Dhaka’s best soup

Every time I visit Dhaka, I make it a point to try and visit my favourite restaurant – Cheng Pei. Yes, one of Dhaka’s oldest Chinese restaurants is my most favourite places to eat. The food is nothing to brag about at all, but this is the only restaurant where one can eat Bangladeshi style oriental cuisine, in its truest sense.

The entire restaurant culture in our country was rather an endearing matter. It did not just involve a couple spending the evening out because it was the end of a long stressful week. It was a real cause of celebration. It was the solidarity of family members including grandparents and uncles and aunts.

It was a family affair. It was an event where people took pride in what they wore and how they did their hair. Ladies would lay out their best silk sarees since morning and the men would press and starch their most prized shirts and pants. It was a celebration. It was a day to remember. It was the day that brought a lot of happiness and harmony to a family.

Sadly enough, this culture has fallen far behind our galloping generation.  Nevertheless, Cheng Pei and many such old-fashioned oriental restaurants will always be remembered in Dhaka. These restaurants continue to employ the stiffest of waiters with starched black and white uniforms and bow-ties. They continue to dim the restaurant lights and block out sun-light with thick velvet emerald-green curtains. Furnished with heavy wooden tables and chairs, they still serve the best Chinese or Thai cuisines cooked to an absolute Bangladeshi perfection.

My favourite is of course the Bangladeshi style Thai soup which I have recently learned to cook. Of course, unless you are sitting in a dimly lit room struggling to push your chair in and the sound of Dhaka traffic trying to pry its way through the city, it’s not going to taste the same. However, the people who live abroad and dearly miss our Chinese food, please help yourself to my most recent quest. Please remember that the measurements are only an approximation. Now, my mother has taught me to cook based on guesstimates. So I suggest you always start off with smaller proportions and keeping the taste in your mind, work your way along, tasting your soup often.

Happy cooking everyone!

Chicken broth:

3 cups of water

2 or 3 pieces of chicken – use bony pieces like the wing, rib-cage or neck bone

1.5 teaspoon garlic paste

1.5 teaspoon ginger paste

0.5 teaspoon salt

2 cups of water

Method – in a pot, pour in water and add the chicken and the ingredients. Boil at medium heat for 1 to 1.5 hours. Add warm water when needed.

Soup:

Remove the chicken pieces from the broth

Remove meat from bones and add to soup

Add shrimp (optional)

Add approx. 2 tablespoon vinegar

Add two-thirds cup of sweet chili Thai sauce

Add 1 tablespoon soya sauce

Add juice of half a lemon

Cook mixture for about 20 to 30 minutes – adding in any vegetables (optional -pepper, long beans, baby corn, carrots – but traditionally, this soup has no vegetables)

If you want your soup to be spicy – slice two chilies in half and throw it in now

Whisk an egg until is fluffy and light – Pour into soup while stirring.

Add lemon leaves and lemon grass

Cook for another 15 to 20 minutes until lemon grass releases flavour and fragrance.

Mix 3 tablespoons of cornflour with cold water well and pour it in the soup while stirring to prevent clumping. This gives a thick pasty touch.

Serve with no smile while wearing black pants, white shirt and black bow-tie.

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