Your guide to traditional food around Old Dhaka
Bangladesh attracts a lot of international tourists and Dhaka is often the center of attraction. People love to experience the culture that the streets of Old (Puran) Dhaka have to offer. While thinking of Puran Dhaka, the first thing that comes to anyone's mind is its food. This place is famous for its variations of cuisines that are spread throughout the streets of Puran Dhaka. Its fame lures in people from all over the world. However, different dialects work as a huge barrier between locals and tourists. To break this barrier, we have many tourism firms which work with tourists and guide them through their trip. Tourism firms in Bangladesh have a wide range of packages that they offer for tourists but one surprising fact is that there’s only one tourism company that offers a food tour package in Puran Dhaka -Cholo Bangladesh Tours.
About the company
Cholo Bangladesh Tours offers a private food tour in Old Dhaka which can be covered in one day. This tour package includes all the delicacies that make Puran Dhaka the food capital of the city. “There are many things that people can do rather than just sight-seeing. The concept of food tour came from a video that I was going through one day; it was based on the food culture of Mumbai. I saw that there are such services that people can avail in Mumbai and Delhi but then why not in Bangladesh? Our food is popular among everyone so foreigners will also enjoy it. This is how we started the food tour concept,” said Rocky Hasan, CEO, and Founder of Cholo Bangladesh Tours. Rocky and his younger brother are the ones who run the business and they have freelancers who work with them when needed.
Why did you choose to work with this sector?
“When I used to go through travel videos, I noticed the bad experiences the travelers faced when they came to Bangladesh. There are some tourists who like the chaos of Dhaka city - finding something interesting in our overpopulated city. Some travelers don’t even go for the actual beauty of our country. As far as I know, there are many companies who are working in the tourism sector but I always wanted to show people the beauty of our land. This is why I have organized my tours in such a way so that people can see everything they need to.”
Itinerary for the food tour
The tour starts with hotel/airport pick-up (if the tourist wants it).
Then we head off towards Dhaka University to try out the kola bhorta (mashed bananas) which is quite famous.
From there on, we head to Nazimuddin Road on a rickshaw for lunch at Nirob Hotel. Nirob Hotel is renowned for its delicious traditional cuisine. From their menu, the bhorta (mashed food) items are the most popular ones.
“It blows their minds away when they get to see a wide range of bhortas for lunch. We advise our guests not to have too much bhortas, we suggest them to try out all the types of bhortas and also not to have much rice. We also try to make them walk as much as possible to ease digestion. But that too depends on them.”
After lunch, if everything is according to the schedule, you make your way to the Armenian Church. This church bears the testimony to the existence of the Armenian community in Bangladesh, in the 17th and 18th centuries.
From the Armenian Church, you can go to Lalbagh and try out the sweet refreshments of Royal Restaurant. This hotel is famous for its pesta badam er shorbot (a drink made of pistachios). In fact, it is so famous that they run out of stock every day before they close down.
After meeting your sweet tooth cravings, travel to Nazira Bazaar during the evening to feast on the kebab items of the well known Bismillah Kabab Ghar. This restaurant serves varieties of kebab items and is considered to be a heritage of Puran Dhaka. They serve a tamarind sauce with the kebabs and it is considered to be their signature side with any dish. Make sure you try out all the kebab items bit by bit so that you don’t miss out on any!
After dining on the kebab items, you can try the famous agun paan (fiery betel leaf). This is considered to be a mouth freshener which is made of a betel leaf filled with a bunch of sweets and jellies with a fiery topping. It might sound a bit hazardous but is completely safe to try.
From the kebab place, head towards Jagannath University where Cholo Bangladesh Tours organizes a small event for you. Students from the Faculty of Music arrange a musical gathering where they present Bangladesh’s culture through music. Even if you don’t understand the lyrics, fear not, because you will surely enjoy the melody.
While heading out of Jagannath University, you’ll take a short break at Beauty Lacchi. This cafe only has five items on its menu and those five items are good enough to make this cafe the best refreshment spot in Puran Dhaka. Their lemonade is the best in town and their yoghurt drink (the eponymous lacchi) is beyond comparison.
Then you make way for Lokkhi Bazar to try out the sweet and sour snacks. There are many shops on that street that sell jilapi, mishti shingara, chotpoti, and fuchka. You can try any item on the menu and eat as much as you want. All the flavors will explode in your mouth will sway you away.
At last, you’ll proceed towards Narinda where you can feast on some more drinks and sweet and sour snacks if you want. From there, you can make way to your tour operators home where he arranges some home-made traditional food items for you to enjoy. After resting at his place for a while, he’ll then drop you off to your designated destination and your food tour ends there.
All this is included in the package which costs only USD 70. But, if you can bring a friend or more travelers with you, the price drops down to USD 50.
Previous clients’ experiences
“The tourists are often shocked when they see the bills at the restaurants. It turns out to be quite unbelievable for them when they see that they can have a heavy meal for only four dollars. Whoever tries Puran Dhaka’s food once has a wonderful experience. They might not like everything or they may have stomach problems due to the new cuisine but everyone enjoys it. The varieties of bhortas at Nirob Hotel, mishti, fuchka, elish maach, kebab item, agun paan, jilapi, beauty lacchi, Royal’s pesta badam er shorbot - tourists enjoy all these food items a lot. In fact, one of our customers from Ireland liked the pesta badam er shorbot so much that he asked whether he could take it back to Ireland or not, upon knowing that it doesn’t last for long he took some to have back at the hotel.”
Did any of your clients give any negative reviews so far?
“Yes, I did get some reviews from my guests and I would definitely address these issues to our Prime Minister if I could. I am fed up on a few things; I had a guest from England who did not like the fact that we honk our horns on the roads for no reason. And they don’t get to see this in their country. It is inconvenient to use horns without any limits.”
“They freak out when they see wires spread like spider webs throughout the city. They say that Bengalis are friendly but not all. I have noticed in some videos where a couple was riding on the horse cart (tom tom) and the cart driver kept staring at the woman in a weird manner. If we don’t fix this then who will? Even when they got on a boat, the boat driver was throwing abusive words on the foreigners without any care. We need to work on ourselves and bring an end to such behaviours.”
“The most common questions that we face are related to the cleanliness of the city. One of my guests was staying at a hotel in Karwan Bazar and there was a pile of garbage right in front of their hotel. Now some people may not have a problem with that and consider it a good subject for photography but it is not the same for everyone. Traffic jams, horns, dirt, etc make tourists uncomfortable and this is not only bad for them but also harmful to all of us.”
“One of the biggest problems that they face is at immigration. One of my clients came to Bangladesh with an on arrival visa. When he was passing through immigration he asked the officers for direction and they couldn’t carry out a proper conversation with the tourist. Immigration officers do not even know how to converse in English. The only thing they could say to him was ‘go go go’ and he did not know where to go. So he went forward and stood in the queue where everyone was and after waiting there for an hour and 30 minutes, when he went to the booth and spoke to the officials, he got to know that he didn't have to wait as he had an on arrival visa. There isn't sufficient information available at the airport, there’s a huge communication gap and the officers are of no help. If the first impression of our country is like this then we have nothing to do.”
How do you think we can improve the tourism sector?
“As I mentioned above, all these points and also security is not up to the mark. We need to work on these issues and then we can expect returning guests. Also, the inequalities that we have to witness when we visit heritage sites, for example, when we go to Ahsan Manzil, they charge Tk500 for foreigners, which isn’t right. It's not the same when we go to foreign countries and visit national heritages. There’s no point in overcharging them. There are places in our country where we can set up huge tourist attractions and keep them up to the mark. If we can do that then we won't lack behind in terms of tourism.”
What are your future plans with this?
“I will increase my tour packages and will do this throughout my life. I’ll work on my website and make sure that foreigners get to see the services that we have to offer when they search on Google.”
“I am also working on increasing my tour packages for local people. And I want to offer unique discounts to my clients like for example - if someone wants to go on a tour and wants to pay less, they can simply bring in another mate and get a discount. In this way, the number of tours will increase and the word of mouth will help as advertisement as well.”
“I ask all my tourists for feedback and then I work on the issues and make sure that the next tour goes a bit better than the last one. Their feedbacks are really helpful and have helped me in a lot of ways, which is why I have been able to enhance my skills bit by bit.”
“I want this to work well in the long run and I want to use the youth for such work as well. The more they get to work with clients, the more they get to learn and spread our culture to others. One good thing is that out of all the people who go on a tour with me, 30 percent are always ready for the next trip. Customer loyalty is something that has a great impact on my business.”
For details of the food tour, visit - http://www.cholobangladeshtours.com/tours/food-tour-in-old-dhaka/
And for other packages, visit - http://www.cholobangladeshtours.com/tours/