#Food & Recipes
Would you eat shorisha pizza? How about the kalabhuna dumpling? Bolognese fuchka? Yes? No? Well, that’s where the debate begins. First respectfully, then passionately, and then, in no time, things escalate!
The culinary scene in Dhaka over the past few years has exploded. Boom away all he can want, but not all changes have been taken in the right spirit by everyone. This is where the debates turn into fights, but mostly verbal. The case for food experimentation and innovation – fusion cuisine – ignites the passion of fans and haters alike.
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It has not gone unnoticed by me, neither a fan nor a hater, but a resident foodie at my office.
Now, as someone hailed as a serious foodie, I have certain responsibilities to others, mostly in the form of answering all their questions:
“Where am I taking my wife for our first anniversary? Is this new place good? Is this or that restaurant affordable? really closed?”
I answer these questions coolly and confidently. I know my stuff, but when some of my co-workers brought me the new fusion food debate, I was in trouble.
You see, I’m quite a purist. I’m all for change and new things, but when it comes to food – and many things in life – while creativity is great, you also have to know when to stop.
Unless you are Elon Musk! But what if the creators of foods like shorisha pizza or green chili rosogolla (yes, you read that right), are the Elon Musks of the culinary industry?
And so I entertained this debate: I got myself a bunch of fusion foods to try with an open mind, with two friends who are poles apart on this topic, and then I wrote about it.
To keep this debate civil – fearing a clash might occur between my friends – I started with the so-called ‘thick Thai soup’. It’s certain. Because theoretically “Thai” or not, it doesn’t matter, it falls under the broad category of Bengali Chinese, a subgenre of fusion cuisine that we have all come to accept and love.
I watched my friends peacefully gulp down the spicy, tangy, pink-orange soup one winter evening without any argument. That’s a good start, I thought!
It made us think, fusion has always existed in our country and in the world, like Tex-Mex. Merger is inevitable. The attempt to do something that suits the palate of a culture or community is inevitable.
How many of us even like authentic Chinese or Thai? I do it secretly, although I also like Chinese deshi.
After starting on a high note, I served kalabhuna potstickers from Dumplings of Fury. So let the debate begin…
My open-minded friend was chewing with delight. “Both dumplings and potstickers can have meat. That’s okay. Now who ever made a definitive list of meats that can and can’t be used in dumplings? I have a deshi palate and I love it,” he pleaded. Meanwhile, my cynical friend asked me, “What do you think?
I just shrugged, not wanting to start an argument. I love some Dumplings of Fury delicacies, but when it came to this particular item, I felt the kalabhuna effect outweighed the dumpling effect: it felt like I was taking chunks or lokmas of kalabhuna. But that’s the purist in me talking.
I switched to the shingaras from Love Triangle. Clever name, right?
When it comes to shingara, the usual aloo shingara and kolija shingara are among the most popular deshi snacks. Intikhab Ahmed Nasir, the founder of Love Triangle (and one of the owners of Dumplings of Fury as well), went further.
The results of the experimentation were The Pizza Shingara, Kalabhuna Shingara, Cheeseburger Shingara and so on, in addition to the traditional ones. “I brought many of my favorite items and foods into the shingara!” Nasir had told me the day before. The Mini Naga Shingara had the potential to heat up the debate among my friends, but the peace held as they agreed it was basically a delicious aloo shingara for those who really like extra hot food .
Another highlight is the Pizza Shingara: we were all amused at how immediately and strongly it reminded us of pizza, thanks to all the relevant ingredients and fillings.
But the winner of Love Triangle was The Shiningara Dog. A happy union between the shingara and the hot dog, it has the shingara wrap instead of the bun, and inside there are sausages, mayonnaise and other goodies. I enjoyed it more than real hot dogs.
Then I brought fuchkas – namely Peshawari and Bolognese – products from Fuchkawali. Elevating the notion of fuchka, a husband and wife team of architects AM Shafkat Noor and Anzara Ashraf boldly concocted these innovations.
“When we invited our friends to try it out, we got mixed reactions. Some of them really liked it, some were okay with it, while a few weren’t really happy,” said said Noor.
Well, it’s not pointing in any direction, I replied cheekily in my head. But these fuchkas have indeed become quite popular among my friends though.
Peshawari and Bolognese, one giving off a Pakistani street food vibe and the other an Italian taste, both have beef in common. Fuchka beef – what do you think?
My skeptical friend replied, “I don’t mind. It’s still good fuchka. But, if I go to Fuchkawali, will I order these? Maybe not, I’ll have their regular fuchka .”
“It’s because your life is boring,” replied my other friend, who has been a fan of these fusion fuchkas for quite some time.
Then come the pizzas: the Kala Bhuna and the Spicy Shorisha from Cheez. This is the brand that made the concept of kalabhuna pizza topping popular in Dhaka I think.
Labib Tarafdar, one of the owners, said, “Take shorisha pizza for example. Wasabi is so popular all over the world. But shorisha is rather understated, despite its unique taste.”
But, I wasn’t so sure how my friend – who I had seen arguing angrily even over Hawaiian pizza (i.e. pizza with a pineapple topping) – would react at the shorisha.
Eating a slice of Spicy Shorisha (a shrimp pizza), he scoffed, “So what’s next? Shorshey ilish pizza? Chicken korma pizza?”
“Man, I don’t know about this, but I’ve ordered their kalabhuna pizza many times before,” defended my liberal friend Cheez.
The madness continued, this time with Madchef, my favorite burger. Not just mine, but my friends’ too. And so, when we tried The Dhakaiyya, we were hopeful, even though we had never tried this particular burger before. All in all, our collective feeling was that Madchef can’t be wrong.
After the first bite, I frowned and took the burger apart to start dissecting.
Dhakaiyya offers (along with delicious patties and other treats) fried paneer and mint and green chili sauce.
None of us found the burger horrible, but it was a shock. Weird, because it’s so different. So the natural question to ask Tarafdar, who also happens to own Madchef, was, “Why?”
“Burgers are of course a popular food around the world. But we wanted something on our menu to really stand out from the rest, something that will also be very Bangali,” he replied, adding that The Dhakaiyya realizes good sales.
Finally, make way for desserts: shahi tukra from Basic Kneads. Not triangular, but rather rounded. Not made with pau ruti, but with another type of bread: pain au lait. Pretty amazing! The makers didn’t get so carried away with their experimentations that they would end up ruining the dish.
Basic Kneads is a bakery; there are croissants and baguettes and so on; and yet shahi tukra agrees well with the treatment provided.
“We wanted a sweet dish for celebrations in our country. And so the experimentation began. Fusion, when done right, can be a wonderful treat!” said Shadman Shahriar, one of the owners.
Throughout this amazing meal we had, my friends bickered over almost every item. I didn’t stop them because they gave me good content: “Innovation is good, since innovation is not stupid… but who decides what is stupid and what is not isn’t…it’s like an acquired taste, give it time…these mergers just build hype on social media…but let’s not forget that some of these foods have also been ridiculed online…it’s all about the gimmick…no, it’s about redesigning the food based on the tastes and preferences of the people being served…the integrity of a food must remain intact…but chocolate pizza is popular in many countries…but it’s not really pizza, is it?”
Opinions of restaurateurs offering fusion cuisine also vary: “these are some of our best sellers…not everyone accepts, you can’t make everyone happy…there is a segment of people who are open to it and willing to embrace new things…we still rely primarily on our traditional dishes on the menu.”
The debate went on for some time between my friends. When we finished eating, the three of us looked like chubby cats lying flat on our sofas, too lazy to move or continue any skirmish; feeling drowsy after a very varied, strange and heavy meal. My stomach was full, and so was my head – full of opinions on fusion cuisine, enough to cover my homework on the subject.
And so I grabbed my laptop. I had an article to write.
Photo: Sazzad Ibn Sayed
Food Style: RBR
Disclaimer: The purpose of this article was to report on the current trend of fusion cuisine in Dhaka and present both sides of the story. Opinions expressed on particular foods are solely those of the author and persons cited.