Bakarkhani utsob by 'Amra Dhakabasi'
Dhakai Bakarkhani, the traditional food/snack of the people of old Dhaka was so famous for its quality and taste that there was great demand of it in the Royal court of the Mughal in Delhi.
Muslims of Turkic and Afghan origin were first to arrive in India and brought with them ‘tandoor’ and ‘naan’ to the local culinary. Mughal’s arrival in 16th century introduced ‘shirmal’ a kind of soft bread. Hekim Habibur Rahman in his book “Dhaka pachash barash pahley” published in the 1940’s gives a detail account of the variety of original food items of Dhaka and its preparation. He said, the unique feature of Dhaka was that though rice is the staple food, the varieties of 'roti' (bread) available were simply amazing and every roti has a history and ancestry of its own. Shirmal has basic ingredients of flour and semolina (suji), persian background, it was soft and thick, whereas, Bakarkhani made of white flour and ‘mawa/khoia’ is firm, crisp and melts in the mouth, it is also known as ‘sukha roti’.
In the past, the bakarkhaniwalas (bread-makers) used to lit up tandoor after midnight to bring out product by morning. Bakarkhani dough of white flour and mawa thoroughly mixed and kneaded for hours before stretching thin by hand over the entire span of wooden board. Then after spreading ghee (clarified butter) over it, flour is strewn on. It was folded and the process repeated several times. After sizeable numbers of such small dough are ready, they are made into roti on the board and sesame (teel) seeds are spread on it. The rotis are then put inside the tandoor. During the process of baking, pure milk is sprinkled on them twice. This is the story of making pure bakarkhanis. But now in place of ghee and milk, molasses solution is added so that the bread turns reddish.’
Cheese bakarkhani was another delicacy. In every fold, instead of ghee and flour ‘mohanbhog’ mishti or semolina (suji) halwa was used. These breads known as ‘bhigaroti or bhijaroti’ are sent on ‘dalas’ (high rim trays) dipped in creamy milk with almond and raisins from the house of the bride to the groom as part of a traditional matrimonial ritual. Soon other men joined in this trade, bidding goodbye to quality and hygiene of the food and this business came to an end.
Nazir Hossain, a local of Dhaka writes an interesting story in his book “Kingbadantir Dhaka” about naming of 'Bakarkhani'. The story goes in 1700A.D. when Murshid Quli Khan came to eastern Bengal after obtaining the title ‘Dewan’ (chief officer), he brought along with him Aga Bakar Khan as a small boy. Aga Bakar grew up as a great warrior and during the reign of Nawab Shiraj-ud-Doula held a crucial role in the then Bengal politics. Aga Bakar was appointed the commander of military forces in the Chittagong district and his amour was a 'nartaki' (dancer) of Arambag called ‘Khani Begum’. However, Ujir-e-ala (minister) Jahandar Khan’s wicked son Kotwal Jainul Khan also had an eye for Khani Begum. One day jainul Khan attempted to take away Khani Begum by force. Learning this Aga Bakar went hastily for her rescue. There was a fight and Jainul Khan fled. A rumour spread that after assassinating Jainul, Aga Bakar had hidden his dead body. Both Khani Begum and Aga Bakar were arrested and taken to Murshid Quli’s court. As neutral judge Murshid Quli Khan gave the death sentence to Aga Bakar and put in the cage of a tiger. He fought valiantly with the animal for his life and eventually succeeded in killing it and escape. On the other hand, Jainul abducted Khani and fled to the forests of South-East Bengal. In search of Khani Begum, Aga Bakar Khan headed towards ‘Chandradip’ accompanied by his commander Kala Gazi. When Jainul saw that he had no hope for survival he plunged his sword into Khani Begum's chest and Aga Bakar reached the spot only to find his beloved dying. After the death of Khani Begum, Aga Bakar almost lost his mind. He stayed in Chandradip which he eventually took under his possession besides Selimabad and Buzurg Umidpur (Bakarganj named after Baker presently in Barisal). On Murshid Quli Khan’s order, Aga Bakar had to wed to a respectable Shia family who gave birth to two sons Aga Sadek and Mirza Mehdi. Aga Baker was subsequently killed in a battle by his conspirators; his mutilated body was buried in old Dhaka in the field Aga Sadeq Maidan. Though Aga Bakar got married, he never forgot Khani Begum, and this he proved by naming the specially prepared bread 'bakar-khani' roti thus making his love a part of legend.