Venturing to Hamtramck guarantees an immersion into cultural diversity.  This diversity best expresses itself in the authenticity and variety of ethnic food.  Recently, I had the pleasure of enjoying Bengali cuisine at Aladdin’s Bakery and Sweets.  The gentle reader should know at the outset that this was my first encounter with Bengali cuisine, although I am familiar with Indian food, which is similar.  Also, I am vegetarian which restricted my sampling to the vegetable dishes on the menu.

Eating at Aladdin’s was fast-paced and undeterred.  The small, unpretentious space was bustling like a kitchen during a holiday.  Without great ceremony I was directed to a table.  Just as unceremoniously, the food I ordered was delivered on a white, Styrofoam dish perhaps to ensure that neither the dinnerware, the flatware, or garnish could distract the eater from the main point of the experience—the food.

Given this barren backdrop, the food must do all of the heavy-lifting to impress.  This effort starts with the spicing which is multi-layered and brings deep, nuanced flavors to the final product.  They respond well to slow-cooking, and indeed most of the items on the menu are stew-like, confirming the fact that this food is made with great intention and guardianship. This fact alone separates Aladdin’s from more commercial or institutional enterprises and approaches.

But it’s not just the effort that is different; it’s also the intention.  While one can clearly see great effort invested in other categories of cuisine, say gourmet for example, the intention at Aladdin’s is not to stroke a chef’s ego, to impress a finicky patron, or to create art.  No, here the intention is less complicated and that is to nourish the diner in a way that is more sincere and perhaps, emotionally gratifying.

The atmosphere at Aladdin’s helps to deliver on this intention.  It’s pleasurably disassociated from elegance and familiarity, having a pace and aromas unrepresented in American restaurants. The food offers a way in to this cultural mystique, once again making the food the star of the show. The menu offers copious options for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians.  For the former, lentils and beans get major play, serving as the foundation for soups and heartier courses.  For the latter, ground meat, eggs, and onions titillate the senses in the Muglai Porota.  I walked away completely satisfied, wrapping up my meal with vegetable samosas after beginning with bhartha and the Chana Daal.

I recommend that you go to Aladdin’s if you want to experience interesting and delicious food.  And then return because you have come to understand that food meant to nourish you can also nurture you.

—Hanna Justine Guido