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Dhaka, Bangladesh


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This will be the first of hopefully many dispatches from Bangladesh.

If you're unfamiliar with Bengali culture, you should know in advance that the general stereotype amongst many South Asians is that of all of them, the Bengalis really, really love to eat. And this in a region that is well known to take down its share of food. This stereotype is abundantly visible on the streets of Dhaka; one need only walk a few steps before seeing either a restaurant, a food vendor, or some combination of the two. If you're adventurous and willing to tempt fate, Bangladesh can be a food lovers paradise. Just be careful, and make sure the seal on your bottled water is unbroken.

The Time Out

Coworkers took me out to a place they referred to as "The Time Out," a regular after-work hangout during non-Ramadan months. I didn't really know what to expect, but when I got there it was definitely not anything like what I thought it was going to be.

Located just off of Gulshan Avenue in Gulshan 1, the area known as "The Time Out" is actually a small plaza surrounded by vendors of various finger foods. Diners sit at outdoor tables and waiters from the various restaurants come by and give you their menus. You order off of any of them (or as we did, all of them) and eat collectively, passing plates around.

We stuck primarily to South Asian dishes, though there were some other dishes. From what I recall, ten of us shared plates of masala dosas, plain dosas, fried battered prawns, pani puri (known locally as phhuchka), papri chaat, "nachos," and chicken fingers.

Mexican food in Dhaka is fairly interesting in its complete un-Mexicanness. The basic ingredients (tomato, onion, chili powder, cilantro) are all here, but somehow the food acquires a sort of South Asian twist. Your nachos won't be like anything you've had before, and if you're looking for the real deal you're out of luck. But if you're willing to ignore traditional, it can be delicious.

But the street food -- papri chaat, pani puri -- are really not to be missed at The Time Out. The pani puri -- small deep fried hollow globes pf dough cracked open and filled with a mix of mashed spiced potato and tamarind water -- are delicious and dangerous. Delicious because of the tartness, the spicyness, and the crunch, a mass of big flavors that almost overwhelm but not quite. Dangerous because you may eat too many, and you don't exactly know where the water in the tamarind water came from. No matter. Pop some Imodium and go for the gusto. The papri chaat. small fried discs (this is a very important distinction!) topped with potato, chopped red onion, cilantro, tamarind, and yogurt, was not as tasty in my opinion as the pani puri, but if you're turned off by the fear of perhaps drinking water with some unwelcome residents, it's a good alternative.

The dosas were a bit of a disappointment compared to the rest of the food. The dosas themselves were okay, but the sambar dal provided didn't have nearly the kick that you can get from DC area South Indian restaurants like Udupi or Woodlands. Luckily, there was a tremendously spicy cilantro sauce that I'd never tasted before to liven up the flavor.

If you're in Dhaka, first, get in touch! Second, try to make the most of the experience by delving into the street food. "The Time Out" (which turned out to be the name of just one of the restaurants serving us, but had morphed into a nickname for the whole area) is just one of many places to really get your taste buds going. And at a total cost of 400 taka each (that's a little bit less than $6) for more food than necessary, two lassis, and a few bottles of water, it's worth giving a shot.

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