Words by Esther Tseng
Little Bangladesh in Los Angeles runs along 6th Street, between Alexandria and New Hampshire streets, its own enclave nestled within Koreatown—which, despite its name, is a vast community located south of Little Armenia and Thai Town, and inhabited also by a myriad of Latinx diaspora. Though Little Bangladesh was established in just 2010, Bangladeshis started immigrating to the area in the 1960s. While “Bengali” refers to the majority ethnic group and language, “Bangladeshi” refers to the country that gained independence in 1971.
In fact, there are at least two murals in the area depicting the National Martyr’s Monument, located in Savar, against the backdrop of the country’s forest green flag, which symbolizes both the Islamic faith and the lush greenery of the country, with its off-center, red circle. The monument commemorates the people who died in the Bangladesh War of Independence—just as the brilliant red on the flag symbolizes the bloodshed for it. The outcome of the war established Bangladesh as its own country, separate from Pakistan. A parade and festival along Third Street takes place at the end of March every year to celebrate the country’s independence.
The establishments in Little Bangladesh double as markets for the community to shop for their imported groceries and supplies. The homestyle dishes are stored in buffet-style hot plates for full view of customers, so that they can pick and choose what they want on their combo plate. Most of the restaurants that serve Halal Bengali food in Little Bangladesh also serve Indian and Pakistani food, a natural result of the geography, ethnicity and history shared by the three countries. Before its secession and independence, Bangladesh was known as East Pakistan, and borders India along its northeast side, while today’s Pakistan is on its northwest.
We asked Taz Ahmed, a longtime Angeleno, artist, and community activist, to walk us through the food of her motherland. To start, we needed some help differentiating Bengali food from Indian. Ahmed points to how the country is often called The Land of Rivers. “Bangladesh is located in the delta of South Asia, where the Ganges exits India into this really marshy area,” she says. “So that means Bengalis eat a lot of fish. A lot of freshwater fish from lakes and lots of rice. Even our bread is made with rice flour because we grow rice.”
“We also have a lot of greens, which is generically referred to as shaag,” she adds. “[For awhile,] I didn’t realize the vegetables were Bengali because when you go to an Indian restaurant, they’re always selling saag paneer as their only (green) item. But we have more greens, more fish, more rice and more sweets.”
About those sweets: Bangladesh is known for their extensive variety of desserts that are made with molasses, sugar, milk and other grains or vegetables. Many of them carry historical significance in Bengali culture, with festivals dedicated to them. So before you’re done with your meal, you won’t want to miss out on that sweet endnote.
Here, Ahmed takes us through the the main restaurant options available in Little Bangladesh:
At Bangla Bazar, you’ll find a convenient few tables, if you would like to stay and eat. The grocer section is also extensive, and includes produce in one open case and sweets in an enclosed refrigerator case. Find curries, fried vegetables and even fish here, but Ahmed enjoys the biryani most—as well as the beef patties.
Parking at Deshi is a snap thanks to its accessible parking lot. There is plenty of seating as well, with Bangladeshi programming running on a TV for a full cultural immersion. Their mughlai paratas (minced meat pies) come recommended. Ahmed especially enjoys the chai, as well as the weekend breakfast.
One of the smaller establishments on the list, Swadesh has multiple fish curries available at any given time. A couple of tables are set up in the parking lot outside the white-tiled marketplace with its array of hot pans along the back wall. Ahmed says that on the weekends, they also sell BBQ kabobs off the grill outside.
When entering Aladin, you’ll be met (as the name implies) by cases and cases of varied, multicolored, finger-food sweets that will take several trips just to familiarize yourself. Ahmed says their catering operation is a go-to for large events, such as weddings.
The only one on this list that doesn’t double as a market, Biryani Kabob House is the place to go for a bona fide Bangladeshi restaurant experience. Ahmed says that its variety of biryani dishes—typically a luxury meal of mixed rice topped with protein flavored by fried onions and biryani masala back in South Asia—can’t be beat.
Published on August 15, 2022
Words by Esther Tseng
Esther Tseng is a Los Angeles-based food and culture writer who has contributed to Bon Appétit, The Los Angeles Times, Eater and more.