September 5, 2019
At Amar Pizza in Hamtramck, a small city north of Detroit, one can find classic Detroit-style pizzas — deep dish, perfectly square, the sauce added last — with a few deviations. The seafood pie has a spicy cajun crust and comes topped with crab meat and shutki, Bengali for dried fish. The naga pizza’s sauce is laced with the slow-burning naga morich, the scorching hot Bangladeshi cousin of the ghost pepper, bhoot jolokia. According to legend, Detroit pizza gets its shape from the industrial pans used in the region’s automobile factories; Amar gets its inspiration from the thousands of Bangladeshis who have turned Hamtramck into a veritable Banglatown starting in the mid-90s.
Ashraf Ahmed, one of four brothers — Abdullah, Qurshad, and Badrul are co-owners — who has run the business for 10 years, refuses to tell me where he sources Bangladesh’s signature naga morich. “That’s our secret,” he grinned, but does admit that it’s imported. It’s understandable why Ahmed guards this secret so closely. In 2016, seven years after starting Amar Pizza, a competitor — the ex-landlord of their original spot of seven years where their lease had ended — copied Amar Pizza, from the name (“our” pizza in Bengali) to the pizzas.
Though the competitor is still going, it hasn't achieved the popularity of Amar Pizza (“people still knew we were the best,” said Ahmed). Yet, the copycatting did prove one thing: the Ahmeds had struck gold.