Biriyani at Taka 20!

Ahmed Shatil Alam has Biriyani for dinner at a street side shop in Naya Bazar and finds out why this food is so popular

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It was like any street-side food shop. On a Thursday night, shop owner Badal Mia sat by the footpath adjacent to Nayabazaar Kitchen market in Dhaka while all his customers ate the food with satisfaction.

Some customers asked Badal for second servings. The customers were having Biriyan while waiving off the cold weather. As a wave of customers left, Badal began to shout, ‘Biriyani Khan, 20 Taka Plate (Have each plate of Biriyani for Taka 20!).’ Within a few minutes, the shop was again brimming with customers.

Most of us may be surprised by the price of the Biriyani being Tk 20 per plate. Even a half plate Biriyani at some shops in Dhaka is currently Tk 70.

So how is Badal selling the food at this price? This New Age Xtra correspondent asked for a plate of Biriyani. After the first few helpings, I realised that this is simply rice that is prepared with leftover chicken bones and other wastes, discarded from wedding ceremonies and other similar dinner or lunch gatherings.

And Badal’s customers are aware of this fact. Still they are having the Biriyani that is being served to them.

A customer named Jony was enjoying his second plate. He says, ‘I am aware that these are prepared from leftover food. It is the hunger that brought me here…a like everyone else here, I love Biriyani. But I cannot afford it.’

He shares that he frequents the shop every week. ‘Badal does not sell rotten food though,’ claims Jony.

When New Age Xtra wanted to take a photo of Jony having the food, he declined politely while explaining, ‘My family will be hurt if they see my photo in the newspaper, where I am having leftover food from street side shops.’

The shop owner Badal provides a fresh chicken piece from another pot. ‘I have been doing this business for years. Earlier, around 10 to 12 years back, I used to sell per plate of such Biriyani at only Taka 2. But now it has also become expensive to acquire the leftover items,’ he says.

He informs that these items are usually collected from the Dhaka-based community centers and these are leftover food items from many social gatherings like weddings, birthdays etc. He also informs that he has to buy the leftover items from the community center employees.

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Most of my customers are the marginalised people of society, says Badal, who is currently a 60-year-old businessman. He had lost both his legs in an accident many years back, and since then, has been engaged in this business to sustain his family.

‘These poor people are not allowed at the luxury hotels or restaurants. But they have a desire to taste delicious food like Biriyani,’ he says. Badal hails from Nawabganj upazila in Dhaka. He sits at this spot on just Thursday and Friday of every week from evening till the next morning.

He shares that there are similar shops in the city’s Karwan Bazar, Eskaton and Mirpur areas. ‘Inspired by me, many others also sit with similar leftover food items in Naya Bazar area,’ says Badal.

He also informs that he often receives customers from middle class and lower middle class backgrounds. ‘Sometimes, I manage to get chicken and beef pieces, if they are either unused or undercooked. These items are bought by the people from middle class segment,’ he says. These items were being sold separately from the Biriyani. ‘Customers buy entire bowls of these meat at negotiated prices,’ says Badal.

Sitting in the shop was Jahangir Alam, a small businessman from Chawkbazaar. Alam says that he often comes to Badal’s shop to buy meat as he can buy the cooked meat at minimum price. ‘In Dhaka, everyday thousands of hotels and restaurants dump leftover food. If these foods are provided to the poor people, then maybe the poor can enjoy three meals a day,’ says Alam.