I think the year was 2009. Two of my best friends and I planned to eat out. There were not many options to choose from back then; we had Pizza Hut, KFC and a few more restaurants. I loved food, and I always looked for variety. I had never been abroad at that point in time and so I became sick of the same old fried chicken and pizza. My friends were in the same state as me which is why we usually wound up back to my place having my mother’s delicious home-cooked meals. Even after all these years, my mother’s dishes are still by far my most favorite and given the way my friends devour her food, I believe they too have similar opinions.
But you always need a change in the environment. We always need to go out and get new experiences – no matter how small they are. For Dhaka being a machine-like yet chaotic city, it is hard to find a new way to hang out with the people you love. Also, we as human beings always need an activity to support our social needs. Eating turns out to be the most popular supporting activity to accompany us while meeting our social needs. As a result, much like many different cities in the world, restaurants and cafes are the center of meeting people.
For the last one year or so, it really hit me that Dhaka is diversifying in food. Even in the last 2 weeks, I have tried out 5 new street food stores that have recently opened up. Be it a topping filled ‘Awesome Burger’, a simple ‘Dim Cake’ or ‘Smoothie’, you now have a food option for any time of the day. I remember staring at the Travel & Living Channel, my mouth watering when a Mexican food appeared on the screen, but now I know which place is famous for its Tacos or where to get the best Nachos. I certainly will not have to go to South Korea to try some Korean food; I can enjoy it in my own city. Sure it might not be the exact same as in Seoul, but five years ago who would have thought that there will be separate Korean, Japanese and Thai restaurants spread throughout a third-world country’s city?
The change happened probably through word of mouth. It is a common term in marketing. If one person speaks about a product, the listeners will react in the same way regarding that same product. So, when Facebook boomed in early 2008, people read statuses of their friends and families who would talk about a new place they have eaten in. “I want to try that” – that is the reaction almost everyone ended up having.
Everyone wants to try out new food items in the menu. I do not remember who put up a status about ‘MashaAllah Biriyani’ of this new restaurant called The Cart Company, but I am thankful I tried that out. Word-of-Mouth certainly ended up giving me one of the best biriyanis I have ever tasted. Speaking of which, the local traditional food did not fall into the shadows either. Much like new places, the old restaurants, especially the ones in Old Dhaka, have certainly been seeing a lot of young people from the modern side of town rush in with their group of friends. In fact, when you see a person who had never been to Old Dhaka, you would probably end up threatening him of kicking him out of this city. If you live in Dhaka, you start your food journey from the old streets.
Last week when I went out with my friends, we did not run out of option. We ran into a never ending argument regarding which type of food we should eat. This is something I always wanted to experience and I am glad my city is positively moving that way. I can bring my cousin from Chittagong and treat him Japanese, Mexican, Portuguese or even Brazilian food. I can also give him a taste of the Old Dhaka and Bihari traditions. The new generation welcomes this massive arrival of international dishes, while local traditional food keeps getting stronger – and this trend will only continue.
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