Behold the spice bag. It is a bag of greasy goodness.
Earlier this week I heard news of this fairly recent development in Irish junk cuisine. It is combination of chips, deep-fried chicken balls and vegetables, all tossed together in a bag with loads of chili and spices added. And it is purchased from Chinese chippers.
Now I know that foreign cuisine tends to adapt to the local tastes – in Ireland and the UK, chips have long been on the menu in Chinese takeaways. In fact a concoction called the ‘3-in-1’ was invented to cater to their clientele’s palate. The 3-in-1 is one part chips, one part rice and one part chicken curry. In Amsterdam there is a famous Chinese restaurant called Kam Yin on the Warmoesstraat. It cooks a marvelous blend of Chinese food in a Surinamese style. Likewise many ‘Italian’ restaurants are run by Turkish people, and the Italian menu has a distinctly Turkish flavour.
I’m generally in favour of this food blending. If I want a uniquely Thai or Chinese or Italian meal then it’s worth seeking them out, and possibly paying a little extra. But generally speaking I don’t eat at high end restaurants, and I’m fairly accepting in my tastes. My criteria are simple. Does the food taste good. If so, then I’m in.
But the spice bag? There doesn’t seem to be any Chinese element at all. The spices used maybe?This was an experiment for me. It didn’t sound too appetising. But I couldn’t be left out of this movement. I was having a spice bag for supper. By hook or by crook.
Some research told me that the nearest takeaway to my house that cooked this dish was in The Street. Regular readers will know that the Street is behind my building and is regarded as one of the roughest estates in the country. I don’t venture down there very often. The locals all seem to know each other and interlopers are recognised as such.
Well what was I to do though? I wanted that spice bag, and god dammit I was going to have it.
I ventured out. I spotted the chipper. It looked derelict. I peered in the filthy window and spotted two people behind the counter. They weren’t Chinese. I tip-toed in, and they looked at me like I was something pooey on their shoe.
‘May I have your finest spice bag, my dear woman’ I proclaimed.
Actually that’s a lie. I gulped nervously while asking in the politest voice I could muster. I paid my money and leaned on the window ledge. The food was being prepared out the back, but there was a wall preventing any view. The staff in the kitchen were Chinese as I could hear them talking to one and other.
The black wooden counter top came to my neck, and the cash register was not visible. There was graffiti scrawled all over it. I wonder why certain graffiti artists think that a drawing of a penis on a wall is either original or interesting. There were no posters or menus on display. It was the strangest, most forlorn little takeaway I had ever seen.
The other woman looked at me in my smart casual office attire, inhaled on her e-cigarette, looked at her colleague and drawled.
‘The guards were outside my house for three hours this morning, waiting for him.’
I decided not to ask who this ‘him’ was, that she was referring to.
‘This street is a fucking joke’, she continued.
‘The only way you get out of this street is in a coffin.’
My blood ran cold.Was she talking to me?
My spice bag appeared through the hatch. I sprinted out of the shop.
‘Bye bye now,’ she called after me. It sounded like a threat.
I scurried past the pub next door, which was open for business, judging my the lads screaming at each other, outside. The windows were boarded up however. I passed the flowers by the lamp-post commemorating the victim of the mistaken identity, gangland murder some months ago.
Within two minutes I was home.
Because I am classy I decided to eat my meal from a plate, rather than direct from the bag. It was delicious. Spicy, greasy, completely unhealthy. And the portion size was absolutely colossal.
It’s a good thing I’m scared to go back to that takeaway. A spice bag is a thing of wonder. But it needs to be a once a year treat I suspect.