You know those conversations you have with kids when they’ve just achieved something awesome? Where the only thing they can engage with is their own greatness? That’s what talking to Mohammad Abid is like. The topic of victory is his restaurant Khushboo.
Mohammad Abid says before he opened Khushboo he went to Bangladesh to study. “I worked for three months with the best halim chef, for three months with the best biryani chef. I needed about three years to get it perfect.” Now he says the best Bengali food in Sydney comes from his kitchen. Usually we’d be wary of such self-assurance, but Abid wasn’t the only person talking his restaurant up – every other Bengali we spoke to told us exactly the same thing.
Abid’s most proud of his kal baush, a whole fish lathered in a slow-cooked gravy of onions, shallots, fresh coriander and spices. It’s sweet and intensely savoury. It simultaneously reminds us of sweet grilled catfishes from South East Asian hawker stalls, and tangy, thick curries from India’s north. That’s a useful summary of Bengali food; an interesting marriage of the cuisines of its neighbours. Abid says the cuisine shares a lot of ingredients with its neighbours, but differs mostly in preparation. “In most of our region they use dry spices and powdered spices. We cook with fresh ingredients; chili, garlic, onion, ginger, they're all blended fresh.” At the centre of most Bengali meals, whether it’s on the street or in high-society kitchens, is fish and rice.
Traditionally, the whole stewed kal baush is reserved for special occasions, but for an everyday Bengali meal try one of Abid’s river-fish curries or a selection of vorta, various bulbs of intensely flavoured pastes eaten with rice. Abid showed us a babaganoush-like eggplant vorta; chingri, a pungent prawn paste and the chepa shutki, a fishy sambal-like paste made with dried, fermented fish that smells faintly of blue cheese.
Fuchka is the best representation of Bengali street food. They’re intricate eggcup-shaped wafers filled with spiced mashed potatoes and fresh green chilli. In Bangladesh they typically come with sides of sauces that you pour into the wafer-cups before eating. Abid serves them with sweet tamarind chutney to balance the spice of fresh chillies. “This is one of the very famous street foods in Bangladesh. In front of every school you see somebody sitting with that. That's where kids start to learn how to eat spicy food,” he says.
Along with street snacks and wedding specialities, the restaurant serves home-style Bengali breakfasts (semolina cake, tandoor-baked breads, dhal and eggs), an array of homemade sweets and one of the most epic Eid spreads in Sydney.
Khushboo Sweets and Restaurant
38 Railway Parade, Lakemba
(02) 9750 6600
Mon to Sun 8am–midnight
Local Knowledge is a weekly Broadsheet series shining a light on the unassuming, authentic Sydney restaurants that are worthy of appreciation beyond the neighbourhoods they serve. See the rest of the series here.