Friday, September 3, 2010

All Bengal Sweets and Restaurant

13438 Bellaire Blvd.


This restaurant has been in operation previously on Cook at High Star and only recently moved to this location. I had never heard of it before and had just gotten a glimpse of the sign passing by one time and went back to try it, not realizing I was going to be able to get anything more than sweets and snacks. The menu, however, includes a few curries, some tandoori and grill items, and three biryanis.

Space is shared with a small (2 aisle) Indo-Pak and Bangladeshi grocery store and Halal meat and fish market but the menu here says it's the 'one and only authentic Bangladeshi cuisine.'

I started with a few snacks, which were all ready-to-eat, a couple of onion pakora, a fish chop, a samosa and a dal puri. The pakora were maybe the best I've had, aromatically and taste-wise very oniony, both crunchy and chewy; it's been my experience that pakora look great but too often are more comparable to limp french fries than good, crisp ones. That's not the case here. The fish chop was interesting, sort of reminiscent of a fish croquette in a high school lunch room. The samosa was almost the equal of my favorite in town, the excellent, huge ones at Savoy on Wilcrest. This was much smaller and not quite as complexly seasoned or piquant but benefiting from some bits of potato and whole peas instead of just a puree inside. The dal puri was like others I have had, no where near as spectacular tasting as it was looking, unfortunately. With these I got a simple jalapeno 'sauce' that didn't appear to be anything more than pureed jalapeno,without much heat.

I got a Pakola with this, a Pakistani Cream soda, at least in name. It tasted nothing like any cream soda I've ever had before, completely lacking in vanilla as far as I could detect. One article online calls it an ice cream soda but the label on the can itself only calls it a cream soda with citric acid and 'cream soda flavours.' It wasn't bad but perhaps something of an acquired taste, kind of like Dr. Brown's Cel Ray Tonic is for some people. It was made with real sugar and is the color of lime jello. They also have a Pakola Lychee soda.

I took a little stroll thru the tiny grocery where every available space was filled with merchandise, there were freezers, a small produce rack with an interesting, baseball bat-sized gourd/squash, bulbous on one end, what I guessed were bitter melon and a few other items. I marveled at the list of fishes I'd never heard of on the list of available fishes on the wall of the small meat and fish department. I picked up a package of spicy Chanachur, the Bangladeshi name for Bombay Mix, and some Black Onion Seeds from the spice selection.

I asked one of the proprietors, who had shadowed me closely, answering my questions, what his best sweet was and he suggested the Chom Chom. I got one of those (on top in the photo) and another one that I thought looked awfully good which is known as Kala Jamun. That's a saucer sized plate, by the way.

These were simply incredible. I'd had Cham Cham before at another sweet shop but it was no where near as good as this one; it had held a hidden pocket of syrup that burst when I bit into it and drizzled down my chin and on to my shirt. Bangladeshi sweets are said to be characteristically 'wet' and these were but not drippingly so like that one. Biting into these or applying pressure caused the syrup to swell to the surface but it was reabsorbed when pressure was released in a nifty and intriguing display of culinary engineering. They were almost overwhelmingly sweet, as sweet as any honey-laced baklava I've ever had. The second example had an exterior layer, a thin crust if you will, providing a little more textural complexity, and a beautiful, rosy red interior which I wish I had taken a picture of. If I understand correctly, the Kala Jamun is produced by deep frying the Chom Chom. Besides these two, the only ones I've tried, the Laddu looks awfully good.

These have become my new favorite sweets from the Subcontinent and I have to practice self-restraint and moderation around them.

There is a variety of syrups and herbs and spices used to flavor these, principally rose water and saffron, I think, but more intriguing to me is what they're made of. I couldn't believe it when I came across a recipe and explanation that they're actually made of cheese! I let a portion of one dry out in the refrigerator for a couple of days and managed to convince myself that I could detect the tiny curds and a cheesy taste (yeah right) but I would never have deduced that without having read it online. I had yet another revelation on another visit when I spied a bowl of the Chom Chom behind the sweets counter, the unfinished product, and they looked just like stubby cheese sticks.

I also went in once to try one of the curries. I had read that Hilsha is the national fish of Bangladesh and also that it's very, very bony. I was also warned of that my the guy taking my order so I decided to try the Rohu Fish Curry which he said had 'some bones.' Actually, this was very bony by my standards. I wasn't very impressed by the dish, the curry wasn't bad but not very interesting; it had more tomato than any curry I've ever had I think, and a nice level of spiciness but the fish itself was the disappointment. Rohu is supposedly a variety of carp and carp is supposed to be an oily fish but the flesh was very dry, not moist and flaky. The curry came with a generous portion of plain white rice which was also presented very dry, not sticky but a little clumpy. I understand Bangladeshis eat with their bare hands so that may be the preferred way to serve it.

On another visit I had some more onion pakora and also the eggplant pakora and tried the Goat Rezala and liked it a lot more than the fish. It was a very pungent curry, actually looking much like the Rohu Fish curry but without anywhere near the amount of tomato and more piquancy. The goat was bone-in, of course, and goat is a pretty bony meat, too, and there wasn't all that much meat, actually. There was also at least one piece of organ meat, which I couldn't identify but certainly was not muscle, and possibly another, a small section of liver, so those who are off-put by offal should avoid this one. The rice on this occasion was also dry, although not as dry as before. I haven't tried any of the roti.

The chai is not bad here. They use disposable plates, cups and utensils for some items, plates, flatware and glasses for others. Unfortunately the chai is served in a disposable foam cup.

Prices and dishes may vary at the restaurant, of course.



Anonymous said...

I think you are supposed to put the curry on the rice and eat it that way. So the rice is meant to be dry, because the curry will count as the liquid.

How much were those onion things? I don't see them on the menu. Also, did you try the meat samosa? Was it any good?

Bruce said...

I don't remember how much the pakora were; as I recall they were listed on the menu board and probably were less than $1 each. I know I didn't spend much there.

No, never tried the meat samosa.

Thanks for the thought on the rice and curry; this site: says Bangladeshi eat with their fingers. I had been told that by the owner of a Malaysian restaurant - you're supposed to pick up clumps of the sticky rice with your fingers. I was trying to be authentic here! Obviously that would have made it a very messy affair (which it would have been anyway if I had tried to eat the curry itself that way, which I didn't). So, yeah, I was confused about what to do. As a matter of caloric intake control, I avoid starches like rice, potatoes, pasta and bread as much as possible. I can be sure of eating less if they're not mixed but a separate dish.

From what I've been told, I'm doing it wrong by avoiding the rice and bread - those starches are central to meals in all of the cuisines of the Subcontinent, not just side dishes. The meats and curries are actually the sides.

Anonymous said...

In Bangladeshi food, there is no such thing as "side dishes". u have rice, which is the main thing and curries which are the dishes, just like pasta and the sauce. And if u really want to taste is right, next time put the curry in ur rice as much u see fit and mix it. that's how ur rice gets moisturized and tasty. And next time, please try the thing called "Chotpoti" ask for the Tamarind sauce to mix in it,its a piece of heaven. Bon appetit!

Anonymous said...

Horrible customer service. The guy at the front was way too rude. Another guy was handling the dessert in a very unhygienic way. The owner seemed really nice showed that he cared about customers but beside him who ever works there needs more training on customer service. It was a very bad experience.

Bruce said...

Please note this is not the place to complain about hygiene or other code violations. Please report them to the appropriate health department.

Shams said...

You should try Haleem next time you go there. Its a mix of meat and different kinds of pulses. Ask them to serve with lemon and coriander leaves as seasoning. Enjoy :)

Bruce said...

Thanks. Menu must have changed, I don't see that listed.

IshitaUnblogged said...

Hopped onto your blog from a ping back to my post on Bengali Cuisine. Thanks for the shout out... and ya, quite an array of food posts you've got. Food nerd, are you? Well, that's caught my attention for sure:)

Bruce said...

You're welcome. Fantastic article. For those who may not have noticed it, the referenced article is under the News/Articles of Interest category on the sidebar.

Incidentally, this post on All Bengal Sweets is the fourth most viewed post of all time on this blog.