Before 2007 there wasn’t a single Bengali restaurant in Sydney. There were plenty of Bengali chefs but none of them were making the food of Bangladesh. “Bangladeshi people have been in the food business since 1970 [after a wave of migration] but everyone has been cooking Indian food. They’re Bangladeshis but they're serving rogan josh. That's not our food,” says Aziz Ahmed.
Ahmed and his brother Sharif Uddin Ahmed opened Sydney’s first Bengali restaurant, Hut Bazaar, in 2007. The brothers didn’t have much money or much hope of success but they underestimated how homesick Rockdale’s large Bangladeshi student population was.
From day one they were flooded with orders for Bengali classics like sorshe hilsa (a mustard-seed and Bangladeshi river fish curry) and kacchi biryani (rice, potato, meat, ghee and spices mixed and steamed in a sealed pot). The sorshe hilsa is rich, viscous and appropriately fishy and the biryani tender, aromatic and buttery (ghee is used to cook the meat, it’s mixed into the rice and even poured over at the end); the brothers quickly gained a reputation.
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Rockdale is a different place these days. A lot of students have graduated and moved out but Hut Bazaar’s standing in the Bengali community hasn’t changed. A big part of that is down to the restaurant’s traditional Bengali breakfast service.
“For dinner we eat rice, breakfast is more bread-based,” says Aziz. The most classic breakfast bread is paratha, which is like naan but denser and heavier on the ghee side. If you’re dining solo you might eat it with nihari (a stew made from slow-cooked beef feet). If you’re feasting you’ll likely be eating your paratha with aloo vazi (semi-cooked, mustardy chopped potatoes), chilli and onion scrambled eggs, dhal or, if you’re from the south of Bangaldesh, tehari (a biryani-like dish with bigger meat chunks and less spice). “It's a very rich food, lots of fatty foods. Some people are addicted to fatty foods but these breakfasts are usually just for once in a while,” says Aziz, peering over several ghee-shiny plates of bread, rice and potato.
Like pretty much every Bangladeshi meal, a good fatty breakfast ends in sweets and tea. At Hut Bazaar it’s rice pudding, milk custard with palm sugar or semolina cake. Most will eat these items solo but many will also combine sweets with the morning’s savoury courses, maybe spreading semolina onto some paratha and adding aloo vazi on top for a sweet, carb-heavy breakfast roll.
Bengali tea is an experience on its own. Like Indian chai tea, it’s over-steeped to build an intense tannin profile but copious amounts of sugar and a dollop of milk are added to balance it out. Compared to the average English breakfast it’s a radical experience but Aziz says, of all the things they do, the tea is what they’re most famous for.
98 Railway Street, Rockdale
(02) 9567 2228