Tag Archives: food

…Eggs

What’s gross?

Cracking open a rotten egg while you’re preparing pumpkin pie.

What’s grosser?

Cracking open a second rotten egg and almost forgetting to check it in a clear drinking glass before dropping it in the pie mixture.

Thankfully, these are actually the first two rotten eggs we’ve ever had here in Dhaka. We get a lot of fecal matter, stray feathers and the like, but not black yolks or congealed albumen. Strangely, these eggs from the commissary, which supposedly gets extra nice eggs, and charges us a bit extra for the freshness and quality.

And, no pics, sorry. I was so grossed out that they instantly went out of the house. Maybe next time. ūüėČ

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…Dehydration

Adventures in dehydration? No, I’m not referring to heat exhaustion or IV drips, though my last few posts may make you think I’m fascinated with such things, but to dehydrated foods, aka items you can easily have sent through the diplomatic mail or pouch and which make you the hippest homemaker on the block.

My first adventure in dehydration was not, to my youthful chagrin, with astronaut ice cream (too expensive for stingy younger me), but with dehydrated retried beans from the coop in C-ville. They came in cool flavors, even black bean and lime. I used them in all sorts of recipes, bean loafs, brownies, etc.

When my doctor advised trying a GF diet, I craved Mac n Cheese, but thought buying a box and tossing out the noodles was a bit extravagant, not that I didn’t do that a few times. And, it was then that I discovered Barry Farms, home of everything dehydrated, and then some.

They have dehydrated cheddar by the pound for use in Mac-n-cheese, soup, on popcorn, etc. They have some freeze dried fruits so you can rehydrate and make re-fresh smoothies, mix-ins for yogurt, pie filling…. Freeze dried veggie powder, which has become a baby food option for us (even powdered asparagus, or beet!), beans, potato…. Spices. You name it, they’ve dried it. And it’s cheap, and light to ship.

Currently, veggie powder is making up a large portion of Neko’s diet, along with frozen veggies cooked and blended in our Beaba. For a more portable option, we have NurturMe packages which are good for on the go, and have some flavors which BarryFarm doesn’t.

On the fruit front, there’s an even better option. If I’d known about it before, I’d have ordered something i’ve been drooling over on Costco.com, but which is probably too big for the DPO, a set of freeze dried berries in 1 gallon cans, perfect for pies.

One interesting thing about all these dehydrated things is that you can add interesting flavors to foods without weird textures. You’re all familiar with onion and garlic powder, but carrot powder is cool too!

Oh, goodness, I see that the freeze dried fruit company sells individual cans too, those would totally make it through the DPO or pouch. Yum… freeze-dried cherry pie.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

…Istanbul

OMG, Istanbul was great!! Oh wait, I wanted to give a different impression first. All you FS types reading this: Turkey was hot, and there was bad traffic in Istanbul, and… and… Turkish is a hard language. Er… I’m trying to come up with reasons for you all to avoid bidding on the very few posts available in Istanbul, but it’s hard. So, I’ll go for the personal appeal, please, please, please, don’t bid on it. I want to. ūüôā If you read the rest of this, you might want to bid on it, so please don’t. The¬†OUR “Orient Express” family has already done an excellent job of detailing the merits of Istanbul, and I’m going to have a lot of work ahead of me discouraging the rest of you from bidding on it.

But, yes, Istanbul was great. Really.

The breakfast buffet at the Armada

We arrived in the evening and took the hotel’s rather stealthily luxurious van to the back streets of Sultanahmet, the old town district of Istanbul. The Hotel Armada was both tastefully elegant, and yet a bit hip. The building was decorated with late 1800’s sensibilities (both Old West and Colonial), but the staff wore tight black t’s and pants. The food at the breakfast buffet was divine, and divinely fresh. I wanted to pack up the whole spread and air freight it home. They had fresh honey comb, fresh OJ squeezing, 5-10 different kinds of jams/bread toppings, 8 kinds of cheese, three kinds of tomatoes, etc…. Wonderful. In the lobby, there was a living sculpture of Mississippi red-eared slider turtles in a fountain. The roof deck (where breakfast was) had views of both the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, and the Marmara. There were fresh flowers everywhere. The soaps were handmade. There were exotic birds in gilded cages. But… I have no idea what the rooms were like, because we actually rented an apartment around the corner, which was even cooler.

Our apartment was about 30 seconds from the front door of the Armada, but gave us the experience of living in Istanbul, like a local. Across from our front stoop, was a front stoop where real Istanbullus sat and watched the afternoon go by. A klatch of three busibody ladies sat in plastic chairs in front of the local “everything store.” At the same store, Mr. Adventure bought an ice cream one night, and had the wrong change, so the proprietor told him to come back the next day and pay him back. Our neighbor’s baby smiled at our baby. The street cats sidled up to us as we walked by. People waved and smiled. It was not your typical hotel experience.

Turtles in the Armada lobby

If you do rent the apartment we used (Studio 1, ground floor and basement), beware the ground floor shower. It’s er… scary. The sprayer keeps popping off the hook and there is no scald guard. However, there are two bathrooms!!! And the one downstairs has a perfectly fine shower, that doesn’t spray water all over the ceiling when it falls off the hook. That apartment had a queen bed on the main floor, along with a 24″ TV that had only 1 English channel ;( CNN, a kitchenette (stovetop, sink, toaster, coffee set up), and a eating table. The basement had 3 twin sized day beds, a tiny TV, arm chair, and TONS of pillows. There was also ample storage for all your luggage, as nearly every wall was lined with cupboards and closets. And, because this is a hotel apartment, you still get the fancy linens, the cozy bathrobes and in-room safe that you’d expect to find in a hotel. The apartment we chose was the mid-sized one, but there’s a smaller and a larger one, depending on your family. Ours was too big for us, we didn’t use the ground floor as much as we would have if Neko were older. We’d hoped to put her down there since her sleeping schedule is different than ours, but the crib they provided didn’t negotiate the stairs.

At the ceramics museum

The first night, all we did was sleep. We were recovering from the sunburn and sleeping outdoors adventures of the previous few days.

However, the next morning we were up and ready to explore! After the aforementioned glorious breakfast, we headed up the hill to Topkapi palace, hearing the sounds of a traveling musical troupe, and espying people on stilts was up ahead in a crowd, but never quite catching up with the show. We eschewed paying the entrance fee to the Palace, partly because of the enormous line, and continued on our merry way, spotting another museum on the way. The museum was advertising an all-museums pass for 70L, which allowed you to skip all the future ticket lines, and (as we found out when doing the math) saves you money as long as you visit both the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi. It also includes admission to the Harem at Topkapi.

Enjoying lunch at the kebap and rug shop. Neko flirted with the very friendly waiter.

This museum that was down the hill was the archaeological museum, and included 3 separate museums, filled with the treasures of the empire. There were ancient relics from various far-flung sites that were once part of the Ottoman Empire, Eastern Roman Empire, Caliphate, etc. There were fancy things that were once used by those various rulers. The neatest items were in the main archaeolgical museum (which was under reconstruction, and partially closed), but the neatest building was the ceramics museum. Glorious mosaics, tiles, stained glass windows… I could live there. Wouldn’t be hard.

Hagia Sophia, with teeny tiny people. Ok, those are real full-sized people, the building’s just really huge.

We took some breaks to accommodate food for Neko and for ourselves, and then walked up the hill to the Hagia Sophia. It was everything I imagined, and cooler. Mr. A had previously seen it, but it was being restored at the time, and full of scaffolding. This time, both of us got to revel in its mosaics, expansiveness, and the weirdnesses of the whole thing. Much of the original splendor is lost due to lootings, idolatry controversies and it’s conversion to use as a mosque, but the architecture itself is more than suitably awe-inspiring. That might be hidden if there were more of the earlier decorations.

Classic mosaics at Hagia Sophia (Imperial types offering gifts to Christ)

After the Hagia Sophia, we gobbled yet another ice cream snack, and then took a chilly, damp trip down into an ancient cistern. It had been hidden for hundreds of years, but rediscovered when travelers heard tales of subbasement fishing holes. And, yes, the fish in there were strange and enormous. Neko liked the way the lights glowed against the damp walls, and possibly the novelty of walking around in the dark after just being outside in the middle of a bright day.

Cistern a la spookiness

We followed that up with a trip to the Blue Mosque, complete with the requisite modesty police that drape you in ugly swathes of velcroed fabric to hide various parts of your anatomy. Unlike some other mosques, the Blue Mosque was not concerned about my hair, but about my “shoulders,” which probably meant my decolletage, really. Either way, I had pre-scarfed my hair, so I had to re-scarf myself to cover my shoulders, but the initial look was much tidier than the second. The scarf, purchased nearby, was a nice match to the mosaic walls of the Blue Mosque, however, so that’s something. Neko, tidily packed up in the Ergo was free of the modesty restrictions. This was a pretty place, but not really anything different than many of the other mosques we’ve been to. I would have liked to get closer to the pretty tilework, but it was all up on the ceiling.

Scarfing it in the Blue Mosque

We ate dinner that night at McDonald’s, because yes, we’re deprived here in Dhaka. It was the first McDonald’s we’d had abroad that was so dramatically different than USA McDonald’s. The burger was a Kofta burger, even though it was labelled as a Big Mac, and the chicken nuggets were more like a panko breading than the normal smooth coating. The fries were perfect.

“Magic” corn

We zipped from there off to a night bus tour that took us to the highest point in Istanbul to watch the sun set over Asia and Europe, and suffered from some terrible traffic on the way there. Apparently one of the bridges was closed due to some once-every-40-years maintenance schedule, and so everything was being routed over the bridge we took. That would have been ok, since we’re used to traffic, but it was accompanied by some really bad turkish traditional music on a short repeat. Normally that music would have filled in the bits between the recorded narrative, but instead we heard it hundreds of times. Mr. A said his nightmares were punctuated by its cadences.

A carpet vendor at Arasta Bazaar… the whole bazaar thing was much fancier than I’d expected. I thought it would be more like a street market. Bizarre

The next day we started with another great breakfast, and then hit up the Topkapi Palace, armed with our handy all-museum pass. While the guidebooks dissuade you from the Harem, suggesting it’s lewd, or somehow uninteresting, I think it was the best part of the whole palace, and certainly the least crowded. There’s a separate admission fee, unless you have the museum pass, so most people skip it. It’s really lovely, however. You get to see the insides of the actual home of the court, so it’s all the most decorated and cozy bits. There’s one creepy recreation of the Queen mother with some of the concubines, but other than that, it’s a great tour. I might have sprung for the audio tour if I’d known that there’d be so many things to learn about in there, but the rental place was all the way back at the palace entrance. We made do with the official signboards, which were pretty decent, actually, compared to the other sights in town.

Near our apartment, a sidewalk had these great glowing cobbles interspersed among the stones.

We sat in a grove on the palace grounds so that Neko could have her elevenses, saw the treasures of Mecca, skipped the royal treasury (because six million people were in line to get in), and wandered off back toward the center of things. The afternoon saw us use our bus tour tickets from the night before as passes for the day tour (interesting, but nothing special unless you actually take the time to HopOn HopOff at some of the sights). We followed that with a delectable dinner of contemporary Turkish cuisine at the highly recommended (by us and other) Oceans 7 in Sultanahmet, and made some purchases at the bazaar beneath the Blue Mosque.

That is paradise. We picked up some black zebra tomatoes that were the sweetest tomatoes I’ve ever had (surprisingly so), and some dark cherries. We brought them home, along with a couple weird chocolates, a box of kinder-egg knock-offs and a can of black olives. I heart Carrefour.

But, it wasn’t until the last day that we really became Istanbullus. Because on that day, we went to a mall. Yes, folks… a shopping mall. There, we saw a food court with 7 options of kebap and 3 kofta places (but no chinese or mexican…), 2 cart vendors selling “magic” corn, a kids play area… and we bought… an iPad! Yeah! A replacement for my broken computer! I’m still trying to figure things out, and epic blog posts like this one are still better on Mr. A’s computer, I think, but it’s been addictive already. We also toured the wonders of Carrefour (our second ever), and brought back salted olives, cherries and tomatoes to Dhaka. Awesomely good cherries and tomatoes. California quality.

Why am I still here? I need to go back and get me some more of that Turkish produce.

So, what did we miss? We did not visit the Grand Bazaar, the Egyptian/Spice Bazaar, the Chora Museum, Miniaturk (a miniatures park), the Aquarium, the largest shopping mall in Asia, a Bosphorus boat tour (we’d been on enough boats!), a dancing show (didn’t think Neko could hack it, and didn’t have food to sustain her with a babysitter). Some of these we weren’t interested in, some we didn’t have the time to see. Essentially, we need to go back. Soon. And live there. So don’t bid on it, unless you’re not on our cycle, then you can.

——

For fans of AdventuresIn who went to college with yours truly, Peaches, Istanbul was stop 2 on my “Jesus to Muhammad” bucket list. (That’s the name of a formative course also famous for weeding people out of the Honors program when I was there.) While there, we got our fill of ancient buildings, relics, mosaics, ionic/doric/corinthian columns, and egg-and-dart motifs. Some of those we actually saw in Olympos, but we’ll group them all together for simplicity’s sake. The previous stop on the list was Rome, and that was way back in 1998, so… er… I’d better pick up the pace if I want to visit the rest of the sites before I join them in moldering away. It’s a good thing I don’t have a list for any of the other 3 courses in the series, or any of the other innumerable courses I’ve taken, though Aix-la-Chapelle and the abbey at Cluny are on the life list, and were part of the J2M+ course series.

…Hindsight: Produce

If I were to do it all again, what would I make sure to bring to Dhaka? Many of these would be great at any hardship post, but they definitely would have made life here nicer in some ways. I’ll do these posts in a series, so check back for more. I’m starting with this one, because I am still hungry after last week’s post on cookbooks!

A Farm/Garden

Image
You don’t have to create a Living Roof like this one at San Francisco’s National Academy of Sciences… container gardening is best.

Many people here have lovely roof decks perfect for making a rooftop garden. Unfortunately, there aren’t any great seeds available here. You’ll have to train your gardener, if you have one, on how to grow these plants, and some might not be able to handle the seasons, but many of them would do well. If I were coming here again, I’d get:

Food For Health Emergency Garden Seeds¬†There’s enough in there to help you recover from an apocalypse, so there should be ample for a roof garden. Includes: Corn, Peas, Radish, Sweet¬†Onion,¬†Beet, Tomato, Eggplant,¬†Kohlrabi,¬†Spinach,¬†Cabbage,¬†Swiss Chard,¬†Romaine Lettuce, Buttercrunch¬†Lettuce,¬†Carrot,¬†Broccoli,¬†Jalapeno,¬†Pepper,¬†Cucumber,¬†Pole Bean*,¬†Zucchini,¬†Crookneck¬†Summer Squash,¬†Green Hubbard Squash,¬†Spaghetti Squash.¬†(Italics designate things available only seasonally for 1-2 months in Dhaka, and bold is not available at all. Many of these plants could be grown year round, if you’re willing to water them and improve their soil). *There is a long bean here, but it’s nothing like a green bean. It’s a lot tougher, for instance.

Assortment of Culinary Herbs Fresh Herbs are rare here, except for in early spring when Cilantro takes over the market. This assortment of seeds includes: Italian Parsley, Thyme, Cilantro, Sweet Basil, Dill Bouquet, Oregano, Sweet Marjoram, Chives, Summer Savory, Garlic Chives, Mustard and Culinary Sage

Lettuce is particularly hard to get here, especially if you want something other than the anemic green leaf lettuce that never gets bigger than 3″ or so. So, if you like salad, bring a lettuce assortment. A blogger friend has become the hero of the community for the lettuces she grew from a mesclun seed mix.

I personally have a tomato addiction, so I’d bring an assortment of heirloom tomato seeds too. The local tomato is a mealy Roma/plum tomato. It’s good for cooking in a sauce, but is usually rather repulsive raw. Those who are less of a tomato fiend may find it ok. I am terribly tomato picky though.

There are bugs¬†(links to a study of the insects that affect farming in Bangladesh)¬†and birds here, so you’ might want some kind of organic pesticide and netting. Netting¬†and construction workers are available here, and one of our neighbors has a kind of greenhouse made of net to keep the birds out of their garden. There’s sun in abundance, however, so a glass or plastic greenhouse isn’t necessary, unless you really want stunning year round¬†tomatoes.

This looks like the roof gardens I worked on in Berkeley, bucket planters and all.

The soil here is all delta silt clay, so you should bring some soil¬†amendments¬†to help those tender roots grow. The carrots available in the market are all stubby and wide because of the dense soil. The poor things can’t dig very deep in the silt-clay. Plants like runner beans or herbs would never make it without lightening up the soil. When the soil drys, it clumps and cracks, so you’ll want to bring a humus agent and/or some vermiculite to retain water and nutrients.

Some kind of low-chemical fertilizer would also be good, as the soil is not always very rich. The local produce is heavy with pesticide, fertilizer, and post-harvest chemicals, so it is a good idea to keep your own produce chemical free.

Both humus and fertilizer can be made by composting, and the Berkeleyite in me feels more than a bit guilty for not doing that here. I like a rolling composter for roof gardens. This one looks like the Death Star, for twice the fun! This one looks like a barrel of fun (groan!). The key to a rooftop composter is that it shouldn’t have to be completely composted and emptied before you add new material. Most of them have some kind of catchment system to allow access to the finished compost without having to pick out chunks of uncomposted stuff. Compost heaps aren’t very practical because of space and smell issues. A good composter should be odor free, even in Dhaka heat. Also, since your time here isn’t all that long,¬†comparatively,¬†you might want some compost kickstarter to get things going.

On many roofs, you can install a drip irrigation system. Our roof has a spigot in a convenient spot to help you with that. Alternatively, you can have your gardener water the plants every day with a hose. However, this would require training the gardener thoroughly, as these plants are not grown here, at all, and most gardeners aren’t really green thumbs, regardless of their job title. Ours killed a bromeliad, for example, a plant that’s pretty hard to kill.

Raising chickens is not unusual here, at least among the local population. I’m not sure¬†if your landlord or GSO would approve of a chicken coop, but if you want to give it a try, get some chicken supplies before you come too. This coop is pricey, but stylish… a veritable chicken chalet!

Last, if you’re a novice to gardening, you might want some instruction before you begin. I haven’t read any of these, but they’re all about gardening after a disaster. They all seem to be helpful for a novice working in strange conditions and without access to a helpful local gardening center.

Gardening When It Counts, by Steve Solomon (4.1 stars and 104 reviews on Amazon)

The Resilient Gardener, by Carol Deppe (4.6 stars and 41 reviews)

Mini Farming: Self Sufficiency on 1/4 acre, by Brett L Markham (4.3 stars and 83 reviews)

Raising Chickens for Dummies, by Willis and Ludlow (4.9 stars and 120 reviews)

…Finding and making food

(I’m not an Amazon affiliate, and get no kickbacks from them, but the links below connect you to Amazon.)

Trying to cook familiar (or, lets face it, even edible) food when you are unfamiliar with the local produce or unable to communicate what item you want in a dauntingly large produce market can be a tough challenge for those of us serving abroad. It’s such a challenge that some foreign service folks have a blog called Hardship Homemaking that features recipes and substitutions for American foods that can be made with decidedly un-american ingredients. The title comes from the pay differential earned by those serving at posts where food is scarce or terrifically expensive. (On the other side, places, like Paris, where food is abundant, but terrifically expensive, qualify you for a COLA-cost of living adjustment-so the financial bonus for being in a hardship country isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.)

In the spirit of that blog, I wanted to share some of my favorite book resources for ‘marketing’ and ‘cooking.’

As I’ve said before, we couldn’t deal with the gastronomic trauma of having a ful time cook here in Dhaka. The food was just SOOOO oily, and so much the same every day. However, I don’t want to be completely confined to a life of frozen foods from the commissary, so I do have to get fresh produce somehow. If we plan it right, we can find many of the items ourselves, by venturing into the market. If time is short, or our luck is short, we have to send someone out to help us find what we need. Of course, I don’t know the names of all the vegetables in Bangla, and my household staff certainly doesn’t know all their names in English. So… enter the first two books:

The Field Guide to Produce, by Aliza Green. This book has great photographs of tons of vegetables and fruits. I point to them and my housekeeper/shopper can let me know if she’ll be able to find such an exotic item as romaine lettuce in the market. It also has useful information on how to prepare various veggies. When something unusual comes home because it’s in season and looks interesting, you can find it here and learn to peel it before you steam it, or to be sure to season it with salt so that it doesn’t get bitter, etc. They offer field guides to meat, herbs & spices and seafood too.

The Visual Food Lovers Guide, by QA International has even more varieties of fruits and veggies, as well as nuts, meats and other edibles. Instead of photos, however, it has drawings. I worried that might not be useful for the point and send method of shopping, but it’s worked well. It’s helped me find things like cilantro, rather than parsley. (Of course, my housekeeper brought home a KILO of cilantro, but beggars can’t be choosers!). This book also includes preparation advice, even on how to skin and fillet your particular fish, should you be so inclined.

There are some similar books to these which might suit your needs better.
Vegetables, Herbs and Fruit also includes growing and harvesting advice, but we never braved a rooftop farm, though many other families did it successfully.
Edible is more of a coffee table book, but looks lovely.
Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini seems most helpful for the “what the heck is this?” moments.

I also found that having a cookbook or two around is quite helpful to both me and my staff (I do occasionally have someone else cook, but am still gun shy). That’s why I invested in some “visual cookbooks.” Intended for novice cooks, they have photographs of recipes step by step. They’re great for people who are unfamiliar with the particular food and common techniques of cooking it, because it goes step by step.
What to Cook and How to Cook It includes a section at the back showing the different kinds of cutting that you can do with veggies (mince, chop, dice, etc.). This book is great for a limited English reader with a basic knowledge of cooking, or as a reminder trick for a recipe that you teach the first time to a non-English reader.

This is a sample page, illustrating the first three steps of a penne with tomato-olive sauce recipe. You can see that it includes pictures of the measured ingredients as well as the steps you use to make the recipe. The recipes are broad, including modern American favorites and adaptable versions of world cuisines like Pad Thai or Fajitas. I would be happy eating everything from the book, well… except the mushroom thing. I hate mushrooms!

Rachel Ray also has a visual cookbook, Look and Cook, but I thought the ingredients were a little harder to find outside the US. Fabulous pictures though!

There are also some great children’s cookbooks full of illustrations, especially for baking, but I prefer to do my own baking, and so I have no advice here.

Voila, my little library for my household staff.

…Happy times in Dhaka

We had a lovely day today in Dhaka. The weather has finally become something like a nice summer day in California. The humidity broke, and the skies are clear (ish). It was a perfect day for a little bit of adventuring here, or as much adventuring as this pregnant lady can handle all at once. ūüôā On a normal weekend day, we’re usually known for taking an afternoon nap, but we spent most of the day out. Since it’s my last weekend in Dhaka for a while, I am happy we made the trip.

It started off with a mosquito bite, not a very auspicious beginning to the day, but I got through that trauma quickly. Brush it off, brush it off… ūüôā Then, dressed in my casual stretchy best, we headed off to a charity fundraiser fair at the Grace International School. It was a fair-sized fair, about 30 vendors, many of whom I’d never seen before. Because Grace is a Christian school, they have connections with some of the Christian charities and NGO-training/manufacturing centers here in Bangladesh. Who knew there was a Mennonite mission here? They apparently make handcrafted paper goods, including cards, photo albums, wrapping paper, etc. Their main store is in Mohammadpur district of Dhaka, so the only time I’d ever see their stuff would be at a craft fair. Mohammadpur is VERY outside our driving comfort zone… (We noticed yesterday that the furthest we’d ever driven from home was about 2 miles, and only to that extreme in one direction… Pizza Hut).

After the craft fair (which was very productive… we even found a cute Sari-blanket for the wee-adventurer-to-come), we decided to follow the recommendation of a friend and have lunch at Roll Express in Banani:
But, we couldn’t find it, so we headed for someplace we’d been before, Dhaba, the restaurant that serves authentic “street food” but in a hygienic environment. They have a great tandoori oven and are well known for their Dosas and Phuchka. Their dining room is pretty small and intimately lit, but I’ve never had anything I didn’t like. It’s mid way along Road 12, on the east side of the street.

Afterward, we remembered that we were pretty close to another treat we hadn’t experienced yet, Cream and Fudge Factory, the coldstone knockoff that has all the Americans raving. Cream and Fudge is on the second floor of a building at the NorthEast corner of the Road 11 and Road 12 intersection in Banani. I had the EveryBerry Cheesecake and Mr. A had an AppleCrumble. Both were lovely, and a single was just the right size for after lunch. A single-size serving was 250 tk, a double was 400 tk. They also have shakes, sundaes and coffees.

While there, we checked out some of the other stores in the building.
Happy Octopus sells cute children’s things: casual and Very Fancy clothes, toys, items from Pebble (a local hand-knit NGO/company that sells to Europe and Japan and has a women-focused training and employment mission).

Haru Ichiban on the 3rd floor (i.e. 4 from the ground), sells stylish western men’s clothing from Esprit, Calvin Klein, Zara, and many other brands. They have both formal (i.e. tuxedo formal), business and casual fashions, shoes and accessories. Their FB site implies that they also have women’s things, but we didn’t really explore their items. Aesthetically, it was a very western-feeling shop to look at as well.

On the ground floor was Quesadilla, ¬†a new Mexican-ish, American-ish restaurant, which I’ve heard good things about but haven’t yet tried. Their Mexican menu seemed pretty limited, but there were also some American classics to balance it out. Maybe we’ll try it when we get back from our baby-trip to America.

The building also housed a pharmacy and a dry cleaner. Something was being built on the 2nd floor, so there’s more excitement to come.

…Pumpkin Soup

I’ve made this soup several times over the last 10 years, and never had a bad batch. At a recent dinner party, it was so popular, someone told me today that I should give the recipe to the Embassy cafeteria chefs, in the hopes that they’d make something tasty in the soup department for once.

The original recipe came from Epicurious, but it’s evolved.

Southwestern Pumpkin Soup

(Bisque with options for a heartier version)
8 1-cup servings

Saute about 1 c diced onions and 3 cloves garlic, minced, in 1-2 tsp olive oil (as needed) in your soup pot. Cook on low heat until they’re caramelized while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Finish them with 1 tbsp butter and a dash of cayenne.

In a small bowl, measure 2 tsp brown sugar, 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp red chili/cayenne powder, 1/4 tsp nutmeg. (These proportions are to taste, some people really like cumin and double the amount, some people dislike heat, and halve the chili powder, this is my favorite blend).

Slowly add 6 cups of chicken stock (or the equivalent in reconstituted bouillon) to the soup pot, wilting any uncaramelized onions. I’ve also made this soup vegetarian with the excellent “Un-Chicken Broth” or veggie bouillon. Add spices from the small bowl.

Whisk in 1 large can of unseasoned pumpkin puree (30 oz). You’ll need to add it about 1 c at a time, depending on the size of your soup pot, because it plops and splashes.

Bring to a boil and cook until the flavors blend. Before serving, add 1 cup of whipping cream (or 1.5 cups of milk, but it won’t be as decadent). I’ve occasionally substituted soy milk for the cream, make sure you add it after everything else has cooked, or it will separate into teeny tiny white dots of soy, rather than blend in smoothly. It’s an aesthetic issue, not a taste one. Serve hot, but try not to boil the cream too much, or it gets clumpy.

Garnish with chopped cilantro and shredded cheddar.

If you want to chew on something in your soup, add a can of niblet corn and a can of black beans while boiling the soup, and garnish with some tortilla chip shreds in addition to the cheese and cilantro.

…Baksheesh

Islam calls for a high degree of charity from its adherents. The act of giving charity is thought of as a means of earning heavenly merit, and the beggar is honored for his/her providing the opportunity to be charitable.

The magnitude of the poverty in Dhaka is so immense, however, that any chance benevolence is immediately met by a crowd rushing toward you in hopes of also receiving a donation.

The common wisdom is to only offer charity from a soon-to-be-moving car window, opened only very slightly. Locals pass 2-5 taka (about 1 penny), and foreigners usually pass around 10.

I’ve told you something about this before, but the story is somewhat more complicated because I see the same children each day as I walk back and forth to school. I know their names, and we exchange greetings everyday, in a strange mix of English and Bangla. There are three girls, of about 6 and 10 years old. They spend the day picking through the construction and household trash piles searching for metal, plastic and paper scraps that they can sell to the rag man. Many beggar children also belong to begging rings, and see little of the money they cadge from generous people. I doubt that these girls are in that situation though, because of their ’employment’ as trash pickers. I believe they actually live in the tiny slum which sits in the heart of our neighborhood, a strange little wart of poverty surrounded by rents that often exceed $10,000 US per month.

I haven’t yet given them any money, mostly because I see them everyday, and am fearful of setting up a precedent, that they’d begin bringing additional friends to ask for money and I’d no longer be able to walk to work. I think bringing snacks might result in the same problem, but perhaps more kids might only mean everyone gets a smaller share and thus a crowd would not form?

But, I feel completely wretched every time I leave them, knowing that they must be hungry, and desperate, and yet aren’t the worst off of the people I’ve seen. So, do you have any ideas… any solutions to my dilemma that have worked elsewhere?

…Grocery Stores

In the US, when you want to buy a 12-pack of soda, or a last minute pot-luck contribution, you head to the grocery store, a paradise of 30 grand aisles, gleaming floors, bountiful produce, abundant options…. but here in Dhaka, space and variety are at a premium. Each grocery store is about the size of tennis court at most (and those are the nicest ones, where the expats shop), and you have to shuttle around to the various different markets if you want to get a variety of items. They’re also notorious for high turnaround and unreliable product availability: buy it now or abandon all hope of ever seeing it again.

There is always the local open market (the closest is a warren of dark alleys and strange smells, another one in upper Baridhara is smaller, but less stinky), but that won’t help you if you want soy sauce, noodles or a box of cereal. They’re for fruits, vegetables, meat and fish only.

Where do the expats shop?

Lavendar: Closest to the embassy area is Lavendar, behind the highrises in the NW corner of Gulshan 2 circle. It’s a 2 story shop which has groceries on the first floor and toys, gift supplies, children’s quality art supplies and oddities on the second floor. Their produce selection is small, but includes some imported grapes occasionally. You have to have your selection bagged and weighed by the produce attendant before you bring it to the check-out. Lavendar has a decent variety of products, including Nutella, cereals, baby formula, cleaning supplies, etc. but it’s a very tight space, and therefore hard to get around. It’s always busy. There is a meat counter, but relatively small. They’re also one of the primary bread makers in town, and sell their breads at many outlets.

Agora: Agora is about half-way between Gulshan 1 and 2 circles, on the west side of the street. Parking is available in the subterranean garage, but it’s a squeeze, and I’d only try it with a good turning radius. There’s also a hardware store next door which sells mosquito rackets and decent tools. Agora is bright and open compared to Lavendar, and has an extensive and well-displayed range of imported lotions, creams and soaps. They have a meat, chicken and fish counter, as well as produce. They have some tasty fried chicken and a seasonal pastry selection, as well as a good selection of beverages.

Meena Bazaar: On Road 11 in Banani, driving towards Gulshan, just before the bridge over Banani lake is Meena Bazaar and another, smaller market. Between the two of them, they seem to have a wide variety of cereals and slightly different selection of goods. I only shopped at Meena when I was there this weekend, but loved how bright and clean the store was. The staff were also very friendly. They had some instant sauce mixes I haven’t seen elsewhere in Dhaka (predominantly Indian foods), some bottled sauces and a larger produce section than I’ve seen elsewhere. There are very clean looking meat, chicken and fish counters. With the second market in the same building, I think this is a good place for one stop shopping. There is parking on the street in front, or the neighboring streets.

The Korean Mart: Also in Banani (on a cross street off road 11 near the Meena Bazaar and the bread paradise of DuMiok, which everyone raves about), is the Korean Mart. This is the place to go for tofu, East Asian vegetables, teas, sesame oil, condiments, and Japanese curry. They also carry a variety of ramens and kelp. If you’re desperate for twee Japanese-style stationary and office supplies they have some here, as well as a selection of plastic storage containers and kitchen ware. The food selection is small, but very specialized, and hugely expanded the range of meals I could produce.

DCC 2 Market: The DCC is actually a mini-mall, with a variety of shops intended to appeal to visitors and expats. Way back in the day, it was the only place to shop for anything imported. Now, there are 2 grocers here, as well as stores selling pearls, sports equipment, picture framing, antiques, baked goods, pet supplies and hardware, among other things. The two grocery stores are in the opposite corners of the first floor. I have not been in the southernmost one, even though it is the larger and more advertised of the two. The northern corner’s little market, down a dark hallway between a fabric store and a dry cleaners, has an extended selection of canned goods, imported cheese, pet supplies, chinese candies and a freezer full of frozen meat.

Other recommendations from expats?

The German Butcher, for your sausage and cut meat needs. He’s near the Gulshan Ladies Park.
The British Sausage Shop, near the ARA, also a variety of meats and sausages.
The Pork Shop, on road 13 in Baridhara, across from another decent, but small market,  looks a bit shady, but has good pork, supposedly.
The Pic-N-Pay, in Baridhara DOHS, on the DOHS road, supposedly has a decent selection, but the lighting is bad. There is also a new market in/near Baridhara DOHS on Progoti Sharani, but I haven’t been there yet, and it’s a bit of a trek, given the insanity that is Progoti Sharani Road.
Southwest Gardens,
carries organic produce shipped in from fields near the Sundarbans. I like their selection, and the place is serenely quiet, compared to shopping for produce in the open market. They also carry giant, frozen organic chickens, fish, and unusual meats (quail and lamb, for example). It’s on Road 99, House 23, in Gulshan, in a house with a blue gate. They’ll do a delivery service for you too, with a minimum purchase. Go in the morning for the best selection, or expect mostly empty bins.
The Guy Outside the ARA runs a vegetable stand with a changing selection of seasonal goods, and Doritos, Pringles, and boxed juice. It’s very convenient to shop here, and he often has something unusual that you might not see elsewhere, particularly if you generally have your housekeeper/cook shop for basic veggies and fruits.
The American Commissary, if you’re lucky enough to qualify for membership has alcohol, imported cheeses, frozen foods and American junk foods, as well as 3 kinds of capers. Surprisingly, nearly every grocery store in this list has capers, tahini and Nutella. Expats are a strange bunch.

The large supermarket Nandan closed just before we arrived in Dhaka, and is supposedly moving. However, I have read some local articles about how they operated without proper permits, and may not be returning to the Gulshan area. There is another one down in Dhamondi, so you can do your variety shopping there, if you’re outside the diplomatic area.

EDITED TO ADD:
Apparently one of the two grocery stores in DIT 2 has expanded its offerings and now has a fresh meat counter, direct from Australia. It also sells rice paper skins for egg rolls or wantons. I haven’t bought either, but people really recommend it.

Also, the Nandan on Gulshan Ave is open. It’s right across the street from the Agora, and has an illegible neon sign in Bangla out front. Do not try to self-drive there, as there is only one parking spot for the store and it’s down in the 3rd basement, they triple park it, and it’s a complete PITA because they run up to pull you away from your shopping to shuffle your car. Dumb system.