Updated: Jun 15, 2021
Street food - a protein-heavy and delicious meal
Aneri's note: I lived in Bangladesh for 2 months in 2009! Allow me to indulge in a few travel stories here. I lived in Dhaka near a slum. It was the best of places and the worst of places. Bangladeshis are some of the kindest and most generous people I’ve ever met. I was constantly invited to people’s homes for dinner. But I also found it to have some of the worst poverty I had ever seen, the worst traffic jams I had ever been in, and the toughest weather and infrastructure. For example, monsoon rains would flood the sewers, forcing people to walk through cesspools. It is not a pretty picture.
Bangladeshis are the most hospitable people I have ever met. Anytime we met anyone new, they always wanted to sit down and serve us snacks. Once I visited a field office, and we were sitting for almost an hour while the branch managers brought out tea, mangoes, coconuts, and other things when we finally asked them to please stop and just talk to us.
Bangladesh is also the toughest country I have been to be a vegetarian in. That might be surprising to you given that it is India’s neighbor, but Bangla food consists of a hunk of meat or fish, a tiny serving of vegetables, and a huge amount of rice. When I asked for no meat, I got the huge plate of rice with the tiny serving of vegetables, extra vegetables were never added.
I was in Bangladesh for an internship at Grameen Shakti, which is the solar arm of the Grameen Bank. During this internship, I also got to meet Nobel Laureate Professor Mohammad Yunus, who is considered the father of microfinance. It was a huge honor to meet him and little did I know it would not be my last time meeting him!
I rarely saw little girls playing outside. They were always kept inside the house, staring from the window, whereas the boys are able to swim, create mischief and run around. I asked a local why you never see girls, and he said it was because girls are vulnerable and should stay inside to be protected (from other men). Even when they are four years old? Rather than putting an effective punishment system in place for men who actually commit these kinds of crimes in order to deter future criminals, the society would rather punish the women by keeping them inside. One positive female role model I met, however, was Nilufa, a Grameen Shakti solar technician with a fascinating background. She was pulled out of high school in order to get married. Her husband was essentially a loser, who came home at midnight and beat her. As a dowry, he was given Nilufa’s father’s pharmacy business, which he could not manage and lost. With no income, Nilufa struggled to raise her new 1 year old son. And then one day, her husband vanished. Luckily, her in-laws took pity on her and took care of them. Then she found out that he was working at a garment factory in Dhaka. Her in-laws took care of her son while Nilufa went to Dhaka to look for her husband. She too began working for the garment factory, sending money back to the village. But she missed her son, and went back to the village while her husband stayed in Dhaka. She returned with little income, but not much else, as she was a battered and lonely wife. Then, Nuzneen, a Grameen Technology Center worker who seeks women to train as solar technicians came to her village Phulpur and asked if there were any woman in need of work. She met Nilufa, and she was trained in a 15-day workshop where she learned how to wire mobile phone and solar panel circuit boards. She was so successful that she was selected to be trained as a solar panel installer. Currently, she is the only solar technician in Phulpur. So what happened to her deadbeat husband? Upon hearing of her new job, he returned and became her assistant!
Difficulty Level (1-10): 7
Chotpati is a delicious, popular, and healthy street snack in Bangladesh. Most of these ingredients will be found in your local Indian grocer.
White peas (vantana) - 1 and 1/2 cups
Baking soda - 1/2 tsp
Turmeric - 1/2 tsp
Small red potatoes - 5- 6, chopped
Tamarind chutney (if you don’t have, combine tamarind paste with water, cumin powder, chili powder, and sugar and bring to a boil. Taste to your liking)
Chaat masala - 2 TB
Boiled egg - 2, chopped
Cilantro, - bunch, chopped
Green chili - 1, chopped
Tomato - 2, chopped
Red onion, 1/2 chopped
Pani puri shells - 1 package
1. Wash and soak the peas overnight with the baking soda.
2. Boil the peas until soft and mash-able (I used an instant pot for 22 minutes).
3. Drain water and put back on the stove.
4. Add chopped potatoes, turmeric, and chaat masala and salt and fry.
5. Put the peas on a plate, serve with a couple tablespoons of tamarind sauce, and garnish with the additional toppings.
6. Crush the pani puri shells on top and enjoy!
This dish was inspired by Sonia Jahid and Banglar Rannaghor.
Want more recipes?
Here's a list of 12 Bengali vegetarian recipes to explore by Vagabomb.