Indian food was not something I was interested in as a child. I think my Mum may have killed that particular cuisine for me - she used to make this dish that consisted of el cheapo sausages, chunks of overcooked potato and carrot, and curry powder all combined as one in a stew-like creation. We didn't want to hurt her feelings, so we ate some of it while hiding pieces of sausage under our napkins (and if you're reading this Mum - sorry. Truth hurts. I think you're old enough to handle it now).
Luckily Stephen and I took the leap and tried Indian food again - our first butter chicken was a revelation! An explosion of flavour, a riot of spices; this was what we encountered with our first mouthful. After that it was only natural that we try more dishes from this exotic cuisine.
So when we had to organise a Bon Voyage dinner with my work-mates, Indian first sprang to mind. My friend James described Spice of Life as a little less traditional than most Indian restaurants, but good for beginners.
This concoction of mango puree and yoghurt was actually my very first lassi, and, surprised by the sweet taste, I drank half of it before we got our food. Man did I regret that when the chilli caught up with me...
We got our friends who'd grown up with Indian food to order for us, because really, apart from naan and butter chicken, we had no idea. Papri Chaat is a North Indian snack, comprised of crispy fried dough wafers, potatoes and chickpeas all covered in a combination of yoghurt, chilli, masala spices and tamarind chutney. This is then topped with crushed sev, a type of dried noodle made from chickpea flour. The dish contains a variety of interesting textures and flavours, and was an excellent start to our meal.
The cottage cheese here is apparently home made, and in this dish it's seasoned with garam masala and skewered along with capsicum, onion, and tomato. The cheese comes out with a texture that is a cross between feta cheese and haloumi.
Coconut Chicken - $17.00
The coconut chicken was probably the spiciest chicken I've tried so far in my life - I honestly could not register any other flavours. I do know that the tender chicken was cooked in a gravy flavoured with curry leaves, chilli, and mustard seeds.
Oh. My. Gosh. Think of the best butter chicken you ever had; now imagine if it was 10 times better and you've got the gist of this dish. The chicken is marinated in the tomato and yoghurt mixture until it takes on an orange hue, then is cooked in the tandoori. What comes to the table is falling apart before you even get your fork into it, and the flavour is oh-so moreish.
Goat Saag Wala - $18.00
I really only ordered the goat for the novelty, but it was actually pretty good. The goat did have big chunks of bone attached to the meat, but the meat I did get to try was a little gamey, and a bit tougher than beef or chicken. The spinach sauce it was served with was very mild, and didn't really taste like much.
Our friend Ahlam ordered the Vegetable Biryani, as she can only eat halal meat. It had a nice dry consistency, the grains of rice separated, and the vegetables and rice were mildly spiced with a medly of herbs and spices including ginger, cumin, and coriander.
The Dosa was ordered by our friend Gita - a large, crispy rice crepe stuffed with sauteed potatoes and onion, and served with sambhar (a type of lentil stew) and chutney.
Heaven is a garlic naan; I never thought that flat bread with a bit of garlic and butter on it could be so comforting and tasty, but it is - I could definitely eat this by itself.
The cheese naan came an extremely close second, but this plain naan stuffed with cheese just couldn't beat the garlic in my opinion.
As we went to pay for our meal, we saw bowls of sugar and fennel seeds laid out on the counter. Our friend Manan told us that you're meant to take a spoonful of each and chew to freshen your breathe. It takes some getting used to, but I love fennel so it was no hardship.
Spice Of Life
116 Wigram St