Recently, I got the opportunity to explore endless mountains of traditional Bangladeshi cuisine at the 'Taste of Bangladesh' food festival. Organised by the Bangladesh Tourism Board and conceptualised by Spellbound, the event was held at Banani's Kamal Ataturk Field from May 4-6.
The goal was to showcase the richness of traditional Bangladeshi cuisine and honour the Father of the Nation, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who the event was named after.
Signature dishes from districts across Bangladesh were on display at the event. There were over 40 food stalls from famous eateries like Hajir Biryani, Boba Biriyani, Bismillah Kabab, Beauty Lacchi, Dhakai Bakarkhani, Satkhira's Sandesh, Khulna's Chui Jhal, Brahmanbaria's Chhanamukhi, Chittagong's Mezban, Raza Chaa, and Cuisine of the Hill Tracts, as well as stalls by famous local restaurants like Sylhet's Pansi and booths from 5-star hotels such as the Hotel Intercontinental and the Pan Pacific Sonargaon.
It was overwhelming for someone like me, who grew up on chicken curry three times a day. Not only was I mesmerised by the vast palette of tastes, but I also grew familiar with the rich food culture of our country. Over the three days of the festival, I developed something of an obsession, delving into the history and legacy of the delicious dishes that tantalised my taste buds.
I hope chronicling my journey here will inspire my friends and others of my generation to take a chance and explore our traditional local cuisine.
AUTHENTIC KUSHTIA KULFI
My first day at the festival was sunny and scorching, so my first stop was authentic Kushtia Kulfi. Kulfi is a traditional homemade ice cream made of cow's milk and sugar but with added South Asian flavours like cardamom.
Just as pizza makes you think of Italy and chocolate brings to mind Belgium, Kulfi is synonymous with Kushtia. Brought to the festival by Kulfido, this sweet treat helped cool me down.
MOUTH-WATERING HAJI BIRYANI
Since 1939, Haji Biryani has been selling its mouth-watering namesake at Old Dhaka's Nazira Bazaar. The biryani is made by mixing small-grained rice with mutton and seasoned with a secret mix of spices and condiments. For an amateur foodie like me, the biryani had an irresistible aroma.
The delectable dish was made more unique with its presentation in bowls of dried jackfruit leaves.
SOUL-SOOTHING DRINKS AND DESSERTS BY BEAUTY LACCHI
After feasting on the biryani, I drank a soothing lacchi, a curd milkshake, from the iconic Beauty Lacchi. Beauty Lacchi and Faloodi is one of Old Dhaka's most venerable and storied institutions, having served their classic delicacies for a hundred years.
Naturally, I had to try the falooda, a cold, creamy, fruity dessert that lit up my taste buds.
CHICKEN CHAAP FROM BISMILLAH KABAB GHAR
One of my discoveries at the festival was that Old Dhaka's Nazira Bazar had been a hub for foodies for a long time. To round out my visit, I took a trip to Bismillah Kabab Ghar, popular for its selection of mouth-watering kebabs.
I tried the famous chicken chaap, a type of kebab that was flattened and deep-fried. It was sensational and paired excellently with their parathas and green chutney.
MEZBANI BEEF FOR A CHITTAGONGIAN FEAST
A long-standing tradition in Chattogram is cooking massive feasts for gatherings like funerals and weddings. These are known as Mezban, from a Persian word meaning 'to host'. A must-have for such occasions is beef.
The dish is so widely beloved in its home district that the famous restaurant whose stall I sampled it at was named 'Mezzan Haile Aiyun', which means 'come if you want to eat Mezban' in the native dialect.
THE UNIQUE HEAT OF KHULNA'S CHUI JHAL MUTTON
Chui is a type of pepper (referred to as 'jhaal' in the local dialect) famous in Khulna. The stems and roots are peeled and chopped and added to several flavourful dishes for some heat.
I tried the delicious Chui Jhal Mutton Curry with plain rice from Messrs Abbas Hotel, an eatery from Khulna's Chuknagar famous for its dishes using the distinct pepper.
CHHANAMUKHI: A BITE-SIZED SNACK FROM BRAHMANBARIA
The last snack I nibbled on was Chhanamukhi from Adorsho Matri Vandar, one of the many restaurants that sell this popular sweet from Brahmanbaria.
Chhanamukhi is a sweet that feels a lot like a hard sugar-dusted candy. Milk is made into cottage cheese or chhana, then cut into cubes and fried in sugar syrup to make the confection.
Did you know it takes 60 litres of milk and 10 kilograms of sugar to make just 10 kilograms of Chhanamukhi? I even got to see the process live at the festival.
I only visited the festival for a limited time. Still, my experience left me hungry to try more of the broad range of traditional foods in Bangladesh. It was an excellent introduction to the hidden gems of Bangladeshi food. I am eager to explore more and hope this article encourages others to delve deeper into our local food culture's rich and varied legacy.
Zubeen Raiyan Rahman | 11