Wherever you go in the world you’re likely to find a mixed-rice dish. Anywhere with rice as a staple seems to have its own version. Whether it's nasi lemak in Malaysia and Indonesia, polo in Iran or jollof rice in West Africa, they also seem to be among the most loved dishes. Bangladesh is no different. In fact, it has an entire range of them.
One of the best places in Sydney to be introduced to Bangladesh’s love for mixed rice is Haji’s Biryani House in Lakemba. Haji’s manager Manjurul Alam says the most famous of all is kacchi biryani, for which raw meat is marinated (in yoghurt, salt, garlic, ghee and spices) and then layered with raw rice before being steamed in a closed pot. “It's cooked over five hours, it takes a long time,” says Alam. Because it’s on the indulgent side (steamed in its own oils and juices makes it slightly fatty) and laborious to prepare, it has a special place in Bangladeshi culture and is most often reserved for wedding-level occasions.
The most unique Bengali mixed rice dish, though, is probably murg polau (polau is an alternative name for pilaf or pilau); a bed of ghee-heavy rice is covered in thick gravy made by blended dried onions, cooked onions, cashews (this is what they use at Haji, almonds are also used), pistachios, spices and yoghurt. In that goes chicken or boiled eggs. It tastes almost like a sweet satay but with a far stronger (and sweeter) onion taste. “You won’t find this in India or anywhere else, it’s very specific to our culture,” says Alam.
Another is khichuri, a starchy, rich and buttery rice dish that’s traditionally mixed with lentils and a variety of other ingredients (almost like fried rice, whatever is around can be thrown in). The most important ingredient for the customers at Haji is the rice itself. “We import our rice from our country, we can't get it here. It's called kalijira. It's very different and very tiny but the taste is better,” Alam says.
Combined, the dishes make up a buttery, meaty and carb-loaded meal. Alam has two tips to make it a more balanced feast. The first is to mix everything with salad (literally toss the spiced tomato, lettuce and onion into the biryani) and the second is to try borhani, a sour and heavily spiced yoghurt drink.
Alam is serious about Bengali food being seen differently to Indian food. “Bangladesh is not Indian, we have different traditions and different food. Similar spices but completely different foods.” It’s why he named his restaurant after one of Bangladesh’s most famous restaurants. For him it’s both a sign of intent and a sign of his pride.