Can you recall the last time you had a plateful of food that was sourced freshly from the hills?
Living in the crowded capital has robbed you of such opportunities but some restaurants in Dhaka have still kept these avenues open for anyone who wants to grab a bite of authentic, fresh and ethnic delicacies.
CHT Express at Dhaka's East Kazipara is one of such restaurants.
You will feel the ambience around you change the moment you step inside.
With traditional paintings, tribal wall-hangings and the restaurant's walls decorated with alphabets from the Chakma script, CHT Express is a breath of fresh air in the materialistic hustle and bustle of Dhaka.
Established in 2018 by the young culinary expert and owner Arpon Changma, this ethnic, rustic-style restaurant specialises in Chakma food items cooked from organic raw ingredients sourced straight from the hilltops.
Their food items are so fresh that the traditional menu varies depending on the availability of the fresh produce.
What distinguishes Chakma cuisines from mainstream Bengali cuisines is the depth of flavours from the usage of the spices and fragrant leaves and herbs - such as hebang and lemongrass stems, which add a refreshing citrusy twist to the dishes.
Even a simple chicken curry from the hills tastes earthy and refreshing in comparison to the Bengali way of cooking it - spicy and thick gravy, usually with potatoes.
"I originally started CHT Express back in 2017. We used to carry out our catering services online only back then. But we decided to open up a physical restaurant after realising that the people of Dhaka were supportive and responded well to our food," Arpon Changma told The Business Standard.
Starting from the vegetables, to the poultry items, to the condiments, CHT Express sources everything fresh on the daily. If a staple ingredient cannot be sourced that day, the item is taken off the menu.
"We make sure to source the staples daily so anyone dining at CHT Express can experience the real freshness of indigenous cuisine," said Arpon.
The freshness is evident in the dishes we tasted. A specialty item to CHT Express, their traditional stir-fried bamboo shoots is a must try.
This slightly earthy, slightly sweet, slightly tangy and moderately spicy dish, with strong notes of lemongrass, was the perfect medley with a plate of steaming white rice.
An added layer of satisfaction can be credited to the generous pieces of dried fish, or shutki, cooked within the bamboo shoots. This dish deserves a rating of seven out of 10, if not more.
The next dish we filled up our plates with was a raw jackfruit curry with shrimps. This dish is perfect for people who love spicy food.
Although the tanginess from the spices and shrimps tried to mellow out the throaty heat, the efforts went in vain.
Since I do not enjoy eating food with this much heat, this dish deserves a six out of 10.
The last dish to complement our lunch was CHT Express's traditional style bamboo chicken.
This hearty and mildly spicy concoction of organic chicken from the Chattogram Hill Tracts tasted fresh and succulent.
Paired with the aromatic herbs and spices, this chicken dish and the fragrant white rice were a match made in heaven which hit all the sweet spots. It can be rated an 8.5 out of 10.
For dessert, we had another CHT Express exclusive dish called "Bora Pitha" with a dollop of sour cream, which is essentially like the traditional Bangladeshi "kola pitha" but levelled up using grounded nuts and coconut.
This dish may sound like a simple one but the addition of nuts, coconut and especially the sour cream gave the familiar taste a whole new dimension.
Who would have thought sour cream with a deshi pitha would go so well? We give this delectable dessert a solid 10 out of 10.
Apart from serving garden-fresh ethnic cuisines, CHT Express also offers Pan-Asian items such as chow mein, fried squid, spring roll, momo and other snack items such as wings and fries.
After reading this review, if you suddenly have the urge to go and taste the unique food CHT Express has to offer, make sure to reserve a booking in advance as they prepare the menu on a pre-order basis to keep the dishes' freshness intact.
And the best part about enjoying a full course meal at CHT Express is that it would not burn a hole in your pocket as most dishes come at a fair price.