Many of us cannot imagine a life without smart phones and the Internet. How people went about doing their business and leading their lives before email or Wikipedia is beyond the realm of understanding for many.
The Dhaka I know of is a hip and trendy one. Its people are tech savvy. It also has numerous choices for eating out: from exotic restaurants to sleek lounges to snug cafes. I am happy to be a part of this city and this generation.
But, I was born a generation or two too late to have witnessed some of the now-busiest areas thrive as jungles and ditches. Neither do I recall buying sodas for 8 annas (or 50 paisas).
Don't blame the soft drink industry. The entire country has moved on. The culinary scene of Dhaka a few decades ago is now just a romantic memory. From a charming array of street foods to a few bakeries that formed an integral part of the community, people of Dhaka aged about thirty five or above fondly speak of enchanting food items and tell mesmerising tales surrounding them.
Mehdi Jansher, a fifty year old civil engineer who grew up in Bashabo, recalls eating delicious cream rolls from a small bakery near his home. “Cream rolls were the most popular item among our group,” he said. “One cream roll used to cost just Tk.1; these days, the price is much higher, but the amazing taste is just not there.”
If you ask anyone about classic foods from the relevant demographic, the subject of cream rolls will almost inevitably come up, which shows how fond they were of this food at that time.
Another popular delicacy was the so-called 'hot patties'. Samina Islam, aged 55 years, is now a private university professor. As a child growing up in Dhanmondi, she remembers a hawker walking down the road shouting, “Hot patties! Hot patties!”
She further tells, “By hot patties, we usually meant triangular patties with minced beef inside. The hawker kept them in a small box, similar in outlook to that of a cobbler's box. The patties were kept warm there. Hawkers selling these used to appear on the streets from the evening. Each was priced around Tk.1.”
This food is still out there, although the craze may have died down.
But there are little things that have almost become extinct. “Kalo jam, during my childhood, had a pinkish hue inside -- instead of being off-white, which is everywhere nowadays. I do not recall exactly how different the taste was back then, but every time I give a bite in this sweet now, I reflexively check the colour,” told Ershad Haque, a 45 year old businessman from Azimpur.
Sweet memories haunt the citizens of Dhaka. Other than 'kalo jam' with the pinkish colour inside, there was multi-coloured 'sondesh' and a unique multi-coloured chocolate.
Nabila Sanam, an executive working in a telecommunications company now, takes a walk down the memory lane, which is Agamasi Lane in Old Dhaka.
“A hawker used to come singing a song in Urdu. This man carried a dough-like chocolate substance.
As he came to our gate, my cousins and I used to rush downstairs and surround him. The man used to make different objects from the chocolate-dough. One could eat them in shapes of watches, rings, birds, etc.”
This was not long ago -- in the mid-'90s. This chocolate is now rare; but nevertheless you still can spot it, although very infrequently.
Indeed, it was a simple time with simple but invaluable pleasures. A cup of tea with toast biscuit was all you needed to start a morning. Yusuf, Ananda and Olympia for example, were three very highly regarded bakeries.
Many bakeries also offered a locally produced orange jelly, which was sometimes applied to the toast biscuit. Or, sometimes, the toast biscuit was replaced with an enchanting 'naan khatai' -- a cookie-type food that come in different designs.
'Naan khatai' is rare these days. But a confectionery item that has survived the test of time is bakarkhani. The whitish bread, dry, rounded in shape and biscuit-like in texture, has been a favourite among the people of Dhaka for ages. Still today, Old Dhaka hosts numerous tiny bakeries making and selling this old delicacy.
Butter bun too, has managed to live on. It is quite a simple food -- a bun with a small amount of sweetened butter inside.
The list of classics is rather long. And to complicate things further, different people give different accounts of the same thing. It is not just because of the different varieties one food had. The memory is also linked with the environment in which you grew up in, the influence of friends, etc.
Nevertheless, the memory of those long lost days binds many people together. When old friends catch up, they talk of the simple times and the fascination they had about the classic goodies.
And for those of us who has never enjoyed such an era and most of its delicious, simple foods, all we can do is listen to the 'oh!'s and 'ah!'s and see the nostalgic glint in their eyes. The details are inscrutable now.
What remains, is a memory.
“Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind
Should auld acquaintance be forgot and days of auld lang syne
For auld lang syne my dear, for auld lang syne.”
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed and Google Images