REVIEW w/ pics: The Mysterious, but Delicious Dishes of Little Dhaka
Using the word "Mysterious" as part of the title of this blog entry is probably not as mysterious as it may seem, but heck, it made you look, didn't it? Seriously, I'll tell you about the mystery later, but before I go into that, let me tell you how I ended up at Little Dhaka, a Bangladesh restaurant and market in Artesia.
It all started with an episode on Bizarre Foods where Andrew Zimmerman did a show on Indian cuisine. The part of the show that perked my interest was when he sampled Bengali cuisine. Go figure that I once had a Bengali college roommate, who if I had the same culinary interests as I did now, may have opened my eyes and my palate to this type of regional Indian cooking. You can read about the show by clicking here. What interested me in particular about Bengali cuisine was the utilization of mustard oil as a main ingredient. I've never had any food where mustard oil was used, at least not that I know of, so I was curious.
In my quest, I decided to ask the opinion of Smita, owner of an Indian ice cream shop, Saffron Spot, in Artesia. I previously had done a couple of ice cream tastings at her shop, so I figured, she'd steer me in the right direction. She directed me to Little Dhaka, which was also in Artesia. When I looked it up, I noticed that it was a Bangladesh restaurant, which also served as a small market. Confused, I thought maybe she made a mistake, but after some more investigation, I found out that Bangladesh means "Country of Bengal" in Bengali. To find out how Bangladesh and Bengal are connected, click here.
Finally, it was time to check out Little Dhaka and with Smita's help, the owner of Little Dhaka gave my dining group a nice meal deal where for $10 we got a salad, a choice of two entrees, naan, paratha bread, rice, a rasmala dessert and a soft drink. Even without that special lunch price, great cheap eats can still be had. Little Dhaka has steam tables and each of the entrees run around $3.00 to $4.00. Realistically, you can have a tasty meal for between $10 to $20, depending on what you order and there's great variety since they switch out the dishes they serve every day. Luckily, my group likes to dine family-style, so we broke up into smaller groups, sat at different tables and proceeded to share our bounty.
First up was a simple, but fresh salad. Nothing to it but cucumbers, tomatoes, red onions and a slice of lemon. Interestingly enough, I used these veggies almost as a palate cleanser (except for the red onions) in between the entrees. The thing about the entrees was that they were just so flavorful. However, since I was unfamiliar with the spices being used for this cuisine, the "Mysterious" thing about these dishes was that I couldn't really describe what I tasted. I felt like I could taste the tang of mustard oil, but maybe I was imagining it? Of course, there were probably a myriad of other seasonings included in everything we sampled. The strange thing was that I asked the owner briefly about his use of mustard oil in his dishes and he told me that Bangladesh cuisine is actually all about the usage of poppyseed oil. Huh? Now, I was totally confused.
In any case, regardless of what spices or seasonings were used, I just really enjoyed the food at Little Dhaka. Unfortunately, I left the notes I made about the actual names of the dishes at the restaurant, but based on the photos and my general descriptions, you should be able to order them on your own. So as for the only other veggie dish we ordered, I'll simply refer to it as sauteed potatoes that were cut in spears and cooked with chili. It had a nice kick to it and I appreciated the fact that the potatoes weren't over cooked and mushy.
The entree sampling started with the Beef Curry. The beef was tender and the sauce it was cooked in tasted great spooned on my rice and the addition of green chilis hiding under the sauce gave this dish some heat. Next was the fried fish, which in retrospect, would have been better if it came straight out of the fryer, especially if you're someone who likes crispy fish skin, like me. At least, the fish meat was delicately tender.
My favorite dish was the mutton with lentils with a sauce that also went well poured over my rice and I liked the fact that the mutton wasn't gamey. Although their lamb curry was a little more oily than I would have liked, this bone-in tender lamb still had great flavor.
I think the only entree that didn't do it for me was the roasted chicken with spices. The sauce was just too thick for my taste and of all the entrees didn't seem seasoned enough. As for the rasmalai dessert, I didn't really know what it was until I Googled it when I got home. It's basically cottage or ricotta cheese dumplings soaked in a sweet, thickened milk flavored with cardammon. I liked the texture and the flavor of the cardamon, but the milk was just way too sweet for me.
Overall, I really enjoyed my meal at Little Dhaka. These days, whenever you can find affordable dining where the food also tastes good, it's definitely a good thing and I think Little Dhaka offers both.
To see pics, go to:
18159 Pioneer Boulevard
Artesia, CA 90701
Mustard oil, while not harmful in its unadulterated form, is technically illegal as a food ingredient. When you see it in Indian markets, where it is sold as - wink - a cosmetic - there is a label affixed that says Not to Be Used as Food or something of the sort. So even if the restaurant used gallons of it, which is not unlikely, they wouldn't confess to it unless they knew you really, really well.