If you love the fiery tang of vindaloo, the earthiness of butter chicken and the fragrant warmth of a good naan bread, you might find yourself hopelessly addicted to Chiang Mai’s newest Indian restaurant, Spicy Bollywood. Set smack in the heart of town, opposite (fittingly) Spicy nightclub, this little gem serves up arguably the best and most authentic Indian cuisine in the city.
Owners Vicky and Rachna Mehra are just as alluring as the fabulous food, with a love story likely to captivate even the most jaded of cynics, and worthy of its very own Bollywood screening. Vicky, formerly a Bollywood film star, is charismatic and engaging, with the powerful build of a karate master (he competed at a national level in 1994) and an accomplished sportsman
(he played professional cricket for 23 years, including a stint as part of the Bangladeshi national team, and was instrumental in getting local team UN Irish Pub Gang Green to the semi-finals in this year’s Chiang Mai Cricket Sixes). Rachna – petite and pretty, with smouldering dark eyes – is more reserved at first, but opens up like a moonflower as the night goes on to reveal a sharp mind and passionate soul.
The couple met at a friend’s wedding in Mumbai in 2000, when Rachna was working in Chiang Mai with her family and Vicky was an up-and-coming Bollywood star, acting in blockbusters such as Veer, as well as for television and theatre: “I’ve acted in about seven movies and 15 or 16 series and I’ve always been a bad guy!” he laughs. The attraction between the two was instant and over the next few days they fell madly in love. “You just knew?” I ask them and they both nod in reply: “Yes, we just knew.”
“It was tough in the beginning,” continues Vicky, “because at the time Bollywood was unstable and I was struggling financially so I could only call Rachna a few times just to say “hello” and “I miss you” and she also could not afford to call me often. We chatted on the internet, but we only actually saw each other for about nine days in the three years we were apart.”
The couple decided to get married in 2003 and Vicky moved to Chiang Mai to be with Rachna, where she had lived for fifteen years. But, though both are from the Punjabi tribe, they are from different castes and Rachna’s family – who are Sikh Punjabi – still do not accept Vicky as part of their family, a fact that saddens them both. “Mumbai is a very cosmopolitan city and people have no problem with mixed couples,” Vicky explains,” but in northern India there are still many caste issues.”
It’s quiet the night we visit Spicy Bollywood, but just a few nights before the couple’s cricketing friends were here with a table of 20, and things got pretty wild, ending up with Rachna teaching everyone the art of Indian dancing and an impromptu romantic Bollywood dance show by the couple. The Mehras, no longer comfortable in India with lack of family support, set up the restaurant seven months ago complete with clay tandoori oven and vibrant Bollywood posters. The interior is kitsch but inviting, with wooden tables, low lighting and a wall to ceiling water feature complete with faux squirrels and birds. An upstairs Indian seating area is available for large groups wishing for privacy, and the walls are covered with graffiti from sated and grateful customers, making for amusing wall art: “How much would a tuk tuk cost to deliver to Northern Ireland?”, “Sack the chef, he is needed in Sutton, England”, “My cats miss me I am here so much”, and the rather gushy, “The best curry house in the world”. But of course you go there for the food, deliciously created by a chef flown in from Mumbai.
“We have decided that quality is a must,” says Rachna. “It’s not a huge menu but whatever we have is quality food, made using quality ingredients.” If you’re in doubt as to what to choose, the Mehras suggest the chicken tikka masala (Britain’s national dish) or mutton masala, chicken vindaloo and keema naan, stuffed with minced chicken or lamb. I can also vouch for the vegetable pakoras, crispy bite-sized balls served with mint chutney and mango sauce; the palak paneer, made with homemade cheese; the reshmi kebab, mildly spiced chunks of chicken marinated in a cashew nut sauce; and the sublime butter chicken. Spicy Bollywood caters to individual tastes, so whatever gravy you choose can be made as hot or as mild as you like. It also does takeaways and is affiliated to Meals on Wheels 4U service.
If you’re not content with just consuming this excellent cuisine, you can learn some of the secrets to Indian cooking from Rachna, who gives lessons to classes of between three and six students, teaching three dishes (of your choice) per day. “I teach from home, where we don’t have a tandoori oven,” she explains, “so it’s more home-style Indian cooking.” And if you happen to be lucky enough to visit Spicy Bollywood on a night when the spirit moves them, Vicky and Rachna might even teach you a few seductive Indian dance moves…
Open everyday 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. and
5 p.m. – 11 p.m.
155-157 Moon Muang Road
Tel: 053 289 648