Street food of India has now a single address – Spicery

For 2 years, my office was somewhere between Rashbehari crossing and Kalighat. I used to carry lunch from home.  However, 4 pm was a crime time when mind would demand a snack bribe and a short break to carry on for two more hours (often more). Now the South peeps know that there is no dearth of ‘cheap n cheerful’ food in Rashbehari-Kalighat area. Shingara, Kochuri, porota, roll, chowmein, chop, phuchka – you name it and the place has it….and to top it all, Apanjon was just a stone’s throw away. My go-to place was, however, a hand-cart manned by a Bihari Mashie in her 50s. She used to sell muri, peanuts, chana etc and you could customize the mix as per your requirement. She was quite a Lalu, albeit in a bright printed saree. Over the months she grew accustomed to my order and from then on I just needed to come to her cart and she would prepare the perfect peanuts mix with tiny slices of cucumber, onion, green chilies, tomatoes, a dash of lime juice and a few drops of mustard oil. She would put the mix in a paper cone and would say ‘Shpecial – 20 taka’.

Fast forward to last Tuesday when I, with a headful of apprehensions, walked into Spicery on the 4th floor of Acropolis Mall to attend a tasting session. So, another high-end place serving bhelpuri in 5-star fashion!!!!.…. I looked heavenwards – so meh! As soon as I joined the table of fellow food bloggers, I was served nibbles along with a tall glass of Gondhoraj Melon Cooler. Any guess what the nibbles were? Yes – Masala Moongfali Chanajor in a paper cone!

With the first few peanuts in my mouth, memories of Kalighat street snack came rushing back. That exact tangy, spicy taste…even had the secret ingredient that I deliberately didn’t mention before – bits of flattened chana or chickpea crisps which the ‘chanajor garam’ wallahs sell. I looked towards the kitchen almost hoping that I would catch a glimpse of Mashie. Instead, I saw the very suave Mr. Anjan Chatterjee standing in the hallway with gleaming eyes of a proud father.

Spicery is the latest offering to the city of joy from Specialty Restaurants Ltd – yes, the good people of Oh, Calcutta! and Mainland China (and many more).  This is a passion project of Group founder and MD, Mr. Anjan Chatterjee who wanted to bring soul food from across India under one roof. Every region has its soul food specialty such as Kake da Mutton in Delhi, Bade Mian ki Keema Kaleji in Mumbai, Chittoda’s Stew in Kolkata, Tunday Kababs in Lucknow and so on that we fell in love with while travelling or staying in those cities. We miss those, yet cannot access due to time, energy, hygiene and many such constraints. Spicery combines those eclectic signature street food in a hygienic, controlled environment without taking away the real taste. No sophistication has been forced on the food that usually star hotels do. Instead, staff from those famous eateries were invited to give training to the kitchen team of Spicery for four months. The reason my peanuts mix tasted exactly like what I used to have from the streets of Kalighat. And this is where Spicery stands out.

The 100 cover restaurant has a very easy-going, street like vibrant and energetic ambience and friendly servers. The idea is to walk in with friends and families in your casuals after shopping or watching a movie and just have a good time over cheerful food. For the boozers, there’s a separate section with large glass windows and a fantastic view of the sports stadium next to it. The bar has been named ‘theka’ (Punjabi for liquor shop).

After spending 627 words, if I now don’t start talking about the food, I will be in serious trouble :p  ….

There are Tapas style food like chaats and kebabs served in small portions so that you can taste more dishes. There are also main courses or larger servings like biryani and chaanps. We had dahi samosa chaat, palak chaat, railway mutton cutlet, Calicut chicken lollipop and tunday kebabs as starters. There was no scope for being critical as all were A1 original. Except for Calicut chicken lollipop and railway mutton cutlet, I have tasted the rest in their native places. No attempt was made to interfere with the recipes, even to make them better. It’s a crime to tamper with nostalgia and it’s a noble deed to reconnect your customers with their food memories. Spicery is doing that good deed and I feel, this would be the biggest USP of this place.

I must talk about the dahi samosa chat that kind of stayed with me in spite of not being a huge fan of samosa. The smallish samosa was fried in ghee and had softer walls protecting the delicious and spicy potato and peas filling. The top of the pyramid was broken to absorb some of the sweet n tangy yogurt -tamarind-mint chutneys that were poured from the top and finished with a generous sprinkling of besan sev and coriander leaves. For a few minutes, I time travelled to Chandni Chowk in Delhi sharing a samosa chat in a sal leaf bowl with my then food & travel adventure partner.

Railway mutton cutlet was a piece of childhood as I fondly remembered an Anglo-Indian aunt (my mashie’s friend in college) who used to prepare these delectable minced mutton small cutlets. I don’t know if hers was the recipe from Bengal Nagpur Railway pantry, but the Spicery cutlet surely reminded me of those. It had a subtle aftertaste of ginger that was unique about it. Calicut chicken lollipop was something deliciously new. Lollipops I had plenty of times. But chicken wings spiced with curry leaves and tamarind were a pleasant surprise. There’s nothing new to say about Lucknow’s legendary melt in the mouth Tundays. Tunday kebabs are galouti’s buffalo cousins. Pounded and smoked meat is nourished with 160 spices, shaped into small flat discs and tawa fried in ghee. At Spicery, the kebabs were served with cutesy soft and round baby parathas. Warning: these kebabs can seriously make you feel like an empress and you might demand a bolster to relax.

Naan
Keema Kaleji
Chicken Butter Masala

Main course comprised of daal makhani, keema kaleji and Ludhiana chicken butter masala served with soft naan. Superlative taste ruled all the dishes. I am not a fan of liver, but keema kaleji was a winner with me. Not that I ever tasted Bade Miyan’s iconic dish at Colaba in Mumbai but I can safely assume this was an identical twin by the sheer elegance in taste and texture.

Those who know me, know my weakness for good butter chicken. My go-to place in Delhi is not old Delhi but a hidden gem in Greater Kailash that I was introduced to by my Bong by blood and Punjabi by heart friend. In Kolkata, my favourite place was the old dhaba at Ballygunge Phnari. The one at Spicery can give serious competition to both these places. Juicy tandoored chicken chunks were cooked in velvety tomato-butter-cream gravy. I helped myself to 3 heaped spoons and only because I was in the company of gorgeous ladies, I didn’t take the 4th spoon.

Just when I thought I had committed enough gluttony, we were served super chilled kulfi. Anybody who says ‘no’ to Kulfi is an alien from the outer space. And man, what a Kulfi it was. The frozen honey-almond-malai mix was drizzled with honeylicious syrup from top. Who does this sweet torture to their customers!!!! Spicery of course. I will take serious offence if you go to Spicery and don’t indulge in this incredibly enchanting dessert.

Just so that we don’t complain about being overfed with scrumptious food, we were given a bribe of cocktail to wash the food down. My poison is Vodka and I had chosen Vodka Kachumber. It served the purpose very well!

The price of these superlative dishes are at par with mid-level restaurants and thus Spicery brilliantly puts itself ahead of both mid-level and high-end restaurants. The latter ones would seriously have to rethink strategies and up their games to stay in the competition. Spicery soon would open more outlets in other malls in the city to ensure optimum reach.

Why Kolkata was chosen for this incubated project? Mr. Chatterjee said he always felt that feeding Kolkata people was like a litmus test. If Kolkata says good to something then he wouldn’t have anything to worry.

So Kolkata peeps, do consider giving Spicery a warm welcome to the city of joyous food. I wish the Spicery management all the best and I hope with all my heart that they withstand the many trials of time. It’s a praiseworthy effort to give the legendary street and soul food of India a permanent home. Some of these recipes are almost lost and some are endangered in the modern high tide of global cuisine and multi-national QSRs. I would rather donate my liver to the fine art of chaats, kebabs and fries. My kidneys are however reserved for iPhone XR.

Special Mention:

I thank Mr. Sunando Banerjee for inviting me to experience the food at Spicery.

Restaurant Details:

Spicery

  • Address: Acropolis Mall, 4th Floor,
  • Phone: 033-40046753
  • Location on Google map
  • Pocket pinch: Rs 1000 (for two)