Buriganga at 1a.m. presents a scene unfamiliar to most of us. Under the bridge, a river flows calmly and tirelessly. Sudden, quirky sirens from launches and boats leaving and arriving at the jetties mark the busyness of the junction even at this odd time of the night. And much like the bank, the entire neighbouring area, which we so lovingly call Puran Dhaka, is not a slave of the clock both in terms of business and pleasure.
Sehri, a meal most of us eat sleepily and half-heartedly, is nothing short of a feast in some locations of Dhaka, especially in the old town. So this Ramadan, we took a stroll in the middle of the night, from busy bazaars to dark, alien alleys whilst exploring some of the liveliest and most colourful locations for sehri.
A few of these places are open all night, all year long.
“It's not just during the month of Ramadan that we are open 24 hours a day,” informs Babul, a cashier of a street-side restaurant at Chankharpool. “You will find this place as it is now even after Ramadan.”
Chankharpool is an area in Old Dhaka that boasts several restaurants which remain open during the night. According to Babul, the place is kept busy mostly by medical students coming in groups of friends to have late dinners. The restaurants serve a variety of 'deshi' food, from plain rice and many types of 'bhorta' to tehari. There are a few sweetmeat shops here, which should help complete your hearty meal with delicious desserts.
From Chankharpool, we took a rickshaw ride towards Lalbagh. The short journey, once out of the rather bustling area filled with eateries, becomes a thrilling one. In the silence of the night, the only noises to be heard are the squeaking sound of the rickshaw's pedals and the flowing of sewage underneath the road.
Stray dogs stare anxiously at the unexpected visit of outsiders in this time of night. The ever-so-familiar high, thick walls of the prison in Jail Road mark a distinctive shadow amidst the darkness of the night. And the seductive fragrance of hasna hena hovers around.
Lalbagh did not turn out to be a good destination for sehri. Although one or two shops here and there selling tehari remain open most of the night the crown jewel, Royal Restaurant, is closed.
You would expect many of the famous restaurants in Old Dhaka to be open for sehri. Hence, to make your life easy, be informed that Royal, Hajir Biriyani and Nanna Biriyani are closed for sehri.
Hurt but still hungry, our next destination was Star Kebab Hotel and Restaurant. This time too, the rickshaw ride proved exciting, but totally different from the aforementioned one. We made our way through busy marketplaces and at times were halted for the numerous people and rickshaws in the alleys. Wholesale markets, tea stalls, tailoring shops, stores of chemicals and raw materials were all open. And it was 2 in the morning! A few street-side restaurants were also open here to cater to these people.
Star Kebab won't fail you in any meal at any time of the day or the night. The restaurant is busy with people hanging out and enjoying the late-night meal.
“I come here twice or thrice every Ramadan with my cousins and friends,” says Emon, a university student who resides in Badda. “We enjoy the drive, the atmosphere and of course, the food. Eating sehri with my friends is a fuss we love to make.”
And with the elaborate menu -- khashir rezala, naan, leg roast, chicken biriyani, plain rice, fish, etc. -- sehri turns into a feast. Add to that a delicious glass of labang they sell, and you will have given yourself a marvellous treat: a good meal among good company with a little adventure on the side.
With the amazing taste of labang lingering in the mouth, we went to Nazira Bazaar: another great place for sehri. Like Chankharpool this location too is open after hours all throughout the year. Not all the restaurants in Nazira Bazaar remain open at night, but many do. With so many people coming from all parts of the city to enjoy sehri, this place truly turns busy and lively and colourful.
So much so that at about 2.30a.m., when we were there, a football match in an empty plot was at full swing. The energy some people have!
The eateries, impatiently calling and trying to get your attention, have various items to offer, from naan and 'chaap' and roast to the all-time favourite tehari, the aroma of which permeates the surroundings.
Close to Nazira Bazaar you have Al-Razzak in North South Road, arguably the most popular restaurant for sehri. Crowded with people, it might take you a couple of minutes before you can grab a seat.
If you are really late, you might even miss some of the items on the menu. But the menu is quite extensive. Even if you miss the so-called rich food, a simple meal consisting of a plate of plain rice along with one of the many types of delicious chicken curries and with a glass of borhani should be enough to satisfy your palate and your stomach, with almost no stress on your wallet.
Eventually, the final minutes of the night come by. A few yawns. Sleepy eyes. Wrapping up the tireless conversations. Drinking lots of water. And then the sirens buzz.
The excitement of the night is followed by a sleepy mood. All one could perhaps think of is going to bed. But the muezzin tries to persuade otherwise. “As-salatu Khayrun Minan-nawm,” he reminds, “Prayer is better than sleep.”
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed