This was in a sense true as for the longer part of the capital’s history, the street food choices of the Dhaka residents were limited to Phuchka, Chotpoti or Muri Bharta. No the scenario has changed with the advent food carts which sell from fried chicken to chow mien on the streets. But on an occasion like book fair, you would see the street food artists coming out of their hive
The month-long "Ekushe book fair" somehow lures me with its food. Food for thoughts? No, I mean the real ones, the ones that you can eat.
Don't get me wrong. I am an avid reader, previously of books, now of contents found in the internet. But, like everyone else, I am also just a willing slave of my taste buds. And I don't know whether you have noticed it or not- but the Ekushe book fair that takes place in Bangla Academy premise indeed is a carnival of street foods too.
Street food is an entirely different genre of a country's culinary culture. I have been told by my Indian friends that Dhaka doesn't have too much of it and hygiene is not good here. This was in a sense true as for the longer part of the capital's history, the street food choices of the Dhaka residents were limited to Phuchka, Chotpoti or Muri Bharta. No the scenario has changed with the advent food carts which sell from fried chicken to chow mien on the streets. But on an occasion like book fair, you would see the street food artists coming out of their hive.
I discover this very fact during my first ever visit to book fair. It was in 1995. I was a student of grade-iv then. The month of Ramadan was in February at that year and I used to go to the 'Tarabih' prayer with some of my local friends and 'Boro Vai' at the nearby BUET mosque. (Located at the opposite side of the Shahid Meenar). As far as I remember, instead of praying the 'Tarabih', all we did were running and making noise inside the mosque until some of the 'musolli' (devotee) lost their patience and threw us out of the mosque.
It was probably one of those days. We were being scolded and thrown out from the mosque. Suddenly one of us suggested that there was book fair going on nearby and it would be fun if we took a visit there. We probably looked at watch and found that there was still enough time before the end of Tarabi (After Tarabi, the guardians used to get back home and if they have found out that we were still not in home, then we would have been in serious trouble).
We went to the fair. It was magical. Prior to that, I had never seen such numbers of books in one place. Now I can't remember from where I got the money (probably I lend it from one of my 'boro vai') but I remember that the first book that I bought from the fair was 'Abuder Adventure' of Shahariar Kabir.
But book is not the issue; at least it was not at that time. I was fascinated with foods. For me, the most memorable thing of that visit was the taste of Hawai Meetha (candy floss), Badam Papri (sugary nuts), Chatni (condiments) and Ghugny (smashed chick peas). At that time those were my dream foods (I was one of those sorry fellows, who always brought Tiffin from home to school).
The memory of that first visit stuck in my mind. From then on, whenever I visit the book fair, I indulge the food; whether it is from the canteen of Bangla Academy or from a street vendor with dirty hands, three-day old stubbles and unhygienic offerings.
It was in book fair, where I had my first 'Golda Chingrir Matha (the head of large shrimp). Now I will not eat it even if I fall into some "Bear Grylls" situation but that first time was delightful.
In 1999 book fair, there were two stalls inside the fair premises. One was named 'Khana Khazana' and another one was 'Khao Khao Khande Rao'. They were located opposite of each other. Those two were immediate hits at that time not because of their names, or strangely succulent foods rather for their rivalry with each other. If one stall cooked tasty Tehari one day then the other came up with delicious Khichuri on the next day. Unlike now, they were in competition of providing good meals in cheap prices. Those two stalls also served foods like 'Marichni' (green chili dipped in flour) and Payagni (onion dipped in flour) which I have never seen again.
I particularly remember one occasion. It was one 21st February. Two mobile cars came and started selling food inside the fair premises. One of them was 'Sajna' and another one was 'Yan Tun Khai Jan'. We were pretty fascinated to see large motor cars selling foods as at that time it was a new and fresh concept. I had 'Raj Kachuri' from Sajna and an unbelievable tasty noodle from the later one.
The cutlet of Bangla Academy canteen has always been my favorite one. I still can't figure out what it is made of (like the way I can't figure out the ingredients inside the 'Hot Patties') but it surely is delicious with the sauce that they serve.
About other street delicacies, one can always have the old-school- Phuchka, Chotpoti Jhalmuri, Chanachur, Chola, Murali, Nimki, Tele-Vaja (Chop, Piaju, Beguni and Shingara) in and out of the fair premises as a number of vendors with those are available in any given time. But I have to say that the varieties are less these days. At least I don't see any new food to indulge in the past few years (I am not considering two minute Maggy soup car, it is not street food).
What happened? Are people getting conscious about their health or don't they excuse themselves for moments to have a raw delight? If the case is the later one, then it is sad as renowned novelist and poet Buddhodev Basu have said, "Bengali have an unbelievable appetite of tasting food, it's an identity that we are proud of."