When I first met Abdul Mazid Bepari, he was sitting on a chair with his legs casually folded and chewing betel leaves. He was one of those men who could effortlessly pull off a white panjabi and a checkered lungi. There was a subtle aura of dominance and grace in his effortless presentation of the quintessential Bengali wardrobe.
What I did not know back then is that he was also the culinary genius responsible for what most foodies argue as the best bhuna khichuri in town. When asked about his creation, Bepari said, "People from all around the country come here for our khichuri and they come in groups. There were days when I cooked over 2,000 kilograms of bhuna khichuri in a single day and no, it wasn't for any wedding reception. It was just another day at this restaurant."
Hotel Ghorowa was founded in 1979 by Nazrul Islam, also known as Nuru Boyati. It gradually became popular from the 1980s and its immense popularity only kept increasing.
Although bhuna khichuri is Hotel Ghorowa's signature dish, they also serve chicken shawarma, chicken grill, boti kabab, shik kabab and other typical Mughal-Bengali cuisines. If you are on a diet and avoiding carbs, you should definitely try their chicken grill.
Despite its immense popularity, the restaurant was shut down in 2015 and remained closed for five long years. Its customer base was, quite understandably, shocked and heartbroken. There were a lot of uncertainties regarding whether it would ever reopen.
Thankfully, after five long years of wait, Hotel Ghorowa finally reopened on December 15, albeit in a new location, opposite the WAPDA Building in Motijheel.
So, when Hotel Ghorowa finally reopened, everyone wondered whether the restaurant could retain its glory. But more importantly: would the sublime taste of their signature bhuna khichuri remain the same?
To satisfy my curiosity, I did what all great men do. I went to the newly reopened Hotel Ghorowa to taste their khichuri. In my pursuit of the best bhuna khichuri in town, I also met an incredible man who has been spreading joy to thousands of people through his cooking for the better part of 45 years.
When I reached Hotel Ghorowa, it was around 8 pm, the restaurant was brimming with customers and on most of the tables were plates full of steaming hot Bhuna Khichuri.
Much to my chagrin, since I am supposed to be on diet, I ordered a plate of bhuna khichuri. I would be lying if I said that I was not sceptic about their service. I kept thinking: Would the taste remain the same or would the train of childhood nostalgia crash to my misery? The answer came soon enough.
Their service was quite prompt and the steaming hot and spicy khichuri looked delicious enough to attract any food lover.
Finally, it was time to give in to my base urges. As soon as I took my first mouthful, I was thrown back to my college days when I used to come here with my friends from Notre Dame College. I could clearly recall the days when I, along with my younger sister, would eagerly wait for our father to bring home a packet of khichuri from Ghorowa.
As if the nostalgia ride was not enough, the warm, tender and juicy mutton piece literally melted in my mouth - delivering catharsis to the heart and sending thrilling shock waves through my spinal cord. Unlike most of the dry and drab pulse-dipped rice most places call khichuri, Ghorowa's spicy khichuri perfectly complemented the tenderness of the meat. Every bite felt like magic in my mouth.
I had forgotten what good khichuri tasted like amid all the mediocrity that parade the city as food. As I finished the delicious treat in front of me, only one thought raced through my mind: I have to meet the man behind this piece of art.
And meet him, I did.
Abdul Mazid Bepari was chewing betel leaves like a don when I sat down to interview him. He was a proud chef and he was also loyal to his customers. When asked about his time at Ghorowa, he said, "I first joined Ghorowa 45 years ago when I was a young man who just came to Dhaka looking for a job. Eventually, I found a home at Hotel Ghorowa and they took me in. Over time, I grew as a chef. But I was not satisfied. I wanted to leave my signature. I wanted people to remember my food. So, I kept trying to improve the taste of our food and eventually by the 1980s our bhuna khichuri took off and I never had to look back."
But nothing lasts forever. Lightning struck when the proprietor of the restaurant was caught in legal complications and Ghorowa was shut down until further notice.
Bepari had gone back to his village. I asked him why he did not work for anyone else. He replied, "A lot of other restaurants called me up. They wanted to pay me a lot of money; way more than what I earned at Ghorowa. But I refused all of them. I just went back to my village and spent time with my family."
I was quite surprised at his conviction despite the overwhelming circumstances against Ghorowa. So, I followed up on his refusal to join others. He said, "My customers are loyal to Ghorowa. My bhuna khichuri and Ghorowa are inseparable parts of each other. If I went somewhere else, my customers would not know about that. They would come to Ghorowa, but they would not get to taste my food. I do not care about the dealings of the owners. I just want people to enjoy my food. That's what makes me happy."
I had no further question to ask. So, I returned from Ghorowa with a mind full of thoughts and a tummy full of Bhuna Khichuri. Not a bad day of work in this deplorable world, I guess.
If you want to drown the monotony of your daily life, you may also want to treat yourself to a plate of khichuri at Ghorowa and on the off chance, you may also get to see an artist casually chewing betel leaves in one corner of the restaurant.