Here’s what to eat along the Danforth near Crescent Town

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The long stretch of Danforth Avenue is home to many foodie personalities. As you venture east, you’ll navigate through micro-pockets of food products from Latin America, West and East Africa, and India.

One of the newest areas to emerge is Banglatown – a very short strip of the Danforth from Victoria Park Avenue to just east of Dawes Road, which has grown in recent years and become home to several businesses Bangladeshi.

One of the first food outlets to open here actually came from a video store, one of the first Bangladeshi businesses in the area. This video store, Priyangam, was opened in 1995 by Helen Alam and Alam Shamsul Syed, who were originally from Dhaka and moved to Canada from Norway with their infant son, Rafee Syed.

“The video store became something of a meeting point for Bengali newcomers who were looking to reconnect with their culture through the movies,” Rafee Syed said. Soon after, a snack aisle was added with Alam Syed serving samosas filled with meat and vegetables and an assortment of Bangladeshi sweets like chom chom and gulab jamun.

In 2004, the family decided to convert the store into a small restaurant, naming it Ghoroaa, the Bengali word for house. Being one of the first Bangladeshi restaurants in town, it quickly attracted a following with a growing community in Crescent Town.

“Then came the grocery store that opened next door, and a Bangladeshi textile company. Over the years it has grown significantly,” said Rafee Syed.

During the day, this cultural touchpoint on the Danforth may not seem so obvious. If you walk you might spot a few brightly painted signs with Bengali text. But when the sun goes down, the neighborhood comes alive with friends and families gathering around their favorite Bangladeshi snack or restaurant. You will see men dressed in sequined tuxedos and women wearing shalwar kameez.

There’s music in the streets, with makeshift terraces set up in parking lots. There is a sense of community here that reminds me of what Little India was like decades ago.

Here are three places you should check out when visiting Banglatown.

Ghoroaa Restaurant

Fish curry is a popular dish at Ghoroaa restaurant.

(2994 Danforth Ave)

Rafee Syed, now in his twenties, helps run his parents’ restaurant. Alam Syed is still a central figure at this flagship establishment known for its traditional approach to Bangladeshi cuisine.

“My mother is a self-taught cook and many of the dishes she serves here are typical of how you would eat in a Bangladeshi home,” Rafee Syed said.

Although there are a few seats in Ghoroaa, the restaurant is best known for its takeout. The most popular dishes here are khichuri dishes, rice and daal cooked biryani style with an assortment of spices and proteins like chicken or beef. The goat version is a crowd pleaser with tender pieces of bone-in meat mixed with rice and daal.

There is a dish that is considered a must in the restaurant.

“If you are visiting Ghoroaa for the first time, it has to be the fish,” said Rafee Syed. The Brahmaputra River is one of the largest transboundary rivers in the world, flowing through Tibet, Bangladesh and India. Seafood is therefore central to many regional styles of Bangladeshi cuisine.

At Ghoroaa, the most popular dish is the rice-fish combo. Rohu, also known as Carpo, is lightly fried to crisp its skin, before being cooked in a sauce of tomatoes, onions and green chilies. The fish is served with rice topped with daal – red lentils cooked with bay leaves and cilantro.

There is a wonderful contrast between the tender flesh of the fish, slightly undercooked, complemented by the slightly crispy skin, and the bold heat of the sauce. The heat is raised to all the sauces of Banglatown.

“I think what people love about fish curry is that each time it’s made, the sauce can taste a little different. It depends on who is in the kitchen,” Rafee Syed said, noting that the restaurant employs a lot of newcomers who bring their own regional flair to various dishes.

The Dhaka Kebab hot counter is well stocked with a variety of dishes.

Dhaka Kebab

(3040 Danforth Ave)

One of the newest restaurants to open on the Strip is Dhaka Kebab, which offers an extensive menu showcasing various regional dishes from Bangladesh as well as popular Indian dishes.

During weekend nights, chairs are set up for a makeshift patio in the parking lot with lines that last long into the night. Owner Sarkar Rafique Ahmed opened the restaurant in October 2020. It’s one of the few places on the Strip that can accommodate groups for on-site dining.

Some of the fried snacks available at Dhaka Kebab.

“I’ve been a chef for over 20 years and always wanted to open a Bangladeshi restaurant here in this area,” said Ahmed, who arrived from Dhaka in 2004 and has lived in Crescent Town ever since. He knew he wanted to get into the restaurant business and staying in the community was an obvious choice. “I’ve seen our people grow together here. There is nowhere else my restaurant would be so successful,” Ahmed said.

A rotating menu guides guests through breakfast, lunch and dinner dishes. For breakfast, the most popular dish is the traditional assortment of thali-style vegetables, simmered and served with paratha. “There is always a daal, potatoes and carrots, a sample of different types of vegetables. Every bite should be different,” Ahmed said. A snack counter to the side offers Bangladeshi specialties such as spicy beef and vegetable samosas, chicken rolls and patties.

At noon, it is the biryanis that lead the dance, spiced rice cooked Indian style with vegetables and proteins. Chicken biryani sells first. There is also an assortment of vegetable and meat curries that you can order a la carte. Try the prawns and potatoes, cooked in a milky sauce with subtle spice notes that make it a great addition to homemade rotis.

Ruma Paul, co-owner of Adi Bikrampur Sweets and Fast Food, with some of the restaurant's offerings.

For dinner, you’ll see groups crowded around a range of Dhaka offerings: bowls of rice and biryani alongside small bowls of mutton curry and chicken karahi – a fiery dish made with plenty of chillies, onions and tomatoes. “Our dishes tend to be spicier,” Ahmed said.

Sweets and fast food Adi Bikrampur

(3000 Danforth Ave)

Husband and wife team Shadhan Ghosh and Ruma Paul run a cubicle-sized confectionery shop in Banglatown, small enough to fit only two people inside.

“It used to be a very popular biryani stand. When space became available in 2019, we had to fulfill our dreams,” Ghosh said. Before opening the shop, the couple hosted a pop-up, making Bangladeshi sweets in their commissary space in Scarborough and catering to groups and functions.

There are a number of shops making Bangladeshi sweets in Banglatown, but what sets Adi Bikrampur apart is the attention to detail and cooking in small batches.

There are only a few dishes on the menu, popular sweets such as gulab jamun, rashgulla and chom choms. Paul immediately greets each guest with a fresh cup of chai. “Chai and my desserts are the best way to end a meal, or even a snack,” Paul said.

Chom choms are the most popular item at Adi Bikrampur Sweets and Fast Food on Danforth Avenue.

Paul and Ghosh’s most popular item is chom choms, cylindrical-shaped candies made from milk solids, semolina and sugar.

Generally, when these candies are made, it is with store-bought milk solids. Here, the couple make their own milk solids, curdling batches of boiled milk with vinegar before cooking it with semolina and dipping it in a sugar syrup.

Gulab jamun also gets a similar treatment, with homemade milk solids made into golf ball-sized pieces and gently fried until golden brown, then dipped in a sugar syrup.

Due to the limited space in the store – which can barely fit a microcar – Ghosh regularly delivers fresh batches of gulab jamun and chom choms to the store which he makes in small batches in their commissary kitchen on Kingston Road.

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