It looks like any other city restaurant from the outside, but the moment you enter, it’s a different world. There’s bamboo work all over. Not surprising, after all this is a restaurant serving cuisine of the hills. This is Hebang, a taste of the hills in Dhaka.
There’s a quaint bamboo structure within, known in Chakma language as Ijar. Ijar is a room where people rest or relax. The urbanites can come here and partake of the hill district cuisine in pleasantly relaxing ambience.
This restaurant, Hebang, has been opened up in Kazipara, Mirpur, near the foot over-bridge in the area.
This is the first of its kind - a restaurant run by hill women, exclusively serving food of the hill region. It would cater to online customers previously. One of the four sisters running the restaurant, Suchinta Chakma, says, “We received such overwhelming response online that we decided to open a restaurant. It’s doing tremendously well.”
Hebang was launched in 16 December. The restaurant, and the online catering, was the brainchild of Priyanka, second of the four sisters. There used to be another restaurant serving such cuisine in the same place and they bought the business, changing the name to Hebang.
Hebang refers the steaming method of cooking food. In fact, the characteristic of such cuisine is that it is steamed or boiled. Then there is ‘Sumot de Ton’, where chicken or other meat is stuffed inside a bamboo and placed in fire.
Pajon is another popular item. This is binni rice cooked with local hill vegetables. Pajon is traditionally eaten during the hill festival to greet the rains or bid farewell to the monsoons. There are all sorts of dried fish dishes. Another tasty item is small snails, cooked with a spicy concoction of cabbage.
Hebang serves up duck, bele fish, crabs and other items. In addition to the normal broiler chicken, there is also wild fowl on the menu.
Alongside lunch and dinner, Hebang also serves all sorts of local cakes or pitha. There is the binni rice pitha, banana pithas served fresh and piping hot.
The beverages include an array of fruit juices. Then there are the three types of special tea - tamarind tea, mint tea and rosella tea. The eldest sister Bipali says, “Rosella tea is our very own concoction. We used tried leaves of the sour hill fruit amilya.”
The restaurant also caters to birthdays and other such special occasions. Bookings are to be made in advance.
Interestingly, 80 per cent of the customers are Bangalis, rather than persons of the hill districts. Visiting the restaurant for the first time, customer Donald H Khan and his friend Della are thrilled. He says, “We are delighted by the oil-free food and the ambience.”
In the backed ground, hill music plays softly, setting the mood. They even have special music programmes on various occasions. Priyanka says, “This restaurant may be our business, but we really want to present the hills here, uphold our rich culture.”
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo Bangla online edition, has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir.