Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Unusual Cuisine Spice Affair in Aspinwall Offers a Rare Taste of Moilly

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Unusual Cuisine Spice Affair in Aspinwall Offers a Rare Taste of Moilly

Article excerpt

Spice Affair in Aspinwall may be one of the only places in the region to offer moilly on the menu. Although fish is often the star ingredient, here it's a vegetarian dish: tofu served with a slurry of coconut milk and curry leaves spiked with chilies, garlic and vinegar, tinted gold from turmeric and slightly red from tomato, laced with fragrant spices such as cinnamon and cloves.

Moilly ($11) originates in Kerala in Southwest India, a state that has been influenced by people of various backgrounds and religions, with the spice trade attracting those from the Middle East, Portugal, China and Britain at its ports along the Arabian Sea. (This diversity means it's one of the few places in India that you might find a plate that contains beef, which is rare considering that cow is sacred for Hindus.)

I didn't know the dish until I worked on a story with Eater critic Robert Sietsema, who found Taste of Cochin, a restaurant in Queens named for the Keralan port city (that usually goes by Kochi). When he wrote about it last summer he conveyed how psyched he was to find that cuisine from a region that's often underrepresented.

It's an unusual cuisine in Pittsburgh, too, but especially at Spice Affair because the restaurant serves mostly Northern Indian classics such as butter chicken (chicken makhani) and variations on vindaloo. And while those dishes can be really satisfying, moilly on the menu points to a staff that's excited about variations on Indian cuisine. I like that.

How did the dish end up here? Owner Barinder Singh had it at a restaurant when he was visiting Canada.

"I couldn't stop thinking about it," he says, so he asked his chef to make it.

The chef at Spice Affair, Tamilselvan Thangadurai, is one of my favorites in the area. Originally from Southern India, his cooking repertoire is wide in part because of his range of experience and training. He learned how to cook Southern Indian fare well from his family and left home for a several-year pastry gig on cruise ships that traveled around the world.

Over the course of nearly a decade, since he married his now wife who is a Pittsburgh native, he has touched down in the kitchens of perhaps half a dozen restaurants in the area in the past few years, and he opened and closed a place in Monroeville called Kohinoor. Then, having fled for a job in Montclair, N.J., he was recruited back to Pittsburgh to work at Spice Affair about a month after it opened.

"He's a very good chef," Harpreet Pabla, co-owner of Spice Affair, told me in November. Indeed he is.

Members of the family behind People's Indian Restaurant in Garfield that has been there since the mid-1990s, Mr. Singh and Mr. Pabla started the 120-seat BYOB Aspinwall restaurant in December 2016. That Mr. Thangadurai has been here for more than a year makes it seem like he's here for the long haul, which is why I'm telling you to go there now, past the honeymoon period. …

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