BANGLADESH: Chicken biryani and aam panna

I was down in Toronto for a work event, and got some time to poke around Toronto’s Bangladeshi neighbourhood out on the east end of Danforth. There’s a whole lot of Bangladeshi and Bengali restaurants there to choose from. I first went to Dhaka Kebab, a spot with a huge selection of Bengali food, including takeaway desserts.

I ordered the chicken biryani – a massively popular dish in Bangladesh. Recipes look incredibly complex, so I figured it’d take the easy way and get a dish made by the experts. Biryani is usually layered, and so was mine, with spiced rice on top, and a hard-boiled egg and two pieces of chicken underneath. The chicken was fantastically tender, and the rice was moderately spicy with all kinds of beautiful flavours – I could taste the warmth from the garam masala, especially the cardamom. It was also a huge plate, had to take extra home with me!

I followed that by heading down the street to Star Plus Kabab House – I was hoping to try their jolpai juice, but unfortunately they were out. Jolpai is an olive-like fruit grown in South Asia, and it’s supposed to be nice and tart – it’s also used for pickles and chutneys.

Instead, I got a different drink – aam panna (also called amm pora sharbat). It’s green unripe mango, blended with ice, mint, cumin, black pepper, and hot chillies. It’s a summer drink, meant to cool you down and give you back nutrients lost in the sweltering heat. While it wasn’t that hot a day in Toronto, it was very cool and refreshing, sour and sweet, with just a little bit of spice.


There’s a nice little Bangladeshi grocery in Ottawa, MF Foodmart, that’s right next door to a great Salvadoran restaurant that I tried when covering El Salvador. At this rate, I’ll be working my way through every grocery and restaurant in town!

Kishwan Litchi Drink – A non-carbonated lychee drink. Given how sweet a lot of South Asian snacks and desserts can be, I was actually expecting this to be super sugary, but it’s not. It’s just the right level of sweetness, and tastes very much like lychee juice, though there’s a slightly artificial aftertaste.

Top Orange Biscuit – A light digestive cookie with a really lovely orange flavour, kind of like fresh orange juice. A bit crisp and crumbly, with a similar texture to arrowroot cookies. I really like these.

Frutta Mango Drink – It’s a mango drink, not a juice, but it’s thick like mango nectar. Sweet and with a really nice natural mango flavour.

Banoful Hot Chanachur – Chanachur is a savoury snack mix, usually sold as “Bombay Mix” in North America. The ingredients vary, but it’s usually nuts, roasted legumes and rice, dry cracker and noodles, and spices. There’s a lot of it in each bag, so you really get your money’s worth, and this brand has got good heat and lots of flavour from the spices – there’s lots of cumin, coriander, black pepper, and more.

Kishwan Twist Potato Snacks – These are spicy tomato flavour, though you can only taste a little bit of tomato. There’s a pleasant bit of heat – they won’t melt your face off but there is some genuine spice to them. A lot of time “spicy” chips don’t even have that! They also have a really satisfying light texture and aren’t greasy – kind of halfway between Israeli Bissli and Thai tapioca chips.


Shemai (or lachcha semai) is a Bengali dessert of vermicelli in warm milk with spices, topped with fruits, nuts, or other treats. It’s popular during Eid, and there’s a lot of flexibility on preparation and toppings. I got a packet of imported shemai vermicelli from Bangladesh – they’re supposed to be divided into nice little nests, but these were well pulverized in the bag by the time they got to Canada. Doesn’t affect the taste, though!

The package gives instructions to cover with warm sweetened milk and served topped with nuts or fruit. Other recipes online are a bit more elaborate – I went for a middle ground and warmed the milk with spices in it as well – bay leaves, cardamom pods, cinnamon, and cloves (same spice mix as dudh cha). I didn’t bring the milk to a full boil however, just a gentle scald.

I was out of almonds, my favourite nut for desserts, but I topped my bowl with some fresh apricot slices and a dash of rosewater. The semai soaked up the hot milk really quickly, and had a nice soft texture. The spices infused well into the milk, and really worked with the fruit. It made a lovely quick breakfast, and you could get really creative or fancy if you wanted with your toppings and spices.

BANGLADESH: Borhani and chotpoti

I was in Montreal this past weekend, and poked around the Bangladeshi neighbourhood in Park Ex – there’s a whole bunch of Bengali grocers and halal restaurants. I got a snack to go from Appayon, a nice little restaurant specializing in Bangladesh cuisine (and big screen cricket tests – England beat the Kiwis).

It was mid-afternoon and I wasn’t hungry for a full meal, so I got a little appetizer of chotpoti. It’s in the same food family as papdi chaat: street food that’s a big mix of chickpeas and other legumes, spices, onions, and crunchy puri pieces. However, chotpoti is served hot, and instead of yogurt, is topped with hard-boiled egg (which is pretty common in Bengali cuisine). This was flavourful and spicy, with lots of coriander and cumin and black pepper as well as a good dose of chilies, and a little bit of tartness, I think from tamarind.

I washed it down with something equally spiced – borhani. Borhani is a savoury lassi, made with yogurt, green chilies, mustard seed, more coriander and black pepper, salt, and mint. There’s a little bit of sweetness naturally in the yogurt and from the mint, and it balances out the peppery punch to make it very sippable.

This month so far is really showing me how much we under-use coriander seed and black pepper in Western cooking – they can really add serious flavour if you’re willing to use a heavier hand.

BANGLADESH: Chittagong Chicken

I was hoping for some good spicy recipes this month, and I’ve already got my wish. I’m trying Chittagong chicken, a hot curry with great spice mixes and a liberal use of mustard oil. I’m using this recipe by Antara Navin on Better Butter.

In North America, mustard oil is sold “for external use only”, though it’s demurely placed alongside the other cooking oils in South Asian groceries. Canada and the US have banned it for cooking because of high erucic acid content – a fat that may cause heart issues if consumed over a long time (though the science is still out on that). It’s also found in rapeseed oil, which is why we engineered canola in Canada. I figure people aren’t keeling over from mustard oil in other parts of the world, and using it once in a while can’t hurt – plus, I already survived cyanide apricot kernels (albeit with some hysterics on my part).

I did have to make one change in the recipe for health reasons, though – I’m allergic to cashews, so I swapped in peanuts instead. They worked just as well for soaking and thickening.

Most of the time spent on this recipe was spice preparation. I could have just used pre-ground spices, but I wanted to really get the good authentic roasted flavour from the chilies and coriander seeds. I also ground my own Bengali garam masala. Unlike the multi-ingredient Punjabi garam masala we normally get in Canada, it’s only three spices: cloves, cinnamon, and cardamom (and sometimes bay leaves, as in this recipe).

This chicken turned out fantastic – the mustard oil gave it a wonderful pungent sharp kick that went well with the heat from the chilies and the complex spice mixes. Coriander seeds usually fall to the background in a lot of recipes, but here it added a fresh, almost citrusy flavour. Marinating the chicken makes it incredibly tender, and it goes great with basmati rice. I doubled up the recipe, so I’ve happily got enough for several days.

BANGLADESH: Masala dudh cha

Spiced milk tea is a staple across the Indian subcontinent – it goes by many names but a common Bengali one is masala dudh cha – “dudh” is Bengali for milk. I found a big bag of Mirzapore black tea from Bangladesh (it’s one of the largest tea producers in the world) – it’s fannings – small pieces, nearly ground up in terms of texture.

I normally take my tea black, so this is a little bit more complicated than filling a mug from the kettle, but it’s still easy. I used this recipe from Bangladeshi Food Recipe – it’s a really lovely spice mix of cardamom, ginger, black pepper, cinnamon, bay leaf, and cloves. It calls for cow milk (as opposed to water buffalo milk – hard to get in Ottawa anyways), and I used about half the sugar.

It turned out quite tasty – I was afraid boiling the tea that long would make it tannic, but there’s no bitterness, just a blend of milk tea and gentle spices in the background. A nice way to start the day!

Of course, while the preparation is different, this drink is basically the same as what we call “chai” or “chai tea” in North America. However, chai/cha is just the word for tea itself in South Asian languages – so there’s always someone who will be pedantic and point out that “chai tea” means “tea tea”. I’d argue that cultural context makes a difference, since if you order a chai here in Canada, you’ll get something very different than ordering a cup of tea.

Almost every language today calls tea some variation of either “tea” or “cha” – there’s a lot of history behind the two words and why each language uses it:

UKRAINE: Snacks galore!

Thought I had enough Ukrainian snacks? Nope, got another haul – this time from Kalinka in Calgary (where I also got some great pierogies, chebureki, and cabbage rolls). The first three sets of Ukrainian snacks are here: 1, 2, 3.

Brunch Cheddar Sandwich – A pack of three long multigrain rusks with a cheese filling. This cheddar one tastes simliar to Cheeze-Its but with a sharper, more aged cheese flavour. The rusk itself is both crispy and flaky soft. They also come in other cheese flavours, including parmesan.

Delicia Yin-Yang cookies – These are really beautiful cookies, I can’t believe they look exactly as shown on the package. They’re crisp little cookies with two fillings, one side coconut, and the other Baileys cream liqueur. I thought they were going to be chocolate and vanilla, but the two flavours really work together. They’re quite nice!

Jaco Smile Zefir with orange filling – This somewhere between a meringue and a marshmallow, with a sweet orange filling that tasted a lot like those Kilm Fruit Land gummies. There’s two marshmallows stuck together, and it’s fun, but a serious sugar bomb – makes my teeth sing.

Polus Big Bar caramel – A thick multi-multi-layer wafer cookie with caramel inside and a chocolate coating. A whole lot of crumbs and extremely messy, but really tasty. Sweet but not overpowering, good quality caramel, and they make a lot of other flavours, including condensed milk and coconut. It would be fun to do a taste comparison with the Tiki Gold wafer bars from Trinidad.

UKRAINE: Chebureki, sour cherry pyrizhky, and even more varenyky

I’m in Calgary right now, and with the huge Ukrainian population in Alberta, there’s a lot of good food options here. I went to get some meals to go at Kalinka, an Ukrainian deli and market just off Macleod Trail. I’ve had their chicken cutlets before (they do delivery) and they were really good, so I was looking to see what else was availble. Of course, they make it very clear that they are truly an Ukrainian deli.

For quick lunch snack on the go, I was feeling something sweet from their bakery section. I had tried a savoury pyrizhky earlier back in Ottawa, but here they had ones with sweet fillings too. There were several fruit options, including apple and poppyseed, but I went for sour cherry. It had a nice tart filling inside very thick eggy bread that reminded me of challah. I washed it down with some “Our Juice” cherry and blackcurrant juice from Ukraine.

For dinner with my dad, I picked up more cabbage rolls and beef chebureki. Chebureki are considered a national dish for Crimean Tartars, and I’m adding unofficial tally of “bureks” I’ve tried from different former Ottoman territories: Algerian boreks, Israeli bourekas, and Albanian byreks – all different, but all based on the same idea of pastries with meat fillings.

We reheated them in the oven with the cabbage rolls. The chebureki were really nice, flaky pastry with ground beef and onion inside, and went really well with sour cream and the cabbage rolls’ tomato sauce. My dad loves cabbage rolls, and these impressed him so much that he wrote down Kalinka’s address so he can get more.

Kalinka also had huge handmade varenyky / pierogi selection – they had all kinds of regional variations, Kyivan (beef and pork with garlic), Crimean (beef, pork, and chicken, with Georgian khmeli suneli spice mix), and Canadian (potato with cheddar and bacon).

I went for the Crimean, since that’s totally new to me. The spice mix sounds really interesting, with basil, fenugreek, coriander, mint, savoury, and marigold. I also got a tub of homemade sour cream to go with them (and the cabbage rolls).

I boiled some for breakfast and had them with sour cream and some cooked zucchini. They’re really lovely, I can taste the chicken, and there’s a nice hint of mint and savoury that really works. The homemade sour cream was fantastic, with a sharp tang like kefir.

UKRAINE: Wine and kvass

I have a LOT of questions about the only brand of Ukrainian wine available at the LCBO. First of all, sparkling white is a natural, but sparkling red? Second, KrimSekt’s website says it’s really popular in Germany, but the website is hosted in Canada, out of date, talks about how the wine is grown in Crimea – which Ukraine lost control over most of its historic vineyards in 2014. The two wines are dated after that, but are labelled “Product of Ukraine” – so likely the grapes were grown in a different part of Ukraine. The back of the label says the company is based in Bakhmut, which is just on the Ukrainian border of occupied Donbas and has been near the frontlines since then.

These wines may not even be sold under this brand anymore – owner Artwinery now lists on its own website just “Krim” under a different labelling. When I grabbed these two bottles, they were some of the last ones in the store. The LCBO is now totally out of them, so I may have the last few bottles that are going to make it to Canada anytime soon, especially since the region is facing terrible shelling and fighting – but they’re still active and working to re-open their stores in other parts of Ukraine.

As for the wine itself?

KrimSekt Red 2019 – Smell and first sip is kind of like kosher grape juice, but then there’s a nice bubble, some good acidity, and the vaguest hint of tannin in the end. I’d say this is more of a sweet wine than a semi-sweet, but I really vibe with the idea of a sparkling red.

KrimSekt White 2015 – Aged white wine is an odd though to me, but it seems 7 years isn’t unthinkable. Again, this really should be a sweet wine rather than semi-sweet. It’s very sweet, but again a bit of acidity at the end.

And while I’ve tried both Ukrainian wine and vodka, here’s a non-alc option: kvass!

Poltavskiy kvassKvass is a fermented malt drink that’s popular in Slavic and Baltic countries. It can be anything from pretty light to quite dark – this one from the Poltava brewery in Ukraine is on the dark end. It’s got a roasted, slightly smokey dark flavour with nice carbonation and a bit of sweetness, kind of like a non-alc porter, but with the really clear malt drink flavour. I really like this.

UKRAINE: Even more snacks

Part 3 of my big box o’ Ukrainian snacks! Part 1 and 2 are here.

Roshen Lovita strawberry jelly cookies – They’re both made by Roshen, but Lovita and Karolina seem to be similar cookies but with different brands. While Karolina was identical to a Jaffa Cake, Lovita has a milder-flavoured strawberry filling under chocolate. Still quite good, but doesn’t have the tang from the orange ones.

Roshen For Coffee Baked Milk cookies – These are flavoured with “baked milk” – made traditionally by leaving milk in the warm oven overnight until it got creamy and caramel-y. They’re similar but softer than the 33 Cows cookies, with a slightly creamy flavour. These are really nice.

Roshen Brut Chocolate 80% – Just good plain extra dark chocolate. Nothing else, no fuss, no muss.

Roshen Joizy – Chewy candies, like a firmer Hi-Chew. Orange, strawberry, and cherry (in purple). I really love the texture of these. There’s supposed to be a juice filling, but they’re really just a nice chew.

Roshen Barbaris – Small hard candies that are flavoured with barberry – a small red berry that is very tart and citrusy and found across Europe and Asia. They fill the same culinary niche that cranberries do in North America. This candy isn’t tart in any way, just a plain sweet red-flavoured hard candy.