Little Bangladesh – The Garden City Shopping Center
The Garden City Shopping Center on Lee Highway (just east of the intersection with George Mason Drive) is home to five Bangladeshi-owned markets and restaurants, as well as an Indian restaurant and a Pakistani grocery. The sum total is an Indian subcontinent destination.
“People come from all over, from Baltimore to Richmond, just to be here on weekends,” says Ash Sirazul, a Bangladeshi native and Arlington residential property developer. During lunch hour, Sirazul is often found at the 14-seat Gharer Khabar café, where, he says, “the food is unbelievable and you can’t beat the prices.” I’d have to agree. A generous basket of the satisfying mughlai paratha (fried flatbread stuffed with egg and ground beef) is a mere $5.
Folks who are more familiar with Indian cuisine will discover that Bangladeshi fare tends to be a tad oilier, surprisingly sweet and always layered with fresh ground spices and abundant chili peppers. Fish is a dietary staple, and natives tend to prefer the bony, strongly flavored, imported catch from their own rivers and shores. Their hands-down favorite and “national fish” is ilish, a shad variety that’s available frozen in most of the shops in this strip mall. The same markets carry essential ingredients for Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi cooking, as well as custom-cut halal meats.
Here’s a rundown of the offerings:
Asia Halal Supermarket. More than 50 kinds of fish and shrimp, imported from Bangladesh, are available in the frozen foods aisle. 5171 Lee Highway; 703-533-0606
Asia Market. Shop here for more than 20 kinds of rice, including the top-selling, fragrant, Royal brand basmati, grown in the Himalayan foothills. 5143 Lee Highway; 703-533-1505
Bangla Bazar. The Islam family sells seasonal vegetables, Bangladeshi snacks and locally made desserts. 5149 Lee Highway; 703-241-7040
Raja Bazaar. Little Raja is a go-to spot for Pakistani brands of spice mixes, snack foods and a wide selection of dried lentils. 5135 Lee Highway; 703-536-4322
Aladdin. Chef Shiuli Rashid and her husband, Harun, are best known for their traditional Bangladeshi desserts. The full-service restaurant also pleases diners with bone-in fish in curry sauce, lamb biryani and chickpeas cooked with tamarind. 5169 Lee Highway; 703-533-0077
Gharer Khabar. Chef Nasima Shreen and partner Raja Siddique serve traditional Bangladeshi street foods and entrées in this small, casual café, decorated with artwork from their homeland. Customer favorites include the large shrimp prepared with coconut milk, spicy-hot dried fish and goat biryani. 5151 Lee Highway; 703-973-2432, www.gharerkhabar.com
Saran Indian Cuisine. Since 1998, the Hazrah family has served popular vegetarian dishes such as samosa chaat with chickpea curry (#9); sitafal curry of fresh pumpkin with onions and spices (#39); and baigan ka bartha, a dish made with oven-roasted eggplant (#43). 5157 Lee Highway; 703-533-3600, www.sarancuisine.com