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     Volume 5 Issue 91 | April 21, 2006|

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Straight Talk

Bon Appetit

Nadia Kabir Barb

It just occurred to me that I seem to spend a rather disproportionate amount of time thinking about food. I ascribe this obsession to the fact that every day like clockwork and with no days off I have to think about what we i.e. my family, are going to have for breakfast, lunch and dinner. And although it may seem like the most trivial of decisions, when you have to do it 365 days a year, it can become a little difficult to think of something inspiring! I suppose, with 5 people to look after, I have to make something like 5,000 food decisions a year. So maybe I'm not obsessed after all! So today while I write this article, I have decided to take it easy and let the kids choose what they want for dinner and get a take away.

It made me think about how every time I go back to Dhaka, things seem to have changed. Some small and some rather significant changes; new buildings, changes in the infrastructure, etc. But one thing that astonishes me is how far we have come in terms of widening our culinary horizon. There are always new restaurants sprouting up in Dhaka despite the vast number of existing eateries. I am sure many of you will remember a time when there was really no choice where you wanted to go out for a meal as it was going to be either Chinese or Chinese! Not that we complained at the time. I do recall that as kids it was a matter of great curiosity whether or not the Shark's Fin Soup really was made with Shark's Fins, wondered why there was a dish called American Chop Suey on a Chinese menu and tried to figure out whether some of the dishes were authentic Chinese dishes or something made up! Later when there was an emergence of Thai restaurants it was like a breath of fresh air and it was a treat to go for a Thai meal instead of the usual Chinese. But in the last 25 years or so, the variety of cuisines that are available in Dhaka is staggering.

Just chatting to my cousins the other day brought back fond memories about how when we were teenagers we used to be allowed, after extended negotiations, to go to a little burger place called Yum Yum which was situated in Dhanmondi. As there were not many places for youngsters to hang out at we really used to enjoy these rare trips. The burgers had no resemblance to the burgers you get in McDonalds or Burger King (not that is a bad thing in itself!) but it had a charm all of its own. Then of course there was the opening of a Coffee Shop which was a new concept in Dhaka. It was so cool to be seen sipping your milkshake and eating chips --- sorry not chips but "fries"! Forget coffee shops, how many people even used to drink coffee at the time? Nowadays even when you go to a sari shop the beverage of choice to offer customers is coffee!

When we go back home, it is wonderful to be able to hand over all decisions regarding food to my mother. My view is that as long as I do not have to decide I am happy with whatever I get at the table. But it is also nice to have the opportunity to try out some of the restaurants that have emerged in Dhaka over the last few years. My kids have some favourite venues that we have to take them to. It has to be Movenpick for ice creams, American Burger for burgers and their restaurant of choice is Saltz. Every time we give them the option of restaurants we end up at Saltz. I think the concept of a predominantly fish restaurant would have been unthinkable fifteen to twenty years ago despite being a country where fish is a regular part of our diet.

Sometimes I find it hard to choose where to go as the restaurants on offer are endless. There are still a huge number of Chinese and Thai restaurants to choose from but just to add to the confusion, if you wanted to go for a Korean meal you can drop into Koreana, Samdado for Japanese, La Saigon for Vietnamese, Don Giovanni for Italian or El Toro for a Mexican meal. I mean the list is endless and the type of cuisine keeps on increasing. What is also interesting to see is that people are obviously taking a great deal of time and effort into the décor of these restaurants and along with the food, the ambience does play a part in the enjoyment of the whole eating out experience. I believe there is also a themed restaurant in Dhanmondi called Bhoot!

Something else that I look forward to are the phuchkaas you get at home. I have tried them in different places in London and they do not even come close to the real thing. However, even in Dhaka, you no longer have to go in search of the phuchkaa wallas who serve up the most delicious plates of phuchkaa and chotpoti, but leave much to be desired in terms of the lack of hygiene and sanitation in the way they prepare them! If you are lucky enough to be the owner of an iron constitution then you will have nothing to worry about but for others there is still hope as nowadays there are a number of places such as Dhaba or Roll Express where you can eat phuchkaas to your heart's content and not have to worry about the conditions in which they were prepared. My mouth is already watering at the thought!

I have to mention here that one of the best places I have eaten in Bangladesh was at a roadside restaurant in Sylhet during one of my field trips with my colleagues. It was just <>polau<> and roast chicken but it was truly fantastic. At first I was reluctant to eat in the 'hotel' but I soon gave in to the cajoling and insistence of my colleagues and was extremely pleased that I did. There were no fancy chairs or tables, the décor was at its bare minimal but the quality of the food was outstanding.

To be honest it is not just the décor or the location of the restaurant that matters because at the end of the day, the food does the talking…or is it the proof of the pie is in the eating…see I just cannot stop thinking about food.

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