The most important tip I can give you on Bangladesh local food, and the only one that will make you elevate from being a tourist to becoming a real traveler immersed in the local culture, is “Stay away from McDonalds“. When visiting Bangladesh, there is awesome local food to try. Head to the local eateries too, and go where the locals go. For me, the food, wine and and even the water is part of the travel experience.
What to Eat in
Bangladesh is a fish lover’s paradise. Traditionally most of the country lives off of the once-bountiful fresh-water river fish, especially the officially designated “national fish” Hilsa. The Hilsa has a nice flavour but some may find the many fine bones difficult to manage; if you can master eating this fish, consider yourself on par with the locals in fish-eating and deboning expertise. Various recipes exist for cooking Hilsa, suitable for all seasons and all regions of the country.
Mutton is also popular, as in most Muslim countries, as is decidedly lean or hard chicken. Rice is almost always the staple side dish. Mixed vegetable curries are plentiful – potato, eggplant, squash and tomatoes are the staple ingredients. Gourds, tubers and certain root vegetables are common. In the major cities (Dhaka, Chittagong, etc.), you will find a larger variety of vegetables than in rural areas. The idea of salad varies from the international standard. In Bangladesh, salad has not been extensively developed, and “kacha” (raw) vegetables are generally not deemed very appetizing or palatable (with the exception of cucumbers), especially in more rural or suburban areas and in less Westernized households.
Traditionally, most salad vegetables (carrots, celery, lettuce, paprika, etc.) were not even grown in most agrarian households, so the use of these vegetables was extremely rare. Hence, borrowing from the Mughal traditions, a few round slices of onions and cucumbers, spiced with salt, chilies, etc., is often treated as a full plate of salad. Dal is usually a given side dish or meal course for all households, even the poorest or most rural (who often cannot afford any other daily meal courses).
Most Bangladeshi dal varies from its West Bengali counterpart, and even more so from its other Indian counterparts, primarily because it is more watery and less concentrated or spiced. An easy analogy would be that whereas most Indian dal is more like thick stew, most Bangladeshi dal is more like light soup or broth. The Hindus of Bangladesh have greater varieties of Dal recipes, just as they have greater varieties of vegetarian dishes. The Muslims have thicker and more spiced varieties of dal.
Dal recipes vary regionally in Bangladesh, so be careful not to over-generalize after a brief experience. Boiled eggs (dhim) are a popular snack (Tk 3-5), and fresh fruit is abundant, such as bananas (Tk 2/ea), apples (Chinese, Tk 80-100/kg), oranges, grapes, pomegranates and papayas. Delicious and diverse, mangos (Tk 50-150/kg) are a very popular fruit throughout Bangladesh. Fast food restaurants and bakeries serving burgers, kababs, spring rolls, vegetable patties and just about anything else you can throw in a deep fryer are dotted around most cities. Most items will run around Tk 10/each.Bangladesh also has international fast food chains like Pizza Hut, KFC, A&W, Nando’s, Tekiya. To enjoy the tastes of Dhaka one needs to go to old Dhaka. The Haji biriyani, Nanna biriyani are a must.
Also Al Razzak restaurant is famous for its Shahi food. To savour local food one must go to Korai Gost at Dhanmondi Satmosjid road, Kasturi restaurant at Gulshan & Purana Paltan area. No one should leave Bangladesh without tasting the Phuchka and Chatpati available in the streets of Dhaka,Chittagong. Also there are loads of Chinese and Thai restaurants in Bangladesh which serve localized chinese and thai dishes.Bailey road in Dhaka is the unofficial food street of the nation followed by Satmoshjid Road.Dhaka also has Japanese, Korean and Indian restaurants located mostly in Gulshan area.
For world class Ice creams do visit Moven pick, Club gelato in Gulshan. To taste Kebab, Babecue tonight in Dhanmondi is the best followed by Koyla in Gulshan. Most Bangladeshis eat with their right hand as in neighboring countries. Never use your left hand to bring food to your mouth, though it’s ok to use it for bringing a glass to your mouth or to serve food from a common dish with a spoon.
Every restaurant will have a handwashing station (sometimes just a pitcher of water and a bowl if they don’t have running water), and you should use this before and after the meal. To eat with your hand, rake in a little portion of the rice and a bit of the curry to an open space on your plate (usually create a bit of space on the side of the plate closest to you, sufficiently inward from the rim but NOT in the centre of the plate), and mix the rice and curry with your fingers. Then, create a little ball or mound (it should be compact and modestly sized, but does not need to be perfectly shaped or anything–function over form!) of the mixture and pick it up with all your fingers, and scoop in into your mouth.
Your fingers should not enter your mouth in the process, and your upper fingers and palms should not get dirty either. Only toddlers and foreigners/tourists are exempted from these rules. It doesn’t matter a whole lot if you don’t get it all exactly right, but know that the entire restaurant is watching and waiting to see if you do. Attempting to eat with your hands and failing miserably will raise many a smile. The use of cutlery (except serving spoons for common dishes) is lacking in rural areas and poorer households, and only basic cutlery of spoons, or sometimes a fork is sometimes available in urban restaurants and more Westernised, urban households.
However, the use of hands is a more humble and culturally respectful gesture, especially from a tourist. Table-sharing is acceptable and even expected in most establishments, with the exception of nicer urban restaurants. Many places have separate curtained-off booths for women and families, a nice reprieve from prying eyes.
What to Drink in Bangladesh
Nightlife in Bangladesh is nearly non-existent. Being a Muslim country, alcohol is frowned upon and found mostly in the international clubs and pricier restaurants in Dhaka and in some restaurants in tourist centers like Cox’s Bazar. In Teknaf and on Saint Martins Island you may stumble upon the occasional beer smuggled in from Myanmar.
Some of the nicest hotels in the cities have fully equipped bars with exaggerated prices to match. However, lack of commercial availability of liquor should not always be confused with cultural aversion to alcohol in mainstream society. You’ll likely find that Bengali Christians and many urbanized, upper-class Muslims privately have a more liberal, Westernized attitude toward social consumption of alcohol. However most 5 Star Hotels like Radisson, Ruposhi Bangla (Former Sheraton), Shonargoan, Regency and few clubs in Gulshan are arranging DJ / Dance parties on frequent basis. Foreigners may bump into one of those parties if they are lucky.
Usual entrance fees of such parties are around BDT 2000/- (USD 30). Young people of upper class and higher upper class of the society are the main portion of the formed crowd. However in some places, western clothed hired companions are available. Foreigners looking for a clean vacation should stay away from them using common sense. Liquires does not flow freely in these parties most of the time. Purchasing alcohol is very hard (and expensive), so if you need a drink, or imagine you will do so, it is recommended to buy a bottle of duty free to take with you. There is a small duty free shop before immigration in Dhaka Airport, although the selection is poor.
If you are visiting an expatriate in Bangladesh, ask if they would like some duty free .the answer will invariably be yes! Native homemade liquor such as Mohua or Choani can be bought from tribal people of the South-Eastern districts (Chittagong Hill Tracts) if you are visiting. Made from nectar, fruits or rice, these drinks are quite strong (Choani has two more varieties: Dochoani and Techoani, meaning they were distilled twice or thrice) and go well with the pork the natives cook. Coffee is — like the rest of the world, a perennial middle-class ‘Adda’ (gossip) accompaniment in this city. In most places instant coffee will be the best you can find. Tea is everywhere.
Ask for red tea if you do not want milk. Fruit juices are plentiful, varied and delicious, though be wary of watered down or icy drinks and dirty blenders. Raw sugarcane juice is widely available during the hot season, and usually a safe, sanitary bet. Other safe bets are coconuts, popular in the southeast tourists spots like Cox’s Bazar and Saint Martins Island. Soft Drinks are widely available. Diet versions are limited to Coke or Pepsi, and are hard to find outside of supermarkets in Dhaka or Chittagong.
Other local foods, or drinks that you recommend? Please add and comment.