NM’s Largest South Asian Grocery Serves Just One Hot Food
As soon as my teeth made it through the crunchy outer layers, revealing the potato-heavy filling beneath, a warming blend of spices transported me back to sleeping on the ghats above the Ganga river in Varanasi. Of course, you don’t need to have lived in or traveled through Northern India to appreciate the flavor-packed, fully-vegan goodness of Bombay Spice’s samosas.
As a small market catering mostly to the desi population of New Mexico, Bombay Spice offers an extensive selection of goods from India and beyond; all corners of the subcontinent are represented here. There is DayGlo signage for a Diwali (festival of lights) sale on lentils and devotional items for puja. A cricket match is playing at subdued volume, and some of the staff’s eyes dart to the screen intermittently as they unload shipments and help customers locate necessities.
I decided to stock up on ghee (clarified butter), masoor dal and mixed pickle. I’m not trying to hoard, but as I peruse the store, doing my best to keep a safe distance from other shoppers, I’m aware that Albuquerque’s infection rates are going up again at an alarming rate. Who knows what new mandates may be enacted in the coming days? The rising infection rate is part of my rationale for reviewing a hot food item at what is essentially a grocery store: Bombay Spice is well set up for the pandemic. Besides, as a near-universal rule, when a place only serves one dish it tends to be killer.
I am honestly a bit crushed to discover that they are not serving their homemade, powerfully spiced and sugared chai until the temperature drops some more … but a cold front is moving in, and they inform me that they may start brewing it any day now. I also missed out on their fresh meetha (sweet) paan bundles, which tend to go very quickly. However, the wonderful breath-freshening goodness that is a betel leaf stuffed with sugar, rose, anis and potentially all manner of other spices is well worth trying. At Bombay Spice they leave the areca nut and mineral lime paste out of the equation, though both are available on their shelves. When all are combined together, you get an intensely sweet and flavorful stimulant that produces similar effects to, say, four shots of espresso—though with the unfortunate side effect of dyeing your teeth crimson if you chew the stuff too often. But I could live without these sugary additions. I was there for the samosas.
After wolfing down the first plump fried dumpling and going down the rabbit hole of scent- and taste-triggered memories, I settled back in the seat of my car and took some field notes. The flaky crust of the samosa is not unlike other fried dumplings from around the globe. However, Bombay Spice’s version is crunchier than any gyoza, empanada, pierogi or knish that I have sampled. The dough itself seems to be spiced, but in truth I can’t place the elements of the blend. Within these crunchy confines, potato and peas are elevated by a complex punch of spices. The cumin hit me first. However, lurking behind and tying it all together was the welcome funk of hing, a compound of asafoetida with a touch of wheat flour and gum arabic. This wonderous flavor-enhancer is actually the dried latex that is exuded by several species of rhizomes closely related to celery. In France the spice is known as merde du Diable, but to me it conjures up a heady mixture of onion and garlic. It is easy to overdo it with this spice, but the ratio used here demonstrated a knowledge of balanced cookery.
The samosa on its own was delicious, but Bombay Spice’s chutney—sweet and sour, clearly tamarind-and-date-based, enhances its savory flavor. Like many great sauces the world over, the precise mix of ingredients is kept close to the chest; the friendly staff was happy to answer my questions—except about what exact spice blend brightens up their delicious chutney.
I encourage prospective shoppers to visit the store’s website—not only for lists of the spices and foodstuffs available, but also for approachable recipes for popular Indian dishes. And if you are in the mood for these delicious vegetable dumplings, please call ahead. They often sell out by mid-afternoon.