Veteran Canadian filmmaker Richard Fung opens his latest documentary with scenes of wintry Toronto streets piled high with snow. It is especially during this chilly season that Fung longs for the quintessential comfort food of his native Trinidad. His obsession is dal puri, a type of Indian-inspired flat bread stuffed with lentils and spices and often served with stews or curries and folded into a square burrito-like shape, making it the perfect to-go snack. While Fung has since found restaurants in his Toronto haunts that offer dal puri that are tasty and delicious, Fung claims that these local variations still leave him wanting for the “authentic” dal puri of his youth in Trinidad.
“Food is a metaphor for a collective identity,” states Yvonne Bobb-Smith, a lecturer at one of Trinidad-Tobago’s universities. And so Fung returns to Trinidad visits local restaurants, talking to Indo-Trinidadian cooks, noting the variations in ingredients between the various Indian flatbreads known as roti, dal puri and paratha. Fung also pores over archival documents to piece together the stories of the forced importation of African slaves and later waves of indentured immigrant workers from India, Madeira, British Guyana, and China. The shared experience of these cultures over time has resulted in a multicultural blending that dominates modern-day Caribbean culture and food. As a result, Fung wonders whether the secret recipe to “authentic” dal puri might actually be found in its true land of origin, India. Fung ultimately travels to India, but does he find the recipe for authentic dal puri? As he returns to North America and tries to re-create the dal puri of his quest, one thing is for sure — Fung is a better filmmaker than cook.
DAL PURI DIASPORA will satisfy ethnographers, Lonely Planet travelers, and foodies alike. You’ll find yourself wanting to jot down the names of the restaurants and towns that Fung visits along the way. And as you exit the theatre after enjoying this delightful film, keep your smartphone handy as you will undoubtedly find yourself immediately searching for the nearest Los Angeles dal puri restaurant on Yelp!
Synopsis written by: Vera DeVera