Sort-of Secret: Spice Girl Eats, a one-woman operation selling delicious, homemade Indian takeout
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The sort-of secret: Spice Girl Eats, a one-woman takeout operation selling homemade Indian dishes
You may have heard of it if: You follow Becca Pereira, ex-model and current foodie, on Instagram
But you probably haven’t tried it because: It launches on October 13, with meals being available for pickup at The Depanneur
Butter chicken interpretations abound, and we’re here for them. The one from Spice Girl Eats, a new once-a-week Indian takeout business, is bright and tangy—a detour from the sweeter, thicker versions on many Toronto menus (undeniably scrumptious in their own right). Becca Pereira, the owner and home cook behind the business, was juggling three jobs (model, receptionist, server) before the pandemic. With Spice Girl Eats, she’s coming into her own as the latest in a matrilineage of gifted cooks.
“I modelled for six years after high school with a decent amount of success. Earlier this year, though, I decided I wanted to start culinary school in the fall—then Covid happened,” she says. “My mom is a professional chef, and my grandmother and great-grandmother were also amazing cooks.” When Covid hit, Pereira was laid off from her receptionist and server positions. She used her newfound free time to experiment in the kitchen, often over Zoom with her family. And when culinary schools announced that they would move online for the foreseeable future, she launched Spice Girl Eats instead.
Most of her recipes, including the one for butter chicken, come from a well-loved, handwritten cookbook passed down from her great grandmother: with yellowed, fraying pages and fading ink, it’s a culinary heirloom that Pereira draws on for knowledge and inspiration. The family recipe for butter chicken features a tomato paste base (other versions use crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce) and relatively small amounts of butter and cream—the secret to its zinginess. “I marinate the chicken breast in yogurt, lemon and tikka masala spices overnight,” Pereira says. “And to keep the meat from drying out, I take it out of the curry as soon as it’s cooked and let the sauce reduce on its own.”
Her saag paneer, a dish of puréed spinach and fresh cheese, isn’t as heavy or rich as others—just like the butter chicken—but every bit as satisfying. It has hefty, browned chunks of paneer, sweet bites of onion and an unexpected undercurrent of nutmeg. It goes well with kachumber salad, a deeply savoury, cooling combination of cucumber, tomato, red onion and seeded red chilies, finished with lime and salt. Meanwhile, her sourdough naan—the sourdough part being her spin on a family recipe—comes basted with garlicky butter and crunchy flakes of Maldon salt.
Pereira’s family is from Goa, a coastal region in India’s southwest known for intensely spicy cuisine, with a heavy emphasis on seafood. Because of this, she wants to add more Goan options to her menu in the future, but wants to get her footing with Toronto patrons first. “I want to start with dishes people recognize,” she says. “Then—I hope—they’ll trust me enough to try something they aren’t familiar with.”
Her rotating takeout menu will go live on her Instagram page every Friday starting October 9, with the first meals ready for pickup at The Depanneur on October 13. Delivery is available for an extra $5. Expect limited quantities at first: Pereira’s a one-woman show, though her mother will sometimes come around to help out. And feel free to ask for cooking advice when you pick up your meal—Pereira is generous with it—but she won’t reveal her signature spice mixes. Those secrets stay in the family cookbook.