With the rise of social media, everyone with a smartphone is now a “content creator.” Most of us have become entertainers as we “direct” the photos of our food (north light is always best!). In Korea, they have “mukbang”, an “art form” where people pay to watch others eat. This has been ridiculed by many… but look at us now, as we all zoom happy hours and dinners with each other.
Going out to eat is a performance art where you as the customer are the audience, but also part of the experience. That is why it sort of makes sense that many actors work in the restaurant industry (a working actor = can be someone who works in a restaurant but also works as an actor) because a live “show” every night is superb practice! Everything in a restaurant from the lighting (lots of dishes now involve fire and smoke), decor, and seating is evaluated just as one would in a theater. In a theater, there is that expression, “smoke and mirrors” and that is also true of most restaurants. But, at a restaurant, on top of smoke and mirrors, there is smell and taste involved along with the other senses (plus that “something” like the umami of the whole event), are engaged as part of the experience.
In a natural segue, some of the food influencers, like David Chang, have their own shows. The Danish influencer, Claus Meyer, did a lecture/show at a theater. With the advent of videos and “stories” on Instagram and Facebook, the food industry has become an entertainment producer online, not just in brick and mortar. Both these chefs/influencers are active daily on Instagram. That’s more interaction than you could ever get back when you had to wait a year for a reservation at one of their fine dining establishments. One of my friends commented that due to COVID, she is able to get food delivered to her house from restaurants where she could not even get a reservation!
In the time of COVID, and all the zoom and whatsapp virtual gatherings, the paradigm has shifted. Perhaps, we have all become, oddly much more connected, but more than that, how we see each other has changed. We are seeing more people in their pajamas and without makeup or dyed hair. This, like things, has good sides and bad sides. Maybe we don’t want so much contact?
I’d also posit that we’ve become more egalitarian as well… well, if you have mastery of social media…
Visiting the fish market of Lima made me miss Bourdain. But, I went in his spirit. The Terminal Pescuaro or wholesale fish market is where the restaurant owners shop for the freshest fish of the day. At 4 in the morning. The market is open from 4 a.m. to 1 p.m. every day. It’s located out in Villa Maria del Triunfo. As a foreigner, visiting any place that sounds like a drug mule name… in the middle of the night… is not a good idea.
Even though I could see from the online photos that it didn’t look like a picturesque place, I still wanted to visit. The prices are good (2 bucks for a pound of fish). Apparently, one could get some fresh ceviche in the food court above the fish terminal. That sounded fresh. Right? In order not to give my Peruvian friends extreme heart palpitations, I hired a local from Villa Maria del Triunfo to pick me up, drive me, guide me, and stay with me at all times. People said to wear rubber boots. If you have some, you could. But, then, also, wear a rain coat.
We arrived at 10 a.m. long after most of the fish was sold. The hall is more of a hangar and it’s a wet market with slush and ice on the floor. Trucks are parked inside and most of the fish is in blue plastic flats, some packed with ice. It’s not pretty and it smells of fish. At 10 a.m., there was still the bustle and hustle of any market, but the fish looked only slightly more exhausted than the fishmongers. Therefore, I did enjoy when one of the fishwives sashayed to me and asked me straight up, “what are you looking for?” (An aside: I kind of like it when sales folk also add a “love” or “my queen” at the end of the pitch). Another salesman jumped in and the sassy fishwife didn’t like it! She pushed him aside and they almost got into fisticuffs.
As we walked around, the fish vendors went about their business and I got touched by a few dead fish along the way. Hence why you might want to wear a raincoat along with your rubber boots. I wore neither so I smelled like fish. Old fish.
When we got around to the end of the market, we saw that there were other items sold at the market as well, including limes and other items for ceviche. Afterwards, we went upstairs to eat fresh fish. When we went upstairs, we were surrounding by sharks. These sharks were ladies who swarmed around us trying to get our business at their food stall. Really pushy ladies. I liked it.
As the food court was right on top of the fish market, we naively hoped for fresh fish…. We ordered leche de tigre (the lime sauce resulting from making ceviche), chupe (soup), ceviche, and deep fried fish. All of them were fishy and I did not find them edible.
Overall, I enjoyed the outing, but I’ll write about where to get fresh fish another time. For now, go fish.
Probably the most famous outing from Port of Spain is the beach at Maracas Bay. It’s about 35 minutes outside of the city along a windy hilly road.
The view from the viewpoint is not the only reason to stop. There are chow stalls where you can try the famous “pineapple chow.” Chow is a dish of fruit in a brine with shadon beni (culantro) and chili peppers. They also make chow with green plums, mango, and cucumber. The pineapple is the best with its contrast of juicy sweetness, salty brine, and slight spice. All the basic electrolytes in one bite!
Maracas Bay is a popular beach for the locals and it’s a good place to hang out. There are lifeguards on duty, a good thing considering how fierce the waves the day we went.
For a foodie, the reason to go to Maracas Bay is to eat “bake and shark” or a fried fish sandwich. This sandwich was made more famous by Anthony Bourdain. The most famous place is Richard’s with the many condiments including pineapple chow. Uncle Sam’s is on the beach side and overlooks the beach. You buy the fish sandwich and then put on the condiments of your choice from garlic sauce, tamarind sauce, pepper sauce (pureed scotch bonnet peppers), slaw, pineapple chow, mayonnaise, etc. The sandwich reminds me a bit of po’ boy sandwiches.
Recently, some of my Bangladeshi friends visited the U.S… which made me think about iconic American foods to make them try while visiting D.C. The following are some of my recommendations.
1. Krispy Kreme: Who does not love a freshly fried yeast doughnut, hot and fresh from a sugar glaze waterfall?
2. Five Guys and Shake Shack: The last decade has seen the rise of the new hamburger restaurant which makes me happy. Freshly made with fresh French fries – it sounds simple but we, the consumers, put up with so much less for too long. Five Guys is a nationwide chain that started a few miles from D.C. and if you have peanut allergies, you must stay away…
3. All-American classic restaurants and bars: These are classic modern restaurants and bars in the “old boys’ club” style of dark wood, etc. — The Hamilton, The Lincoln, and also Old Ebbitt Grill, the Willard, and Ray’s the Steaks.
4. Ben’s Chili Bowl: Visitors like this historic place which has recently become a chain and it will soon be opening a branch at National Airport.
5. Honey Pig (noisy Korean BBQ restaurant), To Sok Jib (hole-in-the-wall Korean restaurant), and Bon Chon Chicken: Annandale, Virginia is a well known Korea-town but Bon Chon has just opened a branch in Clarendon. There is also Lighthouse Tofu which serves more than tofu and Oegadgib which serves all-you-can-eat Korean including shabu-shabu (shabu-shabu are the words you should say to time how long you swish your meat in the broth to cook it.).
6. Pho soup: Eden Center is a little Vietnam in Falls Church, Virginia, where the restaurants serve pho and other Vietnamese food.
7. Ravi Kabob: It’s a northern South Asian/Pakistani place that is “hole-in-the-wall” and serves delicious food. The most famous local chain is Moby Dick’s.
8. Edy’s Chicken or El Pollo Rico: It’s Peruvian style rotisserie chicken. Anthony Bourdain went to El Pollo Rico but I like that Edy’s serves yucca fries. There are also several other Peruvian style restaurants in the area where you can explore some of this world famous cuisine, although I’m still waiting for the celebrity chef level restaurants to open.
9. Ramen shops: This is a fairly new trend in American food, thanks in part to David Chang of Momofuku, and I like the trend. Yummy, homemade soup. It doesn’t seem like a big deal but it is.
10. El Salvadorean food: Try a fresh pupusa as the El Salvadorean population begins to emerge on the culinary scene (there are not that many Mexican places in this area but Jugalita is authentic).
Of course there are also many Ethiopian restaurants to try and loads of food carts serving all manner of new American foods (Korean kalbi taco, anyone?). Every new group of immigrants contributes a new flavor to American cuisine.
When tourists visit the U.S., many want to try Chipotle and other famous restaurants. I recommend using Yelp to find the locations. Speaking of American foods, there is, of course, pie, lobster, grits, collard greens, chicken and waffles, barbecue, etc. to be had here in D.C., but, maybe I’ll write about that another time. And not to forget, I’ve done some research and it looks like there is only one Colombian restaurant in the area… y claro, por supuesto, voy a visitarlo.
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!
As I am no longer in Bangladesh, I cannot afford a personal chef, so I took a cooking class, which is the next best thing. There is nothing like cooking with a world class chef to remind you of how superb food should taste. Jan Van Haute of Haute Saison Catering is Belgian, but this particular cooking class was in Portuguese food. The cooking class was at a private residence of an expat/international type in DC which was fitting as Jan has a fancy curriculum vitae (he was the Belgium Ambassador’s chef, he cooked for the Belgium royal family, won prizes, worked in Michelin starred restaurants… Despite this, he’s extremely laid back and down to earth — and no, he did not pay me to endorse him!).
Our cooking class was a small group of five and it cost $60 per person. For that we got a lovely setting, three course menu, wine, and food to take home. The cooking class was not a regimented class with chopping exercises, and for those of us (ehem, me) who wanted to take photos and drink wine, no chopping was expected of us. Just my sort of class!
Here’s what we made:
“Pão de queijo” or Portuguese Brazilian cheese bread
“Salada de Bacalhau a Grao-de-bico” or salt cod, chickpea, and egg salad
Octopus rice stew
“Pastal de nata” or Portuguese egg custard tart
First we made cheese bread (actually, first we had a glass of wine), which reminded me of the Colombian “pandebono.” While these were in the oven, we made the salt cod chick pea salad. Then we sat down to eat these while the octopus cooked. Then we returned to the kitchen for to make the next two courses. Finally, we returned to the elegant table and chatted. It was much like a dinner party. The owner of the house had been to Bangladesh which I should have guessed as she had a “nakshi kantha,” or Bangladeshi embroidery, on her wall.
A few words about octopus: The octopus looks quite scary to many people. It is slimy. It is rubbery. But, not that night when cooked properly. The flesh was soft like conch meat. Seriously surprisingly tender and sublime.
The evening and the cooking class ended with us packing leftovers to eat the next day. As part of his philosophy of sharing good food, Jan offers these private cooking lessons. But, as they say in the bread business, “get it while it’s hot!” As his business grows (it just started a few months ago), he may not have time for these small classes. I really hope so because experiences like this are what life can be… plus, it was just so much fun. By the end of the class, I felt more like I was in the company of friends.
The food was revelatory and Jan made us feel totally capable, and at ease, which made for a stellar evening. Wonder what’s on the menu next time?
While there are thousands of restaurants in Washington, DC, few of them truly transport you overseas with one bite of huitlacoche. Sitting around the card table at Taqueria Jugalita will make you feel like you are on an adventure. If you want to go too, here’s how:
1. “Atencion: Solamente Sabado y Domingo, 7 am A 7 pm”
2. Choose your teammates… exclude anyone who cannot handle sitting on a plastic chair in someone’s living room.
3. Cash only. BYOB if you want B. Otherwise, they sell soft drinks.
4.Go to 1445 Park Road, #211, Washington, DC 20010 (That block of Park Road is a tiny example of world fusion with Los Hermanos and a pho restaurant side by side). Ring on the doorbell, wait for the keys to be thrown down to you. Go up to apartment (do not take elevator as it may not work).
5. Try something “bizarre” like beef tongue taco, corn smut (“huitlacoche” – “wheat la coach eh” in my non-phonetic phonetic), or organ meat. Try the sauces on the table. The portion sizes are also “normal” so not as huge (for example, the quesadilla is about the size of a taco since it’s made from one home made corn tortilla — see photo below).
6. Expect to pay $3.50 per taco (so $7 for a plate or around $14 for a meal). It’s not dirt cheap food and not as cheap as street food from a food truck.
Tourist in Dhaka? I get asked where to take friends and family when they visit Dhaka. Depending on how long the visit (hopefully it’s at least a week so that your guests can recover from jet lag), here is my run down of what to see and do, and frequently asked questions (FAQ):
When to visit? In the winter. The temperature will still get up to 70-90 F. You know that saying about “mad dogs and Englishmen”? Well, it’s true. If you go outside in April-October, you may become a mad dog from the heat. Not sure if you will become English…
Travel agencies and tour guides? Yes, use them if you want to. You can usually talk your way to about 2,000 taka per person for a group of six or more for half a day. Most tour companies include riding around in a minivan, called a “micro-bus” in Dhaka, bottled water, and long talks about the sites. That said, at almost every site, actually all the time, you will be surrounded by friendly Bangladeshis eager to talk to you, about the site or not. The official guides, or random fellow who opens the site for you, appreciate a tip (10, 20 taka for the random fellow) as almost anyone likes a tip (like the guy watching your car).
Self-guided? It can be done… if you want to attempt it in one day, here is how I would do it (but, I would try do this over two days leaving the Liberation War Museum and New Market for a different day):
“Bangabandhu” – site of assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, father of the current prime minister of Bangladesh. It’s located at Road 32, Dhanmondi. Opens at 10 in the morning. There is a nominal fee and you cannot take anything (no purses, no phones, nothing), into the museum. Leave it all with a driver in the car. Agree on a time when the driver will come get you.
Parliament: It’s an award winning building. If you want a tour of the inside, you will have to work your contacts.
Lalbagh (there is a bath house and weaponry if you get someone to unlock the door for you): It is the site used when the TV show, the Amazing Race, came to town the first time. But, it’s so much more.
Pink Palace (Ahsan Manzil): It’s a pink mansion turned museum. It has large steps which allows for a sweeping view of the riverfront.
— Eat at Nirob — Lunch (if the traffic is flowing, you could be here by 1:30 p.m.)
Old Dhaka/Hindu Street: Buy shell bracelets (called “shakha”). These are usually worn by married Hindu women as a symbol of their wedded state.
Liberation War Museum: This is not for the faint of stomach. Gruesome photos and explanations about the war in 1971.
Dhaka University – Curzon Hall is a notable building.
New Market: buy whatever you can find, from lace, sarees, curtains, carpets, etc.
BBQ Tonite: enjoy the smoky courtyard atmosphere and grilled meat on a stick… if you have the energy.
On another day:
Boat trip on the river (can include visits to jamdani weaving workshop, jute factory, etc.). These day boat trips are relaxing once you get on the boat. They usually include lunch on board. Book through a tour company. They will pick you up and drop you off at home. One of the companies even has a boat shaped like a peacock. There are many companies but I liked this one: Tourist Channel Bangladesh… 02-8189273. Or 9130260. CEO is Iqubal Hossain. Touristchannelbd@gmail.com. It was 50,000 taka ($633 and the boat can hold 25-35 adults and 10 children, or something such combination) for the whole boat for the day including the bus to and fro, and lunch and tea. They were efficient without being overly “talkative.”
Rickshaw factory tour: Arrange through a tour company. If your guests can visit Dhaka when the Rickshaw Relay happens, even better. (The Rickshaw Relay is a fundraiser which is popular with expats.) There are half a million rickshaws in Dhaka, so you will see many of them, and I’m sure that any one of the rickshaw drivers would be happy to let you drive them around if you want to give it a try.
Shop in Gulshan: Shops include Aranya, Jatra, Aarong, Folk International, and Artisan (where “reject” Western clothes are sold, like TJ Maxx or Ross).
Fly to Cox’s Bazar, the world’s longest beach, or Sylhet tea country, or take a multi-day cruise in the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest. Look for the Royal Bengal tiger. I know people who have actually seen one in the wild.
Attend a wedding: If you ask your Bangladeshi friends, they are usually very happy to include your guests. Then your guests will have the fun of getting dressed in the traditional Bangladeshi clothing.
Keep in mind that the traffic may change how much you can see in one day, or on any day. Take water, mosquito repellent, light cotton clothing, a good camera, nuts or other snacks, and sun protection (hat, umbrella, scarf). I have been on these tours in June and I sweated so much that I began to hallucinate that I was a fish. But, I got lots of photos!
Corn on the cob is one of the quintessential American foods and as such, sometimes, an expat can get slightly obsessed with finding some to gnaw on. My corn-obsessed friend and I found ourselves on the road in Kenya… and stopped to find some corn being roasted on a brazier. When we got closer, we were turned away as the vendor admitted that it was not fresh and he was simply re-heating the corn. Too bad, but at least, the vendor made a good photo subject.
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.
It has been two years of food and adventure blogging on Madventures.me. Thanks to those who have read, recommended, commented on, and taken part in the adventures chronicled on my blog. The search engines have had one more year to consume year one. Here are the top search terms in the last year:
Americans are obsessed with “Mexican food” of which there is a dearth of in Dhaka. But, as I have tried 100 restaurants in Dhaka, here are the three “Mexican” places (and my review rating of them):
Uno ~ El Toro, Gulshan 1 (3/13): Mexican. Must try: going on a night when they have avocados (!!!). This is the only real contender and yet…
Dos ~ Quesadilla, Road 11, Banani (3/13); The quesadilla was actually okay. Edible and not greasy. The “Mexican pizza” was a basic frozen pizza with some charred crumbled beef 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.
Tres ~ Rush Tex Mex, Road 6, Banani (3/13): Burgers and fries. The advertised Mexican dishes were mysteriously not available… small place with two booths. Fries were okay.
Like a lot of things in the expat life, if you want it, you gotta make it. So we started our own Mexican Monthly Club. Getting enough avocados is the hardest part of making Mexican food in Dhaka. Let us see how it goes. Buen provecho!