“It hasn’t done anything good and I don’t think there’s any point in keeping this industry going”
Nijera Kori’s chief, Kushi Kabir, made that statement. And here is the desperate background to it. By Julie Clothier of AFP.
From left to right
Ilish mach (Hilsa fish)
potol vorta (pointed gourd)
shutki (bombay duck)
Some of you will remember the time when British curry houses up and down the land would sell a starter called “Bombay duck.” Then in the late 90s, the European Union got jittery about cholera and bacterial contamination and banned the import of dried fish from the sub-continent. The ban was reversed but Bombay Duck never really made it back on to the menu. Indeed some “Indian” grocers (read Bangladeshi) will still tell you that the product is banned when, as far i know, it is not. However Shootki or Shutki or bombay duck or dried fish is creeping back in other ways. And the reincarnation in the form of bottled powders is very exciting if a little uneven as yet.
You have all probably smiled at the Shutki Raja ad on TV ( that is satellite bangla tv). Well i bought a bottle and tried it, and the smile was soon wiped off my face. It was tasteles and I reckon the garlic content of the bottle is so excessive it is sufficient to cure Aids and ward off dracula at the same time. That is not however the case with Jellyman’s fish powder. Available in a taller, more majestic looking bottle than the squat Shutki Raja bottle, the powder is absolutely delish. My favoured method of cooking it is to sautee some onions and then pile on the powder until you have a nice consistency and the softened onion slices are hidden. Sprinkle some coriander etc. Oh one thing - the label curiously reads ‘with mild chilli powder.” That is as mad as calling George Bush an intelligent human being. It is NOT mild. It is hot. Well, it makes my balding head sweat anyway….Jellyman’s fish is a Thai product made from Cobia fish. It is distributed by Jellyman’s and they say their aim is to
transform the Halal food distribution industry throughout Europe by providing new, exciting, vibrant and innovative products that meet the fundamental needs of our valued customers, make children happy and provide their families with high quality, great tasting products that consistently give excellent value for money.
Indeed. It won’t cure aids or ward off vampires but by gum is it good.
During 2004-2006, etcetera in Gulshan was a fantastic place to buy books. Lots of local and indian titles and indeed titles from further afield. My memory fails but the branding may even have had Books in front of etc. Soon after the emergency promulgation, and some regulation about parking, drastic changes appeared in the Gulshan outlet, including the conversion of half the shopping area into a parking area. Indeed well before emergency, they restructured to bring in more general stuff for the consumer to buy. When Etcetera opened a swank new outlet in Dhanmondi, the “etcetera” component of their products had emphatically taken over from books. Don’t get me wrong - it is still a great place to find some gems but the book section has been becoming smaller and smaller. They still had their Harry Potter midnight opening sessions but things were decidedly going down. And now we have the latest addition to their non-book range of products - The Smokey Joe Sandwich. Card holders have been sent a marketing email about the arrival of this wonderful “sandwich.” Not about some bestseller or some forthcoming book event but The Smokey Joe Sandwich. Great. Mr Syed Maher Murshed has been an innovative entrepreneur but this??
I will be blogging some stuff on labour issues re tea plantations in Bangladesh…at some point…but here is a promotional video (shot in HD). This is the Youtube version below. And folks please note - I am not promoting the vid. I have nothing to do with it. I am simply bringing it to your notice! And note the flowery words about humanity. lol.
The news is relentlessly bad from Bangladesh. And so I have taken refuge in food. Above prepared by my good self (Chief Bhortha Chef Shafiur).
From left to right:
Chingri vorta, Aloo bhortha, Potol bhorta.
( yes the aloo bhortha contains mustard )
Some views on climate change in Bangladesh:
1. Land is disappearing everywhere, but new land is taking shape elsewhere. The problem is that the politicians here lack a long-term strategy of gaining, developing and protecting new land.
2. Nowadays most of the sediment simply disappears into the deep sea. This is practically a mortal sin in a country that should have started a program long ago to use the fertile silt, mica and clay to protect its coastline, thereby protecting future generations from drowning.
3. Despite climate change, the country could even grow. Ultimately, though, the greatest threat in Bangladesh comes not from water but from political chaos.
Some forthright views from Carvajal Monar of Royal Haskoning in an article by Gerald Traufetter.
Pickle lovers will rejoice that there’s a new kid on the block in the Naga pickle market. Or will they? The problem is that this delicious bottle of pickle above is from Pran - a name that I do not associate with great quality food products. They make a lot of snack related products in Bangladesh - and a lot of it is crap. Their aam shotto is simply disgusting for example. But all this is subjective….let me rather point to my main point of concern - do you remember Sudan 1? Yes it is a potentially carcinogenic dye found in chilli powder and there was a big broo-ha-ha about it a couple of years ago when it was realised that a lot of foodstuffs had this dye. The European Union banned Sudan 1 containing products. And it will be no surprise to you when I tell you that Pran products were blacklisted.
Despite all this, I am too much of a petuk and I tried the damn thing. ( And yes, I am also an ex-cancer patient in remission!) Its quite a mush and resembles red coloured mud. It sits there at the side of your plate, like a colloid, promising a punch to your taste buds and tumours in your liver.
It was good. Had a bite. It does not however have the overwhelming aroma that the original Mr Naga has. If you recall, I have already blogged about the original and wonderful Mr Naga ( of Shahnaz Foods). You will see from the comments on that post that the product has changed and sadly not for the better. Commentators have complained about its lack of bite. It has lost its capsaicin content I reckon ( that compound which produces the hot taste). The label says 70 percent Naga chilli. Pran of course gives no idea about the percentage content and it’s label is all but unreadable without a magnifying glass. To be fair to Pran the microscopic writing reveals that it is Halal compliant and HACCP ( a food safety standard) compliant too. Yes but can you believe it…?
For me, Mr Naga’s manufacturing origins - the UNITED KINGDOM - gives me sufficient assurance to continue buying this product. The only downside is, as I said, the aroma is still as strong as ever and makes your fingers pong long after you have had the stuff. Not good for stroking your pets, let me tell you or for that matter your spouse….
In fact, according to Syeed (see in the comment section), there is yet another Naga pickle called “Naga Naga” made by a UK Bangladeshi businessman. I have not tried it yet but am salivating at the thought of doing so.
ps sorry about the rubbish pic.
The general has spoken: “let them eat Aloo bortha.” That is the advice given by Bangladesh’s top general concerning how to deal with the country’s rice crisis. To mark this historic and remarkable exhortation, I give below a recipe for aloo bortha.
1. Boil potatoes until soft. In the UK I find the Maris Piper variety to be best.
2. Fry onions and dried red chillies.
3. Set aside the onions and dried chillies to cool.
4. Add a modicum of the oil you have just used into the boiled potatos. Crush the chillies into the potatos, and mix the whole thing with the onions.
5. Salt to taste. Roll into fist sized balls.
Serve with rice, as the general has suggested, immediately.
A particularly large helping of bortha is required for Hasina who has ear trouble, eye trouble and standing-up-in-court trouble.
And John Pilger’s defence of Mr Slippery Moudud Ahmed is made bortha of by Asif Saleh in CiF . But Asif old chap, could you not have used the space to talk about other things? I mean Pilger’s intervention is old hat and has been dealt with sufficiently. Why make unnecessary aloo bortha of that has-been from down under?
Here is a delicately written Economist article which pulls the rug from under nobel laureate Yunus’ feet. You remember the Danone thing where the good Professor, always a man for stunts,Â invited the great Zinedine Zidane to Bangladesh? The article deals with the business model inherent in that set up and compares it to other approaches,Â namely a book by Paul Polak.Â And the article sticks the boot in….but oh ever so subtly.Â Some excerpts:
In his new book, Mr Yunus describes how Grameen and Danone agreed on a joint venture to sell nutritious food to the poor. It is a wholesome tale of French businessmen finding meaning in their lives, and Bangladeshi children enjoying something better than rice gruel to eat. But Mr Yunus also smothers the story in molasses, making claims about the originality and profundity of the enterprise that are simply too rich to take.
And the absurdity of Yunus’ hyperbole is collapsed like a house of cards:
However tasty and nutritious the yogurt they eat, the poor will not consume their way out of poverty. To escape, they must find a way to make more money. This simple truth is repeated by Paul Polak, the founder of International Development Enterprises (IDE), in â€œOut of Povertyâ€, his wise and engaging new book.
How come no one told me about this? How come I missed this news? And if you have missed it too please read this Telegraph obituary about Abdul Latif, British-Bangladeshi restaurateur extraordinaire. This is the man who invented a curry called “curry hell” ( and no doubt other dishes which testify to the under-developed palate of the typical englishman). He was quite a character and famously offered free curries for 5 years to British servicemen who had fought in Iraq. He also offered free curries to pregnant women and two rugby personalities! As a brit-bangladeshi, it wouldn’t be right if there wasn’t some financial gondogol somewhere…indeed in 2004 he failed to pay a VAT bill and went into liquidation. He died of a heart attack this January ….and he was only 53.
Here is a picture of one side of a room in which I am imprisoned. This is our ‘editing suite’ and pictured is Nur, our assistant editor, at the helm. Deadlines seem to come and go. I have given up looking at the calendar. Yesterday after a thirteen hour stint we only managed to…..
And I managed to escape for a while and visit Nando’s in Dhanmondi- the South African grilled chicken restaurant chain - with my wife and kid. (I wrote about it briefly earlier before it had opened). The decor is really outstanding. And I am afraid that is the only positive thing I have to say.
The staff unfortunately wear RAB style bandanas around their heads. They look silly. Unlike Nandos I have been to elsewhere, you are served at the table. Service was not fast. And when the chicken did come, it was underdone. I sent it back. And the grilled chicken does not taste likeit does in Nandos in dear old Durban, South Africa or indeed any other Nandos anywhere. The chips are not chips. There are no olives to start with or nuts. And the portugese roll is a joke. Totally crap experience. I should have remained chained in the editing suite…
Its a salt compound of sorts, and unbelievably, its not man made.Â Yes this stuff is absolutely delicious and has a slight smokey aroma to it. And equally incredibly for such a tasty thing - its ok for hypertensive patients or at least so says our hypertension suffering editor. I have been lying on the floor listening to gazals for our new documentary and chomping on sour fruits dipped in this stuff.
And how does one deal with iftar given the state of traffic in Dhaka? The market has an answer: small children diving in and out of the traffic, on hot stuffy roads, selling water to the pious.
The Bengal Art gallery is always a pleasure to visit. Of course like so many other things, it turns out that it may have been built with dodgy money. Its founder Abul Khair Litu is under suspicion for corruption (but is serving his remand time in hospital of course) …Yesterday some insiders were hopeful that he might get bail at the end of the month. Whilst the gallery continues to put on exhibitions, apparently the absence of the impresario has affected Bengal Foundation projects.
And there is added reason to visit the area these days. The unbelievable good news is that Nandos is opening opposite the gallery very shortly! This is an incredible badge of confidence in the republic of Bangladesh by a foreign investor. I have no reason to believe that it too is locally associated with dodgy money but I do know that Robert Brazon’s brand had very difficult and humble beginnings. Mr Brazon was in his thirties when he decided he would market peri-peri chicken in South Africa. The banks rejected him doubting his ability to compete with KFC and Chicken-Licken. The chicken farms also initially did not come forward. But somehow he broke through the barriers and today his chain spans all five continents I believe. I have the good fortune of having not one but two in my home town of Cambridge. It is a shame that the marketing is overwhelmingly “Portugese” slanted and its South African origins are all but buried. So here is a snap of it in Dhanmondi opposite the Bengal ( you can see me in the foreground dressed as a bush. My way of dealing with the curfew):