Where: Burger Shurger, 297 Glen Huntly Road Elsternwick
What: Finally a burger Indian parents will eat
Who: Tea Siren, Dancing Queen
Bloat score: 4 – If I were lying prostrate on my tummy, it would have looked as though I was levitating
‘Fusion food’ is a much maligned term that recalls routinely reviled mashups like phorittos and Italian sushi, but the intermingling of cultural influences has been with us for as long as food has been consumed.
Take Macanese cuisine, said by some to be the original ‘fusion’ cuisine. Dating back 450 years, it’s a combination of Cantonese flavours, the olives and chorizo of Portugal, and the spices of former Portuguese colonies like Mozambique, Brazil and Malaysia. This rich history has culminated in Macanese feijoada, a Brazilian stew that is made with Chinese sausage and kidney beans. Galinha à Africana is a Macanese dish inspired by African Piri Piri chicken, which Portuguese traders in Mozambique brought over to Macau, but also encompasses the influences of Sri Lanka (cinnamon), Malaysia (dried coconut and coconut cream) and five spice powder (China).
Macanese cuisine may be one of the more popular examples of fusion food, but they abound across the world. Nikkei cuisine was born through the marriage between Japanese recipes and traditions with Peruvian ingredients, resulting in dishes like “sushi with Amazonian fish, anticucho meat skewers with sesame and yuzu-based sauces, and ceviches and tiraditos that combine Japanese citrus with aji peppers”. In Japan, Western influences have resulted in yoshoku dishes like bifusuteki (beef steak), French-inspired korokke (croquettes), tonkatsu rice and chicken nanban (fried chicken), but as a chef tells writer Cher Tan, these dishes “may have been inspired by non-Japanese cuisine, but we’ve made them fully Japanese”. Hainanese chicken rice, banh mi, vindaloo and ramen – they’re all examples of fusion food where culinary traditions, ingredients and techniques have been combined into something new, whether due to colonisation, migration, or displacement.
This lengthy introduction is a way of saying Burger Shurger specialises in fusion food, specifically that which sees chicken 65 and malai kebab sandwiched by bread, lamb keema tossed with spaghetti in a makeshift bolognese, butter chicken strewn across fries, and biryani moulded into arancini.
Started up by couple Payal Bisht and Prasuk Jain who moved from New Delhi to Melbourne in 2008, Burger Shurger was conceived out of a desire to feed their parents a burger they would actually eat – enter Indian burgers. With parents who have never touched a regular burger in their life – I had to check that Prasuk’s dad wasn’t my dad when I read that he said “I’m never eating a burger, I want my Indian food” – I deeply felt this.
With such a varied menu containing thoughtfully reinvented dishes from every corner of India, I was spoilt for choice. There were five fries options alone: butter chicken fries, keema fries, butter paneer fries, chilli fries and masala fries. The menu has a vegetarian menu as large and expansive as its non-vegetarian one, with Prasuk being vegetarian himself.
I asked our waitstaff, who I believe may have been Payal, for recommendations and she suggested the butter chicken fries – an absolute must-order dish in her words – and the Nepalese steamed momos. I listened to her first suggestion and disregarded her second; I wasn’t going to get something as traditional as momos, as much as I love them, in a place where I could order a chicken chettinad bao.
The butter chicken fries were a standout. Golden shoestring fries fresh out of the deep fryer were blanketed in shredded chicken doused in a light red butter chicken gravy, instead of the lurid red hues you find in Indian food court stalls (though these are good too). Burger Shurger’s butter chicken was heavier on the cashews, lighter on the sugar and was moderately spicy. The garnish of chopped spring onions provided a much needed sharp respite from the richness.
This would’ve been great drunken comfort food, or the food you eat at 6pm on a Tuesday night as we did. Tea Siren, who I should nickname Butter Chicken instead to commemorate her weekly order of said dish – shoutout to Melbourne Central’s Little India for their service – enjoyed this dish the most.
After my big talk of wanting to only try Burger Shurger’s fusion dishes, I persuaded (read: hectored) the others to order the Gobi 65 as our second entree. Gobi 65 is a vegetarian riff on Chicken 65. According to SBS Food: “There are countless theories that surround the number 65 in its name – some say that’s how many days the chicken should be reared for, others argue it represents the original number of the dish on the menu, and there’s even a claim it refers to the amount of chillies that should be added. The most widely accepted version is that it originated from Chennai’s Buhari restaurant in 1965.”
Interestingly, the Gobi 65 at Burger Shurger was less like the original South Indian version which is drier, crunchier and more spiced with the fragrance of curry leaves, and more like the saucy, Chinese-inspired flavours of Gobi Manchurian. As a long-time fan of Gobi Manchurian – an Indo-Chinese dish of deep-fried cauliflower doused in a vinegary and tomatoey soy chilli sauce, and perhaps my favourite fusion dish of them all – I loved it. Immaculately fried florets of cauliflower arrived in a thick gravy reminiscent of the tart, spicy and sweet Gobi Manchurian sauce that I so adore.
By this stage, we were closer to the edge of fullness than hunger, but why stop there? Tea Siren opted for the chicken karahi naan rolls, which saw chicken redolent with the familiar flavours of garam masala, ginger and fenugreek rolled in between soft naan with red onions, raita, a mint-coriander chutney and chaat masala. She loved this, but struggled to finish the two hefty naans after the filling entrees we’d had.
Dancing Queen ordered the vada pav burger, where a curried mashed potato fried in chickpea batter was interlaced with a mint-coriander chutney, sweet and sour tamarind sauce, sliced onion and bhujia. She enjoyed it, but found it a touch dry.
My chilli tofu burger, containing a thick patty of tofu that had been tossed in a spicy Indo-Chinese sauce, capsicum, onion, spring onions and mayo, made a mockery of the fact that I’d been cocky enough to show up to an Indian restaurant with lipstick. Barely able to squash this burger enough for it to fit into my mouth, I ate in a highly messy manner – sauce went everywhere, my hands contained the aroma of chilli for the rest of the night, my lipstick was obliterated.
I liked this a lot, but the sauce was far too similar to the Gobi 65 sauce for me not to suffer immense regret from not ordering something slightly different. If I had my time again, I would’ve ordered the masala maggi noodles because as a Malaysian, it is my birthright to enjoy jazzed up versions of instant noodles.
Despite having lineage harking back to the subcontinent, nothing about this meal was good for my intolerances – not the excessive sauces, not the wheat, and certainly not the spice. Perhaps my grandmother didn’t spend her days eating chicken 65 burgers and butter chicken fries. Whatever it was, I escaped with a four-bloat score with accompanying heartburn that would’ve put the discomfort suffered by this man in 1990 to shame.
But, unsurprisingly if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, I can’t wait to revisit Burger Shurger. I am getting the masala maggi noodles, one of the five fries delineated, and perhaps the famed momos.
Burger Shurger is open from Tuesday to Saturday 5.30pm to 10pm and on Sunday from 5.30pm to 9.30pm.