In the age of e-commerce sites that let you shop for essentials through your electronic devices and air-conditioned, neatly arranged supermarkets with helpful attendants armed with barcode scanners, shopping at an old school bazaar sounds like a daunting, unnecessarily stressful task. For the deal hunters and the dreamy socialist poets, however, these age old hubs of commerce hold an insurmountable amount of charm and heritage that is undeniable to anyone who isn’t afraid of slumming it like the majority of the country.
While there aren’t too many reasons why someone would want to put themselves through the ordeal of navigating the perilously slippery alleyways of Karwan Bazaar or New Market’s grocery sections, there is one that stands out above the rest – it’s a big part of being a Bengali. Akin to going along with the family elders to pick out a sacrificial cow from a gorur haat on the eve of Eid ul Adha, going grocery shopping to an old school bazaar is one of those things you really do have to experience, even if it’s just once.
It’s not as easy as strolling into a nearby Agora or Swapno store and piling your essentials into a basket, so here are our pointers to make sure your bazaar experience goes smoothly.
Skinny jeans and chinos might not make the same kind of fashion statement as lungis and sleeveless undershirts, but in the chaotic guts of Dhaka’s bazaars they’re not really appropriate attire. Wear disposable clothing, so that even if you get doused in fish flavoured water or kick up a hundred year old dirt and mud, you won’t care.
Leave your expensive sneakers home. Sandals and old jogging shoes help you find grip on ground that has been rendered slippery through days old leaves, mud and dirt working in unison. That way your footwear stay out of the way of being caked in god knows what.
Get your haggle on
One of the biggest advantages of not shopping at a barcode filled superstore is finding ways to flex your bargaining muscles. Driving the price down to a reasonable level is something only a few excel at, but it’s a skill you can pick up with frequent attempts.
Use tactics like your inner knowledge of the product to bargain – if that guava looks too ripe to be true, point out that the supplier should have used a lesser amount of formalin.
Ditch the wheels
Parking inside Karwan Bazaar can be one of the biggest pains you’ll face this side of stepping on Lego bricks. Forget the car, even if it’s chauffeur driven, and start walking. If necessary, walk a certain distance and hail a rickshaw, but under no circumstances should you expect that taking a car will help in any way.
Keep your stuff safe
Cell-phones, wallets, keys – keep them within easy reach and keep checking periodically to make sure they haven’t been nicked by some unscrupulous character who doesn’t care enough about groceries to be hanging around.
Buying fish or meat? Sellers will try to give you the worst of the stock even though they’ll show you the best stuff. If you hand pick something, make sure it ends up in your bag without being switched out. Be careful of buying beef – the shopkeepers will try to increase the measured weight by including lots and lots of bony bits. Check what you’re buying before you head home, otherwise prepare to be disappointed.
Seems like a lot of hassle? It actually isn’t. Once you’re accustomed to it, it can actually save you a lot of money and in the process make you a tougher cookie. A couple of hours spent inside Dhaka’s bazaars will give you a solid perspective of how to be street smart nearly anywhere in Bangladesh.