Sunday, June 6, 2010


One of the few pleasures of travelling by road in Bangladesh is the large number of roadside teashops in every haat, bazar and village street.

Small, dark and often crowded with relaxed and friendly locals, the experience is reminiscent of the British country pub. Even the shop keeper is usually ready for a chat and a joke.

The hygiene? Well, in twelve years of travelling rural Bangladesh I have never experienced any ill effect; they tell me it’s the heat that keeps it clean! I wish I could say the same for my many ventures into Gulshan and Banani restaurants.

Mr. Baker, they tell me, is one of Dhaka’s most popular bakeries. The coissant arent bad, the fruit tarts edible, the chocolate cakes with their non melt content are pretty awful, and the danish…!

Well, Danish pastries are always great comfort food, and neurotics in my league may well invariably feel better for stuffing with them. But whilst the ’Danish’ have become a fixture across the world, including as a vital component of what hotels are pleased to call an American Breakfast, for me it’s the Deshi… the Deshi snacks and ’pastries’ that have won my heart, and my stomach!

It was sharing Iftar during Ramadan that first introduced me to that sweetmeat to die for, the syrup dripping, crisp, chewy Jalapi. And so began what has become along term affair with these uniquely Bengali sugar charges and space fillers.

Working my way through the savouries of the slightly salty Nimki to the tasy Puri, via the crisp, healthy Chira, the Samosa,, Piaju, Singara and the original Cardamom Chop, arriving finally at the immortal Muglai Paratha, that has a Big Mac knocked into a cocked hat, I have often regretted the absence of these culinary masterpieces whilst home in the Highlands.

All fresh and fragrant from the open clay oven, with the aroma of a Bengali cuisine that isn’t going to sear the taste buds, I know of few snacks to beat them.

My special affection, however, is surely reserved for the Khaza. A sweet ’pastry’ such as I have never experienced in even the best of bakeries in Denmark, or anywhere else.
Fresh from the stove, warm and crisp, in a delicate and crumbly way, they positively melt in the mouth, whilst the sugar icing tickles the sweet taste buds as it crunches and dissolves.. words cannot describe the sensuality of the pleasure.

Then there are the iced doughnut looking Balushahi, and various local varieties of the Balashura. Washed down by a small cup of hot, sweet, tasty Bangladeshi tea, the superb options in the tens of thousands of such friendly, owner occupied shops takes me back to the pleasures of decades ago motoring through France, where every village square had its Café de la Paix complete with local specialities. An experience, like everywhere else in the developed world now denied the traveller by the chains and groups of fast food outlets.

The Tea Shops of Bangladesh. Long may they survive! Individual, sometimes idiosyncratic, always welcoming.

The absence of such pleasures in Dhaka is a great pity. I suppose it isn’t so much the expats who have lost an affection they never developed, it’s the pseudo sophistication of the Gulshanis, the kind who advise their expat neighbours that weekends are better spent in India, Malaysia, Thailand, anywhere, in fact, but the rural swathes of Bangladesh, who form the orderly queues in Mr. Baker, demanding the Danish to delight their guests with that sophistication, and stuff their children with foreign cuisine to broaden minds and stomachs, that account for the fact that I have to queue, instead, to leave Dhaka by road to satisfy my hunger.

The truth is, I could never master the art of making the Danish at home. but I have every intention of working at the Deshi! I wonder if the cooking works without the naked flame?

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