On a very chilly winter evening we went down to Gerrard Street East in Toronto to warm ourselves up with a spicy Little India food tour. This was my Christmas present from Emma, which was very generous of her considering that Indian cuisine is not her favourite!
The tour was run by the Culinary Adventure Company, who run food tours in many Toronto districts, culinary adventures, classes and events. We met up with our excellent guide, Kevin, at the Lahore Tikka House. We were joined by another couple, who had done the tour a few years before, and had enjoyed it so much that they came back for more. So it was a bit like a mystery dinner party, as we were thrown in to a situation where we needed to socialise with people we’d never met before!
But with Kevin having visited Emma’s beloved Milton Keynes and with the parents of the male half of the other couple hailing from Wigan, we had plenty of British and Canadian common ground on which to talk about. It was all going well until I dared to suggest that there were some similarities between Canada and the USA…*mistake*.
Anyway, to the actual food. We tucked into delicious chicken, lamb and beef kebabs, and garlic and plain naan breads at the Lahore Tikka House. These were washed down with one of my favourite drinks, a mango lassi (no dogs were harmed in the making of this drink).
Before we left, we got a chance to see the kitchen, where they cut off pieces from a massive mound of dough, before then shaping them into a naan bread and then cooking them in the tandoor oven.
If we had thought that the interior of the Lahore Tikka House was unusual (big open plan room with rows of long tables shared with other diners – think Wagamama’s) compared to our standard British curry house, then our next stop, the Udupi Palace, was different again.
The Udupi Palace is a vegetarian curry house, but it is set in a former grocery store just below street level. Combined with some basic table and chairs, the restaurant felt quite sparse, and there was an air of community centre or bingo hall rather than curry house. Clearly the food is much more important than the decor!
Here we were lucky enough to go into the kitchen. We watched a cook make a giant Indian crepe, called a dosa, which once cooked is rolled into a cone and partially filled with a spicy potato and onion mixture. I was then offered the chance to make my own dosa, and despite a few language issues, I made a pretty good effort considering it was my first go. We decided to have it with that typical Indian condiment of Nutella. You can check out my dosa making skills in the video below (or you can watch here).
We were also treated here to some bhatura, a leavened bread, which we watched being deep fried and was accompanied by a delicious curried chickpea mixture.
By now we were getting a bit full, but we had only done 2 of our 5 stops! Next up though was MotiMahal, an Indian fast food joint, with the idea being that we got to sample a variety of takes on Indian cuisine.
Here we revisited the bhaturas, but which this time came in nacho size along with yoghurt, a coriander sauce, some spicy red sauce and chickpeas. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t my favourite, so after a couple of mouthfuls, I decided to save myself for the next stop.
Our final restaurant was the New Haandi 2000, which sounds a bit like something out of a 1980s sci-fi film. Of all the restaurants, this one felt the most like a curry house that we’d be accustomed to in the UK. The main attraction here was butter chicken, which I got the sense enjoys a similar level of stardom as chicken tikka does in the UK. The butter chicken was very good, and was accompanied by some equally good popadoms and naan breads, whilst Emma enjoyed trying out the bhindi do-pizza (which isn’t a pizza, but spiced okra).
We were full in the knowledge that we still had a fifth place to visit, and we had no idea how we would manage to eat anything more at this point! However, this final stop was actually designed to help us with what had gone before. We went into the place next door, which was like a newsagent, but that also specialises in paan. The paan is actually a leaf, which is filled with a variety of ingredients – honey, jam (the guy tried telling us it was bats’ blood!), fennel seeds and a variety of other things that I can’t remember from the panic of realising that this weird thing was going to be going in my mouth.
Once made, you stick it inside your cheek, and slowly chew around its edges, so that you get all the juices flowing out. The idea is that the combination of ingredients helps ease the stomach after vast quantities of spicy Indian food. It was actually quite nice at first when it was all juicy, but after a while it became a brown mush!
It was an excellent night out, and we enjoyed eating the leftovers the next day!