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LITTLE BANGLADESH: TORONTO

DHAKA TRIBUNE

Feature

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Finding desh in Danforth


The neighbourhood in Canada has become a fast growing cultural hub for Bangali immigrants

Sharif Rakib Hasan n


anforth, lovingly called Little Bangladesh by many, is a blessing for Bangladeshi immigrants living in Toronto. The area has become the centre of all social activities for them. It feels so much like home in Danforth. We cant help but come here, said Syed Farhan, a networking consultant working for an IT solutions firm in Downtown Toronto. We can watch Bangla TV channels, talk about our people, community and country here. When I arrived in Toronto in the winter of 2010, I was sure I would never be able to live here in this faraway ice world. That first morning, when I peeped through the window of my friends sisters house where I was staying, the whole world outside looked empty. I felt an intense pain in my heart. I started missing everyone and everything in Bangladesh: my family, my friends, my home, the tea-stall in front of my apartment. My friends brother-in-law, who could sense my state of mind, said he would take me someplace where I would feel better. That afternoon, I went to Danforth Avenue for the first time. I was surprised to find many shops, stores and offices that had signboards

written in Bangla. While walking along the street, I felt a kind of comfort that cannot be explained. On both sides of Danforth Avenue, there are several community newspapers, bookshops and audio-video stores, as well as cultural and social organisation offices. You can hear loud Bangla music while walking along the street, and see Bangla posters taped to the glass doors. We went to a Bangladeshi grocery store, where most of the products were directly imported from Bangladesh. It was a weekend, so there were many Bangladeshis coming from all parts of Toronto and nearby towns. They were there to buy halal meat and deshi fish and vegetables. On their way out, almost all of them were taking a copy of a free Bangla newspaper from the stand kept at the exit of the store. We went to a restaurant named Ghoroa and had some chola muri and tea. Many people there were talking about what was happening in Bangladesh. It felt so good. Restaurants are extremely busy in the evenings, serving traditional Bangladeshi snacks and meals. In summertime, the parking lot of Ghoroa restaurant looks just like a typical Dhaka tea-stall, with people gathered for a cup of tea, and raising a storm over political issues. Syed Alam, the owner of Ghoroa,

lets the parking lot be used as a venue for different Bangladeshi national and cultural events. Every year, historically important days like February 21, March 26 and December 16, are celebrated with solemnity at this small premises. Members of various social and cultural organizations gather here and pay tribute to their national heroes at the makeshift memorial. The Bangla New Year rally has been organized from there for the past three years. The newspaper offices are another favourite destination for the senior members and cultural activists of the community. This is where they talk about poetry, music, movie, sports and politics. Mak Azad, a realtor and poet, has been living in Toronto for nine years. Its a must for him to come to the Weekly Aajkal office after work everyday. We gather here almost every evening. We read newspapers, watch news and cultural programmes and live cricket on Bangla TV channels and chat about what is happening back home. The community is growing fast. Over the last five years, the number of Bangladeshis has increased dramatically, and most live on Danforth Avenue between Main and Victoria Park intersections. With it, the number Bangladeshi community businesses and other organizations have also increased.

Now there are as many as nine grocery stores, five restaurants, eight money exchange offices, eleven tax and mortgage consultation offices, seven real estate business offices, five afterschool tutorial homes, three salons, two furniture stores and many other businesses owned by Bangladeshis. The Bangladesh Centre and Community Services near the Main intersection is home to most cultural events. Almost every weekend, some event or another takes place at the centre, drawing a sizeable audience. Ahmed Hossain, a popular recitation artist and founder of a theatre group called Onno Theatre, said: We

are very busy during the summer. Our group has been holding shows on a regular basis. The most important thing is that our kids are learning Bangla music and theatre now. When asked why Danforth is so special to Bangladeshis, Hossain replied: Danforth is not just commercially important to the community, but it bears something more for us. Look around. You see Bangla signboards. You smell Bangali cuisine. Thats what we want deep down in our hearts. We all find our home here. l Sharif Rakib Hasan is the editor of social and cultural Affairs of the Weekly Aajkal, a community newspaper based in Toronto.

The author at Bangla Town Grocer on Danforth Avenue

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At Ghoroa Restaurant, local Bangadeshis hold a rally against 1971 war criminals

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The author (2nd right) at a photography exhibition at the Bangladesh Centre and Community Services courtesy

The biriyani ambassador


Fakruddin goes global with its quintessential Bangladeshi kacchi biriyani

In London, a Fukruddin stall at the Pohela Boishakh fair in 2012

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Ishrat Jahan n
We Bangalis take our gastronomic affairs very seriously. And one local food shop is showing the world what it means to eat like a Bangladeshi. For nearly five decades, Fakruddin has been one of Dhakas favourite purveyors of kacchi biriyani, synonymous with weddings and grand celebrations. Their chefs were even flown to Jordan to cater the royal wedding of the daughter of Prince Hassan bin Talal and his Bangali wife Princess Sarvath al-Hassan.

food of the nawabs


The word biryani comes from the Farsi word birian, which means fried before cooking. Historically, the rice was stir-fried in ghee before it was boiled in water. Kacchi raw biryani is a Bangladeshi speciality, so-called because the raw meat and rice are cooked together in the same pot. Kolkata biryani is characterised by potatoes, reportedly added the chefs of the nawabs of Lucknow, because meat was scarce were exiled to Kolkata in 1857. On the BBC travel programme Rick Steins Far Eastern Odyssey, Stein travelled to Bangladesh and headed straight to Fakruddins biriyani kitchen in Moghbazar, Dhaka, making the shop a beloved tourist destination. And now, Fakruddin has become a global franchise spanning 3 continents.

and spices will transport you right back to Dhaka. Everything about the place can make you feel like its a [piece] of home away from home. The waiters here, mostly [fellow] Bangalis, come up and talk to you, giving you a special treatment, said Madiha Mohsen, a Bangladeshi university student in Bloomsbury, London. In 2009, Fakruddin opened its first franchise in Stratford, London, followed by the opening of three more outlets in Australia, Singapore and UAE. They plan to open two more stores in the US and Malaysia. But launching a Bangladeshi company on the global platform has been full of challenges for the company. A major drawback, the owners said, is the lack of assistance from the government. In a country such as ours, entrepreneurs fit into the definition of self-made men and women. While companies in other countries receive government assistance, most Bangladeshi businesses that are not in the RMG sector are left to fend for themselves, said Abdul Khaleque, the current managing director, and grandson of founder Md Fakruddin Munshi.

Md Fakruddon Munshi, the founder and original chef  Fakruddin exhibited a natural flair for the culinary arts, and quickly learned the techniques of dum cooking and other nawabi delicacies. After he left, Fakruddin took this knowledge to the canteen of Viqurannesa Noon School and College, and the kacchi biriyani became Fakruddins signature dish. In 1966, amid the blur of the crowds of Moghbazar, Fakruddin laid the foundations of his very first shop. Our method of promotion was simple. We gave our customers the best. We believe in unconditional hard work and quality. In order to give the best you need three things: quality, commitment and honesty, Abdul Khaleque said.

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Fakruddin chef with Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, when they catered his daughters wedding courtesy ward to: a Fakruddin restaurant in New York, and frozen biriyani. We plan to launch our frozen biriyani in the US market, since the potential in that particular region remains the highest. Then well introduce it elsewhere, said Abdul Khaleque. We also have plans to give our cuisine an international spin by introducing different Arabian biriyani. Our future goal is to keep on growing, within Bangladesh, and all over the world. l

Royal ingredients Going the distance


When you step into one of Fakruddins international outposts be it in London, Sydney, Singapore or Dubai the heady aromatic blend of basmati, meat The late Md Fakruddin Munshi his craft directly from the source. Muslim Miah, a chef for Nawab of Murshidabad, chose apprenticeship in the nawabs learned of the him for kitchen.

Kacchi on ice
Homesick Bangladeshis living in the US have two exciting prospects to look for-