Last night, after coming back home from a full day of classes, I opened the fridge that I share with three of my flatmates. My flatmates' shelves were stocked to the gills with pasta, bagels, cold cuts, and cheese. Mine was home to half an onion, a tub of margarine, half a bottle of milk, and a box of premade soup from Tesco. Roast chicken and vegetable soup to warm up my weary soul on this dreary, cold autumn evening.
I heated up my soup and tried to zhooz it up the best I could - a spoonful of margarine, a dash of salt, and a few generous grinds of black pepper - to disguise the taste that is eerily similar to baby food. However, the texture was harder to dispel. The (by now) triple-cooked chunks of carrot, shredded chicken a second away from disintegrating, and the thick, floury binder that held it all together. The only way out of this nightmare was the ever-versatile potato chip, a classic desperation move for the struggling student. Crumble a few on top of your lumpy soup before inhaling the rest, and you'll have successfully transformed the texture into the equivalent of a fine (student) dining experience. A superior struggle meal.
As much as I'd like to snag the credit, combining crunchy or crispy elements with foods like soup or porridge is nothing new. The most famous example is French onion soup. A classic combination of toasty bread topped with gruyere cheese and a rich, beefy broth full of sliced, slow-cooked onions. No matter how flavourful, consuming a thick liquid for a long time might feel tedious. While it doesn't sound too horrible in theory, it can be unpleasant from a purely textural perspective. This is why the French invented croutons, a derivation of the word “croûte”, which means “crust”.
However, you don't have to be a French monsieur or mademoiselle to enjoy croutons in soup. Our Bangladeshi street food vendors have long served runny liquid foods with crispy accompaniments. Consider your local halim wala, who serves thick bowls of halim with crispy fried onions for texture, as well as chillies and sliced ginger to cut through the heavy mix of rice and lentils. Your fuchka wala uncle does the same thing by sprinkling some of his crispy fried dough on top of his otherwise soft chickpea soup of chotpoti.
Nowshad, from Nowshad Soup on Mohammadpur’s Salimullah Road, does something similar with his chicken corn soup. To add texture, customers eat bowls of his soup with thin, crispy fried luchi. According to Nowshad, he was eating a bowl of soup on a rainy day when he caught a whiff of freshly fried luchis from his neighbour Jamal’s shop. He bought a couple of luchis to go with his soup and has never looked back. People now travel from all over Dhaka to eat Nowshad's soup with Jamal's crispy luchi, which has become a Mohammadpur institution.
The most unusual soup and crouton combination I've ever had was at Le Soufflé, my favourite restaurant in Dhaka. It wasn't a soup from their menu, but rather a complimentary hors d'oeuvres served to welcome their guests. The tiny shot glass of warm carrot soup came with a flaky pastry dome on top that you punctured with your spoon to mix into the soup. I've been looking for this soup and pastry combo since they closed, and one day, it will be mine again.
But for the time being, I should probably place an order for groceries.
This article is a part of Stripe, bdnews24.com's special publication with a focus on culture and society from a youth perspective.