People eagerly waiting outside a vegetarian restaurant in Old Dhaka to get their chance to taste the artistic array of curries — TBP Photo
In the heart of Dhaka, a city renowned for its aromatic biryani and succulent kebabs, a culinary revolution is quietly unfolding. Dhaka, long celebrated for its diverse and rich non-vegetarian fare, is experiencing a remarkable surge in the popularity of vegetarian cuisine. In a culture where fish and meat have traditionally taken centre stage, the rise of vegetarianism presents a captivating culinary twist.
For decades, Dhaka's culinary landscape has been dominated by non-vegetarian delicacies, from flavourful fish dishes to succulent beef and mutton curries. Non-vegetarian food holds a special place in Bangladeshi culture, often being the highlight of family gatherings, celebrations, and daily meals. However, a shift is occurring as an increasing number of individuals are choosing vegetarian diets, driven by health concerns, ethical considerations, and environmental awareness.
Amidst the bustling streets of Old Dhaka's Tantibazar, renowned for its vibrant handloom cloth trade, a unique culinary scene is emerging. While the old part of the city is famous for its aromatic biryani, a delightful surprise awaits those seeking vegetarian delights. Tantibazar, nestled behind the Shiv Mandir, has become an unexpected haven for enthusiasts of vegetarian cuisine.
Here, in this Hindu-dominated locality, a culinary adventure awaits. A semi-circular path leads to a cluster of inviting eateries with names like Jagannath Bhojnalaya, Anuradha, Adi Govinda, Vishnupriya, and Gaur Nitai, promising sumptuous vegetarian feasts to all who venture in.
Jagannath Bhojonaly: A flavourful legacy
In 2005, Jagannath Bhojonaly embarked on its flavourful journey under the guidance of Nitai Pal. Despite changing ownership, the eatery's legacy of exceptional cuisine and service remains intact. After Nitai Pal's unfortunate demise during the Covid pandemic, the responsibility has passed to Ashok Kabiraj, who now oversees operations.
Although the restaurant can only seat 36 people, it frequently accommodates more eager diners. Patrons queue up with anticipation in their eyes. The tables display an artistic array of curries, each bowl a delectable masterpiece. The menu offers a tantalising selection of 54 dishes, all prepared with the freshest seasonal vegetables. Notable are the eight to 10 varieties of bharta, including aubergine bharta, potato bharta, and mustard bharta.
The diverse curries range from vegetable cheese and chickpea gravy to cauliflower gravy and green banana gravy. With prices ranging from Tk 10 to Tk 40 per dish, a satisfying meal experience is easily within a budget of Tk 100 to Tk 150 per person.
The diverse curries encompass vegetable cheese, chickpea gravy, cauliflower gravy, potato-aubergine gravy, green banana gravy, cabbage curry, mustard-okra, pointed gourd and cucumber curry, potato- pointed gourd curry, stir fried vegetables. There are also pilaf of sagu pearls and a desert of sagu pearl.
With prices ranging between Tk 10 and Tk 40 per dish, a fulfilling meal experience awaits within a budget of Tk 100 to Tk 150 per person.
A waiter at the restaurant, Dipu Bishwas, said during lunchtime, people from various areas rush to the restaurant, defying Dhaka's notorious traffic, to savour a vegetarian feast.
Vishnupriya Bhojanalay, now renamed Hare Krishna Restaurant, offers a feast for the senses. Steaming rice takes centre stage, accompanied by an array of 10-12 vegetarian dishes, including pulses, mash, and bhartas. The cost of a complete meal? A mere Tk 100.
From 8am to 11pm, this clean and inviting establishment welcomes all who seek a taste of tradition. It is the oldest among vegetarian eateries in Tantibazar.
Suman Halder, in charge of management there, said the restaurant started its journey in 2000 and after changing hands several times now it is owned by Saraswati Haldar. A staunch follower of Shri Krishna, She renamed the restaurant as Hare Krishna Restaurant and handles its kitchen herself.
“The owners themselves are vegetarians, so they know what ‘vegetarian dishes’ are. And there remain very careful to ensure the quality,” said Suman.
Alongside common vegetarian dishes, the restaurant offers roasted almond curry and a dessert made of sagu.
Anuradha Mohaprashad Bjojanalay
Emerging from the shadows of the Covid-19 pandemic, Anuradha Mahaprashad Bhojanalay offers an enticing array of nearly 50 dishes.
Changing with the seasons, their offerings span bharta, bhaji, dal, curry, and veg biriyani, all priced modestly between Tk 35 and Tk 40.
Adi Govinda Restaurant
Nestled near the Tantibazar Shiva Temple, Adi Govinda Restaurant offers a budget-friendly culinary escapade. For a mere Tk 25, rice and pulses grace your plate, while assorted vegetables complete your meal.
With a promise of quality and taste, Adi Govinda ensures every dish is freshly prepared, reflecting their commitment to excellence and they don’t have any refrigerator to store leftovers for the next day.
For practicing Hindus, the restaurant offers special menu on every Ekadashi, the 11th lunar day, featuring Pushpanna (Polao), Khichuri, Chhanar Rasa, Badam Bhuna, Cauliflower Rasa, Sagudana Bhuna, and Five Curry.
The dishes served on Ekadashi are different from other days as different oil and spices are used. Usually they use soybean oil and common spices on regular day but on Ekadashi they cook with sunflower oil without using onion, garlic and ginger.
Suswadu Bhojanalay's commitment to vegetarianism extends beyond meals; it caters to janmashtami, shraddha, Raksha Bandhan, Bhai Dooj, and other special occasions. The steel plates reveal steaming rice and 12-14 varieties of vegetarian delight.
From raw banana rasa to chickpea dhoka, the flavours dance with diversity. An assortment of chutneys and potato-carrot pies completes this symphony of taste.
A culinary revival: Why vegetarian?
Tantibazar's vegetarian eateries have sparked a culinary renaissance. Amid health-conscious considerations, these restaurants have gained popularity across generations.
Old Dhaka's residents, local businessmen, and students from nearby universities and colleges have embraced these offerings. The allure spreads through word of mouth and social media, attracting curious souls seeking novel experiences.
Anik Rahman Topu came to Jagannath Bhojnalay with friends from nearby Jagannath University to taste the vegetarian dishes. “I’m here with friends to taste something special after seeing it on Facebook. Normal eateries have gourmet cuisine, but here’s the opposite—all vegetarian.
“Food quality is good enough. Most of the dishes I've never had the chance to try before, so it's nice to try something different,” he said.
From the seasoned hands of the chefs to the freshest ingredients, Tantibazar's vegetarian establishments prioritise quality. The ethos of these eateries lies in their meticulous selection of ingredients, crafting dishes that celebrate quality over quantity.
A symphony of tastes
As Sagar Ghosh, an Old Dhaka resident, fondly reminisces, vegetarian restaurants emerged post-2000, becoming a staple for Hindu patrons on vegetarian days. The allure extends beyond traditions, as curious souls like Mahbuba Rahman Munia journey from the other end of Dhaka, driven by the whispers of delectable vegetarian flavours.
The tale of Tantibazar's vegetarian transformation continues to unfold, one plate at a time. It's a testament to the enduring power of tradition, innovation, and the allure of flavours that transcend boundaries.
So, take a culinary pilgrimage to Tantibazar, where tradition meets innovation, and indulge in the rich symphony of vegetarian tastes that define this hidden treasure of Old Dhaka.