by Mike Sula
Just when you think there's no culinary frontier to cross—that nothing in this burg will surprise or challenge your jaded palate—you're knocked to your knees by something so extreme you almost fear to utter its name.
My story begins last week, when I was stopped dead in my tracks by this sign in the window of Spinzer Restaurant, a tiny halal snack shop on Devon Avenue:
"We believe in quantity. We believe in quality," is the motto at Spinzer, which specializes in Indo-Pak fast food, sweets, snacks, and familiar main dishes—samosas, chicken charga, haleem, halwa, korma, biryani, kebabs, bhel puri, pani puri—and a few unusual-for-these parts but by no means extraterrestrial Pakistani specialties such as the bun kebab and hunter beef.
But the picture of this amorphous, fluorescent, vaguely gelatinous mound reminded me of something I once saw in the backyard eating a squirrel. Nevertheless, it would be rude to ignore something that was making its civic debut. The fellow behind the counter placed a styrofoam dish under a hand-cranked ice shaver and produced a ball of fine crystals, which he drenched in a trio of syrups from unlabeled squeeze bottles. Then he poured a snow cap of condensed milk on top and a few squiggles of green food coloring, and there it was (a deluxe version with shaved coconut and chopped almonds could be had for a $1 upcharge).
My teeth cracked with the first spoonful. My gullet constricted on contact with the viscous creamy slush. All senses tweaked as the endorphins blasted across my synapses. One bite was enough, and we pushed it to the far corner of the table and nervously busied ourselves with a very tasty hunter beef sandwich and a bowl of chicken korma.
Further research revealed it to be a regional variant of the subcontinental shaved ice sweet known as the gola ganda. It's popular across the subcontinent, and in fact, you can buy more earthly slushie-type gola gandas in a cup farther west at Patel's Cafe. That's no big thing. But the version served at Spinzer happens to be native to the Doraji Colony neighborhood of Karachi, where apparently the high-powered supersweet syrups imbue small children with the ability to fly and walk through walls.
"No, I cannot," said Spinzer proprietor Mohammad Saleem Memon when I asked him to tell me what his syrup flavors were. Friend of the Food Chain Subha Das speculated that the red stuff might be "the world’s first ever syrup of the common man"—Rooh Afza—and the green might be based on the juice of the khus plant. But this wistful expat indicates the latter might be based on the Pakistani soft drink Pakola.
For me, it hardly mattered—once the fluids begin to mingle in a green-grayish slurry, it all pretty much tasted the same. But judging from the following report, it looks like the varieties available on its home turf are customizable and infinite.
Spinzer Restaurant, 2331 W. Devon, 773-338-9804