The 7 essential elements of the perfect spice bag

By Fiona Frawley

September 22, 2023 at 3:07pm

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Obviously, s0me of these are down to personal preference - but most are absolute non negotiables.

Believed to have been first pieced together at Sunflower Chinese Takeaway in Templeogue, Dublin in 2010, the humble spice bag has blossomed and grown in the years since and is now a firm favourite for Irish takeaway lovers.

We've always been partial to a Chinese takeaway here in Ireland - 3 in 1s, steaming portions of sweet and sour and complimentary prawn cracker bags have been Friday night mainstays for decades - but in recent years, spice bags, spice boxes, munchy boxes and whatever variation you're having yourself have reigned supreme.

Naturally, everyone always thinks their own local Chinese has the best version but if you've eaten as many chicken-chilli-chip combos as I have, you start to observe the elements of the perfect spice bag from an unbiased, rational POV.

Or you lose the run of yourself altogether. It's hard to say for sure.

In any case, I've taken it upon myself to compile the essential elements of the perfect spice bag. Consider them when chowing down on your next takeaway.

The chicken

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It must be shredded (I can't abide the subbing in of chicken balls to the spicy mix) and crispy with a golden brown exterior, but not so crispy that the chicken inside has disintegrated into nothing, leaving behind an empty, battered shell and a few stringy whispers where the protein once resided. Happens more often than you'd think.

The chips

Fluffy and starchy in equal measures - unlike with a chipper, the small extra crispy bits of chip shouldn't be the texture du jour here. The chicken provides the crispiness, the chips provide the bouncy soakage for the curry sauce - more on this later.

The seasoning

As the name would indicate, the seasoning for a spice bag needs to be spicy - but not just spicy for spicy's sake. It's a well-rounded, nuanced kind of flavour, with notes of garlic and ginger to balance things out, and most importantly, a bit of sweetness to tie everything together. Also, every ingredient needs to have been given a good toss around and seasoned on every side - we don't want to see the natural, yellow colour of a single chip. Everything needs to be well coated in reddy-orange, fiery powder.

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I'm not asking too much here, am I?

The veg

I'm well aware that some fussy spice bag fans opt to omit the veg altogether, and obviously I'm not here to shame anyone. However, it's my personal opinion that if you don't include the gently fried onion and peppers, you're not getting the full experience.

The onion needs to be white - red feels too hard and almost grainy in this dish - and I'd take any colour pepper. Our good pal yellow could definitely be more regularly utilised. Additional elements that I'll never be mad at include but are not limited to grated carrot, sliced scallions, crushed garlic and chillies. All worthy, all welcomed, all important.

The curry sauce

As all Irish takeaway enthusiasts know, there are some ropey curry sauces out there.

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The kind that coagulate and become stagnant, forming an almost tofu-like blob that can't be penetrated by fork nor chip. What we're looking for is an even, creamy consistency - not too watery, but fluid enough to drizzle over the bag delicately, ensuring an even coating. In terms of flavour, the traditional, McDonnell's curry-esque flavour works here, and a hint of coconut sweetness will always be the icing on the spicy cake.

To drink

An ice-cold can of Coke Zero, preferably the old fat version that your local takeaway still seems to have an endless supply of for some unknown reason.

Extras

Prawn crackers are a great addition if you want to make yourself a little chip/chicken/curry taco. I'm also really partial to a satay sauce instead of the traditional curry, but some people aren't ready to have that conversation.

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Did we leave anything out? Let us know, and tell us how your next spicy takeaway measures up.

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