Most of our restaurants are really Bangladeshi – not ‘Indian’ – so are we missing a clever business ploy by not creating a new wave of clearly-branded Bangladeshi restaurants across the country?
Could it be the next new trend – and offer a way out of the current pandemic crisis facing restaurants? Lee Lixenberg takes a look…
It’s not widely known in the big outside world that the vast majority of the UKs 10,000 Indian restaurants are actually run and owned by Bangladeshis.
Why has this become such a well-kept secret-and wouldn’t it give the whole industry a much-needed, post pandemic shot-in-the-arm if efforts were made to establish or rebrand a new wave of restaurants as clearly, and proudly, Bangladeshi?
It’s an especially pertinent question at the moment – as Bangladesh celebrates the 50th anniversary of its independence, amidst congratulatory messages from the Royal Family and Prime Minister.
Why there seems to be a reluctance to be ‘up-front’ about the industry’s Bangladeshi roots was the subject of a recent Observer article by restaurateur and poet Ahsan Akbar – which argues that the whole industry would benefit from building a bold Bangladeshi brand nationwide.
The argument goes that it’s timely for Bangladeshi restaurants to come of age – and differentiate themselves from the broad ‘Indian’ brand – thereby broadening both cultural and business opportunities.
True, there’s a case to be made that Bangladeshi cuisine can’t be easily differentiated from what’s known broadly as Indian food – but, as the Observer article points out, there are notable exceptions to this general rule.
There’s Gram Bangla and Amar Gaon in London’s Brick Lane and Kolopata in Whitechapel – all advertised as Bangladeshi restaurants – but generally across the rest of the country there aren’t many others who have ‘outed’ themselves.
As for the food, as the Observer again points out, there’s no shortage of authentic Bengali cuisine to support a strong and unique Bengali offering to customers.
Among dishes cited are kala bhuna and mejbani beef from Chittagong, as well as chui jhal from Jessore – using piper chaba and Sylhet’s shatkora curries.
Then there are mentions for biriyani and bakarkhani from Old Dhaka, perhaps served with tea, which draw on influences of the Munghal kitchens.
And speaking of influences, why not draw inspiration from the homeland – where some bold national social and economic policies have seen Bangladesh emerge from the shadows of its two big neighbours; just as Bangladeshi restaurants and food can emerge from the shadows cast by the well established ‘Indian restaurant’ industry.
So all of the ammunition is there to fire up a bold, strong campaign to shine a spotlight on Bangladeshi cuisine in a way that has never happened before.
And what better time to do it – as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the year that Bangladesh set out on its own path to independence and success?
BOLD & BANGLADESHI
Curry Life is putting together a database of restaurants who are interested in considering moving to a more Bangladeshi style of branding image. We will use this Bold & Bangladeshi database for future training events on issues such as marketing and menu adaptations. If you want to know more – and join the database – please contact Curry Life on: 07956 588 777
AMAZING INGREDIENTS SHATKORA
The shatkora certainly wouldn’t gain any points for its beauty but this strange fruit lends an exotic flavour to curry dishes. Green and knobbly, otherwise known as the citrus macroptera, or ‘wild orange’. The fruit is about the size of a very big grapefruit when ripe. The variant grown in Bangladesh called annamensis is known locally as shatkora. It’s commonly used in the area of Sylhet where the fruit grows on thorny trees which can reach 5m in height. A curious cross between a lemon and a lime, shatkora smells like the latter whereas the juice is sour and bitter and tastes more like that of a grapefruit. It has a thick, dry pith and the outer skin becomes yellow when the fruit is ripe.
Preparation of the fruit is tricky and requires some culinary skill. Perhaps the easiest way is to cut the shatkora in half lengthways and then cut each half into three, also along the length. Then the main fruit can be pared away from the peel and outer pith with a sharp knife.
Chefs recommend the skin is pre cooked to soften the texture. In Bangladesh the rind is eaten as a vegetable and the pulp is usually discarded because of its bitter taste. The thick rind is cut into small pieces and cooked in beef, mutton, fish curries and stews whilst the fruit is often used in shatkora pickles.
Curries cooked with shatkora are now becoming more and more popular in Bangladeshi and Indian restaurants in the UK. The fruit is not easy to find but it can now be bought in many Asian food stores that serve the Bangladeshi community. It’s also available in frozen form. Shatkora’s beneficial values don’t stop there – as a citrus fruit, rich in Vitamin C, it has long been known for its medicinal value in India and Bangladesh. It’s very strong in antioxidants and is reputed to be a sure cure for colds and flu when cooked in curry.