren’t rich enough). But, when you need to dress for a wedding and need your sari wrapped, you can have your staff do it for you (usually 500 taka at a salon).
Keys/Privacy: Some people do lock cabinets or rooms. Some give one key to the door (so the other lock can be used by you). Some keep the key to the car and have the driver come get it before they go anywhere (a Bangladeshi friend had the experience of discovering that his driver was using the car as a taxi business while he was at work.) Some people worry about stealing… and lock up their oil and flour… Many people lock up a room just because they want a level of privacy. After all, the domestic staff know EVERYTHING about you. They take out your trash.
Dismissal/Severance/Firing/End of contract: If you leave or dismiss your staff, it is normal to give them one month’s notice and pay them a severance pay in proportion to time served. Usually it is a month’s salary for each year. Even if you have to fire the staff for some reason, it’s normal to give them severance. If you liked your staff, try to find time to write them a letter of referral. They will use this for future job hunting.
At expat parties, there is an incessant buzz of talk about domestic staff. I try to not get involved. But these are some of the subjects people talk about:
“How much do you pay your….?” “Should I give a second Eid bonus at the second Eid?” “Do I give the bonus at the beginning or the end?” “She won’t leave at the end of the day and just hangs around!” “She’s lazy but she’s honest.” “Why do I need a full time driver when he just sits around for 30 hours of each week?” “I sent my driver to English school.” “I sent my cleaner to cooking school to improve her professional skills.” “How do I get my cook to use less oil?” “How do I get my cook to make food for less than 20 people?” And so on.
I think I answered most of this questions above except: The cooking oil question — I have heard people tell their cooks that they need to lose weight. Or that the cook can keep whatever oil is leftover in the bottle. Like with most lessons, repetition is important. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
I hope that this has been helpful.
After a year in Bangladesh, I realized that I had made a mistake. When I got to Dhaka, I had the intention of hiring a woman (empowerment and all that) but instead I hired a man with a full CV (he came well recommended). What I realized after a year is that I should have hired a young woman and sent her to school to learn English, to sew, and to give massages. I could have had a tailor and a massage therapist at home. Next time!
A few expats choose not to hire a driver/chauffeur. But, most do. M’s Adventures, this blog, would have be nothing without the very capable driving skills of my driver. Having heard other expats discuss hiring a driver, these are some of the pros and cons:
PROS: No need to think about parking, maintenance, gas, security… Give someone a job… On call at any moment… Like a private limo service… The driver knows where things are located… They can run errands… When the traffic is gridlocked, I can get out and walk the rest of the way and the driver can bring the car later… I don’t have to worry about drinking and driving…
CONS: I like to drive… I like the independence… I get an adrenaline thrill driving in Dhaka traffic… I don’t want to forget how to drive… Now that I’ve driven in Dhaka, I can drive anywhere…
Some expats employ a driver but also drive. You know where I stand (or sit) on this issue. Cheers!
Mishti is the word for sweets. To say that Bangladeshis love them would be an understatement. Many cultures love sweets but the Bangladeshis more than love them. They are in love with them.
There are some basic mishti that they love. At any celebration boxes of “rosh gulla” will appear. These are dough balls soaked in sugar water till they have a sandy sticky texture. At weddings and on the street, you will see “jallaby” being deep fried and then soaked in sugar water. At homes, you will be offered “mishti doi” which is sweetened yogurt served in a clay dish made specifically for this custardy yogurt dish. Sometimes, you will be offered “pithe” which are a less sweet hardtack style biscuit. Or you may be offered “rasgulla” or “reshmallai” which is boiled milk formed into sweet balls. The ones in Bangladesh are the size of marbles and the ones in India are the size of golf balls.
Bangladeshis also eat cake. They like their cake to have a thin frosting, not the thick crests of butter cream frosting seen on most American cakes.
In my very informal survey of the sweet tastes of Bangladesh, I have discovered that Bangladeshis love chocolate. Chocolate is exotic. Peanut butter cups are also popular and exotic. Caramel is only slightly popular and mint is not at all.
The English spoken in Bangladesh includes a few words which are different in British English and American English, plus some that are unique to Bangla English. Here are several words which are different from American English:
Capsicum – is a bell pepper/sweet pepper
Aubergine – eggplant (“BEG-un” in Bangla)
Coriander – cilantro (the leafy part of the coriander plant)
Lime – lime is lemon (“yellow limes” are a fairly rare sight here and they are a different breed)
Microbus – mini-van
There are other differences but these are the ones I encounter all the time. I’ll try to update this as I recall more.
While many Britishisms exist in Bangla, “schedule” is not “SHEY-duel” which is interesting considering that many of the words spelled with an “s” are pronounced with a “sh” sound (like “sari” or “sharee”). Plus, there are many Bangla words which I think would be a great addition to the English language. My first contender would be the expressive word for “end” or “finito!” — Shesh!
While a smile will get you far, as a foreigner in Bangladesh, learning a few phrases of Bangla is a good idea. I am not a linguist so I’ve made up my own system of phonetics. These are some of the phrases I have learned:
PAH-nee — water — This is the Bangla word I used most in this hot, hot, hot land.
DON-ah-bawd — thank you (foreigners like to use this but I’m told it’s not really part of the culture. I’ve seen nods of the head or a closed fist to the chest used as “thank you” and that works too).
Sah-ley-al-eh-kyum — greetings (it’s from Arabic and is how you greet people or announce your presence) — I often just say “good evening/good day/hello” and that seems to work.
DECK-A-hawb-aa — see you later.
AH-che — gotcha or yes, I’m listening to you and I understand that you are speaking. I like “gotcha” because it rhymes with the Bangla word.
EK-tah — one of (EK is one).
SHESH — done as in “enough” and “it’s over.”
LAWG-bey-nah — No need or I do not need it (useful when rickshaws try to run you over in their eagerness for your custom). This is the phrase I have found most useful.
Empty streets in Dhaka? This year, Durga Puja and Eid-ul-Adha happened within days of each other so the government was closed for several days. The week also included a harvest festival, Wangala, and a full moon. Whatever the religion, many Dhaka-ites went home to their villages to spend holiday time with their families. The result was quiet in Dhaka much like in Europe the day after Christmas. Some businesses were closed for Durga Puja and almost all were closed for Eid-ul-Adha and the day after. By Thursday, a few places opened up again. 7-11 has not arrived in Bangladesh yet (there is probably a 7-11 but it is not the official franchise) but they too would have been busy if they were here.
This is the most shuttered I’ve seen Dhaka. The result was that the streets were empty. So you could get nowhere fast. Which we did when we went exploring.
How to live the good life in Dhaka? I will now share some recommendations from an expat who thoroughly loves her life in Dhaka. As she says, this is because she has learned to enjoy “the good life which is affordable here.” This first part is about tailors (she also mentions porcelain and spas which I will share next time).
a. Ferdous has extensive fabric selection, including a lot of linen. They copy extremely well (400 taka plus fabric), and make tuxedos (about 8000 taka). They also make excellent suits. Located on the north side of Madani Avenue near Gulshan 2 circle. Store is on the second floor, look carefully when you drive, they have a big sign outside).
b. K L Sweden (located across from Ferdous, on the south side when you drive on Madani Avenue to DIT2 market, the store is down a side street right after the VIP Photo building on the other end of the VIP Photo sign, which is not obvious from the main road; right next to Shinepukur plates store). They also copy shirts very well and have good linen. They also do tuxes. All very good quality.
a. Best copier of western clothes – European tailor, located at the corner of road 12 and UN road, keep walking from UN road in a narrow alley, it is right after another tailor and fish store. It has a bright yellow sign. It is down the alley once you see the fish store. Cheap.
b. Best tailor of Western clothes who can copy anything, or can make them from a simple picture (he is my personal favorite of all times!) – Johny, he comes to your house, his number is 01923270358. Johny makes fabulous ball gowns and costumes (for expats there are many balls each year… Glitter Ball, etc.).
c. Shaheen, also on road 12, is a popular choice. I do not use him, I hear he has a bit of an attitude and is relatively expensive.
d. For sarees and saree blouses and petticoats – Sharonika in Pink City. Located on the first floor (need to take the escalator once inside), and then simply ask for the store, it is a bit inside. As many will tell you, local tailors have trouble making blouses for our body types and I have found Sharonika to be very good at that. Prices are, as usual, cheap. For saree bordering (must be done for each new saree you buy) is only 250 taka.
e. I have heard a lot about the Russian tailor Svetlana, but have never used her. Apparently, she is quite artistic and good, but she is very busy and often out of the country, as well as quite pricey and opinionated on what you should be making, versus what you want to have made.
Finding places can be tricky in Dhaka. As much as I’d like to show you all where things are… I thought I’d make a map of the 99 expat places instead! These places are current as of September 9, 2013. I put an extra huge marker on Goong, the Castle, because that is the number one place people ask for directions to — Road 50, House 12B — and I made it number 12 on the map! Look for the large wooden gate. Go in and enjoy.
In Dhaka, businesses rise and fall like eddies on the delta, and they often change location. So, most importantly, on my map(s), I have put the ACTUAL location, not what the address indicates. Because floor numbering varies in different parts of the world, I have only listed it if the place is not on the first/ground floor. Otherwise, I’ve called it “level” using the ground floor as the first level. As the Westin’s sign is like a lighthouse beacon in the night, I started with the Westin Hotel as number one as it is often used as the North Star. Then I divided Gulshan into four sections divided by Gulshan 2 circle. For those counting, there are not 99 numbers on the maps because many of the locations are in the same building or on the same block. Also, I have not included all 100 restaurants at which I’ve eaten. Only places people ask about.
I have tried to make sure that the addresses are correct, though not always written the way that the locals would write it, and I cannot vouch for the phone numbers except for those who do house calls, like Tailor Johny, because I did not call all the numbers! Bangladesh’s country code is 88 and for some numbers you will need to drop the zero/zed and/or the two or add them or something… it’s confusing. But that’s a whole different topic. If you cannot find the location, check back on my blog as I may have posted a photo of the actual location. Again, the official address may be different; the location is for real. Happy hunting!