In 2006, when 47-year-old Majid Miah set up a restaurant in the Shyamoly Ghat area in Chandura on the edge of the Dhaka-Sylhet Highway, his neighbours said he had gone mad. They did not believe people would come to his restaurant. After all, it was a huge, deserted place.
"In the beginning, I used to stop the speeding trucks and request the drivers to have meals at my restaurant. I used to tell them if the food did not taste good, they would not have to come here again. In this way, I gathered customers and made sure they kept coming here," said Majid Miah, who is now 65 years old, while sitting at his restaurant called Nur-E-Madina.
"Now the same drivers jokingly tell me they helped me popularise my restaurant but now they have to stand in queues to get a seat here!" said Majid with a hearty laugh.
Every day, hundreds of truck, covered van and oil tanker drivers rush through highways going from one corner of the country to another. Often, they cannot maintain an eating or sleeping schedule and are away from their families for a long time.
However, there are specialised restaurants on highways catering to these drivers with well-cooked and affordable meals.
There are around nine restaurants in Shyamoli Ghat and new restaurants are being built. These restaurants are so popular that sometimes customers have to wait in lines to get seats. These remain open from early morning to early evening.
Interestingly, all nine shop owners are from the neighbouring Jalalpur village. Most of them have had shops in Chandura Bazar in the past.
Majid informed us he too had a restaurant there. But when the business of jute and paddy fell in the bazar, his restaurant had to bear its brunt. Around 18 years ago, he shifted his restaurant to Shyamoli Ghat.
Drivers are happy to have lunch here, pulling in their trucks on the roadside. The Shyamoli Ghat area on the Dhaka-Sylhet highway snakes through waterbodies and paddy fields. Trees fill the area and a breeze usually blows through them, making for a comfortable resting place.
Claiming he has never sold stale food to his customers, Majid said, "I send the unsold food to my family for eating. If I give customers stale food, they will never come to my restaurant."
He added that every day, he gets around 200 customers.
All the cooking takes place in large wood-powered stoves. Majid said the fish are from rivers and beels and not farmed. He himself slaughters the goats and the chickens are deshi cocks and not broiler ones.
Mohammad Abdul Hakim was sitting at the steering of his Ashok Leyland truck at Shyamoli Ghat. He brought a truck full of stones to Brahmanbaria and was now returning to Sylhet. He stopped here on his way to have lunch. He had beef for lunch and was billed Tk300.
"The food at these restaurants is fresh and tasty," said 29-year-old Hakim who has been driving trucks for the last 14 years. "If I ordered the same beef item at a regular restaurant, it would have cost me more."
Kartik Chandra Biswas has been having lunch at the Al-Madina Restaurant for the last nine years. He is a covered van driver for a pharmaceutical company. He had lunch with duck curry, which cost him Tk130.
Kartik drives through the same highway every week. The day we met him, he was going to Sylhet from Dhaka carrying medicines in his vehicle. He comes to Al-Madina because of the food quality. "Usually, after I start from Dhaka, I reach this place between 12:30 pm and 2:30 pm and make it a point of having lunch here," said Kartik.
Five years after Majid Miah's Nur-E-Madina Restaurant was set up, seeing its success, Mohammad Rubel built his restaurant Al-Madina next to it. He said this place has almost become like a tourist spot with people from all over the country stopping here to have meals.
Syed Isdadul Iqbal, a banker from neighbouring Moulvibazar, came riding a motorcycle with his friend to have lunch here. They got to know about this place from watching food reviews on YouTube and Facebook. They had duck curry and beef.
"The taste is different from regular restaurants. I would say they are quite delicious," said Iqbal, adding, "I am happy with the food. I will come here again with friends."
The Dhaka-Chattogram Highway is the busiest highway for truckers and more than a hundred restaurants have been set up here.
Truckers informed us as Cumilla falls halfway into their journey, most of them prefer to have their meals here.
The Baburchi Bazar area in Chauddagram, Cumilla is another place where truckers have lunch and dinner. The Al-Madina Restaurant here was set up around eight years ago.
Truck drivers pull in their vehicles and have their meals here and the restaurant remains open for 24 hours. Only in the Baburchi Bazar area, there are around 20 restaurants for truckers.
"Every day around 100 drivers come here to eat," said Nazir Ahmed, who looks after the restaurant.
Iqbal Hossain stopped his truck at Al-Madina o have dinner. He was carrying raw materials for re-rolling mills from Narayanganj and going to Chattogram. He started from Narayanganj at around 6 pm and stopped at Baburchi Bazar at 9:30 pm to have dinner.
"Most of the time I have meals at this restaurant. I find the food quite good. I often eat beef and chicken," said 24-year-old Iqbal, who has been driving trucks for the last 15 years.
He said another reason why they prefer these restaurants is they can safely park their trucks there.
Mohammad Shaheen began his journey from Chattogram in the evening and was going to Dhaka with iron sheet coils. It took him around three hours to reach Baburchi Bazar. He stopped at Al-Madina Restaurant to have dinner.
"We stop here, take some rest and if we feel sleepy, we sleep inside the truck," said Shaheen. He added he enjoyed some vegetables and fish curry at Al-Madina. He does not eat beef because it gives him allergies.
"There are other facilities too. I can eat here even when I do not have money because these people know me well," said Shaheen, who has been a long-haul driver for 14 years. "We can use the toilets, and even bathe."
Mohammad Mostofa stopped his small truck carrying stone chips at Al-Madina. He started his journey from Rangpur the previous afternoon. He had his lunch at the Sirajganj intersection and now he will have his dinner at Baburchi Bazar before reaching Cox's Bazar.
"The food is good, fresh and cheap," said Mostofa.
At around 11 pm, Mohammad Mamun came to Baburchi Bazar to have dinner. He was bringing imported chemicals from the Chattogram Port and taking them to a garment factory in Tongi, Gazipur. "Whenever I feel hungry, I stop here. I have my meals at different restaurants on different days," he said.