Mango Lassi in Bangladesh
Mango Lassi in Bangladesh: Admittedly Bangladesh had not featured in my thoughts when the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks in Dakar, the capital city, came my way. About ten of us got onto an Emirates flight from London to Dakar to see our dear friend Asif get married. The bride was a beautiful lady Asif saw in a Dakar traffic jam and decided to literally pursue her. He thought it was wooing; others and I knew deep down in our hearts that it was borderline stalking and downright criminal. Nevertheless, that foolhardy approach led to finding myself first in Dohar, Qatar and then onwards to Dakar, Bangladesh in a wealthy neighbourhood called Golshan 2 for my friend’s wedding.
Doha, Qatar was beautiful, in a modern Dubai-ish kind of way. New oil money was evident. The building and infrastructure were grand. This admiration was all done on our way to our hotel where we planned to drop of our bags and head back out.
Not more than 5 minutes after leaving the hotel we were back in again, defeated by the hottest temperature I had ever experienced – over 40c. it now made sense why the streets were devoid of human traffic. Anyway we finally made our way in the early evening out to the souks and then to the beach. I had heard of this “calm” sea. I had heard it was caked in the most dense sea salt. I had heard you could float in it, which for a non-swimmer sounded pretty good.
A day in Qatar was all we needed to sample Doha. Our main destination, Bangladesh beckoned. Dakar is the city of hustle and bustle. Car horns could be heard constantly. I had never seen such abject poverty in my life. This was a very small country in geographical terms, but had a population most bigger countries don’t have. The capital city was densely populated and at times it seemed you could never get away from people.
I spent most mornings looking out of our apartment into the streets watching hundreds of women file by to work in clothing factories. These were the same clothes i’d probably buy in New York or London at exponentially staggering prices, but these were workers who barely received more than a dollar an hour in difficult conditions as compensation for their toil. My host tried in vain to explain to me that a dollar an hour was better than nothing. I didn’t buy it.
On an evening out, we were chased out of a bar by folks for the sin of being silly and naive enough to take a picture of ourselves. It was later explained to me that this was an illegal bar full of politicians who under no circumstances wanted pictures taken, just in case any of them was caught doing what we were doing. drinking. The first time we bought alcohol it took about an hour or so of phone calls and driving into very dark alleys to take delivery. Not dissimilar to what you’d see in a Quentin Tarantino film. It was an operation. A mission. Bangladesh, however, does make allowances. In the handful of international hotels dotted in Dakar, you could buy alcohol and not be at risk of flouting religious edicts or the law.
Bangladesh had a cuisine that surprised me. In a country where most socialised, not with alcohol in bars, but with food they took special interest in flavours and taste. The biggest shrimps or were they prawns? I had ever had were from this country. Their curries and steamed basmati rice was incomparable to what I was used to. Mango Lassi became our coca cola overnight. They tasted sweet and fresh and was what was needed in the hot day sun. They are also pretty easy to replicate, if only to serve as a reminder to all the places I experienced in Bangladesh, notably Dakar and Chittagong, which I understand has the longest stretch of beach in the world.