Bangladeshi Food: An Overview

Bangladeshi food in a home is the best – it’s cooked with the care and love of a woman’s hands. In restaurants, food is cooked by men for quantity.

– A Bangladeshi friend captures the crux of Bangladeshi food.

Large Bowl of Sabzi (vegetables) - Dhaka, Bangladesh
Sabzi. You know you want some!

Although you may not have realized it, it’s quite possible you’ve eaten Bangaldeshi food. Many of the restaurants along London’s famed Brick Lane are actually Bangladeshi in origin. The same can probably be said for other “Indian” restaurants throughout the world. After all, Indian food has much better branding. So after having traveled through India and upon arriving in Bangladesh, we thought its food might just be the same.

Well, not quite. So what about food in Bangladesh? What is it like?

We don’t claim to be experts in Bangladeshi cuisine, but we did our share of dining in Bangladesh. During our nearly six weeks in the country, we took the opportunity to eat on the street, in tea stalls, canteens, restaurants and in village homes.

Here is what we found.

Bangladeshi Food: Approach, Ingredients and Tools

Bangladesh shares a common Bengali culture, language and history with its neighbors in the nearby Indian state of West Bengal. This shared culture also carries over to its food – many dishes are shared across borders and are commonly referred to as Bengali cuisine.

Bangladeshi cuisine is decidedly South Asian in nature. However, it’s unique in its abundant use of fish and its employment of a variety of often fiery pastes made from ground roots, spices and chilies. So fiery they are, we’re told, that even some visiting Indians can’t handle the heat.

Fish: Bangladesh is a country of rivers so perhaps it’s no surprise that fish is a staple of Bangladeshi food. There’s a common saying: “Fish and rice make a Bengali” (Machh-e-bhat-e-Bangali). Often fish is fried in spice paste to enable the flavors to settle in.

Boy with Freshly Caught Fish - Hatiandha, Bangladesh
A Boy and His Fish, Bangladesh

For Bangladeshis, not any fish will do. A river fish, be it from fresh or salt water, is the most highly valued. To Bangladeshis, sea fish just don’t offer the same flavor.

Ground pastes: Bangladeshi cuisine incorporates the use of pastes – spices and roots ground smooth. Green chili peppers are ubiquitous in Bangladeshi cuisine. Other common pastes include a combination of any of the following: ginger, garlic, red chili peppers, turmeric, onion, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, or mustard seed. (South Asian cuisine aficionados will note the use of popped spices as a foundation of Indian dishes as distinctly different from that of Bangladeshi cuisine.)

Spice Pastes Used in Bangladeshi Food - Hatiandha, Bangladesh
Different spice pastes used in Bangladeshi food.

Mustard oil: Traditional Bengali cuisine makes frequent use of mustard oil which imparts an inimitable bitterness. You can definitely taste this in bhorta, uniquely Bangladeshi balls of mashed vegetables. Although mustard oil is still commonly used throughout Bangladesh, people are making the switch to more neutral vegetable oils.

Traditional stove: Who says you need fancy kitchen equipment to cook well?

Cooking in a Traditional Kitchen - Hatiandha, Bangladesh
Cooking with a traditional Bangladeshi stove.

A traditional Bangladeshi stove is made from mud or dug into the ground. It includes a place for fire (usually heated by wood, sometimes wrapped in cow dung so it burns slower) with an impression or opening in which to place the pan.

Boti (Knife):A traditional Bangladeshi carving utensil that consists of a curved blade on a shaft that you must secure between your feet. Bangladeshi women use it with lightening speed to cut onions, vegetables, fish — just about anything, no matter how small.

Onion Cut with Traditional Knife - Hatiandha, Bangladesh
Cutting onions with a boti.

Eating with the right hand: As in other parts of South Asia, food is eaten with the right hand. Bangladeshis appreciated the attempt we made to eat “local style” – one restaurant manager even came up to us and thanked us for it.

Also, as our host mother in the village of Hatiandha told us, “Food tastes better when you eat it with your hands.

No argument here. When in Bangladesh, eat with your hands.

Eating in a Bangladeshi Village

Not surprisingly, the best food we ate in Bangladesh was served in a family home during a village homestay. We are told that Mrs. Ali, our host mother in Hatiandha is known for her cooking skills. She really went all out for us during our stay.

Please note these dishes are not always eaten every day; some may be considered “special occasion” meals.

Awesome sabzi (mixed vegetables): Ok, the real name for this did not include “awesome” but we were so impressed by this dish that we felt it an appropriate name. Sabzi is common throughout Bangladesh, but Mrs. Ali took it to a whole new level.

Sabzi and Paratha Breakfast - Old Dhaka, Bangladesh
Breakfast of champions: sabzi and paratha.

In addition to ground ginger, garlic, onion, cumin, and chili pepper pastes, this dish also included fenugreek, fennel seed, black cumin, ajwain, and methi. Add to this carrots, potatoes, eggplant, cauliflower and whatever other vegetables you have hanging around and you’ve got something special.

Maach Bhuna (Fish Bhuna): Bhuna is a style of cooking where spice pastes – red chili, ginger, cinnamon, onion, and garlic – are heated in oil and then cooked with fish, meat or vegetable slices. Add a little water to thin out the sauce. The result is something aromatic, flavorful, and spicy. One of our favorites.

Bangladeshi Dinner at Home Stay - Hatiandha, Bangladesh
A Bangladeshi taster menu, village style. Fish bhuna, top right.

Bhendi Bhaji (Fried Okra): Simple and so delicious. Green chilies, ground onion paste and okra fried together in oil.

Begun Bhaja (Fried Eggplant): Pan-fried sliced eggplant with turmeric and salt.

Chicken Curry: A Bangladeshi garam masala-based curry that features chicken and potatoes. The masala — including cinnamon sticks, big brown cardamom, and small green cardamom — really shines through.

Lunch with Home Stay Family - Hatiandha, Bangladesh
Hearty lunch at the village homestay.

Dal (lentils): Another staple of the Bangladeshi table. Sauteed spices, onions and garlic stewed to creaminess. If there exists nothing else at breakfast time, you’ll be sure to find dal and rounds of paratha bread.

Pulao: A rice that uses the small, fine grain of rice (more expensive). It’s typically cooked with bay leaf, cinnamon sticks and topped with crispy dried onion. Delicious. You know you are considered someone special when the finer grained pulao comes out.

Bangladesh Restaurant Eating

Unless you’re going to a fancy hotel restaurant or a high-end eating establishment, don’t expect to receive a menu when dining at local canteens, cafeterias or restaurants. You don’t choose curry types; instead you choose chicken, fish or beef. Preparation is the choice of the man in the kitchen that day. It’s as if the restaurant is saying: “This is what we (collective we, like a family) are eating today.”

Street Food in Srimongal Market - Bangladesh
Street food in Srimongal.

In this case, the selection is limited, but there’s something oddly binding in everyone sharing the same meal.

Meals are prepared –- and are therefore most fresh — around regular eating times. If you get off-cycle in your eating, you won’t go hungry but your food may have been hanging around for a while. Take note.

Bangladeshi Snacks and Breads:

Singara and Samosas - Srimongal, Bangladesh
Holding a singara on top of a pile of samosas

Singara: Much like samosas, singara (the round items above) are spiced potato and vegetable mixture pockets wrapped in a thin dough and fried. What distinguishes a good singara is the flaky texture, almost as if it’s made with savory pie crust. Singara are really tasty and inexpensive snack (as cheap as 24 for $1) that you can find almost anywhere in Bangladesh.

Samosa: In India, samosas are usually stuffed with potatoes and spices. Bangladeshi samosas tend to be triangular, filled with cabbage and other vegetables, and are more heavily fried and crunchier than either singara or their Indian samosa cousins.

Paratha: A thin fried flat bread that can be found everywhere throughout the country. Most often eaten at breakfast.

Time to Make the Parathas - Old Dhaka, Bangladesh
Parathas in Old Dhaka

Fried roti stuffed with egg & onions: Once night hits in Khulna, many of the streetside restaurants were frying up a thin dough filled with egg, onions and spices. It was folded up like a square. More filling than it looks.

Fried Roti for Dinner - Khulna, Bangladesh
Fried Roti for Dinner – Khulna

Roti Kalai: A thick flat bread made from lentil flour. When we found this on the streets of Rajshahi, women were serving it with freshly cut onions and green chili sauce. More like a meal than a snack since the lentil flour makes it very heavy.

Kalai Roti with Chili Sauce - Rajshahi, Bangladesh
Kalai Roti with Chili Sauce – Bangladesh

Chana chaat: Chickpeas mixed with chopped onions, tomatoes, and spices often topped with popped rice and fried vegetables. Incredibly addictive snack food.

Chana (Chickpea) Snack - Sundarbans, Bangladesh
Chana (Chickpea) Snack

Naan: Although naan (flat bread cooked in a tandoor oven) is not as common in Bangladesh as it is in India, it is still possible to find it in some restaurants and street stands. In contrast to paratha, you’ll find naan more readily available at night.

Naan Man - Khulna, Bangladesh
Naan straight from the oven, Bangladesh.

Pitha: A fried snack – almost like small pancakes – made from rice flour. Can either be eaten straight or covered with ghur (syrup made from the sap of date trees) for breakfast.

Fresh Pithas for Afternoon Snack - Acholcot, Bangladesh
Fresh Pithas for Afternoon Snack – Acholcot, Bangladesh

Bangladesh Meals

Bangladesh Breakfast: Our first meal of the day usually consisted of some combination of sabzi (mixed vegetables), dal (lentils), paratha (fried flat bread), omelette and milk tea. Hearty, filling reliable, good. Also incredibly cheap – we usually paid less than $1 for the two of us. We learned that tea is often eaten after the meal, not with the breakfast so you have to make a special request if you want your cup of tea to arrive with your meal.

Breakfast Sabzi and Dal - Rangamati, Bangladesh
Typical Bangladeshi breakfast.

Bhorta: Mashed potatoes (or other vegetables) often mixed with shrimp or fish. Usually made with onion, green chili peppers, cilantro and mustard oil — lending it an intense flavor. The restaurant at Western Inn International in Khulna serves up some delicious shrimp and fish bhorta.

Shrimp Varta - Khulna, Bangladesh
Bhorta. Impossible to photograph, especially in the dark. Even ugly. But uniquely tasty.

Biryani: Spiced rice served with some sort of meat or chicken, sometimes mixed in and other times served on top of the rice. Maybe we just chose poorly, but we never really had a great biryani meal during our trip.

Egg curry: Hard boiled eggs served up in a creamy curry sauce looked a bit odd to us at first, but the taste: remarkably good. Served with crispy onions on top.

Egg Curry - Sundarbans, Bangladesh
Egg Curry on our boat to the Sundarbans

Bangladeshi Desserts

The one segment of Bangladeshi cuisine that most resembles Indian cuisine: desserts.

Mishti Doi: Sweet curd served in ceramic bowls. Our suggestion is to go for the semi-sweet variety. The best doi we found comes from a chain of shops called “Rosh” in Dhaka. We frequented the Gulshan 2 outpost, just on the circle. Go early: Rosh sells out of the semi-sweet doi very quickly.

A little snack of Doi mishti (sweet curd) in Rajshahi, Bangladesh
Mishti Doi, Audrey’s Favorite.

Ras Malai: A heavy sweet made from balls of paneer (pressed Indian-style cottage cheese) served with sweetened clotted cream and topped with ground nuts and/or sweet spices like cardamom.

Rasgulla: Another heavy sweet made from balls of local cottage cheese mixed with semolina flower and cooked in a sugar syrup. The syrup absorbs into the ball. Intensely sweet.

Drinks in Bangladesh

Local Bangladeshi restaurants typically don’t offer a wide array of drinks. While tap water is available for free on tables, choices are usually limited to bottled water (a wise choice for visitors’ tummies) and basic soft drinks (e.g., Sprite, Coke). Alcohol is forbidden.

Cha (tea): Bangladeshis are a tea drinking people. You’ll find little tea stands throughout the country with a few people sitting and drinking a small cup, perhaps with some snacks. Tea drinking and tea stands offer a great way to engage with and meet people. Most tea is black tea served with condensed milk and sugar, but you can also request “red” tea which is without milk.

Tea Wallah in Old Dhaka - Bangladesh
Tea Wallah in Old Dhaka – Bangladesh

7-Layer Tea: The famous 7-layer tea can only be found at Nilkhantha Tea Cabin outside of Srimongal (beware of imitations in the nearby village). The recipe is a secret, but combines three varieties of black tea and one green tea. Condensed milk and various spices (cinnamon, cloves), perhaps a dash of lemon and a hint of asafoetida make up the other flavor layers.

7-layer tea in Srimongal, Bangladesh
7-layer tea in Srimongal, Bangladesh

Lime juice and sugar cane juice: You can find juice stands on the streets of Old Dhaka and other big cities. Just be careful that you’re just getting the juice and not a mixture with local water. Otherwise, Bangla belly might come to haunt you.

How to Avoid Bangla Belly, Getting Sick in Bangladesh

With all of our eating at local and street restaurants throughout Bangladesh, we never once got a case of “Bangla belly.” Use common sense when eating and be careful of freshly cut (and uncooked) vegetables and fruit. Don’t take your chances on local tap water – buy bottled water or sterilize tap water yourself (e.g., SteriPen or tablets). And be sure to use wash your hands before and after meals.

Restaurants in Bangladesh

We generally ate very well (and very inexpensively) while traveling throughout Bangladesh. If the food is being made fresh and it looks good, and there are a lot of customers creating a high turnover, then you will probably be OK.

Dhaka Restaurants: Although we didn’t eat out frequently while in Dhaka, everyone agrees that some of the best food around is in Old Dhaka. As you walk the streets around Shakari Bazaar, keep your eye out for streetside restaurants and guys like this serving up freshly cooked meals, paratha, singara and more.

Tasty. Friendly. You won’t be disappointed.

Breakfast of Champions: Paratha and Sabzi - Dhaka, Bangladesh
Eating in old Dhaka.

Khulna Resturants: The streets come alive at night along Upper Jessore Road with men cooking up fresh roti, naan, meat kebabs and more. For our money and experience, this is the place to go. For a higher end meal, try Western Inn International for fish bhuna and tasty bhorta.

Srimongal Restaurants: There are several good eating options along Station Road, but Kutum Bari became our favorite. It’s a bit more expensive than other restaurants (i.e., $5 for two people), but it offers a wider selection than most and serves up delicious Indian and Bangladeshi favorites in a pleasant, unstuffy atmosphere. Staff are exceptionally friendly and are not afraid to explain and recommend dishes. Our favorites: the chicken tikka masala and fish bhuna.

For a regular local canteen, try Gram Bangla Restaurant on Station Road. Great breakfasts, traditional cuisine (dal and sabzi) and singara.

Eating in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT): Traditional food in the Chittagong Hill Tracts is another experience, entirely. For the most part, you will find traditional Bangladeshi or Bengali style food. However, in ethnic homes and restaurants in CHT, you will find cuisine that more closely resembles Burmese end of Southeast Asian food. We will address this in a future piece on our experience in the CHT region.

Bangladeshi Food Photo Essay

If you don’t have a high-speed connection or you’d like to read the captions, you can view the Bangladesh Food photo essay.

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Comments

  1. says

    @Jordan: Glad to hear! We figured most people didn’t know much about this cuisine so wanted to share what we know.

    @Ali: The food in Bangladesh definitely surprised us – there isn’t the same variety as India, but the food was always good. We definitely ate our way through the country, trying to eat in local places as much as we can. This isn’t only good for really getting a feel for the food, but it’s also where you can meet people.

    @Tawny: Singara were awesome! Some of my best memories of them were when the bus would stop somewhere in the middle of nowhere and there’d be a tea & singara stand – such perfect travel food.

  2. maylene tamaray says

    I’ve stayed for a while in Dhaka. It’s one of my most humbling travel experiences. Really friendly folks with such big welcoming hearts.

    I wish I could go back soon and visit the friends I’ve made back there.

  3. Sutapa Chattopadhyay says

    Everything here in this essay looks like God’s gift to man! Thanks for bringing up this topic again.

    Bengali food also can be very subtle as well. Have you guys had ‘shukto’? It is something Bengalis eat as the first course. It has an element of bitterness since bitter gourd is part of the recipe? It is bitter but not overwhelmingly so and it has this sauce that is to die for (ground mustard seeds and milk is added in the end to make the sauce)!

    Then there is fish that one puts in banana leaves along with ground mustard seed, turmeric, some mustard oil etc. and it is steamed. Lovely!! It is a shame mustard oil isn’t consumed here in the US (for health reasons, I suppose, but also because it is pungent).

    Thanks for this essay! Btw, what is SteriPen? Does it work? Because carrying bottled water is a hassle especially if you are planning on a village stay for 2-3 days.

  4. Sam says

    I really enjoy Bangladeshi food. It has lots of flavor and unique unparalleled taste, but it takes skill and knowledge to prepare.

  5. says

    Haha..that “Roti” explanation made me laugh. When I was in Paris I went to the so called “Indian” Market. I was in dire need of some Indian food. I got really excited when I saw roti on the menu in one of the restaurants. I ordered it and what I got was that “Fried Square of Bread” completely different from what is is called Roti in India.:(

  6. says

    This stuff looks incredible! Interesting to note that much of the Indian food we consume in the west actually has its roots in Bangladesh. Did you manage to pick up any recipes while you were there?

    Also – good point about eating at local eating times. Because I usually travel alone I eat at bizarre times (i.e. if I am eating dinner I want it early so as not to be out too long after dark) so I often get stuck eating at tourist restaurants because the local ones are deserted or have food that looks ten hours old. I’m always too early or too late! I should really try and get into sync…!

  7. says

    Our family is in sync with your train of thought that one of the highlights of any journey is experiencing the different types of food. Thankfully, our two kids are open to trying a lot of new tastes and foods, and enjoying most–including grasshoppers in Oaxaca and starfish in Beijing! The food in Bangladesh looks divine. Can’t wait to try the sabzi, singara, and the 7-layer tea (how special!). I will definitely come back to this article when we eventually make our way to Bangladesh. Your stories have put this country near the top of our “must visit” list, and I know that we will get there one day!

  8. says

    Post of the day for me by far. Firstly I love food from the sub-continent, secondly your photos are amazing and really capture the moments and thirdly it is a well written piece.

    Bravo!

  9. Md. Ashfaqure Rahman says

    Hello, This is Md. Ashfaqure Rahman. I am from Bangladesh. I first want to thanks all of you for your post. This is very much pleasuring thing that, peoples from different countries are learning about our food. I think all of you should taste these foods. In many countries, there are Bangladeshi restaurants. but they named their restaurants as Indian. because of the branding of Indian food. But when you compare the two food, I think you will find the bangladeshi food better. Moreover in our country there are many tourist place to visit like the world’s longest sea beach Co’s Bazar, World largest Mangrov forest Sundarban, Hill, Tea Graden and many more. I’M sure that you will enjoy the trip. Moreover, if anyone need any information or help regarding bangladesh you can reach me by mail ashfaqure_rahman@yahoo.com .

  10. Fahim says

    Thank you so much for writing such a detailed and great description of Bangladeshi food. Great stuff.

    Next time, try to get some homemade shingara, shoucha, dalpuri, moglai poroa and chana etc because the ones is restaurants are barely food!

  11. Safia Azim says

    This section has excellent images, the write-up certainly rings true and this I should know being Bangladeshi, living here and forever in the quest for a tasty, deshi-style meal on my daily platter. I’ll take this opportunity to congratulate the Bradt team for a job well done!

  12. says

    @maylene: Thank you. Very well said. Humbling indeed. We often find it difficult to concisely capture how a visitor might feel in Bangladesh. You’ve done it quite beautifully.

    @Sutapa: You are welcome. Thank you for such a great comment. Where to begin. First, I don’t think we’ve had shukto, but it somehow feels familiar. I can imagine the milk actually helps bring out the mustard seed flavor. This dish sounds like a South Asian spiced dish prepared in a Southeast Asian (or Burmese, really) style. Man oh man, I love food.

    We definitely haven’t had the fish in banana leaves in Bangladesh. But we had something like that in Kolkata.

    As for mustard seed, a lot of mixed feelings out there.

    Thank you for a terrific comment. Now I’m starving. One of these days, I’m going to try to make shukto.

    Steripen is an ultraviolet light pen used to kill germs and parasites. It’s very effective. We’ve run into some electrical issues with each of our Steripens, but when they’re working, they do the job. Ultraviolet sterilization is used more and more throughout the world to purify water, so the technology is reliable.

    @Sam: I’d love to hear more about your experiences with Bangladeshi food. Have you prepared some yourself?

    @Megan: It was pretty incredible, actually. We did collect a few recipes in Bangladesh and we’re working on the best way to share them.

    We run into the same issues regarding eating times while traveling. Unfortunately, our bodies aren’t always in tune with the local eating schedule.

    @Kathy: Glad to hear that Bangladesh has moved it’s way up the must-visit list.

    @Michael: Thank you. Your comment made our day. South Asian cuisine is some of the world’s best. Thanks so much for your compliments. I have to tell you that the Bangladeshi people make it that much easier. Friendly, gregarious and photogenic. We’re also glad that you found the piece well-written. It’s always a challenge to figure out a balance between being thorough and being verbose.

    @Ashfaqure: Whether Bangladeshi food is better than Indian food will probably forever be up for debate, according to taste. However, we were told that Bangladeshis (because they are primarily Muslim) tend to embrace onions and garlic more than their Hindu neighbors in India. I’m not certain how true that assertion is, however.

    Thank you for all of your suggestions. We will publish a list of our favorite Bangladesh destinations and experiences soon. Stay tuned.

    @Fahim: Thank you! Really great to hear this. Thank you for the suggestions — it’s always great to hear what else needs to be added to the list. Good for our next visit and also for our readers who are planning to travel to Bangladesh.

    @Safia: Thank you. We are so glad to hear from Bangladeshis that we’ve done a fair treatment of the food. It was easy to do because we really enjoyed it.

    By the way, Audrey and I are not affiliated with the Bradt guides. We are independent travelers and writers. Either way, we are grateful for your praise.

    @Anneke: Glad you liked it. Nice to hear from you!

  13. says

    Mmm I haven’t had breakfast yet and you’re making my mouth water. I always love your food posts, whenever I read about the country you are talking about, I feel like I am right there. And when I do finally make it to Bangladesh, I will have a strong knowledge of the food and won’t be lost like I usually am when I enter a new country. Thanks for sharing your expertise!

  14. says

    @Deb: Hope you found something yummy to eat after reading this! Thanks for your kind words about our food posts and how they make you feel like you’re right there in that country with us. That’s our goal!

    But I do warn you, even with this primer you’ll be lost when you get to Bangladesh :) Although being able to ask for a few dishes in Bengali certainly helps!

  15. Osama says

    I’ve already mentioned Bangladeshi breakfasts being the best in another comment.

    Like many others of Bangladeshi descent I am addicted to bhortas, particularly aloll (potato) bhorta.

    Am also addicted to khichuri (rice cooked with lentils) but that tends to be more popular during the rainy season. Did you get to try any?

    Bangladeshi birianis are my favourite special meal on the planet. But I agree, if you buy biriani (for example from the famous Haji Biriani in Dhaka) it is somewhat underwhelming. But biriani from one of the specialist caterers who cater for weddings etc. (amongst the more well known caterers are Fakhrudin and Shubro) is just divine, although also artery clogging).

    And as for mishti doi, bring it on.

    I noticed you mentioned 7-layer tea in Srimongol. What did you think of it? I was a bit underwhelmed, much preferring thick, milky sweet cha even though I normally have my tea unsweetened.

    But once again, another brilliant post about Bangladesh.

  16. Sutapa Chattopadhyay says

    Actually, Ashfaqure might have a point there. I am from India but my ancestors are from Bangladesh (Chittagong Hill Tracts). Many women I know whose ancestors are from Bangladesh are such great cooks (not me, I just love food but am a mediocre cook).

    I don’t want to start a discussion on this. But many of the dishes that are typical Bangladeshi in nature, are very very tasty. This is just an observation, and not a scientific survey. I don’t really know the state of cuisine in Bangladesh today and learned a lot from Audrey’s post.

    Osama’s observation on khichuri is also true. I just love it. It is a Bengali dish, on both sides of the border.

  17. Masnoon Zayeem says

    woah, feeling proud as a Bangladeshi reading your posts!! :)

    Don’t know whether you have had it or not but i want to hear about the traditional street foods of Bangladesh like “Foochka” and “Chotpoti” from you!! As i mentioned in one of your earlier posts, these are my favorites!! :)

  18. says

    @Osama: Thank you for a terrific comment. I cannot tell you how profoundly thankful I am to hear a Bangladeshi tell me that we’ve done a “brilliant” job handling Bangladeshi food. Makes my day.

    Bangladeshi breakfasts, tasty indeed.

    Bhorta is really special. For us, it was a dish that struck us as uniquely Bangladeshi.

    Khichuri: I don’t recall having it. Is there anything about the preparation other than mixing the lentils and rice?

    Biryani: I’m glad to hear that we aren’t totally off the mark regarding Bangladeshi biryani. Generally we love it. We’ll just have to return to Bangladesh to find some exceptional examples of it. I’m sure there are many. “Artery clogging”….I’m laughing. So true.

    Mishti doi: Well said. I agree. I was dangerous around large bowls of mishti doi, almost to the point of digestive self sabotage :)

    7-layer tea. Very good question. As for the taste, we didn’t find it spectacular. The visual, however, was great. I also found it interesting that they used something like asafetida in there. Not life-changing, but worth trying, particularly with a plate of puchka from the stand nearby.

    @TB: The words maach bhuna and chicken curry are making me hungry. Wrong time of day to be responding to comments on a food post.

    @Sutapa: Thank you for your comment and the background. Regarding Indian vs. Bangladeshi cuisine, we felt like we were treading a thin line when making comparisons and attributions. While food should be a wholesome topic, it can get dangerous when people feel like dimensions of their heritage are being wrongly attributed or misrepresented. Same goes for cuisine. I have to say I’m fascinated and would like to know more about the evolution of cuisine across the subcontinent.

    We are now actively on the lookout for khichuri.

    @Masnoon: Thank you. Am feeling proud that you are reading our posts and enjoying them!

    Please tell us more about foochka and chotpoti (your experience, where to get it, etc.). Would love to hear it!

  19. Sutapa Chattopadhyay says

    Khichuri is not just mixing lentils and rice. Spice (cumin, coriander blend as well as sometimes cardamom, cloves and cinnamon, ground or whole) are fried first. Lentil and other veggies (your choice) are fried in this spicy mixture. Uncooked rice is added and fried. Then you add water and let it simmer until cooked.

    But Khichuri is incomplete without the condiments/extra stuff that goes with it. Vegetable pakoras (veggies in a ground chickpea powder, fried), omelletes, papadam (all kinds) are accompaniments to khichuri. Also pickles (the South Asian kind) and/or lime juice. Divine when it is raining outside.

  20. Sutapa Chattopadhyay says

    Forgot a lot of ingredients (ground ginger, turmeric powder or ground turmeric, salt, ground chilis to your taste). Sorry about that. Bengalis also add a tsp. of sugar to almost everything while frying. This adds depth of flavor (by possibly caramelizing the veggies).

  21. says

    @Sutapa: Thank you for the recipe and tips. I should have been more clear in my comment. I figured there were spices in there. What I didn’t realize was that the rice is in fact simmered with the lentils (or vegetable mix). Sounds rich.

    Those are some extras! Pakora, papadam, pickle. Sounds great, loaded with flavor.

    Teaspoon of sugar for carmelizing. Sounds almost Southeast Asian (there’s that bridge between South Asia and Southeast Asia, again). All the palm sugar vendors on Bangladeshi streets also really make sense now:
    http://www.uncorneredmarket.com/photos/picture/5904330197/

  22. Masnoon Zayeem says

    @Daniel : Foochka and Chotpoti are almost as available as the tea stalls in Bangladeshi streets!! You might have seen some 4 wheel carriers with a big square box on it in the streets in Dhaka, they usually sell Foochka and Chotpoti!! Besides, these can be found in almost every snack shops!!

  23. Zubair says

    Hi,

    This was an exceptionally well written article on Bangladeshi food. Like the country, which does not always get highlighted for its merits nor does its unique cuisine.

    I dare say you have done, if not better but as good as a job as the famous British chef Rick Stein for documenting classic Bangladeshi food specials. However, one thing in common with Rick’s tv episode was he loved the Bangladeshi biryani quite alot.

  24. Kabir says

    Alcohol isnt totally forbidden. It is available. Bangladesh makes its own beer, vodka, rum and gin. There are some traditional forms of alcohol too :)

  25. says

    @Zubair: WOW, thank you! It’s nice to be compared to experts and TV personalities. I feel like we were very fortunate for the deep view of Bangladeshi food we got while traveling through the country and all the help from locals along the way. We’ve heard more than a few people say that their favorite meal is Bangladeshi biryani. I guess we will just have to go back to Bangladesh along with a few recommendations and see for ourselves! Thanks for your comment.

    @Kabir: Technically, alcohol is illegal in Bangladesh, isn’t it? In that case, it’s fair to say it’s forbidden. However, as you point out, it’s possible to obtain. However, we had a very difficult time seeing it, if it was indeed available — the exception being liquor shops and home-brewed rice wines in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). I’d love to know more about the traditional forms of alcohol in Bangladesh. If there are some names of these, please let us know.

  26. Zubair says

    Hi Noel. I usually read and watch travellers tales of Bangladesh. None of them cover the cuisine indepth like you have. I have only seen Rick Stein do it. You had Kalai Roti which majority of Bangladeshi population hasnt had.

    If you do visit Bangladesh I suggest you plan it during a few days of Ramadan (Muslim fasting season). There are foodie treats around the city. And there are some Ramadan special items in Old Dhaka which are unique for the season. Its worth mentioning that hospitality of people goes up a notch higher.

    One such special item is Haleem. A thick spicy soupy mixture of lentils and little chunks of beef. My Pakistani friends thought their country’s version of Haleem was good until they went stir crazy after eating Bangladeshi Haleem.

    Another fav. of mine is Fuchka. Its more of a street food. Its this round fried balls filled with really spicy chick peas. The best Fuckha is in Dhanmondi,Dhaka Road 6.

    Let me know if you have a sweet tooth, as Bangladeshi sweets are of a different food group.

  27. Zubair says

    PS: As predominantly muslim country, drinking alcohol in the open is not encouraged and advised. Funny thing is Bangladeshi technically can obtain license to drink.

    However Bangladesh also has other minorities who brew their own alcohol. The majority being Buddhists who on special occasions make their own rice wine and also for recreation purposes. But trying this is tricky as there have been many deaths due to the alcohol ratio being too high.

  28. says

    @Zubair: We definitely saw a lot of Bangladesh. I’m glad to hear that comes through in our food (and other) stories.

    Yes, we’ve heard good things about eating in Bangladesh during Ramadan. Funny you mention Haleem. I’m not sure if we had it while traveling in Bangladesh, but we recently tried a bowl of it at a Bangladeshi restaurant (the family was from Sylhet) in London’s Brick Lane. It was very good, exactly as you described.

    We’ve had Fuchka a couple of times in Bangladesh. Is it the same as puchka (or maybe I guess that’s the Indian spelling + it’s served a bit differently).

    We do have a sweet tooth, so we are happy to hear your Bangladeshi sweet suggestions.

    Regarding alcohol, that was our understanding and experience. It was very difficult to find alcohol, except in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT).

  29. Zubair says

    As far as I am aware some Bangladeshi restaurants do serve Haleem.
    Yes puckha is also a close pronunciation. They do serve it in India but of a different variety.

    As for your sweet tooth. I am sure you would have tried various sweets inside a sweet shop. But I would like to mention a few which I personally like alot.
    - Rasmallai. It is small balls of sweet in thick cream of sweet milk. You do get them in the UK but its nothing comparable to the Bangladeshi stuff. In Faridpur they make it in thick yoghurt which is mind blowing. Comilla is famous for this item.
    - Falooda at either Star Kebab or Razzaks in Dhaka. It is a thick milky soup, with vermicelli, plant seeds and jello.Before evening tasting the stuff its really colorful to look at.
    - Bundiya. Small colored sweet and crunchy balls. Goes great with tea and found in many small Bengali restaurants in Dhaka.

    Bangladeshi home made sweets are just on a different level. They are known as Pitha and has several varieties one different and unique from the other. However it is sad to say that you wont get these in restaurants but will have to request someone to make it for you.

    However in the past years there have been Pitha festivals in the UK and Europe. The UK one in the past has been extremely popular.

  30. says

    @Zubair: So cool, thank you. This post is turning into an honest-to-goodness guide to all things Bangladeshi food.

    We’ve had rasmallai. However, the thick yogurt version from Faridpur that you describe sounds fantastic. You cannot go wrong with fresh yogurt.

    We’ve also had falooda I believe, but not from either locations that you suggest. I guess we’ll just have to go back!

    Now the real deal I’m sure are the Bangladeshi home sweets. We mention Pitha above…and of course, we had them at a Bangladeshi home outside of Rajshahi (town called Hatiandha).

    One last thing, if you have friends (Bangladeshi or otherwise) who are interested in Bangladeshi food or might have suggestions, please share this article with them, because this has been a lot of fun!

  31. Tom A. says

    I just wish there more nice pictures of all the food, especially close-ups. This is a wonderful article by the way. Great work!

  32. says

    Great post :) Love the pictures and reading about your experience. I would say that for a foreigner visiting the country you got a pretty comprehensive culinary experience. However I would agree with Sutapa that there are a lot of Bengali cuisine that is not full of spices. Be careful when you tell a Bengali that you would like “shabji” as it just means vegetables and there are hundreds of ways to cook them. Your pictures are lovely and makes me hungry :) If you are looking for Bengali recipes there are several websites and Facebook groups along with blogs that contain not only Bengali food but also the different variations you can have from family to family or area to area. Someone mentioned about kalai daler ruti, that to my knowledge is a North Bengal (Rajshahi area) specialty. I wish I could get to see as large a part of the country that you have. I would love to see that video you mentioned as village cooking is so very different and tastes so much better!

  33. says

    @Tunazzina: Thank you for such a long and thoughtful comment. This has me thinking about a lot of things, not just Bangladeshi food. We were very fortunate for the wide-ranging travels in Bangladesh. We really wanted to get a broad sense of the country and given its size, it didn’t seem quite as daunting as its population might suggest.

    Good advice on the word shabji or sabzi — seems to me a very generic word for mixed vegetable preparations.

    Regarding kalai roti (or kalai ruti), we really felt like we’d struck it rich when we found it on the street in Rajshahi. At the time, we didn’t know to look for it or what it was, but it was something different, compared to all the morning and evening breads we’d seen served throughout Bangladesh.

    Though we are full up for the next month, I’m going to put a Bangladeshi cooking video on the list of videos I attempt to tackle. Would be fun!

  34. says

    Daniel, I will keep an eye out for that video.

    A recommendation for a similar country to Bangladesh would be Yemen (in my experience) with very friendly people and also loved the food there. It is definitely harder to find Yemeni food at restaurants in other parts of the world.

    I am truly envious of what the two of you are doing – travelling the world!

  35. shihab says

    your article about Bangladeshi food is super.I realize in a way our food is different from the others. if the people from other country come to visit Bangladesh……..this are the best things among many others to experienced …….thanks for this……really love this.

  36. says

    @Tunazzina: Funny you mention Yemen, as we had a conversation about visiting with someone who plans to live there. Might not be so far off, after all.

    Thanks for the comments and support!

    @shihab: Glad you enjoyed it and that you believe these are some of the best food highlights that Bangladesh has to offer! Great to hear.

  37. Imran says

    With regards to the fine line being tread when comparing two countries’ cuisines, I wanted to ask weren’t you the one who even mentioned indian food in a post about bangladeshis/bengali food several times?
    Overall, as a Bengali myself, I know that most people say Indian cuisine is better, and when Indian cuisine is being discussed no one ever brings up Bangladeshi food, however on the flip side, if anything is ever discussed about Bangladesh, India is constantly mentioned and the idea that India and Pakistan are superior to Bengalis is also mentioned too. Another common thought by foreigners about Bangladesh is how much they hate the rest of Bangladesh but love the Chittagong Hill Tracts (this is usually due to their hatred of “Indic appearances” and love of “Oriental appearances” combined with their hatred of Islam)
    I just love the simplicity of being Bengali, I hope all of Bengal unites one day and is free from oppression and hopefully it is closed off from the world, as I’m pretty sure we don’t need Indians, Pakistanis, Americans, Burmese, Chinese etc coming here just to insult our appearance, geography, culture and religion.

  38. Fahima says

    @Imran, in the first para it seemed like you hava a valid point, then it became clear that your point is driven by narrow-mindedness. Love of one’s culture, enthnicity and country is very different from fascist nationalism. learn the difference. Stop preaching hate.

  39. Imran says

    @Fahima, if you think I’m preaching hate, that’s false and is your opinion. If you open your eyes and your brain and try to think you would realise I could just say any statement and say that you are preaching hate, it wouldn’t mean it’s true. Use empirical evidence to back up your claims, otherwise you just end up being a self-righteous liar.
    If someone wants their country to be closed off to others, it’s called a choice, I believe the USA pursued a policy of isolationism many times throughout its history, did you claim they were “preaching hate?” No, because only if a person of colour tries to have an idea that is different from what is expected of them, only then is that “hate”

    You have been brainwashed by your upbringing from your parents and your educational system, get out of this Orientalist mindset. Coloured people can have an opinion, not just Caucasians. In addition, not only can we have an opinion, but we can also be right! Which I am, in this case, open your mind and don’t be so brainwashed and you will see I am right, not what you think is right (i.e what society tells you)

  40. says

    @Imram: I believe that the reason why most people (outside of Bangladesh) don’t talk about Bangladeshi food is that they don’t know about it while Indian restaurants (and food) are more common. I know this was the situation for me growing up as an American. Now that I’ve been to Bangladesh I can see the differences and also share with people what those differences are and how to seek them out. For example, on a recent trip to Brick Lane in London, we noticed that many of the restaurants run by Bangladeshis were serving typically “Indian” dishes that many Europeans and Americans are used to. We ended up choosing a restaurant that had a menu of Bangladeshi dishes, but it was hard to find. So education is the first way to promote understanding and break down stereotypes.

    As for our favorite experience in Bangladesh, it was spending a few days with a family in a rural village in the northern part of the country. Many of the Bangladeshis we met in cities and villages were very interested in engaging with the rest of the world. It was a great exchange – they asked many questions about us and the United States, while we learned about them and Bangladesh. For us, that’s why we travel – to learn and understand.

  41. Asif says

    Wow! Have never seen such a thorough and lively analysis of Bangladeshi food from a non-Bangladeshi, really loved the article! It always feels good when our beautiful country is getting known to the rest of the world in such a positive way. Thanks a lot Dan and Audrey! :)

    Just a request, I’ve been through the comments posted here and honestly speaking, you should delete the comments of Imran as they really contain hate speech!

    BTW don’t forget to take my invitation to visit Bangladesh again! :D

  42. Zubair says

    Thought I would share this anecdote

    Was asked by my boss why Bangladeshi owned restaraunts in the UK are called Indian.

    My response:
    - Pre 1971 there was no Bangladesh
    - Indian restaraunts are easily more marketable
    - It takes less letters to put on the company signboard

  43. says

    @Asif: You are welcome. We’re grateful to hear that we covered your country’s cuisine so thoroughly! We appreciate your suggestion regarding the comments, but for now, we’ll leave the comments as they are and allow the overwhelmingly positive discussion speak for itself. Thank you for your comment…and your invitation!

    @Zubair: Thanks for the story. Fair points, indeed!

  44. says

    loved this article.east and west both bengals are sharing almost same cuisine, although west bengal is in india.but where is the details description of fish?i missed it.hilsa is the lifeline of bengali food.it is MACH BHAJA not bhuna.the fried roti stuffed egg is called MOGHLAI PAROTA.but the language and description of the article is superb.

  45. says

    @Susmita: Although we did eat some fish in Bangladesh, it wasn’t a regular item that we ate each day. Maybe that reflects that we weren’t always near a river. Thank you for the proper names of the dishes!

  46. Sarah says

    What a beautifully written experience! It was a pleasure reading and agreeing with your thoughts on Bangladeshi food as I am Bengali and I love me some home cooked Bengali food! The only thing I didn’t enjoy was some of the negative criticisms below! Boy some individuals will never cease to find faults in others no matter what, EVEN if you’re shining a bright light of positivity on THEIR own country! Anyways, best of luck for your future endeavors and thank you for the lovely read. :)

  47. says

    @Sarah: We had to laugh reading your comment. Exactly! It makes me chuckle when arguments ensue over food.

    We’ll keep on shining the bright light of positivity where it belongs — including on Bangladeshi / Bengali food. Most will appreciate it (a few will not) and that’s what counts.

  48. Imran says

    @Audrey,
    Yes I do understand what you mean. Overall, the comment from fahima and then onward felt like it was becoming a confrontation, which I don’t want.
    I just wanted to add a lot of the typically “Indian” dishes such as Tandoori chicken and dosas are very much a Bangladeshi/Bengali food too, as for origin of the dishes in the subcontinent, I couldn’t say.
    I do hope to visit Bengal one day, this website is very interesting.

  49. says

    @Imran: With the flow of people across the subcontinent for centuries this brings many culinary influences as well. It makes the food more interesting, but does mean that the “true” origins are difficult to determine. Having just spent a month in India, it is interesting to see how different the local cuisines are from one state to the next.

  50. Asmita Dhaubhadel says

    what are the equipments used in bangladeshi cuisine can u please tell me coz m preparing a report on his nd i need the information…………

  51. says

    @Asmita: I’m afraid we can’t help with the tools and equipment necessary for Bangladeshi food. Aside from the special curved knife (see in the photo cutting onions), the pots and pans looked pretty standard to South Asian cuisine.

  52. Zubair says

    Will be visiting Bangladesh this January….in the midst of the turmoil….but will look forward to the rich Bangladeshi food.

  53. adnan bhai says

    nice pictures and narration. i noticed you avoided any beef, mutton or chicken dishes. is there any particular reason for that?

  54. Zubair says

    Came back from a culinary bonzana from Bangladesh.

    My favs eating out:
    Star Kebabs’ Whole Mutton Leg.
    Bar B Q Tonite (Dhanmondi):
    -Seehs Kebab
    -Mutton Khatta Maasla: A mixture of mutton brain, liver and mince meat. Very spicy.
    Freshhly squeezed sugar cane juice @ Bashundhara City.

    I also tried Watercress restarunat which is new for fine dining.

  55. says

    @adnan: We had some mutton, I’m sure. But the tastiest, cheapest (and thus, most broadly available) food we found throughout Bangladesh: vegetarian.

    @Zubair: Sounds like culinary fireworks. Well done! Mutton and sugar cane juice — now that sounds authentic and local.

  56. Keka says

    Daniel and Audrey thanx a lot for this article. Thanx for sharing this with people who don’t know about Bangladeshi food. People think Indian and Bangladeshi food are the same, bt its different from indian,specially the use of spices.Bangladeshi food is not spicy like indians.Besides recipes and cooking methods are different in different districts of our country. Some food are same as indians, bt most of the foods are different,unique and local. Besides we have incredible sweets, like sponge mishti, kacha golla, laddu, shondesh and so many. nothing less than indian desserts. People just need to explore it :) I love food, country isn’t the matter, good food of any country i love and i’m also proud of Bangladesh and its food..

  57. says

    @Keka: You’re very welcome! Before traveling in Bangladesh we didn’t know of the differences with Indian food so we wanted to share what we learned (and tasted) with everyone. Completely agree that the country doesn’t matter when it comes to good food!

  58. Yasmin says

    Thank you both so much for such a thorough review of Bangladeshi cuisine! Specially the Kalai roti. It’s from my father’s district, and I grew up eating it on weekend mornings and have taught my children the joys of a warm kalai roti. I was so pleasantly surprised and excited that you were able to sample it. Even people in Bangladesh aren’t quite familiar with it.

  59. says

    @Yasmin: Thanks for your kind words. We were really fortunate to sample so many different types of food during our visit to Bangladesh. We were curious and people were inviting, helpful and generous.

    Kalai roti: what a nice warm treat for your children!

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