#28 Bangladesh: please come out of the NYC food closet

My recent Bangladeshi meal provided a little glimpse into the future of United Nations of Food. I know that somewhere around 50-80 national cuisines will be “unfindable”–meaning that no restaurant in NYC explicitly claims to serve those particular cuisines. But I’m convinced that many of those cuisines will be hidden somewhere. For example, plenty of Algerian chefs are hiding behind menus filled with “Moroccan food,” there are Central Americans all over the United States who claim to serve “Mexican food,” and I’ve heard (unsubstantiated) rumors that a chef from Burkina Faso runs a “Senegalese” restaurant in NYC.

might have been even better with liver

And it turns out that Bangladeshi food frequently hides behind the guise of “Indian” restaurants in NYC. There are very few restaurants that claim to serve Bangladeshi food, but if you live in NYC, I’ll bet that you routinely eat food prepared by Bangladeshis. Apparently, the vast majority (perhaps 95%, depending on who you ask) of Indian restaurants in NYC are actually owned by Bangladeshis—it even says so in this New York Times article from about ten years ago.

I wasn’t explicitly looking for Bangladeshi food, but when a Bangladeshi called me for GMAT tutoring advice, I told her about my little obsession with international food. She very graciously agreed to take me out for Bangladeshi food, even though we’d never actually met before that. Cool, huh?

Of course, we went to an “Indian” restaurant in Curry Hill, called Angon on the Sixth (soon to be renamed Mela on the Sixth). Most of the menu consisted of Indian classics, but my gracious Bangladeshi friend had a friendly conversation (in Bengali) with the gracious Bangladeshi server/co-owner, and we ended up with a few plates of legitimate Bangladeshi food.

I’m not going to gush too much about the food this time. We ordered an appetizer platter (a mixture of samosas, pakoras, and alu tikka for $5.95), but my new Bangladeshi friend looked at the plate with a touch of disdain: “I’m sorry, this is pretty much Indian food,” she said, poking at a samosa disapprovingly. “In Bangladesh, we fill the samosas with liver. It’s amazing, you’ll have to try it sometime.” (In case you’re curious, I loved the samosas, even if they weren’t particularly Bangladeshi.)

yo, Bangladeshis: stop hiding

For our entrees, we ordered shrimp dopeaja ($10.95), which is a Bangladeshi specialty consisting of shrimp cooked in a deeply onion-y red sauce, and khichury ($10.95), a delicious rice/lentil/chicken/onion dish. At a glance, the khichury resembles a standard biryani/fried rice hybrid, but it was surprisingly light and dry, without the oily finish of many similar dishes. My Bangladeshi companion swore that the food wasn’t the best representation of Bangladeshi cuisine, but I thought that both entrees were perfectly solid. We finished the meal with a nice cup of milky South Asian chai, which was (unsurprisingly) amazing.

OK, enough about the food and tea. Here’s the thing: what the hell is up with the Bangladeshi national restaurant performance anxiety? If most of the great South Asian chefs/restaurateurs in NYC are actually Bangladeshi, why are most of them hiding in “Indian” restaurants? Bangladesh isn’t exactly a small country (162 million people), and its cuisine is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a carbon copy of Indian cuisine. So why don’t a few of these great Bangladeshi chefs offer up their own cuisine, rather than just pretending to be Indians?

On one hand, I get it: Americans are familiar with Indian food, and Indian food is therefore easier to sell than Bangladeshi food. But there are plenty of adventurous palates in a place like NYC, and I’m sure that a great Bangladeshi chef could proudly display his/her national cuisine and be wildly successful, at least in this city.

So if any Bangladeshi chefs or restaurateurs are reading this, I beg you to come out of the international food closet, and feed us your own national dishes.  If my new Bangladeshi friend is correct, NYC will be a much better place when Bangladeshi liver samosas are as ubiquitous as burgers, burritos, and naan.

Angon on the Sixth on Urbanspoon

Angon on the Sixth (or maybe Mela on the Sixth)
320 East Sixth Street, Manhattan
Subway: Astor Place (6 train)

6 Responses to “#28 Bangladesh: please come out of the NYC food closet”

  1. roshni says:

    Hi,
    I was just reading your blog. A nice take on Bangladeshi/Indian food and a nice ambition. I’m a fellow foodie.Although I’m from India, I share the language and culture with Bangladeshi people. If you really want to eat authentic Bangladeshi food, you have to venture out a little from Manhattan and come to Queens. If you take the F train to 169th street in Queens, the entire street is filled with Bangladeshi restaurants. For really great foods try Sagar/Tikka graden or Daka Biriyani house. Ask them for authentic bengali food. Also if you really would like to go to a great Senegaleese place, Try Africa Kine at Harlem.

  2. Ashik says:

    Hi,

    Yes Ms. Roshni has given the perfect advise. You can drop off at parsons blv. or 169 by F train and eat at Sagar.

    I have traveled many places in the world and have lot of international friends. I can tell you that Bangladeshi food is very diverse and rich in taste.

  3. […] dishes.  Nobody would hide in the international food closet.  There wouldn’t be any more Bengalis masquerading as “Indian” chefs, Senegalese restaurateurs claiming that they’re merely “African,” Algerians allowing […]

  4. Debranjan Dutta says:

    Basically what you should be looking for is “Bengali Food” and not bangladeshi food. The food habits of the people of east India (West Bangal, Orissa) are very different from the North Indian crap which gets branded as generic Indian food.

  5. Sherri says:

    Actually, coming from a Bengali woman desperately seeking home cooked Bengali food, the closest I have found is a place called Neerob on 2109 Starling Ave in the Bronx. Its worth the trip. This is true Bangladeshi food as we would have it at home. I think one of the issues is that true Bengalis tend to cook their own food. When they go out they tend to want the “fancy food.” Therefore when you go out to a Bengali restaurant you will largely find Biriyanis and the like. But if you want to try the most solidly Bengali food ever, go for the Shutki. It runs in our blood and is absent in almost every restaurant you will find. Of course the best Bengali food comes from my mother’s kitchen, but this restaurant is a good bet outside of Texas.

  6. Sherri says:

    P.S I forgot to mention! Bengalis are FISH EATERS. Order the fish. That is what we are famous for. Not meat. Thats what makes us special. The met dishes we have are largely influenced by Pakistan. But our Fish dishes and Bhartas are all our own!!

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