Junk food in Dhaka, Bangladesh is as popular as ever. However, the recent boom in the city's population means that it has taken on some new attributes. It is more available and cheaper, with a variety of choices. No street is without its very own line of stalls or hawkers advertising their wares (admittedly by shouting). Although the hygienic standards involved in the preparation of these foods may be questionable, the variety and textures of the foods on offer are certainly interesting. This Entry contains a description of the types of available shops and their respective wares.
Tea Stalls or Tongs
Tea is a very popular drink in Bangladesh - more so because even teenagers like it! But the dividing line is where the tea is made and drunk. Older people prefer drinking tea at home, whereas youngsters prefer theirs at the more popular outdoor tea stalls known as tongs. These are usually tiny stalls made of sheets of corrugated iron. They sell a variety of foodstuffs, the most common of which are tea and coffee. However, a stall isn't a proper tong unless it carries a wide variety of cigarettes, too. Originally meant for low-income earners, these stalls are now popular among teenagers as hangout spots. The tea itself is served in something not big enough to be a cup and not quite small enough to be called a thimble. People usually prefer the drink served with a huge drop of condensed milk.
Fuchka and Chotpoti
This is probably the most available fast food in Bangladesh. On almost every street you will find a small carriage on wheels, with a vendor selling a rather complicated-looking food. This is Bangladesh's famous (or infamous) chotpoti. The food consists mostly of potatoes, eggs, fried chips, onions and spices stewed in gravy. The resulting mix is guaranteed to leave a tingle on the tongue. True enthusiasts should always ask for theirs with extra chilli.
Also sold at these stalls are fuchka. These are basically edible cups of dough filled with dried chotpoti mix. Although the hygienic quality of their production may again not be what you might hope for, they are nevertheless another success in the range of culinary delights within the city.
A fairly recent invention, this can easily be summarised as the Bangladeshi version of steak: a slab of mutton, beef or chicken fried in artery-clogging oils and served with salad. Also included are chapatti or paratas. Both are pan-fried dough, the usual substitute for bread. Paratas are larger and more filling, whereas chapatis are small and disc-like.
Although known to be an Arabic dish, shwarma have nonetheless found popularity in Dhaka. Shwarma consists of a scoop of meat in gravy, ladled into a taco-shaped bun of floury bread served with salad and mayonnaise. Not exactly hot, but a savoury mouthful.
Nuts, while admittedly mundane, have taken shopping convenience to the next level. The shops are carried on the heads of the hawkers: big round tin bowls filled with peanuts, always extremely cheap, which are handed out in small bags made from old newspapers. An additional scrap of paper can be added, filled with hot salt - salt mixed with pepper.
A true delicacy among the various spicy tastes to be found in the city, jhal muri is the perfect snack for any occasion. It consists of chanachur1, a little oil, onions and the most important addition, mouth-scalding peppers. Soft and hot to taste, these are sold in the same manner as the nuts mentioned above.
Puri, Bora, Chop, Etc
Puri are circular bags of dough filled with spices or potatoes. Bora is chopped onions dipped in beshon (a salty sauce very popular for frying or marinating vegetables) and fried to a crispy morsel. Chop is potatoes mashed and mixed with various other ingredients. These foods are all sold in the same shops, along with other items of the shopkeeper's choice. They are very popular with people in a hurry.
Biriani, Khichuri and Tehari
Lastly, we come to what is probably the most famous food in this part of the Asian subcontinent, biriani. It is an extremely popular dish, served at parties and weddings as well as being sold as an ordinary meal. It is made from polaoer chal, which is basically a more pristine form of rice, steam-cooked with mutton or beef in huge pots called haris. Tehari is considered a separate dish but is really quite similar, except that it contains more chili and the meat is sliced more finely. Khichuri also falls in the same category, except that the rice is yellow in colour. A very popular drink always served with biriani is borhani, made from a mixture of water, salt and doi (a variety of yoghurt). It tastes sour and is oddly filling.
These are the main items found all year round in the city. During festive seasons such as the month of Ramadan (Eid) or Pohela Baishakhi (the Bangladeshi New Year), even more diverse dishes become available.