Manager Ricky Vickram Darma is being modest when he described Spice Junction as "casual" for its freshly-painted cream walls, polished deep mahogany furniture and carefully-set tables place it on par with some of Singapore's fine-dining restaurants. Moreover, several Keralite (natives of Kerala) top celebrities are known to dine at this "casual" restaurant from time to time.
Ricky explained that in Keralite cuisine, coconut is an often-used ingredient whereas Goan cuisine predominantly comprises seafood dishes. The experience is also notably different. Well, as the great Albert Camus once philosophized, " You cannot create experience. You must undergo it."
Start your Keralite dining experience with the Keralite briyani – especially Malabar Chicken Biriyani ($9.90) and the Beef Biriyani ($12.90) – and you will notice the exclusivity in the taste of Kerala right away. Yes, Spice Junction has just introduced beef dishes in its menu – a risky move for an Indian restaurant where the diners are largely Hindus. Interestingly, the decision is warmly-received. The Biriyanis sports lighter colour as well as "fluffier" consistency – a result of no added colouring and no excess oil. " Healthy" does not equate to bland, though. The Beef Biriyani is lightly-spiced with jeeralsa (a spice from Kerala) and flavoured with the curried taste of the tender beef that is served with it. Likewise, the Malabar Chicken Biriyani is served with a sweet, meaty chicken piece and made interesting with nuts and raisins.
Try also the restaurant's specialty, Mutton Coconut Fry ($11.90 for medium). Consisting of mutton dices that are stir fried with herbs and roasted coconut silvers, this dish is a hot favourite – literally. The well-marinated and highly-spiced mutton dices are tender to the bite, as opposed to the teeth-breaking coconut silvers.
Besides serving an impressive variety of meat dishes that will tempt even the strictest steak-and-potatoes man, Spice Junction also serves equally varied vegetarian dishes. A must-try is the Gobi Manchurian ($7.90), a cauliflower dish that was originally a Chinese dish but has since been spiced up and served Indian-style in sweet, sour and spicy gravy. Yet another noteworthy vegetable dish is the Avial ($7.90), a favourite and popular dish amongst the Keralites that is made of carrots and potatoes served in semi-thick, semi-dry, highly-seasoned gravy. For a more filling meal, pair these sides with the Kerala Parota ($3.90 for two pieces), the fluffier, lighter and less oilier version of the local prata kosong.
For seafood fans, Spice Junction has a treat for you: Meen Pollichathu ($11.90), identical to the all-time favourite barbequed stingray. The Keralite rendition is red snapper that is well-marinated with spices and sambal, wrapped in banana leaves and cooked over an iron girdle. Another delicacy is the Prawn Balchao ($12.90 for medium) which has the initial taste of tomato puree that gradually intensifies to a sharp, spicy piquancy.
Just like the food, the service too deserves 5-stars for its professionalism. During its busy lunchtime, the waiters are prompt and efficient. They continue to be so even during quieter periods.
The SD Food Advisor's Take on Spice Junction
Someone once said to me, "The Goans are the best eaters and cooks in the world." Include the Keralites in that statement and I cannot agree more. Spice Junction is highly-recommended for lovers of Indian cuisine – for variety.
This petite wordsmith and literary mistress sure dream big: She wishes to place herself alongside the likes of legendary travel writer Paul Edward Theroux and celebrated food writer Alan Eaton Davidson as she unveils only the best of Singapore’s hot zones and sizzling kitchens. For this, Ezaida digs going “off the beaten track” to take her alike-minded audience on a Singaporean road less-traveled.
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