Eating at Home in Dhaka

This plate of food was one of the many delicious meals I enjoyed last week.  It has my favorites: tiny fish cooked with onions and peppers, daal/lentil, rice, shrimp with squash curry and mashed pumpkin (bharta). My plate is missing the small fried fish and the fried squash blossoms. None of this would be available at a restaurant. This is what Bengali food looks like. Vegetable and fish-focused light, flavorful curries, bhartas (mashed veggies with onions and chilies, like mashed potatoes in the West), daal and rice.

I love the idea of eating flowers. These fried blossoms were tender, crunchy and gently spiced.


Prawns with Coconut milk. Classic. Yes the heads are still there. Heightens the shrimp flavor. Taught my girls the joy of sucking on sweet shrimp brains. One of the heavier and involved dishes we had along with the famed Biriyani (goat cooked in a sealed pot with rice, potatoes and spices) from Chef Fakruddin. Luxurious and definitely party food.

We can’t forget desserts. Rice flour and sugar based “Pithas” as well as milk and sugar syrup based “Mishti.” These beauties were not home-made but delicious just the same. Other store bought delights included mughlai paratha (flaky flat bread stuffed with spiced egg), samosas (triangular crispy pastries with beef fillings, not to be confused with potato filled samosas, which are called Shingaras in Bangladesh), Jelabis (funnel cake looking, orange-colored, crispy sweets), patties (chicken or beef filled puff pastry).


It was a week of good eating four times a day, three meals and tea time. I was spoiled, full and happy. Thanks to my mom for planning all the yummy eats and her most talented cook Islam Bhai who fulfilled her plans expertly. He was working too fast and furious for my camera to capture.

The best part of the holidays is around the table eating with family and friends. I had a delicious winter holiday. Hope yours was too.

Wishing you Happy New Year,



September On Jessore Road – Food Poem by Allen Ginsberg

This is not a celebration of food poem but rather about scarcity. Allen Ginsberg was writing about famine and war in Bangladesh, then East Pakistan, 1971.

Millions of babies watching the skies
Bellies swollen, with big round eyes
On Jessore Road–long bamboo huts
Noplace to shit but sand channel ruts

Millions of fathers in rain
Millions of mothers in pain
Millions of brothers in woe
Millions of sisters nowhere to go

One Million aunts are dying for bread
One Million uncles lamenting the dead
Grandfather millions homeless and sad
Grandmother millions silently mad

Millions of daughters walk in the mud
Millions of children wash in the flood
A Million girls vomit & groan
Millions of families hopeless alone

Millions of souls nineteenseventyone
homeless on Jessore road under grey sun
A million are dead, the million who can
Walk toward Calcutta from East Pakistan

Taxi September along Jessore Road
Oxcart skeletons drag charcoal load
past watery fields thru rain flood ruts
Dung cakes on treetrunks, plastic-roof huts

Wet processions Families walk
Stunted boys big heads don’t talk
Look bony skulls & silent round eyes
Starving black angels in human disguise

Mother squats weeping & points to her sons
Standing thin legged like elderly nuns
small bodied hands to their mouths in prayer
Five months small food since they settled there

on one floor mat with small empty pot
Father lifts up his hands at their lot
Tears come to their mother’s eye
Pain makes mother Maya cry

Two children together in palmroof shade
Stare at me no word is said
Rice ration, lentils one time a week
Milk powder for warweary infants meek

No vegetable money or work for the man
Rice lasts four days eat while they can
Then children starve three days in a row
and vomit their next food unless they eat slow.

On Jessore road Mother wept at my knees
Bengali tongue cried mister Please
Identity card torn up on the floor
Husband still waits at the camp office door

Baby at play I was washing the flood
Now they won’t give us any more food
The pieces are here in my celluloid purse
Innocent baby play our death curse

Two policemen surrounded by thousands of boys
Crowded waiting their daily bread joys
Carry big whistles & long bamboo sticks
to whack them in line They play hungry tricks

Breaking the line and jumping in front
Into the circle sneaks one skinny runt
Two brothers dance forward on the mud stage
Teh gaurds blow their whistles & chase them in rage

Why are these infants massed in this place
Laughing in play & pushing for space
Why do they wait here so cheerful & dread
Why this is the House where they give children bread

The man in the bread door Cries & comes out
Thousands of boys and girls Take up his shout
Is it joy? is it prayer? “No more bread today”
Thousands of Children at once scream “Hooray!”

Run home to tents where elders await
Messenger children with bread from the state
No bread more today! & and no place to squat
Painful baby, sick shit he has got.

Malnutrition skulls thousands for months
Dysentery drains bowels all at once
Nurse shows disease card Enterostrep
Suspension is wanting or else chlorostrep

Refugee camps in hospital shacks
Newborn lay naked on mother’s thin laps
Monkeysized week old Rheumatic babe eye
Gastoenteritis Blood Poison thousands must die

September Jessore Road rickshaw
50,000 souls in one camp I saw
Rows of bamboo huts in the flood
Open drains, & wet families waiting for food

Border trucks flooded, food cant get past,
American Angel machine please come fast!
Where is Ambassador Bunker today?
Are his Helios machinegunning children at play?

Where are the helicopters of U.S. AID?
Smuggling dope in Bangkok’s green shade.
Where is America’s Air Force of Light?
Bombing North Laos all day and all night?

Where are the President’s Armies of Gold?
Billionaire Navies merciful Bold?
Bringing us medicine food and relief?
Napalming North Viet Nam and causing more grief?

Where are our tears? Who weeps for the pain?
Where can these families go in the rain?
Jessore Road’s children close their big eyes
Where will we sleep when Our Father dies?

Whom shall we pray to for rice and for care?
Who can bring bread to this shit flood foul’d lair?
Millions of children alone in the rain!
Millions of children weeping in pain!

Ring O ye tongues of the world for their woe
Ring out ye voices for Love we don’t know
Ring out ye bells of electrical pain
Ring in the conscious of America brain

How many children are we who are lost
Whose are these daughters we see turn to ghost?
What are our souls that we have lost care?
Ring out ye musics and weep if you dare–

Cries in the mud by the thatch’d house sand drain
Sleeps in huge pipes in the wet shit-field rain
waits by the pump well, Woe to the world!
whose children still starve in their mother’s arms curled.

Is this what I did to myself in the past?
What shall I do Sunil Poet I asked?
Move on and leave them without any coins?
What should I care for the love of my loins?

What should we care for our cities and cars?
What shall we buy with our Food Stamps on Mars?
How many millions sit down in New York
& sup this night’s table on bone & roast pork?

How many millions of beer cans are tossed
in Oceans of Mother? How much does She cost?
Cigar gasolines and asphalt car dreams
Stinking the world and dimming star beams–

Finish the war in your breast with a sigh
Come tast the tears in your own Human eye
Pity us millions of phantoms you see
Starved in Samsara on planet TV

How many millions of children die more
before our Good Mothers perceive the Great Lord?
How many good fathers pay tax to rebuild
Armed forces that boast the children they’ve killed?

How many souls walk through Maya in pain
How many babes in illusory pain?
How many families hollow eyed lost?
How many grandmothers turning to ghost?

How many loves who never get bread?
How many Aunts with holes in their head?
How many sisters skulls on the ground?
How many grandfathers make no more sound?

How many fathers in woe
How many sons nowhere to go?
How many daughters nothing to eat?
How many uncles with swollen sick feet?

Millions of babies in pain
Millions of mothers in rain
Millions of brothers in woe
Millions of children nowhere to go

Shrimp Koftas In Coconut Sauce

This recipe, from Khulna, is adapted from my favorite Bangladeshi Regional Cookbook. It is similar to the traditional coconut shrimp recipe, Chingri Malaikari except the shrimp is formed into koftas (meatballs) and the sauce is spicy, sweet because of the combination of  roasted onions and chili powder. The ground shrimp balls are airy and almost have the consistency of a dumpling. The spongy texture absorbs the sauce more than intact whole shrimp. It doesn’t really stretch the shrimp because no fillers, breadcrumbs or otherwise is added. But, it is a good use for small or medium shrimp. I wonder if this would be good with polenta or grits, a deshi adaptation of southern shrimp and grits?

IMG_2039Shrimp Koftas in Coconut Sauce (Chingri Koftai Narkel)

  1. Process shrimp in a food processor until smooth, yielding a cup. This a good recipe to use small and medium shrimp (preferably on sale).

  2. Saute a cup of chopped onions until roasted and brown.

  3. Add 1 teaspoon ginger paste, 1/2 teaspoon garlic paste, 1 teaspoon chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon tumeric and fry until fragrant (about a minute). The oil will roast all the spices into a sauce. Add a splash of water to keep it from sticking to the pan.

  4. Add 2 cups of coconut milk (one can).

  5. Bring to a simmer. Drop spoonfuls of the ground  shrimp into sauce.

  6. Simmer on low. High heat will break up the delicate shrimp meatballs. Shrimp cooks very quickly.

  7. Add a stick of cinnamon, 2 cardamom pods and a bay leaf and remove from heat. Sprinkle sugar over the tops of the koftas. This adds a sheen and a contrast against the spice.

  8. Serve with rice. Makes about 4 servings.


It was very well recieved by Atiya and Jim. A keeper recipe for me. I hope for you too!

Happy eating,


Ma’s Kachchi Biriyani


In a previous post entitled “Bored with Biriyani” I had mentioned this dish. Here is my mom’s version of the classic Biriyani.

2 lbs goat meat

1 cup yogurt

1TBS ginger

1TBS garlic

1TSP red chili powder

¼ TSP nutmeg

¼ TSP mace

½ TSP white pepper

1 TSP Fennel Seeds

1 TSP Postodana or white poppy seeds

1 TSP salt

8 small whole red potatoes

2 cups sliced shallots (onion) fried in ¾ cup ghee

½ cup combination of pistachios and almonds sliced

1 TBS saffron

¼ cup rose water

6 cups Basmati or Chinigura rice

4 cardamoms

2 sticks of cinnamon

1 bay leaf

½ cup prunes

½ cup dried apricots


½ cup milk

½ cup “khoa”, dried milk

Red or Green fresh Chilies

* The key to this recipe is a large pot with a tight fitted lid!

1. Marinate (one hour to overnight) goat meat in yogurt and a grounded mixture of ginger, garlic, chili, nutmeg, mace, pepper, fennel, postodana, salt.


2. Boil potatoes until halfway cooked. Fry lightly in oil until roasted. Red coloring can be added.


3. Soak the dried fruit (prunes and apricots) in milk.


4. Soak saffron in rose water.

5. Fry onions and nuts and raisins until golden in ghee.

6. Boil rice until half cooked in 12 cups of water, cinnamon and cardamom, bay leaf and 2 teaspoons salt.


7. Add strained rice to meat (reserve the water) mix.


Add fried potatoes, Add fried onions and nuts and the ghee (reserve a bit for garnish)…….mix gently.




Add dried fruit and milk….mix gently.

Add ½ saffron and rose water (reserve other half)

Add dried milk powder or mawa

Add reserved water

8. Simmer gently in a tight fitted heavy pot until the liquid evaporates, rice and meat is cooked.


9. Garnish with green chilies, fried onions and remaining saffron water.


Serve with salad, achar/ pickles or raita.


Eating Glocal


photo 1 3.44.05 AM

photo 2 3.44.01 AM

My lunch in Dhaka, Bangladesh today. It was surprisingly good. Fried chicken meets South Asia…chopped, stir  fried with onions, green chilies, cilantro and served with rice. Did it taste like something from KFC? Not really. But, the packaging insisted otherwise. By the end of the meal I was almost convinced that it was an “authentic” KFC experience. Share your experiences of eating “glocal.” What did you have? Was it good?

Bored with Biryani

Seventeenth century Dutch traveler, Frans Jansz van der Heiden, describes Biryani, a rice and meat dish in South Asia, in his travel account, as follows:

“…..We were brought int a beautiful hall [and] there we were served a very rich dish, biryani. The guards told us that it was never prepared better for kings and princes than for us at that time. The prince of Bhulua probably ordered his people to do so because he privileges whoever is known to be Christian over his own people.

We were given this rich dish and as a result we quickly regained our flesh. But gradually the heaviness began to bother us and we longed for lighter fare that we could digest more easily. Biryani is very oily and filling. It is prepared, without water, from fine white rice, a whole goose or two chickens, and many cloves, mace, fine white sugar, cinnamon or cassia leaves, saffron, and many other spices. All these are braised together in butter, and in this way the goose and the chickens are cooked in the rice till they are well done. This dish was so filling that ultimately it began to upset us; in the end we would have been happier eating just dry rice with salted fish.”

from the Bangladesh Reader, edited by Meghan Guhathakurta and Willem van Schendel

The seventeenth century description of a dish still enjoyed today is fascinating. It also makes me wonder when does something life saving and tasty turn into something heavy and sickening?


Reading stolen pages in the Kitchen

I read in and around my kitchen habitually. And, took the privilege for granted. Until, I came across an essay in The Bangladesh Reader (Duke, 2013) about Rashundari Debi, a housewife who taught herself to read and even more miraculously who published “My Life,” the first Bengali autobiography written by a woman in 1897. This is an excerpt about her hiding pages taken from her son’s book:

When the book had been taken inside, I secretly took out a page and hid it carefully. It was a job hiding the it, nobody must find it in my hands. That would lead to severe rebukes and I would never be able to put up with that. It was not at all easy to do something that is forbidden and then to face the consequences. Times were very different then, and I was an exceptionally nervous person. Such days! Where could I hide it that nobody would come across it? Eventually, I decided that it must be a place where I would always be present but which nobody else visited much. What else could it be but the kitchen? I hid it under the hearth.


Food, Color and Happiness


Truck Image from:

A blogger from Tasmania, Australia, Harry wrote an entry entitled The Happiest City in the World that referred to Rajshahi, Bangladesh, voted the happiest city on earth by the World Happiness Survey in 2006. What accounts for the happiness in such a difficult social, political and economic context? He asked. His blog entry was again published in The Bangladesh Reader (Duke, 2013) for its vivid description of his dinner and travel experience in Bangladesh. For me, hungryphil, the association of dinner and colorful trucks with general happiness supports my suspicion regarding the inherent sociality and creativity of consumption, both food and design. Here is an excerpt from Harry’s blog:

Dinner last night, had at Aristocrat roadhouse halfway between Rajshahi and Dhaka, was a perfect illustration of this. After my favourite Bangladeshi meal, dhal makhani, was served I watched as each of my Bangladeshi colleagues served each other before serving themselves and, having noticed the plate of the person next to them emptying, stopped eating mid-mouthful to add yet more naan to their culinary neighbour’s plate. Such displays of caring and gentleness cycled around the table throughout the meal, naturally amongst the customary pleas of ‘No, no, that’s too much.’ But it would be rude to deny the friendship and, after approaching proficiency in eating with my hands (right hand puckered into the shape of a badminton shuttlecock as it gathers up the food and elephant trunks it into your mouth; left hand avoiding direct food contact but used to spoon yet more dhal onto your plate and the plates of those around you) we rolled down the ornate Aristocrat stairs and into the waiting minibus. It was time to see more of Bangladeshi’s colour, and the road was as good a place as any to observe it.

Bangladeshi trucks must be of the most colorful in the world. With a framing coat of canary yellow, each panel is painted with utopian scenes of snow-capped mountains, meandering rivers, enchanted forests and fairytale palaces; verdant greens, royal blues, crimson reds and burnt oranges. No pastel shades for vibrant Bangladesh. Even the central hub of the rear differential is painted, usually mimicking that of half a large soccer ball. Whereas the trucks are simply glaringly colourful, the passenger rickshaws are both colorful and ornate. Gold, silver and bronze are added, as is the standard shocking pink. The flat-tray rickshaws don’t escape colour either: the slatted sides are painted in alternating blocks of yellow, red, blue, green and orange. Even the twin-light Victorian-style Rajshahi lampposts get the colour treatment with one bulb shining pink, the adjacent one green.

I wonder how I might conduct a study that attempts to find correlations between food sharing, use of color and happiness. In a land of poverty, sharing transforms into a self-negating and revolutionary act. The performance of serving and attending to fellow diners is both an obligation and right of the host. One always offers to fill up another’s plate. If only this sentiment translated into all our actions. Similarly, the brightly decorated trucks attempt to ameliorate the confusion of Bangladeshi roads and aggressive driving. As if the well dressed deserves the right of way. Hmmm. Color masks and highlights the threat of the Bangladeshi roads, just as dinner gestures of sharing masks and highlights scarcity. Is this another expression of what Dan Gilbert names synthetic happiness? The willful construction of joy. Synthetic happiness, Glibert argues is as potent as the natural happiness we experience when we get what we want.

Could it be that food and design are both activities of synthetic happiness through which we fabricate shared joy despite our human condition? Is that the lesson of the World Happiness Survey?



“…there was a…

“…there was a tradition called Amani, according to which the woman of the house would, the night before, soak rice and the twig of a mango tree in a pot of water and on the morning of the new year, sprinkle it on everyone of the family. This was based on a magical belief that the water would wash away the mistakes and negative aspects of the past year and bring peace to the family. This tradition is also empowering for women as they have the responsibility of this mangolik or wishing-well ritual.”

I knew mangoes were magical!

This quote is from an interview about the Bengali New Year celebration published in the “The Bangladesh Reader” (Duke University Press, 2013)