I'm a picky eater, so it's no surprise that I have mixed feelings about fusion restaurants. After all, they are responsible for abominations like the chocolate momo and bolognese fuchka. On the flip side, they've also invented a personal favourite - kala bhuna pizza - so I can't dismiss them entirely.
Naturally, I was thrilled about and dreading BBQ Express, a fusion eatery in Dhanmondi that combines Pahari cuisine with Texas-style American barbecue. Think smoked meats like briskets and barbacoa, mixed with mungdi and laksu from the hill tracts.
A fat beef rib with a bowl of steaming mungdi sounds excellent in theory, but I haven't had much experience with Pahari food before, so I was sceptical about how the two tastes would meld. Mungdi, or mundi, derives from the Burmese noodle soup mont di and is made with thin, springy rice vermicelli topped with a light, lemony beef broth. The broth also gets seasoned with ngappi - a fermented shrimp paste. Rakhine immigrants, now known as Marma, brought mont di to the Chattogram Hill Tracts in the 16th century. Locally, the name changed over time to mungdi.
From their menu, chef Arpon Chakma seems to use shrimp powder instead of ngappi for their mungdi, which might be easier for those trying Marma food for the first time. The idea focuses on a surf and turf noodle dish, which seems the heart of BBQ Express's menu. I hoped it would come together, but just in case the mungdi didn't work out, I ordered a hunk of smoked beef ribs as the meat would make my day regardless.
I ordered my mungdi without coriander leaves (the stalk tastes like dirt to me). However, it still came with garnishes of lime wedges, thinly sliced fresh red chillis, and fine red chilli flakes, which reminded me of the coarser gochugaru chilli flakes of Korean cuisine. The mungdi broth had deep-fried onions sprinkled on top, which are always a treat, whether on polau or noodle soup.
I thought the beef rib would be the show's star, but the light, zesty broth packed a punch and was a strong contender. The meat had a thick border of charred fat, one of my favourite parts of any grilled beef dish. The meat, smoked for hours, was tender, and had the signature red smoke marks on the edges. The noodles were nothing special, just standard rice noodles. But the fatty meat and the fiery broth of two types of chillis made for a real treat for the spice tolerant.
My friend ordered potato wedges, which were more like potato chunks, fried and tossed in a blend of spices, and a bunch of coriander. It also came with a house sauce, a savoury dip that wasn't mayo-based but was still creamy.
We also ordered beef tacos, and the filling seemed to be the same smoked beef brisket, topped with more house sauce, pickled beets, and, you guessed it, more coriander! Honestly, the dinosaur-sized rib had already filled my beef quota for the day, so the tacos felt like a chore. But they could be an excellent second dish with the seafood mungdi or another non-beef item.
From the first bite, I was already planning repeat visits to BBQ Express. Aside from more meat and mungdi, I hope to try their laksu salads, another hill tracts delicacy. But I recommend booking ahead for anyone looking to try the restaurant. Their mastery of the grille and their expertise with Pahari food have led to a packed dining room. One I hope to return to soon for another expedition.
This article is part of Stripe, bdnews24.com's special publication focusing on culture and society from a youth perspective.