Bangladeshi breakfast

May 27, 2011 § 1 Comment

The latest in our series breakfasts of the world ( took us to the Indian subcontinent, specifically to Bangladesh. The country is a strange mix of the familiar and the exotic. Most of the UK’s so-called Indian restaurants are in fact Bangladeshi and there is a substantial Bangladeshi immigrant community in the UK centred around London’s Brick Lane (hence the title of Monica Ali’s novel).

Looking at a map of Bangladesh, the place names are redolent of the history of British colonialism: Dacca/Dhaka, Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar. It is claimed that the beach at Cox’s Bazar, 125km of natural sand, is the longest in the world.

Thinking about Bangladesh, what immediately springs to mind are floods. Looking at satellite images of the country, Bangladesh’s predicament becomes painfully obvious – the country sits astride an enormous river delta at the confluence of the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers. The plus side is that the country benefits from incredibly fertile alluvial soils. All sorts of grains and vegetables can be grown here and small-scale agriculture occupies the majority of the population. This is reflected in the country’s staple cuisine – simple vegetarian meals capable of being cooked over a single gas flame or open fire.

“A typical Bangladeshi breakfast consists of Roti (flat bread), Paratha (kind of thick pancake) with Sabji (mix of overcooked vegetables that is often cold) and Dahl (lentil sauce that also is often cold). A breakfast for two persons sets you back around 30 eurocents.”

So wrote Dutch couple Ivonne and Edwin on their trip to Bangladesh’s capital city, Dhaka, in 2008. You can read the full unvarnished account of their trip to Bangladesh, and their other foreign travels here:

(Thanks Ivonne & Edwin for this – and for helpfully writing in English as well as your native Dutch)

So that made the breakfast menu for recreation at home very simple. My modification was to cook a single type of bread rather than both the Roti and Parathas (aka chapatis). Oh, and I added a little yoghurt to the breakfast table, along with fresh mangoes and the raw palm sugar eaten in the Indian subcontinent known as jaggery. The national fruit of Bangladesh is the jackfruit: I scoured the shops of Manchester’s “curry mile” to find one but in vain – maybe it’s out of season or maybe they’re not favoured by the curry mile community which is predominantly Pakistani and North Indian rather than Bangladeshi. Fortunately, finding chana dal and chapati flour was straighforward enough and added a touch of authenticity to breakfast. These products and more can be found at WH Lung oriental supermarket on Upper Brook Street, Manchester (see contact details below). There’s easy parking a real treasure trove of exotic ingredients from all over Asia, not just China. I used to work round the corner from here and when dealing with a knotty problem would wander the aisles in here to try and solve it.

I already had recipes for chapatis and dal, so it was a simple matter of typing “vegetable sabji recipe” into my search engine to come up with this recipe:

This sabzi recipe (the spellings sabji/sabzi transliterated from the Bengali language seem to be interchangeable) is essentially, a selection of diced vegetables (potato, cabbage, aubergine, peas, beans and so on) boiled in water and milk, flavoured with strong spices like chilli, cumin and aniseed. I’m not going to write out the recipe in full as, in all honesty, I won’t be making it again. It tasted rather less than the sum of its parts and the vegetables were soggy to boot. Ivonne and Edwin were right about this, but at least my sabji had the virtue of being piping hot.

In contrast the dal and chapatis were delicious – I’d happily eat this as a regular breakfast – much tastier and more nutritious than the ubiquitous bowl of industrial refined salty cereal with milk so often found in the West.

My dal and chapati recipes both come from a well thumbed copy of Madhur Jaffrey’s BBC book “Indian Cookery”. I love dal and always order it in Indian restaurants to add a little lubrication to my curry and rice. It’s simplicity itself to make and the addition to the dal at the end of its cooking time of garlic, cumin and cayenne sizzled hot oil really lifts the flavour.

The chapatis are made from just flour and water, but by dint of a little kitchen alchemy, become delicious toasty flatbreads for perfect for scooping up the vegetables and dal. The dough is first formed into balls:

The balls are then rolled into flatbreads and cooked in a hot dry frying pan before being puffed up and ever so slightly charred over a naked gas flame. A little drama over the breakfast table. The photo shows husband Tim’s flambĂ© skills:

Recipe for chapatis

From Madhur Jaffrey’s BBC book “Indian Cookery”. Makes about 15.


9oz (250g) sieved wheatmeal flour (chapati flour) plus extra for dusting
6 fl oz (175ml) water (exact quantity will vary according to your flour and local atmospheric conditions)

Put the flour in a bowl. Slowly add the water, gathering the flour as you do so, to form a soft dough. Knead the dough for 6-8 minutes or until it is smooth. Put the dough in a bowl. Cover with a damp cloth and leave for half an hour.

Set a cast iron frying pan to heat over a medium-low flame for 10 minutes. When it is very hot, turn the heat to low.

Knead the dough again and divide it roughly into 15 parts. It will be fairly sticky so rub your hands with a little flour when handling it.

Take one part of the dough and form it into a ball. Flour your work surface generously and roll the ball in it. Press down on the ball to make a patty. Now roll this patty out, dusting it very frequently with flour, until it is about 14cm in diameter. Pick up this chapati and pat it between your hands to shake off extra flour and then slap it onto the hot frying pan. Let it cook on low heat for about a minute. Its underside should develop white spots. Turn the chapati over using either your fingers or a pair of tongs and cook for about half a minute on the second side. Take the pan off the stove and put the chapati directly on top of the low flame. It should (no, will, ed) puff up in seconds.

Turn the chapati over and let the second side sit on the flame for a few seconds.

Ms Jaffrey suggests piling the cooked chapatis into a napkin lined bowl – I’m afraid we scoffed them as soon as they were cooked.

Recipe for Chana dal – yellow split peas

Another recipe from Madhur Jaffrey’s BBC book “Indian Cookery”. Serves 4-6


8 oz (225g) chana dal – yellow split peas/lentils obtainable from Indian grocers
2 pints (1.15 litres) water
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 thin slices unpeeled ginger root
3/4- 1tsp salt
1/4 tsp garam masala
3 tbsp ghee or vegetable oil
1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1/4-1/2 tsp red chilli powder

Put the dal into a heavy pot along with the water. Bring to a boil and remove any surface scum. Add the turmeric and ginger. Cover, leaving the lid just very slightly ajar, turn the heat to low and simmer gently for 1 and 1/2 hours or until the dal is tender. Stir every 5 minutes or so during the last half hour of cooking to prevent sticking. Add the salt and garam masala to the dal. Stir to mix.

Heat the ghee or oil in a small frying pan over a medium flame. When hot, put in the cumin seeds. A couple of seconds later, put in the garlic. Stir and fry until the garlic pieces are lightly browned. Put the chilli powder into the pan. Immediately, lift the pan off the heat and pour its entire contents, ghee/oil and spices into the pot with the dal. Stir to mix.

Contact details

WH Lung
81-97 Upper Brook Street
Manchester M13 9TX
0161 274 3177

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