Midnight meals

Burgeoning Sehri culture in Dhaka city

Ariz Hoque | Thursday, 21 March 2024

One week into Ramadan, things become both easier and harder simultaneously. On the one hand, you have acclimatised somewhat to the holy month's rhythm -- the new timetable, increased traffic, and extended prayer times. On the other hand, meal prep and planning take their toll, especially when fasting. This is when restaurants enter the picture. Iftar outings have been mainstream for decades, and now the pre-dawn meal of Sehri is enjoying a surge in popularity.
Sehri time, for me growing up (and largely unchanged today), meant being woken by the local mosque's imam and sharing a simple meal with family: rice, daal, a meat curry, and my mother's special dessert - leftover jilapi soaked in milk and chilled.
However, recent years have seen a new culture emerge -- enjoying Sehri at restaurants. This midnight meal becomes an exciting experience with friends or family, and restaurants have responded with mouthwatering deals and meals. From five-star hotels to popular roadside eateries, Ramadan is a prime season for special offers like buffets or platters at attractive prices. The cuisine options are vast, too -- from Middle Eastern to desi Chinese, familiar Thai food, and even Japanese cuisine, all becoming acceptable, even sought-after Sehri choices. Mughlai cuisine, in particular, enjoys a huge demand during this period.
This trend began a few years before the pandemic when platforms like Instagram were gaining popularity. People were exposed to the livelier Suhoor cultures of the Arab world, popularised by rising influencers. After two years of lockdown, Sehri parties have returned with a vengeance.
Food is the main attraction of these Sehri outings, of course, but it also promotes a great opportunity for bonding during shared meals. One of the biggest challenges of Dhaka life is navigating daily traffic, especially during Ramadan when everyone rushes home to break their fast with their families.
Dining out for Sehri allows for a more relaxed journey, with less stress due to quieter streets. People can unwind more naturally at this time of night. Besides, with the rise of ride-sharing services and improved overall security, venturing out late at night, even at 3 am, is no longer so strange.
The city's economic growth over the past fifteen years, coupled with media exposure to other cultures, has created a demand for unique experiences. Sehri parties and Suhoor offers have become commonplace. Many renowned companies organise 'Sehri night' events with pop-up restaurants offering samplings of various cuisines. Hotels and restaurants also have Sehri buffets and platters.
Dedicated foodies get their Sehri fix in Old Dhaka, though. Puran Dhaka is said to never sleep, and during Ramadan, the whole area buzzes with energy. The enticing aromas of kebabs, Haji's biryani, and all the delights from Al Razzaq, Beauty Lassi, Bismillah Kabab, and Hanif Biryani fill the air. The night-long Sehri bazaar holds a special place in our hearts, offering the traditional fare this part of the town is known for.
The scene in the newer parts of the city is different but equally vibrant. Restaurants in Gulshan, Banani, and Dhanmondi offer a variety of options, like Tastebud in Banani with platters under Tk 1000, and the pizza joint Cheez with BOGO deals. The Pan-Asian restaurant Dimsum Town in Dhanmondi takes Sehri reservations. Among the big hotels, Sheraton Dhaka offers Buffet Suhur at Tk 6,990 with B1G1 and B1G3 options on selected cards. The Westin has a Suhur offer from 1:00 am until Fajr for Tk 5,990 net per person. Le Méridien Dhaka offers a deal to enjoy Buffet Suhoor for Tk 5550 net pp (Sun-Wed) and Tk 7550 net pp (Thu-Sat), with special discounts on selected bank cards. These are all good options for those looking for Sehri party choices.
If you want the best of both worlds -- skipping meal prep and enjoying a delicious meal without the hassle of getting ready to go out -- there's also the option of ordering in, as most restaurants extend their kitchen operations until midnight. The recent Bailey Road fires have made this a preferable option due to safety concerns. Many eateries have been sealed off for lacking safety measures, and the offerings this year, at least, are lower than in previous years.
There are mixed views about the current Sehri culture. While some favour a simple home-cooked meal, others welcome the chance to connect with loved ones over a meal before the fast begins. There is debate about the extravagance of Sehri parties during times of inflation and food insecurity. However, others argue that the Ramadan business boom can support many families in need. I am not here to preach. All I can say is that the pre-dawn hours take on a special character throughout this holy month.

[email protected]