EATING & DRINKING There is an abundance of Chinese restaurants in Bangladesh, which h... thumbnail 1 summary

There is an abundance of Chinese restaurants in Bangladesh, which have a decidedly darker (in the sense that they lack light but do not lack security) and more private atmosphere than the common eateries. These places have wildly varying menus, but the most popular items among locals are the fried rice and chop suey dishes. You will also find various combinations of chicken, beef, vegetables and chilli served in various wet sauces, sometimes spicy. Here you may find difference with the `authentic' Chinese food, but the dishes are clean, healthy, attractive and well-cooked food at reasonable prices, and ofcourse delicious. A meal here will usually cost between Tk100 and Tk250 per person based on the choice.

CULTURAL CONSIDERATIONS In Bangladesh, the best food is often found at home, which is a good thing given that travellers and guests receive so many dinner invitations, sometimes from total strangers. It is not expected that you take up every invitation, but you should try out a few and get a taste of the best cuisine the country has to offer. Often, homemade meals are cooked with a lot of love and care, which does require time, and thus having dinner at a friend's house can become a multi-hour affair for which you should leave a lot of time and accept the fact that you will never be able to finish all the food prepared for you. It is the part of the culture of this land to honour the guest through creating an amiable ambiance in the home and serving home made delicious food is one of the ways to show the fervor. In return, you may also express your attachment by bringing some flowers or food contribution along (sweets like rosh golla or misti doi are a good choice) or even sending some photographs later on.

BREAKFAST The morning meal is consistently the best and most fresh meal available in any city, town or village of the country. Freshly baked tandoori naan or pan-fried parata (flatbread can be cooked with less or no oil if requested) served with a protein-rich thick dal (pulse) and a spicy momelette (omelette with onion and green chilli) is available just about everywhere and costs less than US$0.40 or about Tk25. Most upper mid-range hotels with restaurants will be able to offer you a similar version of this breakfast - delivered to your room. These same hotels sometimes offer a ‘western' or 'continental' breakfast which consists of white toast, a fried egg, banana, butter and jam, and a tea, or perhaps instant coffee, on request. At NGO guesthouses, this breakfast is often simpler but freshly prepared: often you can request a chapati, which is the non-fried version of the Bangladeshi flatbread or they might serve you the fried version, which is known as a parata. Finally, if you're the big-breakfast business-buffet type, you'll see these meals are often included while staying at a four- or five-star venue.

MAIN MEALS A common Bangladeshi lunch is a heaping plate of rice served with mushy vegetables (locally known as sobji or bhaji) and an oily meat or fish curry. Some restaurants serve chicken or mutton biriyani for lunch. A few restaurants with a better reputation will also serve bharta, which is a freshly mashed vegetable, usually eggplant, potato or fish.

DINNER Dinner is a more elaborate affair, as the streets and laneways of most cities become throbbing and colourful veins of activity after the sun goes down. At this time there is a lot of food choice available, whether it be street-side chatpoti or halim (see Snacks below), or perhaps a few restaurants that do beef or chicken kebabs (beef shikh kebab or chicken reshmi kebab). The best of these places will also serve freshly baked tandoori naan and a cucumber salad alongside their dishes.
At the street-side stalls, breakfast can be served as early as 06.00 and sometimes as late as 09.30. Lunch is usually ready from 12.30 and stops late in the afternoon at about 15.00 (most restaurants maintain similar opening hours). Finally, dinner can be served any time from 07.00 to 10.00, although if you're taking it at a friend's residence, be ready for it to run even later. Upscale restaurants generally maintain these hours, except during holidays like Ramadan, when most restaurants do not serve food during the day because of religious sentiment.

DESSERTS Bengali desserts are known throughout south Asia, with sweet shops found as far away as Delhi. Given the sweet tooth of most Bangladeshis, it's hardly surprising that every region has a famous dessert, with some notable examples including sweet yoghurt from Bogra (misti doi) to dough balls served in milk from Comilla (rosh malai). While travelling, these desserts make good gifts to bring local friends or hosts when they invite you over for dinner. At that same dinner, you might even be served homemade desserts despite your belly being terribly full already. Popular are shemai, a milk-based vermicelli dessert, and payesh, a rice version of the same thing, pudding, custard are also common.
More common are a number of misti (sweet) shops found in every city, town and village of Bangladesh. Here, the most common item is rosh golla, dough balls that resemble the doughnut holes served in pastry shops of Western countries. In Bangladesh, these same balls are fried on butter and soaked in sugary syrup.

SNACKS Bengali snack foods are also one of the main items you will see just about everywhere. The best of these snacks are the humble phuchka and chatpoti, often served from street carts, mostly in the cities but sometimes in the countryside as well. Phuchka is a combination of mashed potatoes and chickpeas, served inside small crispy shells, and topped with a sour tamarind sauce. Chatpoti is a plate of boiled chickpeas served with a topping of onions, coriander, chopped green chillies, grated hard-boiled eggs and more of those same crispy shells found in phuchka. Some restaurants have a spicy version and an absolutely delicious yoghurt version. Vegetarians are also guaranteed to fall in love with this dish, especially the yoghurt version seen at more and more Dhaka restaurants nowadays. Chaats and puri dishes, are also making an appearance in some of Dhaka's newer cafes and restaurants, as they cater to a younger generation whose food tastes have gone well beyond the mutton biriyani crowd. Indian-style dosas, or Kolkatastyle rolls, are sometimes found at similar venues.
There are other, homegrown snacks seen on just about every street corner of Bangladesh: dozens of deep-fried varieties crowd such food stalls. Most popular is the shingara, which is usually some mashed potatoes and/or a carrot/onion mixture wrapped in a thick dough and then fried, or the samosa (pronounced 'shamosha' in Bangla), a deep-fried triangle-shaped vegetable pocket. You'll also sometimes see piaju (mashed lentils mixed with onions and fried) and beguni (battered slices of eggplant) served alongside, perhaps with a big pile of chow mein noodles too. A pile of dark chickpeas with a series of colourful green and red chillies means you're looking at chana, which is usually mixed with puffed rice (muri) and then served in a bowl with a spoon, probably one of the only non-fried dishes that qualifies as a common snack food. Mughlai parata, a scrambled egg with vegetables and spices and then fried inside a wrapped flatbread, is one of the most popular snacks, and often shared between several people in the early evening.
Finally, the last kind of snack worth mentioning is halim, which is actually a kind of lentil soup that is slow-cooked with beef, mutton or chicken and a range of delicious spices. Served hot from enormous pots outside restaurants, this soup is a fairly healthy dish and is found in most restaurants or snack stalls around the country during the evening.

FRUIT One of the great rewards for visiting Bangladesh during the hot and humid season is to taste what must be the most amazing and fresh fruit available on earth. Blessed with an extremely fertile and verdant landscape, the country produces its best fruit during what are known as the `honey months', from June to August. To travel in the heat can be punishing but to taste the fruit fresh from the orchards is well worth the effort. Fruit really does taste far better here as opposed to when it is imported from across the world.
Topping the list are Bangladeshi mangoes, which are so abundant in the country during the month of June that prices often drop to less than Tk40 per kilogram (US$0.65) although they are available at higher prices until early August. As many Bangladeshis will surely tell you, the national fruit of the country is the jackfruit, which also comes to market around this time. Lychees - which originally came from China - also show up in June, as well as jackfruit and water-bearing green coconuts. During August, sweet guavas are sold from the street, followed by ripe jambura and fresh pineapple. Green papaya is available year round but ripens during the winter months. Sobeda, name of another fruit, found in winter, is very tasty.

ADIVASI FOOD Indigenous people, known as Adivasi people in Bangla, make some very different foods from their neighbours. In particular, the Chittagong Hill Tracts seem to have a very real love of fish-based flavouring that resembles Thai or Burmese cooking much more than south Asian cuisine.

A NOTE ABOUT RAMADAN Eating out is much harder during the period of Ramadan, a Muslim religious festival in which no food or even water is supposed to be taken during daylight hours. The fasting, called roja in Bangla, begins at dawn, after which many families have already awoken well before sunrise to have a quick meal. During the day, most restaurants - but not all of them - run a special lftar service during this period, in which they sell a range of Iftar snack items that are usually packed off and taken home for eating the moment after sunset. Halim and fried items dominate these menus. The restaurants then usually reopen for regular dinner service in the evening although business often stays quite slow during this time.
Ramadan is a deeply religious time in Bangladesh, in which the citizens fast in order to remember the plight of the less fortunate in their society. It is also a time of giving alms to the poor and practicing religious austerity with friends, family and colleagues. If travelling during this time, you might like to try a day of fasting to see how it feels, and certainly this voluntary starvation does bring on a kind of understanding as to why people seem quite droopy in the late afternoons.
DRINKING In terms of the law, Bangladeshis are not allowed to carry alcohol in their private cars without an alcohol licence. Such licences are only attainable with a doctor's prescription and hence the possession of alcohol can be legalised for `medical reasons'. There are a few bars in the big cities that serve local and imported alcohol as well as imported beer. As a foreigner you are not required to possess such licences.
Amongst ethnic minorities, the story is naturally different. Because such people are either Buddhist or Christian, there is not only an acceptance of alcohol but there is often a culture surrounding it. Most of the people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts distil their own high-alcohol brews from rice, which are quite potent and belly warming and best not taken in too large a quantity. In the Garo areas of Mymensingh, there is another kind of milder rice wine that is quite excellent and goes well with meals. The best time of year to visit these places is during the holiday seasons, where people are more naturally in a festive mood. For the Chittagong Hill Tracts, the best time is during Bengali New Year (14 April), and for the Garo areas of northern Mymensingh, the best time is around Christmas.

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