Who knew that just 10 minutes away from Auckland’s city centre there is a place where it is possible to take your taste buds on a trip all over the Indian sub-continent ?
Not me, but an afternoon in the company of Anita from the Sandringham Food and Spice tour has changed that and I’m sharing this happy secret with you so that you don’t miss out on this experience.
Sandringham Road runs from north to south through the Auckland suburb of Sandringham. At first glance it’s an ordinary looking street lined with grocers, restaurants and convenience stores. The kind of place that looks interesting as you head somewhere more familiar. The posters pasted in shop windows advertising the opening of the latest Bollywood movie and the aromatic smells sneaking out from steamy kitchens should give you a clue of what lies within and why you should stop.
In every one of the kitchens are chefs making dishes just as they have been made for generations using ingredients imported from home. There are curries, of course, lots and lots of curries made from delicious combinations of spices; there is fragrant and spicy biryani, a favourite of Mughal emperors; hand made roti and naan; kebabs; chaat (street snacks) and trays and trays of jewel-coloured sweets. And that’s just for starters.
The tour is a two-hour walk interspersed with tasting stops at 7 different restaurants where the owner and /or chef will explain their food and offer a snack or a small portion of a main dish and shopping stops at 3 food markets where fresh vegetables that you’ll never see in a supermarket sit alongside rows and rows of spices, chutneys and pickles, freshly made paneer (cheese) and tubs of creamy yogurt at a fraction of the price of a similar product from the supermarket. There is one aisle for rice and after learning (and tasting) how fluffy and delicious rice that has been aged for 2 years is, that’s what we all headed for, along with the ingredients for mango lassi (yoghurt, mango pulp and cardamon) which we tasted while waiting for the tour to start.
The learning curve is steep for those of us accustomed to ordering butter chicken at the takeaway but even more pleasurable than thrilling our tastebuds with new flavours is the warm welcome from the store owners and chefs. Without exception they are delighted to share their knowledge and cooking expertise and eager to let us taste the food that is part of their tradition. It’s a delicious privilege that they share with us.
Go to Sandringham with a healthy appetite, an open mind and a few dollars in your wallet. Everything is fresh and almost unbelievable economical.
This is a true non- touristy experience and so popular that you should waste no time in getting your name on the waiting list.
Authentic, economical and delicious
The Spice tour starts at Mumbai Chaat a relative newcomer to Sandringham owned and operated by Gaurang Amani and his mother Prayibha Ambani (the creative force behind the operation). Mumbai Chaat specialises in street snacks from Mumbai that are best popped whole into your mouth. This is 100% vegetarian food and totally delicious. We tasted two kinds of puri; my favourite was sev puri, small fried flat bread (puri) with chickpea noodle pieces, spiced potato, chopped onion, tangy tamarind chutney and fresh coriander, and small squares of deep purple coloured halwa made with beetroot which were sweet and delicious.
At Bawarchi we climbed a dark staircase to a room with deep red walls where we learned the secret of aged rice and how to make a perfect chicken tikka masala. Bawarchi serves traditional food from Hyderabad in the south of India which is heavily influenced by Persian and Turkish cultures. Familiar dishes from takeaway menus like chicken tikka, lamb korma and tandoori chicken are part of this culinary tradition, and a very special dish called Hyderabad biryani. There is so much to like about Bawarchi, especially the $15.99 buffet on Monday and Tuesday.
Buses stop outside the main door of Shubh and on weekdays a stream of people get off the bus to pick up a ready-made meal on the way home from work. Everything is vegetarian and if you want to eat in, you can. The pea and paneer and bean and potato curries are a standout but just about everything on the menu looks and smells delicious.
You can eat in at Jai Jalaram Khaman too, or sit outside in the sunshine. The specialty here is khaman and chutney. Hitesh, the owner, explained that khaman is made from chickpea flour and the delicious chutney is made with green chillies and coriander while his wife (the one who creates this delicious dish) stood shyly behind him.
Somehow we managed to squeeze into A Taste of Sri Lanka and were greeted warmly by the owner Nandasiri and his wife wearing cowboy hats over protective hair nets. For most of us this was our first experience of Sri Lanka cuisine and we learned what makes a Sri Lankan curry different from an Indian curry (it’s all in the spices and the lightness of the flavour) and tasted hot lamb rolls, crispy on the outside and full of savoury lamb and potato.
At Top in Town takeaway we finally got to try biryani. They were well prepared for our group and had stacked small plastic tubs of chicken biryani and raita on a table. Biryani is a spicy rice dish slow cooked with meat or vegetables in a tightly sealed pot. It was very good but by this time on the tour, many tummies were full so the plastic pots were stashed in plastic bags for later.
Our final stop was at Paradise, an elegantly decorated restaurant quite different from the small ‘hole in wall ‘ establishments we’d been in previously. Many of the regulars swear that the biryani at Paradise is the best in town but sadly we didn’t get to try it but the Afghani kebab (spiced chicken) was tender and aromatic and the carrot halwa a sweet finale to a fine afternoon.
To book a tour (cost per person in $30) contact Anita via the Sandringham Food and Spice tour Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/SandringhamFoodSpiceTour
Categories: New Zealand