Recent events have caused me to take stock of my life’s contents. Family (still mildly insane); cookbook collection (Amazon share prices on the up); Maggi Noodles (Ma will have to replenish stocks); and friends (97% foodaholics).
One such friend has wanted to introduce me to the “best Bangla restaurant in London” for ages. I finally agreed when he promised me it wasn’t on Brick Lane. And so on a particularly dreary Friday, we played hooky and made our way to Whitechapel in east London. We arrived only to discover that every kitchen was closed until namaz ended at 2pm. (This was clearly a much better plan in our heads.)
We spent the hour walking up and down a street of endless money exchanges, bras for £1.50, and sweet shops that wouldn’t serve us. When we finally saw crowds leave the East London Mosque, we began to make our way to Kolapata.
Just outside the mosque, flashing me a very toothy grin, was a tiny man making jhalmuri. Sheikh Bhai is a Bombaywallah who moved to Bangladesh in 1993 after the riots. My half-Bengali friend and I found it unbelievable that an Indian Muslim felt safer in Bangladesh than in his own country! Bangladesh gave Sheikh Bhai a safe home and the perfect jhalmuri recipe. My half-Bengali friend said it was as good as the muri he had on the streets of Calcutta. At £1 for a large cup, this was the best start to our several hours of eating.
Kolapata is where Bangaldeshi film maker Mostofa Sarwar Farooki goes to eat when he visits London. It’s where my friend’s mum said she had the best elish in town. It is also the only restaurant that will get my postcode snob companion to take three trains to a meal. We took all these as positive signs and ordered.
The Bangladeshi Borhani (£1) is far superior to anything from the lassi family I have ever tasted. Shafiq, who was serving us, made me a glass himself, with half milk-half yoghurt, mint, coriander, black salt, cumin, green chillies, and sugar.
Next arrived some unremarkable foscas (£2.95) followed by the rest of the meal. I was most looking forward to Shoirsha Elish (£5.50) – the national fish of Bangladesh. Even though Shafiq told me that the fish had arrived frozen, from his country’s Jamuna river, it tasted fresh, was soft, flaky, and so delicious. The mustard sauce it was prepared in was sweeter than I was expecting. Next time I will remember to ask for it spicy. The Bagun Bhaji (aubergine, £3.50) and Sag Bhaji (spinach, £2.95) are prepared in very little oil and a bare minimum of spices. I could taste the delicate flavours of the actual vegetable instead of packet masalas that usually assault one’s palate in such restaurants.
On our walk back to the train station we made an essential detour to the Moubon sweet shop. The original object of our affection (kheer kodom), was unavailable and we settled for a box of kaalojaam (£1.50 for two juicy pieces).
The incredulous story of a jhalmuri maker, a gentle request by a chef to come back for lamb chops, a drink that rocked my world… and I finally made my peace with Bangladesh.
I let my heart do all the eating. Now to let it guide all my other relationships…