Friday, 19 June 2015

Himchhari's Live Kitchen

Sun Dancer Cafe & Restaurant, Himchhari, Cox's Bazar.

S.H. Mahbub, entrepreneur.
For some people it’s the geography of the capital which appeals. They may wish to climb the corporate ladder or be near the centre of national decision-making. For others there’s nowhere better than a farm with clean air, simplicity and open space. Still others are enticed by the call of the sea.

When S.H. Mahbub of Kishoreganj arrived in Cox’s Bazar for a vacation in 1999, little could he imagine he’d stay there. “Cox’s Bazar has the atmosphere of a never ending fair,” he says, “People are always coming and going. I like this the best.” 

Marine Drive, Himchhari.

Instead of returning home he took a job at a guest house, later a hotel and finally at the renowned Mermaid Café. With fifteen years of hospitality experience behind him, two years ago Mahbub decided to branch out, to bring his own brand of dining to the beachside Himchhari restaurant strip.

The restaurant strip at Himchhari, between the beach and the hills.

Sunset over the Bay of Bengal.

“In most Cox’s Bazar restaurants you can view either the sea or the sunset but not both,” he says while sitting in the relaxed wooden-built restaurant he established. “Here you can sit and watch the sun dance, which is why I called it the Sun Dancer.”

Along with a few neighbouring restaurants, Sun Dancer pursues the modern culinary philosophy of a ‘live’ kitchen. Mahbub explains that it’s something like a live cricket match where the action occurs right before the customers’ eyes.

The beach at Himchhari, part of the longest sea beach in the world.

There’s an open menu that takes into account each customer’s wishes: one can basically order anything. Mahbub says available cooking styles include fried, curried, bhuna masala, grilled, baked and steamed; in international, local and traditional food categories. “But we only serve fresh sea fish, not project fish,” he says.

Wherever possible, dishes are prepared from scratch with fresh ingredients, in the kitchen that’s in full view of diners. “Guests can even go in and cook for themselves if they want,” he says, noting that the restaurant sometimes features celebrity chefs.

S.H. Mahbub is hopeful the live kitchen and relaxed atmosphere will attract customers to the Sun Dancer.

The Sun Dancer, Himchhari, Cox's Bazar.

He hopes Sun Dancer can welcome customers in formal attire as easily as those who’ve just stepped off the beach, aiming to create an information and entertainment hub that showcases the district through tour options and visiting musicians performing rural, philosophical and life-related songs. Fire spinners regularly display their skills.

But the road hasn’t been smooth with political turmoil leading a tourism nosedive in Cox’s Bazar earlier this year and a regular nine-month low season to contend with. In an attempt to extend tourism potential the town hosts full moon parties in June and July when the waves are high. At Sun Dancer this brings in some Bangladeshi and Indian customers during the traditional off-season.

Despite such business difficulties Mahbub is pleased with his life choice. “Every day is new here,” he says, “I came to Cox’s Bazar today. It always feels like that, even now.”

Marine Drive. Himchhari is a popular spot for beach-side dining.

The restaurants at Himchhari.

Hibiscus welcomes early spring to Himchhari Beach.

Himchhari Beach with sandbags to prevent erosion.

Himchhari, a part of the world's longest sea beach.

This article is published in The Daily Star, here: Redefining Hospitality and Cuisine at Himchhari

Relaxing at the Sun Dancer.

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