37-22 73rd Street
Jackson Heights, Queens 11372
I celebrated Memorial Day by participating in the Bangladeshi Ambassador Program organized by Jeff Orlick of Iwantmorefood.com, and hosted by Bangladeshi Ambassador Mr. Rashid Mohammad and the owner of Khaabar Barri Restaurant Mr.Kaysar Halim.
The Ambassador Program, as described by Jeff Orlick on Iwantmorefood.com:
“The Ambassador Program has one expert of a culture lead a group of people for their own dream meal… This allows us diners to let go, eat well, and expand our boundaries for the city, the world and our palates.”
It was no surprise that Mr. Mohammad chose to showcase Bangladeshi cuisine at Khaabar Baari. On this Monday afternoon, Khaabar Baari was a bustling hub for the community – filled with families, as well as groups of men socializing both inside and outside of the cafe. On the main floor are savory snacks, and sweets, along with a buffet of hot foods. The downstairs dining room offers Bangladeshi Halal Chinese fare.
After an introduction, Mr. Mohammad led us into a private party room that is available for banquets and meetings. We were invited to sit in the audience of 100+, who came to meet the candidates running for election in the Bangladeshi Business Association of Jackson Heights. We got a sneak peek into the organization and leadership of an active community in Jackson Heights.
Brought back to the dining room, we were greeted with an abundant and varied buffet. Appetizers included chotpoti, a popular snack of chickpeas in tamarind tomato sauce, topped with slices of boiled eggs. The rest of the appetizers consisted of deep fried savory snacks: singuara (samosa), samucha, aloo chop (giant potato croquette), moglai (stuffed naan), vegetable oakora (pakora/battered fried veggies).
The main course consisted of grilled king fish seasoned with fish masala, a spicy beef bihari kekbab, and a stew of mixed vegetables. Though there are commonalities between Indian and Bangladeshi food, according to Mr. Mohammad, Bangladeshi food can be summarized as simpler and homier. He also pointed out that fish is major staple.
There were three types of polao (biryani/rice pilaf): mutton, chicken, and beef. Since Islam is the majority religion of Bangladesh, the food reflects the religious customs. At Khaabar Baari, alcohol is not served, all meat are halal, and pork is nowhere in sight. Mutton and beef are more commonly served.
When there are so many flavorful foods, it’s nice to cool the mouth with something refreshing like a green salad. And when eating dry food, like fried snacks, bread, and rice, it’s nice to put season with relish, chutney, or what the Bangladeshi are known for – bharta. A bharta is essentially cooked mashed vegetables seasoned with onion, garlic, chilies, and spices. Many varieties of vegetables can be made into a bharta. The bharta is like a spread. We had two varieties: tomato and eggplant.
At the end of the meal, the chef, who has over 30 years of experience, greeted us and explained the process and ingredients that went into our meal. Common seasoning consists of garlic, onion, ginger, cilantro, coriander seeds, fresh chilies, and a blend of spices.
No meal is complete without tea and dessert. We enjoyed rich, hot chai tea with rosmalai, soft patties of cheese curd in sweet milky cream; rogolla, a dough made with semolina flour and cheese, soaked in syrup; chom chom, a cube of milk and sugar; and gurer sandesh, a packet of moist fudge like sweet make with milk and molasses. Mr Halim proudly explained that gurer sandesh is unique to Bangladesh and made out of all natural ingredients. The desserts were intensely sweet, and a perfect finish to our feast.
Mr. Halim and his staff showed warmth and hospitality. After serving folks at the buffet line, Mr. Halim personally went around the tables, asking “More? Here, eat more,” as he filled up our plates with extra meat, fish, and rice. There was plenty of food leftover, which we were encouraged to pack and take home. Not only did I leave with a full belly, but I left with a snack for later. Mr. Halim and Mr. Mohammad enthusiastically shared with us their warmth and hospitality, culture and lifestyle, as well as their love and aspiration for the community.