BY JOE DISTEFANO
As the Culinary King of Queens, I’m so very fortunate to live in the most diverse and delicious destination in all of New York City. And I’m even luckier to be a Tastemaker for the World’s Fare, a celebration of global cuisine and culture, which will be held on May 18 and 19 at Citi Field. In the weeks leading up to the Fare I’ll be profiling some of my favorite vendors from Queens and beyond. Today, a look at Silly Chilly Dumplings, the brainchild of Bangladeshi-born culinary entrepreneur Sufia Hossain, who now resides in the Bangladeshi enclave of Jamaica, Queens — which some have dubbed Bangla City.
Like many of my favorite food businesses, Sufia Hossain’s Silly Chilly Dumplings all started with a dream and passion, a vision of winning acclaim for producing “the hottest of the hot sauces,” coupled with a passion for the spicy palate of South Asian cuisine that she grew up with.
In between long hours working in the fashion industry, Hossain set out to achieve her dream. At first, she couldn’t tell different varieties of habanero peppers apart.
“Hot was simply hot, and my taste buds were not accustomed to the differences in flavor and spice,” she recalls.
After months and months of experimentation and research, the budding chef achieved success in 2016 and created three sauces — Habanero (Super Duper Hot), Serrano and Chipotle (Smoky Hot), and Fresh Mango and Sweet Peppers (Mild) — using peppers sourced from farmers in New Jersey. Unlike many other hot sauces on the market, Hossain’s creations avoid the traditional marketing machismo of skulls, flames, and other extreme imagery, instead opting for sketch of a fashionable young woman with a chihuahua and the slogan “Be a Silly Chilly.”
Despite her lighthearted approach to the hot sauce game, Hossain means business: these days, Silly Chilly can be found in more than 50 stores in New York City and New Jersey, including Manhattan’s famous spice merchant Kalustyan’s, Brooklyn’s hipster butcher shop The Meat Hook, and Natural Frontier in Queens.
Last year, Hossain created Silly Chilly Dumplings, taking much the same obsessive approach that led to the development of her sauces: she stayed in her apartment for a week and made 3,000 dumplings until she had perfected five varieties: chicken, red cabbage, potato, grasshopper, and black ant.
“I am obsessed with dumplings. I sometimes dream about dumplings,” she says with a laugh.
The nine spices used to season Hossain’s dumplings include those used in her mother’s homestyle Bangladeshi cooking — turmeric, cumin, and chili — as well as such international flavors as Turkish sumac and Chinese coriander. As for the insects, Hossain says she was inspired by the fact that, “Insects are the future of food,” and a trek in Thailand, where she got lost in the mountains and subsisted on grasshoppers.
“I was scared, hungry, thirsty. Grasshoppers saved my life.”
Hossain’s next hot sauce will be named Bangla City, after her 6-year-old nephew’s nickname for the Bangladeshi enclave located on 169th Street and Hillside Avenue in Jamaica. She’s even traveling to Bangladesh to source the pepper, whose name will remain a secret until she releases the sauce, although she did divulge that it will be a green pepper.
Hossain says she’s proud to participate in an event that showcases “the best of the best food vendors coming together and celebrating food and their craft with people who appreciate food and art from all over the world.”
Joe DiStefano is a Queens-based food writer, culinary tour guide, and author of the bestselling guidebook “111 Places in Queens That You Must Not Miss.”
Stop by Silly Chilly Dumplings at the World’s Fare at Citi Field (123-01 Roosevelt Ave. in Queens, https://theworldsfare.nyc) on May 18 and 19 from 12 to 8 p.m. Tickets from $19 to $199 (children under 10, $5).