All it takes is 30 minutes to meet our cravings these days. Pick up the phone and order away; be it food or a thing we saw scrolling through social media (that we may or may not even need), it is at the doorstep 30-ish minutes from placing the order.
For every Bangali, no social gathering is complete without the inclusion of food. But to order online or not to order is the quandary today.
Not indulging online orders, today we shall rather be heading out somewhere. In the distant land of Cox's Bazar, rests a fascinating place to eat authentic Bangali food: Palongki Inani, by the sea. Palongki operates out of Dhaka as well.
Only two kilometres from the Inani beach is Palongki, but all that is nearly 30 kilometres away from the main tourist attractions in Cox's Bazar.
A Shimul tree marks the entry of Palongki. The outdoors of Palongki makes a statement for itself. The outdoors is an open space lying in front of the portico of the main complex, looking upon the sea. Grill or barbecue is served outside only.
A menu of many characters
The most low-key fascinating aspect of the place may as well be the menu, that is if you are into witty catch phrases. What to expect from a menu normally? List of items under straightforward headings like starters, set menus, locals, main dishes, desserts, etc. Not at Palongki.
Bangalir Anibarjo denotes plain old daal bhaat. Chinigura rice with ghee infused daal is easily a favourite item! Many people order the Bangalir Anibarjo – as it really is unavoidable – only for its appeal. The combo deal is for Tk145.
Bharta Bhalobasha is self-explanatory, where Kalijar Tukra, a dish made from chicken innards is the star and will cost you Tk100.
Ashtobhuja, as the name suggests, is a platter of eight different kinds of bharta and bhaji. This platter is perhaps the most perplexing one in all of Palongki. Why? Because you need to decide mindfully about which one of the eight bharta and bhaji you want to have and when. Does each and every one of the bharta and bhaji live up to their names? They do. This platter will cost you Tk410.
Even though Palongki is so far away from Cox's Bazar, last year when I discovered Palongki, I came here three times in one tour. The menu is very fun and I tried different items every time. I was saving seafood for the third day. I was blown away by the freshness of the seafood. I had pomfret and lobsters that I got to choose myself! They were grilled to perfection.
On the first two visits, my friends and I had traditional food on day one, like the Bharta Bhalobasha – I truly loved those flavour profiles – and then we had barbecue and grill on the second day. For this one we sat outside to enjoy the view. Every item was so amazingly fresh that it was worth three visits in one tour," recalled Imraan Sadik, an old town resident, a long standing connoisseur of delicacies.
Sabji Saragam has, by far, the most interestingly named items like shadher lau, alu amar alu go, damadam mast kalandar, chholonamoiy chhana, for a price range of Tk100 to Tk320. Damadam mast kalandar, happens to be a famous and quite an old spicy delicacy of old Dhaka made simply out of medium sized potatoes. For any Dhakaite to find this item that far away is a charm. This Tk100 item is worth every taka.
Bhaate Machhe Bangali will tell you which fish items you can enjoy with white rice. Items include rupsagore doob, lazy loitya, shandar shutki, atol joler chitol, kachki kaalboishaki, kakra kiccha and many others within the price range of Tk180 to Tk450. The item with loitya fish comes in deep fried and curry variants.
Loitya is a common household name in all of Chattogram. Deep fried loitya fish should taste like fried chicken, except it is fried fish. The crunch in every bite would make anybody want to order another dish while enjoying their first one.
On any good day (or bad) Palongki, Inani can be seen bustling with life. The popularity of the place goes up by a little every time a celebrity or a local food blogger pays a visit. In fact the number of vlogs on YouTube and Facebook reviews of Palongki are stacking up. Only about a week ago, Adnan Faruk Hillol, a local celebrity and food blogger, ended up in Palongki during an expedition to find a good seaview restaurant.
"Palongki has gained popularity in such a short time because of its late-night meal service," noted Hillol. Besides him, up and coming food bloggers like Prova of ProvaEats and Raba Khan have also shared her two-cents about this place.
And would you believe if we said Mir Afsar Ali, one of the most influential radio personalities and comedians in all of the Indian subcontinent has also been to Palongki? And he was not reserved about it either. Videos of his visit are on social media. He came along with food vlogger Indrajit Lahiri and had a grand old time.
The spicy beef, duck and chicken meat and mutton section is named Norom Gorom, where the famous Chatgaiya dish Kala Bhuna goes with the name Khobor Ache! Joshor jontrona is for a hot mutton item and the Cox Bajarer tarzan is made with wild hens. The price range for this section is Tk100 to Tk450.
Joshor Jontrona, an item from Norom Gorom, is yet another famous dish in – spoiler alert – Jessore. The category of the dish is mutton garnished in spices favoured among Southerners of Bangladesh. Although this is the most costly dish in this listing, at Tk480, it is absolutely worth the indulgence.
"I have childhood memories tied to mutton chui jhal. Habi chacha used to look after our house and he was from Jessore. Quite often he would offer to help Maa with our cooking and we got to enjoy food that was unique to Jessore. When I saw Palongki had a mutton chui jhal, I ordered it as soon as possible," said Kazi Tasnun Hossain, another Dhaka resident who frequents Palongki.
For barbecue, grill and steak lovers, the grilling kiosk is conveniently placed facing the porch. Not only can you choose the piece of kabab or tandoori chicken you wish, when the piece you choose is placed on the burning coal, you can see your food cooking in real time. The smell wraps up with the sea breeze and smoke fills up the area, further adding to the anticipation.
But the kabab segment comes with the most interesting name perhaps: Jonmo theke jolchhi. Reshmi, Hariyali, Alishan, Shik, chicken chaap, tikiya and tandoori you can find here, starting from Tk250 to Tk380 and you could enjoy them with the customary garlic or butter naan for Tk50-70.
The best thing about their various kababs is the way they are barbecued. One can easily over or under cook steaks and grills. But the way Palongki serves these items is proof that here there are seasoned cooks and chefs who know what they are doing. Pizzas, burgers, pastas, etc, are also served here, even though their motto is based on authentic Bangali food.
Does the food taste just as good as fancy as their names sound?
Is the goodness of food not subjective? Yes it is, but the basic qualities like freshness, softness, the right stretchiness and consistency and all kinds of other factors are indispensable. Palongki will ensure all that.
The best time of the day to visit Palongki is when the sun is about to set. So, start out an hour ahead of sunset. Sit or lounge in the outdoors and experience a panoramic view of the sun setting from the west-facing Palongki.
Freshly caught tuna, lobsters, prawn, pomfret, octopi and squids will be brought in and spread out in front of the kiosk on ice in a tray. The seafood can also be handpicked.
And what of the Palongki indoors?
The indoor complex is a spacious area that can accommodate visitor groups of all numbers. The entire front facade of Palongki is separated from the outdoors with glass, meaning those inside the complex can enjoy the seaside panorama.
The next time you're in Cox's Bazar, take this long detour to Palongki, if you have not already; the entire Palongki experience will become a highlighted memory of your tour.