Cafe Dhaka in Santa Clara?
- Melanie Wong Jul 22, 2006 07:47 AM
Last night I stumbled upon Cafe Dhaka in Santa Clara and was trying to decide between ordering shorshay elish (hilsha fish cooked with mustard onions and cilantro) or muri ghonto (grass carp head cooked with moong dal, fresh ginger, garlic and onions). However, an incoming phone call changed my plans for the evening and I ended up somewhere else.
What should I have ordered at this Bangladeshi specialist?
David Boyk's hunt for Bengali -
>What should I have ordered at this Bangladeshi specialist?
Well the "shorsay ilish" and rosogollas are the two signature
Bengali items (neither of which I like and take a lot of flack
for from (other) Bengalis).
I think it is worth trying any of the "maacher jhol" [maach =
fish, jhol = sort of a sauce/gravy] simply because it is so
different from the sauce in the standard indian restaurant
fare [the really thick stuff in the vindaloos, chiken tikka
masala etc]. I'd be really surprised if people here liked the
muri ghonto [sort of a stew made from fish heads and rice]
but again, it may be something to try.
I also wonder if anybody will expect to eat some these really
boney fish dishes without using their fingers.
For the typical American palate, I think something like some
luchis [an indian puffed bread I like much more than the
unbiqutous "nann"] with the alooer dum should be a good option.
I think my mum wasn't super thrilled with Cafe Dhaka,
but she might have had unreasonable expectations when it comes
to stuff she can make ... she must not have hated it since
she offered to let me take her there next time I was visiting.
Somewhat interestingly, the Bengali text on the web site
is pretty different from the english [no mention of the Thai
specials]. The teaser dishes they mention there are the Luchis
[not really a dinner food], the Biriyani, the shorsay ilish, the
pabda fish in jhol, the muri ghonto and some kind of fried item
[it says something like "fried silver dollars" but i am not sure
what exactly is being fried ... potato? bitter mellon?]. Oh they
also mention the mughlai parata [a fancy naan] and the phutcka
[better known in these parts as "pani puri"].
I think they probably could do a lot of simple comfort foods
well that bengalis would be used to as a part of a complete
meal that are not a real option at other restaurants ...
like a vegetable starter called a "shukto" or jhinga with
shorsa tel [ridge gourd with mustard oil ... analogous to asking
for the "greens du jour" at a chinese place] and you
could get the traditional side of "bhaja" [deep fried vegetable
generally] along with the easy to find daal [like the begun
baja on the menu ... sort of an eggplant tempura.]
I think at some point they may have to decide whether to
focus on dishes that will be popular here or go for the
niche approach, in which case they might have to be willing
to whip up simple dishes Bengalis would be looking for.
Oh here is an interesting observation about their menu:
they dont seem to have any "fruit chutneys" that would be
the closest things to a dessert course of a bengali meal
[this is different of the chutney-as-a-condiment you see
commonly] ... instead they just list the originally bengali
but now fairly ubiquitous milk-based sweets, which are more
snack fare than dessert items, except special occasions.
For the true authentic experience, you have to go with ~8
people and see if they give you 1-2 menus for the table :-)
Wow. Thanks so much for your answer. I'd be willing to organize a chowdown here if you would consider attending and guiding a group of Chowhounds throught the meal.
My email address is on my 'MyChow" page just after my top five restaurants. Let me know off-line since I don't want to put you on the spot on the board and Chowdowns are handled off-line anyway by one person organizing the event. Hope you will consider attending and helping us understand more about this type of food.
At anyrate, thanks again for the post. If I have to get there myself I may ask them for the menu in Bengali just to see what happens. Your informative post gives me some ideas on how to work with the restaurant if dining alone there.
Splendid, splendid, thanks so much! I was trying to find Side Dish Corner, which is in the same strip mall. It's a great stretch on El Camino. And around the corner on the side street next to the gun shop, a chaat place will be opening soon in the Indian grocer.
Fish cooked on the bone is right up my alley. I've had one Bengali fish curry before elsewhere at a chow dinner, though my Bengali friend said it wasn't quite sharp enough. I loved it so am very much looking forward to trying other versions that are closer to home style.
Dhaka has a refrigerator case by the entrance full of sweets.
re: Melanie Wong
A reply emailed to me by a shy 'hound -
"Yes, there are certainly some dishes that are traditioally hot ...
I personally think hotness
feels different in different foods ... like there is dry red chilli
hot, which I have a very high tolerance for [like the chinese hot oil
stuff], but there is also a whole green chilli one [like a dal or veg
curry cooked with green chillis] that feels quite different and i dont
like as much ... it feels a little more nasal than just on your
tongue. Also there are very rich "jhols" [like the fish sauce] which
are more rich than hot [ground spices, oil, pureed giner, onion etc]...
those can be pretty intense. Finally, Bengalis do a lot of cooking with
mustard oil as well as a more coarse form of mustard called "kashundi"
[more like a stone ground mustard paste] ... I guess that's another form
of hotness. English uses one word, hot, for picante and caliente, while
the "chilli cultures" seem to always have two different words ... english
also seems to lack a word for the mustard/wasabi "sinus kick" ... in bengali,
that sense is called "jhanj" ... so that's yet another dimension where
you have to control "intensity". "
It's cool to see people enthused about "my people's" food.
Er, timing not so good for me to be your "culinary sherpa" ...
I'm also not actually that knowledgeable about Bengali cooking.
Last time I was clearing customs at SFO, this inspector started
yelling "jeera! jeera! you have any jeera?" from about 20 feet
away ... it took me a couple of seconds to realize she was
talking to me and was using the "indian" word for cumin seeds.
I was so surprised, I almost blurted out "nah, you'ld have to
catch my mother for that stuff"
Maybe Ms. Pomfret will step up to the challenge?
[BTW, I see what you mean about the silver fish bhaja ...
I got caught up thhinking about silver dollar pancakes
and was envisioning small, disk-shaped things]
BTW, the wikipedia entry on the "canonical progression"
of a Bengali meal is pretty good:
There is a scene in a famous Bengali detective movie where
the detective figures out somebody is lying about being Bengali
because he eats certain dishes in the wrong order.
Some of the fish dishes we talked about are "worth trying"
but I dont think would be big hits here. I do think some dishes
like Alur Dum [potato curry], Deemer Dalna [Egg curry], the
various tempuraish fritters [many variations of fried potatos,
battered eggplant, pumpkin slices battered and fried, squash
blossoms also given similar treatment] would be quite popular
and would do a volume business. These are also easy to do,
and I wish *somebody* would add them to their menu.
Some other unique tastes which are quite different from the]
usual indian restaurant offereings would be:
--a posto [poppyseed] curry ... say with potato or better yet,
jhinga [ridge gourd ... the loofa vegetable
-one of the lau curries [lau = bottle gourd. This is really
good ... there is even a folk song about this vegetable!
Although the usual samples here arent as sweet as in India.
one standard curry prep is with shrimp.]
--the vegetable called "kochu" ... taro? Also makes good
curries.[there are a few different kinds of kotchu and i
dont know what they are all called in english.]
--There are some good dishes also made from plantains, but
again the plantains here seem to be starchier than sweet.
--Kitchori [kedgree?] ... Bengali rainy day comfort food.
--Begun Pora [burnt eggplant ... roast eggplant in a fire ...
or stove top if you have to ... take the stwed meat off the
eggplan and combine with onion bits, mustard oil, green chilli
--fried fish roe [pretty strong, slightly bitter flavor]
--alu+paij koli curry ... i think piaj koli would be "onion
--dal with dried sour mango strips
There are lots of other interesting vegetables not commonly
used in "western" cooking which might be interesting to try
but I dont think would be consistently popular ... potol
[pointed_gourd], unripe jackfruit, mocha [banana blossom],
thor ["heart of banana stem"].
Anyway, there are some ideas if you want to negotiate about
"real" bong dishes. N.B. that's not really a complete menu
in the sense that a lot of those dont belong in the same meal.
And remember, if you want to see the menu, ask for the
"me-noo card" rather than the "men-you".
Thanks so much. This REALLY helps as a meal guide. It was so thoughtful of you to take the time. Looking forward to stopping by sometime.
Maybe I'll ask for some of those dishes not on the menu and see if they will make them ... at the very least it might make them think I know something about Bengali food.
Mmmm ... poppyseed curry. "My people", Polish, are really into poppyseeds.
Looking at the menu it seems they have doi.
That's funny, something I never knew existed I see twice in one week. Hot posts was showing the Toronto Star article about Jim Leff's tour of that city, and the reporter focused on doi.
Don't know why, but I was reading it quickly and associated in my mind with another culture. Here's the article if anyone's interested. I just went back to check to see if that was the same thing I read about earlier and the canada link doesn't work. If this one doesn't work, googling "leff and Toronto" will get you to the Toronto Star.
More about doi.
So, like when is doi usually eaten in the meal? If what Jim says is true and it clues the restaurant that you might be really interested in that cuisine, if it is an end of meal thing, that ain't going to help. I guess if it is at the end, I could just inquire up front ... "I'm thinking of getting the doi later, do you have it today?" ...
The wiki article mentions doi, but only as a fish dish with that name Doi machh. So do you eat this by itself or as part of some other dish? BTW, that seems like a useful link. Thanks.
You know, even on Chowhound sometimes I feel like a food geek. Last year seemed all the food I was interested in began with the letter "P" ... Portuguese, Peruvian, Polish ... 2006 seems to be foods with the letter "B" Brazilian, Bangladeshi ...
Mishti Doi (Sweet yoghurt literally) is eaten at the end of the meal (after the chutney and along with the sweets like sondesh and roshogolla or pantua etc). The Doi Machh is a way of cooking fish with yoghurt (the plain regular kind).
One thing you might want to be aware of is that there is a subtle / not-so-subtle difference between Bangladeshi food and food from West Bengal. Especially the typical veggie dishes - Bangladeshi food would be more Muslim influenced and uses onion/garlic while the West Bengal cuisine is more Hindu influenced and would traditionally not use onion / garlic in vegetarian food for sure as onion/garlic are considered to be non-vegetarian. All of this has obviously evolved over time and you cannot really make absolute statements about a cuisine that is still almost entirely home-cooking oriented. It is only recently that Bengali restaurants have opened up in Calcutta (Kolkata) and become popular so there is no platonic ideal of what Bengali food ought to be like except from our memories of Mom's/Grandmom's cooking.
To keep it more relevant to the Bay area board - the Cafe Dhaka menu appears to have the more typically Bengali food under the Fish courses and the Vegetarian courses. I'd definitely try the Dalpuri, Shorshe ilish, Mocha, Chana Dal (ask for jhuri alubhaja to go with it if they have it - literally string fried potatoes) and the Doi to finish up with.
Here is a review of Cafe Dhaka on the Another Subcontinent Forums - the reviewer seems unimpressed:
Thanks so much for the info about doi.
Although the person was unenthusiastic about the place they also said they didn't know anything about Bangladeshi food ... and it seems they ordered just the straight Indian dishes.
That might or might not be a good indicator of how good the place is. I'm still interested since I've never tried that cuisine and it will start to build up a benchmark if I try the food elsewhere ... I'll bet I start stumbling across every Bangladeshi food source, if there are others, in the Bay area now.
This is one of those times I wish I did work at an office. Those software engineers from India were good sources of food tips.
Thanks for finding this! I'll have to go there before I leave for India in a month (I'll be living in Lucknow, but taking periodic trips to West Bengal).
Recommend to try the Mutton rejala. My wife ordered some fish curry and she liked it. The second day I ordered Kacchi Biryani. It was pretty good. I think they only serve the kacchi biryani from Thursday through Sunady since this is a special kind. They also serve other biryanis as well. Please check their menu at www.cafedhaka.com for other items.
>I'll bet I start stumbling across every Bangladeshi food source,
>if there are others, in the Bay area now.
Of Migrations and Menus ...
You know it's sort of interesting how migration patterns put a
stamp on menus and perceptions. I'm not super-knowledgeable
about this but consider, for example, how in the Yeah Area
"canontese culture" looms disproportionately larger than it
does in back in the Hanland.
Indian-influenced menus have definitely evolved differently in
say Singapore, London and California. Part of this is clearly
local adaptation ... to local taste [chiken tikka malasa], avail
ingredients [celary as a filler] etc. But I think the divergenge
is also seeded in what you might call a "founder effect".
In East Londonistan, we have:
In Brick Lane, Bengali staples such as jack fruit, betel nut and paan
leaves and frozen fish caught in Sylhet's Surma river are for sale.
Sylhet is now one of the richest towns in the country with the area's
economy largely built on British curry ...
More than eight out of 10 Indian restaurants in the UK are owned by
Bangladeshis, the vast majority of whom - 95% - come from Sylhet. In
1946, there were 20 restaurants or small cafes owned by Bengalis; in
1960 there were 300; and by 1980, more than 3,000. Now, according to
the Curry Club of Great Britain, there are 8,500 Indian restaurants,
of which roughly 7,200 are Bengali. An awful lot of chicken tikka
masala, apparently now Britain's national dish, has its origins here.
][Sylhet is a northern part of Bangladesh, just "under" Assam]
But for Bay Area Bengalis, you can almost say: First came the
Civil Engineers, then the Mech Engineers, then the EEs, and
now we're up to the software crew ... none experts in the
Art of the Rosogolla.
Of course this doesnt explain why there are dosa places all over the
East Bay and the South Bay but not in SF [Dosa is the Mission is a
different kind of enterprise; I think it is better characterized as
a "higher end" place than a dosa joint. And Kennedy's is simply an
>there is a subtle / not-so-subtle difference between Bangladeshi
>food and food from West Bengal
I guess if you have two Bengalis in a discussion, the Bangal/Ghoti
(East/West) thing coming up is inevetiable :-)
Ok nuff pontificating.
Cafe Dhaka is good to have in the absence of any Bengali restaurants around. Charulata closed down soon after it opened. However,I must say Cafe Dhaka need to improve the quality of their preparation. When you go to eat out, you expect professional quality. The other day my son ordered luchi. What we mean by luchi is somthing puffy. What was served looked like the outcome of a training session between a teen ager and her mother. Three of them were in pathetic non-puffed condition and only one of the four succeeded in acquiring some puff. If I were the owners I would throw those away and prepare fresh ones that looked like luchi that can be served to a guest. The charge was however no less.
Charulata however had its quality initially. Unfortunateky it closed down.
High time we have some Bengali restaurant in Bay Area of the quality of "Quality Inn" of Kolkata.
re: Melanie Wong
No I do not try to give cooking tips to the owners of any restaurant. As a matter of fact we went back last Friday. We are frequent visitors as that is the only Bengali restaurant. The moghlai porotha was great, though different from what we get at Kolkata. The chicken singara and the luchi were again not in shape. I will try again and see if next time I get a "phulko luchi". The mishti doi is probably the best item I like there. Initially the pink color they add showed up as spots of color. But now they have a professional quality on Mishti Doi.
Needs special mention that their hospitality is great.
re: Melanie Wong
I know this is an old thread but I figured I would post my review anyways.
1st time visiting Cafe Dhaka and it definitely won't be the last. I'm putting this on my regular rotation of cravings that I need to satisfy.
I went with a party of 4 and were greeted very warmly and seated right away. They brought a pitcher of water that had plastic wrap on the top and the menus. The gentleman helping us was fantastic! I cannot say enough about him. We told him we were interested in Bangladeshi cuisine and he went through the ENTIRE menu and told us about each plate and how it was different than some Indian dish we might have had. He asked us about our tastes, how spicy we liked to eat and how hungry we were and made recommendations. He was wearing latex gloves and cleared our plates after the appetizer and brought new plates and silverware for the mains so that we could get the true flavors of the dish.
We basically got what he suggested and already have a menu set up for next time.
Moghlai Paratha- stuffed with minced beef, egg, chopped onions and green peppers.
This was the standout dish for us. It was a bread-like crust stuffed with the ingredients above. It was golden and crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. The flavors were great and it was even better with the mint chutney. I would come back for this alone.
Sheek Kabab- thin slice of beef marinated herbs & spices, barbecued over clay oven.
This was different than any other sheek kabab I've had since it's sliced beef. It was served on a hot plate with onions that tasted even better when they were cooked through.
Rejala- mutton cooked with spices, ginger, garlic and poppy seed in a thick gravy.
This was surprisingly good. I was with some folks who don't generally eat goat because it's too gamey or "goaty" if you think that's a word. But this dish was good. The goat was not dry or fatty, the flavors didn't overwhelm the dish and the gravy was really good.
Kacchi Biryani- basmati rice prepared with marinated mutton with yogurt, ginger, garlic, onion, spices, chiles, fried onions.
We kept with the mutton theme and got this but it wasn't what I expected. I almost thought it was going to be more like creamy rice since it had yogurt but the rice was dry with big pieces of mutton. The flavors were good and the mutton again was good, not overcooked but it had some bones and some fatty pieces.
The gentlemen asked if we wanted dessert and offered to give us half orders so that we could try more things. We took him up on the offer and were glad we did. These were some of the best desserts. I think they were less sweet than usual Indian desserts.
Roshmalai- special process, snow white little balls made from milk and cooked in a cream sauce.
This was drier than expected with an almost airy flavor. Just ok.
Chomchom- made from pasteurised milk, butter, milk and cream and cooked in sugar syrup.
I believe this is most like gulab jamon but not as sweet or syrupy.
Doi- made from milk, sugar and yogurt.
This was the best by far. It was a sweet and tangy yogurt that was just good. We scraped every bit of this out of the plate.
Complimentary chai was good too.
All in all we had a great dinner and were thrilled with the service. The gentlemen sent us off with a menu where he circled what we got and what we should try for next time.
Will definitely go back.
re: Melanie Wong
I love the idea of sampling regional cuisines from different countries.
After reading all the positive mentions above, we ventured from the city to Cafe Dhaka, a few hours ago.
We were handed some empty glasses and a jug of water, almost instantly.
We sat there for the next 15 minutes, whilst the waiter chatted with other customers, whom he evidently knew.
I flagged the waiter down finally, and asked him to take our order.
So far, so good.
I had some of the chai, which was really watery and weak. I was hoping it was not a sign of things to come.
We ordered the following:
Chicken Sheesh Kabab
Whole Pomfret Fry
After 35 minutes of waiting, we were told that they could not provide us with Chicken Sheesh Kabab, because it was not "proper".
I asked what that meant. Bottom line, he told us that the order for kababs was "cancelled".
At that point, we had waited for an hour, I was ravenous and ready to walk out. He then said the rest of the order was ready.
We asked him to bring the rest of the order.
The results were rather dismal. The roti was cold and hard. My wife said it was the worst she has had.
The pomfret was thoroughly under-spiced. The potato dish felt like the potatoes had just been boiled and dumped in the gravy.
Overall, a sad experience. I was very forthright with my feedback to the owner, and he refused to accept payment for the meal.
I insisted about 5 times that it was not fair for us not to pay for the meal. He still refused to accept payment and apologised to us.
I had high hopes for this place. We definitely won't be back.
That's unfortunate to hear. The resto does have an informal side ...
when i was there they brought us one fish dish and my mother kinda
chastised him with a "look i cant believe you served me *this* piece of
fish" ... he looked a little sheepish, but they managed to "work things out"
[it was one of the poorer cuts ... it was "not proper" in the same way making
you a sandwich with the end piece of a load of bread would not be "proper" eventhough it is perfectly edible and you might not balk from eating it at home].
It later turned out some of the "service" issues stemmed from a big
catering job hey had and were "recovering from ... either the were
short handed or had some inventory issues. So something like that
behind the scenes might explain the high variance in service
competence between your outing and that of Margo [\supra] only
two weeks before you. Seems like in both cases what was consistent
was the owner being a decent guy.
On a different note ...
I'm surprised "loochi+alur dum" is not a standard item
in indian restos here [as well as a good egg curry (deemer dalna)]
i can almost guarantee all the people into nann+cholle would
be instant fans. 100% of the americans who have tried homebrew
versions of this have liked it a lot. 100%.
It should be quite cheep [high margins for the owners] to make, and I
believe it is quite easy to make even in largish quantities ...
This is something you can get in a random train station in India during
a 5 min stop.
This is one of those failing that's hard to explain, like why no decent
cheep dosa places in SF (DOSA doesnt count, and kennedy's is an
If you do try it again and things start to go south, pay your tab and head over to either the Korean BBQ resto (Sigoljip, but order the other dishes besides bbq) or the Korean-Chinese restaurant (Tong Soon Garden) in the building next to Dhaka's strip mall. Either are better than can be found in San Francisco. That stretch of El Camino Real is very target rich, I love chowing around there and wish it weren't so far away from San Francisco.
After far too long away, we finally made it back to Cafe Dhaka. All the food was stellar. My favorite of favorites was the Kacchi Biryani. My goodness, was this rich with deep, complex flavors from the slow cooking. The Chicken Roast was also delicious, featuring the tangiest yogurt I've had in a long time. No wimpy flavors here! The loochi were perfectly, nearly spherically puffed, and very tasty too. We must go back more often and work our way through the rest of the menu. Our three meals there have all been excellent, but this was probably the most consistently outstanding visit yet.