The Secret Shop of Dhaka

Carved wooden doors.
Carved wooden doors.

A treasure trove packed into a riddle. Villa Ideas (formerly Ideas Manzil) is a guesthouse (ranked high on TripAdvisor) but it’s also a shop and a restaurant. They have set menus and the food is freshly made. It’s good. We went for lunch and to shop, and the staff at Ideas Manzil had decorated the table with flowers, textiles, and silver salvers. There is a wood carpenter, a leather worker, and a weaver on staff. The range of what one can have made seems endless: leather bottle holders, leather coasters, wood doors, carved fabric hangers… plus all the stuff to buy: boxes, brass, jewelry, Bhutanese textiles, Nepalese rugs, Bangladeshi folk art, lamps, vases, carved wooden walls and spandrels on carved columns (family crest carved into the wood — why not?)…

One of the guest suites.
One of the guest suites.

One must make an appointment to shop here. The proprietor says that he will open a retail corner but… can it remain interesting? Finally, will this place last? Will it remain interesting once my friends have bought all the treasures collected over a lifetime?

Also, does a fabulous job on meals which must be ordered in advance.

The table set for lunch.
The table set for lunch.
Some of the goods for sale.
Some of the goods for sale.

Wedding Season Again in Dhaka – The Bride’s Holud

Flowers decorate the entrance to the holud venue.
Flowers decorate the entrance to the holud venue.

It’s that time of year again when the Bangladeshis get married. I am lucky to have been invited again. A year ago, I went to a combined holud which I described in an earlier blog. At the bride’s holud this year, the bride was carried in on a palanquin. While the groom was absent, his family and guests attended, carrying gifts. I will blog more about the next part of the wedding later… right now, I need to go to dance practice!

The "mishti" or sweet pots.
The “mishti” or sweet pots.

Italian Lace Made in Bangladesh

Fine Italian lace and linens made by nuns… is a popular shopping item. If you live in Dhaka, then you’re lucky again because much of that “Italian” stitchery is done in Bangladesh, and you can buy it from the source. The Carlotta sisters run a school for orphan children in Dhaka one of the skills they teach the girls is how to stitch the embroidery in a linen or cotton table cloth.

Italian lace.

The nuns live in a nondescript brick building and one must make an appointment to buy anything from them.

One Year of – Still Mad for Food and Adventure is one year old. One year ago, I started this blog in preparation for new adventures in food and travel. One year of great food and travel in Amman, Copenhagen, Dhaka, Doha, Istanbul, Jerusalem, Krabi, Luang Prabang, Mumbai, New Delhi, New England, Singapore, and many more.

I started this blog to share some of my adventures with family and friends. As I’ve blogged, my blog has evolved into a source for providing information on restaurants in Dhaka, shopping, and how much one can do in Bangladesh. As a blogger, I’ve been enormously happy when readers from all over the world visit my blog. Thank you for stopping by… from almost the entire world:

Map of visitors to in the first 11 months.

As my readership expands beyond people I know, I’m curious about what leads readers to my blog. So here are the top search terms people have searched for in the past year:

Top search terms on

Where to Buy Household Stuff in Dhaka

Shopping directly from the artist’s studio is the most unique experience (but more about that in a later post) for acquiring household goods. Otherwise, since there is no Ikea, Target, and Pier One in Dhaka, these are some of the main stores where expats buy goods for the home. Plus clothes, gifts, etc. Here is a list of some of the places where I shop.

This handmade bowl and carved table are from Tayabuzzaman Topu’s studio.

Arong: A chain with many outlets. Located in Gulshan 1 and Uttara, etc. Like a Pier One. Everything from curtains, doohickies, clothes, shoes, plates, etc.

Jatra, 60E Kamal Ataturk, Banani, Dhaka-1213: On Kemal Ataturk. A place to get saris, hand made paper, rugs, bracelets, gifts, doohickies, etc.

Aranya: Same as Jatra and located in same building.

Decor Idee: Rangs Arcade, 153 A Gulshan Avenue, Gulshan 2: A custom made 70 inch long fabric hanger for 3,300 Taka. They text messaged me when it was ready at about 10 days.

Probhatina: Down in Dhanmondi somewhere. Lovely soft material and other items. Mostly Clothes. A little snooty shop.

Kumudini: on Gulshan. Several stories high and sells clothes, cloth, and some household stuff.

Carlotta Sisters: In Bashundura. Call to make a reservation. They are nuns who teach students to make lace. Tablecloths, aprons, runners, napkins, etc.

Then there are the markets: DIT 1, DIT 2, and New Market. And the “malls” like: Bashundhara and a place next to the flagship Arong in Uttara. Lastly, there are the roads: Road 11 in Banani is filled with shops and restaurants. The markets will give you the “local color” more than the newer stores.

A salesman at New Market.

Tradtional Dress of Bangladesh

Red and white shalwar kameeses.

Color, colorful, vibrant, and so on are some of the words used to describe the traditional dress of Bangladesh. It’s not only women who wear colorful clothing. Bangladesh is known for its garment industry and the clothes reflect the bounty of this industry.

A street scene. Notice the trim on the ladies.

Women wear sarees or shalwar kameeses. Some cover their heads and some cover their faces. Some wear all black and some wear all color.

While the traditional dress for men is a lungi (see my post here), many of the men in the big city of Dhaka wear jeans or pants/trousers instead. Men can also wear a dressier bottom (of which I cannot remember the name right now), and everyone dresses up for special days including weddings.

Beautiful formal sarees.

Hopefully, these photos give some idea of what people wear in Bangladesh.

Shalwar kameeses and lungis galore.

Cover the Assets – Expat Dress in Dhaka

The expat uniform.

First things first: If you look different from the Bangladeshis (and even if you don’t), people will stare at you in Dhaka. And if you are an expat, you will most definitely be stared at. It’s just what people do. Usually the stares are not aggressive or sleazy. For expat men, going shirtless or in shorts will attract attention. But, expat women seem more concerned (and they get more attention) about what to wear to be modest and respectful. Here are some basic observations I’ve made. Basically, if you are covered in loose clothing from collarbone-elbow-ankle and make sure that your rear end is covered by tunic… then you will be dressed like the locals. I notice that expat women who have lived here for a few months wear what I call the “expat uniform” – a kameez (tunic top), scarf (cotton), zip off REI pants, and TEVAs. Or the equivalent non brands. The basics of what I do (much more when going outside the expat area of town) is:

1. wear baggy pants/trousers/slacks which reach to the lower calf or longer. I don’t wear pants that drag on the ground because there’s sewage everywhere so I don’t want crud to accumulate on my ankles.

2. cover the assets (bust and bum) with loose cloth with the scarf covering the bust even though my neckline is to the collarbone. Cover my bum with the long length of my tunic.

3. cover my shoulders. No tank tops. And you are welcome since you don’t want to see my upper arms anyway.

No, I don’t cover my head. But, you can read my posting about why you might want to. I also have my hair out and I don’t think it’s too sexy. Lots of the locals wear their hair uncovered. Dark eye makeup is normal for the ladies here. If you are a pale blonde and wear red lipstick, folks are going to stare (which they will anyway but maybe for different reasons). But, many expats (especially hard on young blondes) find it a hassle to not be able to go anywhere without being stared at ALL the time. ALL the time. As a life long outsider, I’ve been stared at a lot so I don’t feel bad. If they are trying to photograph me all the time, then I take photos of THEM.

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One last thing, there are expats who will jog in short spandex… if you plan on doing that, make sure that you can OUTRUN the hordes who will race after you.

What’s My Name in Arabic?

The front of the Al-Afghani shop in Mecca Mall.

One of the things to buy in Amman is your name in Arabic script as a pendant for a necklace. It takes a week to get done so plan your visit accordingly. There are jewelsmiths who can make it but there is also a place in Mecca Mall. Al-Afghani is a souvenir shop in Mecca Mall. The staff will help you with your name and a week later, you pick up your pendant. Beautiful.

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Mehendi For Weddings, Brides, and Friends

Getting Mehendi, or henna, is usually associated with Bangladeshi wedding holuds (bridal shower), but it can also be done for other celebrations. Sometimes the celebration is the celebration of friendship bonding.

Mehendi flower on the palm.

Mehendi is a temporary tattoo of curling designs done on the feet, legs, hands, and arms. The ladies who do it are quick and the talents vary just as with any craft. The actual tubes they use are long thing cones made of foil paper. Depending on how much Mehendi you get done, it is fairly quick. A hand can take fifteen minutes. What takes a long time is waiting for the dye to dry. The Mehendi can be all natural or synthetic and it comes in several colors. The paste is usually a dark vegetable green but the resulting color may be orange, brown, or black. Once the Mehendi dries, the paste cracks and it will itch. The best way to remove the paste is with olive oil. I found using a spoon also helped.

Scraping the Mehendi paste off with olive oil.
Mehendi hands of friends.

A few weeks ago, a friend was departing for the U.S. and she wanted Mehendi. It would be clear that she had arrived from the ‘desh! Deshi style!

Mehendi on the feet of friends.

Jewelry for Your Neck and Furniture

Even your furniture can wear jewelry. Dhaka is the place to get it made. In Gulshan, an expat, makes bead necklaces from her own designs, and to custom made. Many of the beads are from Nigeria, India, and Ghana. Some beads are made by women who have been rescued from a life on the streets so if you buy a necklace with these beads, then you can feel like you have done some good in the world. While still looking pretty.

A necklace for every neck in your home.
The jewelry maker.
Every color under the sun.
Mirror glass long necklace.
Necklace for the table. Why not?

Lungi, the Traditional Dress of Bangladeshi Men

Traditionally, Bangladeshi men wore (and still do) a sarong called a “lungi.”  This plaid cotton tube of cloth can be worn in many different ways and the knot can be tied as distinct as the neighborhood that you grew up in (West Bengal, Dhaka, etc.).

For fun, we had a lungi party and were fortunate enough to have expert knot-tiers able to provide us with an education in how to wear a lungi. Some of the guests at the party chose to wear a “dhuti” which is a different style of sarong, made most distinct by the front folds being tied between the legs and hitched into the back of the waistband.

My lungi cost around 325 Taka ($4) so it was about double the cost of what a Bangladeshi man would pay for it.