I’m always surprised when I find out someone can’t handle spicy food – even more so since 90% of the people I know are Asian, and I automatically assume all Asians are born with an in-built high spice tolerance. All that chilli crab, sambal, kimchi, tom yum soup and curry they must have missed out on! More for me, I guess.
Thousand Spices, an unassuming postage-stamp sized restaurant in Canningvale, is a little more sympathetic to those with gentler palettes, offering three options – Mild, Medium and Hot – for most of their dishes. And they actually follow through with giving you exactly what you asked for – our Mild Dhal had significantly less heat (without sacrificing flavour) than our Medium Butter Chicken, which was spicy but still tolerable. I’d have gone straight for the hot, but unfortunately, my company was a little less adventurous.
I tend to be rather doubtful about the food from suburban Asian restaurants/takeaway joints in Perth. It reminds me of a recent piece on the The Atlantic on the Radical Reinvention of Asian American Food, where they note, rather accurately, how the “uncensored” flavours of Asian food isn’t for everyone.
When Asians take their first bite of Syhabout’s pungent and delicious Siamese peanuts–which he roasts and tosses with tiny fried anchovies and a shallot chili jam–their first thought is an incredulous, “Will white Americans eat this?” Even a discerning food critic like San Francisco magazine restaurant critic Josh Sens, who has raved about Syabhout’s food in print, admits dislike for at least one of Hawkerfare’s funkier dishes: the Laotian-style green papaya salad, muddled with dried shrimp fish sauce, tamarind, and lime juice. “It’s really aggressive,” Sens says, only partially joking when he adds, “I was afraid to say I don’t like what’s authentic because I’d lose my culinary street cred.” (source)
That’s what has happened here as well, and you end up with a slew of unremarkable and indistinguishable Asian restaurants, each one just like the next, with the usual fried rice/noodle dishes and 3 meat offerings that have been tailored to the tastes of an Australian palette, and as a result, have lost the authenticity of truly flavoursome and wonderfully pungent Asian food.
In this one little suburban hub alone, there are four different Asian restaurants – one Japanese, one Chinese, one Thai, and one Indian – Thousand Spices. They are the most unassuming-looking one out of the four, and only seats about 19 people at a time. For such a small set-up, the restaurant is neat and thoughtfully laid out. While it might come across as rather plain, it certainly has more class than the average Asian restaurant, and when we came in at half past six, each table had a neat arrangement of red placements and napkins, and wine and water glasses.
What they lack in space and ambience, Thousand Spices make up for in flavour. First to arrive was their Special Fried Rice ($14). Forget the fried rice you usually get for takeout – dry, flavourless, full of frozen veggies and tiny shrimp. This one doesn’t need anything else to supplement its flavour. The menu states that it’s cooked with a mixture of chicken, smoked cod, egg, garlic, sliced onion, and onion, but I swear there’s some sort of magic ingredient that they’ve thrown in there (on second thought, it might be the smoked cod, I’ll definitely try to try that out the next time I make fried rice). I could not stop raving about this one. The basmati rice was cooked and fluffed to perfection. Oh my god, I could have eaten the entire plate. Heck, if we hadn’t ordered anything else, I’d have left happy.
We also had the Butter Chicken ($17) – good, but not the best I’ve had, although the chicken breast was also cooked perfectly, the Beef Jalfrezi ($17), and the near-perfect Dhal ($14). Dhal is a culture-transcending comfort food, and this one was cooked so well it melted in my mouth – it gave me the feeling that they’d been whisking and simmering it into submission for a long time back in the kitchen. Guhhh. So good. There was so much sauce to soak up from these three mains that we ended up ordering a serve each of Paratha ($2) and Plain Naan ($3) to scoop it up with, as the fried rice had been long finished.
Thousand Spices is less than 5 minutes from my new place, and I’m sure this will eventually lead to weight gain of some sort. Their menu is incredibly extensive for such a small place, but I somehow have a feeling that I’ll just keep ordering just the Fried Rice and Dhal each and every time.
A real gem of a place in the heart of suburban Canningvale, with authentic and hearty Indian food perfect for big family dinners. A little lacking in ambience and service, but I will be back for that fried rice again and again and again.
Food – 8/10, Service/Ambience – 6/10
2/214 Campbell Road,
(08) 9455 1244
Open for dinner Tuesday to Sunday.