Unfortunately, there is no magic word in Bangladesh to easily describe your dietary preferences. It is very difficult for a Bangladeshi person to understand that you do not want any meat. At least, this was my experience while trying to eat vegan food in Bangladesh.
In Bangladesh, everything vegetarian will most likely be vegan too. They never use Ghee, since vegetable oil is way cheaper. This is especially true for street food–places will use mustard or corn oil.
The kitchen of Bangladesh is very Indian-inspired. But where India is the master of vegetarian food, Bangladesh has a whole other (meat) culture.
One important thing to keep in mind is that there will always be traces of meat in your food. Meat will typically be fried in the same oil as veggie dishes, or your vegan food will be served with the same spoon used for meat dishes. Because of this, I had a bone or two mixed into my vegan dishes. Yuk. The few times this happened, I gave away my food to a person on the street in need.
Singharas and samosas are mostly vegan, but don’t trust the ones filled with onions! Sometimes I would repeat 15 times: “NO MEAT!” and still find meat in my dish. People will lie to sell, but many times they just do not understand “no meat.”
Luckily during my time in Bangladesh, I had brought some green tea leaves from Myanmar with me so I could add some greens to my rice dishes. This way I at least got my greens in and was able to spice my dishes up with a small selection of spices and Sriracha (which I always carry with me). It’s not a fine dining experience, but sometimes you just have to make do.
Tour Group BD made my vegan Bangladeshi food experience much easier. They truly understood what ‘vegan’ means, so on the boat tour to the Sundarbans, I was spoiled like no other. The chef made me a separate delicious dish every day. Moreover, I could always count on these guys to help me out with anything.
Govindas (Hindu restaurants) can be found all around the country. In Sree Mangal I tried about four dishes for 750 Taka (+/- 8 Euro).
The people of Bangladesh are very hospitable. They’ll take you in and feed you without any questions. I’ve enjoyed several beautiful vegan meals made with love and only in traditional ways.
I have never seen as many small dishes packed with flavor as I have in Shylet–fried eggplant and zucchini, soy no-meat balls, mashed potato with onion, fresh salad, dahl (lentils), ..etc. A true feast compared to the bland rice I was eating most of the other time.
At one point during my travels, I met the wonderful guides of Tour Group BD in Cox Bazar and went on a camping adventure to Sonadia Island. While there, I enjoyed simple yet delicious meals cooked on improvised wooden fires. While there, I lived off of rice with potato and an occasional tomato or two. Once again, I spiced it up with Sriracha, since means were very scarce on the deserted island.
Back in Dhaka, I really felt like spoiling myself with something other than fried food and potatoes. I took the hike to the restaurant Shadhu Bhojon in Dhaka, which I found through HappyCow. The food was pricey compared to elsewhere, but it satisfied my western craving for sure!
And of course, I wouldn’t be a Belgian if I wasn’t craving chocolate at least once a day. It had been such a long time since I had tasted any cacao delight, so I mixed up some coconut oil with cacao powder and coated some pomegranate with it.
Long story short: Bangladesh is by no means a vegan heaven, so keep this in mind if you want to travel to this hidden gem and maintain a vegan diet. Understand that this is a poor country where dietary choices are foreign or strictly religious.
Here are some final tips for vegan travel in Bangladesh: book tours with Tour Group BD and avoid eating street food, unless it’s fresh fruits and veggies of course. On the streets, go raw! And when in someone’s home, kindly explain you don’t eat animal products and you’ll surely get spoiled beyond your expectations.
Writer: Marie Neren (Marjina) ,