I’ve been home for a while and have really been enjoying the time off. Mostly I’ve been enjoying it with food, it seems.
Getting home from Louisiana was a bit of a challenge but I finally made it at around midnight. Unlike the last trip, I was first out the door (thanks for the free First Class upgrade, Delta!) and then made it through Customs in about 10 minutes. The trip home took only about 20 minutes. All good.
As usual, my family had been living like bachelors as they do when I’m gone. There was no fresh food in the fridge, a few pizza boxes in the recycling. Within a day or so I went out and did a massive grocery shopping trip. Because our pantry was so empty, my son and I skipped eating at home and went straight to the Indian restaurant in the mall next to the grocery store, Shahi Rasoi. I got my usual chhole (chickpeas). Theirs is some of the best in the city and it’s just a little hole in the wall food court restaurant. They know how much I love freshly made roti also and offered me some. How could I resist? Daegan got his usual nonvegetarian thali with puri.
Suitably restocked I went home. My plan for the next night was to make my first Sri Lankan food. My new cookbook, Handmade, Stories of Strength Shared through Recipes from the Women of Sri Lanka arrived. The photos, stories, and recipes look amazing. That night I made a fish soup and served it with rice.
First I had to break open a coconut. I don’t know what happened to our hammer – I think Daegan was hanging pictures the other day and forgot to put it back. Fortunately, as a cyclist, I found something equally heavy and solid to use.
Then I roasted and ground some spices.
The soup was delicious and delightfully spicy. It also had fresh roasted curry leaves in it which, for me, are magical. Add them to anything and the dish becomes instantly ten times better.
The next night, with my promise to try something new on nights I don’t work and am not too busy, I made bhindi masala – one of my favourite okra dishes for the first time. I was worried about this one as okra is one of those things that you can really do a poor job with. Cook this dish well and it is amazing. Cook it poorly and it is slimy and gross. Sage had already gone to sleep but Daegan joined me. Last time he tried okra he didn’t like it but he decided to try it again and liked it so much he had two (or was it three?) bowls!
I served it with masoor dal – red lentils and rice underneath. I meant to put curry leaves in the dal also..
Today I woke up early and we got our second snow in as many days. We’ve now had about 4x the snow that we got in Louisiana and there’s been little or no impact on daily life outside of my wardrobe. The big coat, hat, scarf, and mittens have come out. Here’s the view I woke up to this morning.
I started my day as I have for nearly every day since I got home – language practice on Skype. I met someone on Conversation Exchange who lives in Pune, India. She’s hoping to improve her English and of course I want to improve my Hindi. So we help each other out. Today she told me she made a Gujarati vegetarian dish and I remembered the only time I had Gujarati food in my life. Sage and I went over to Edison, NJ and went to a restaurant that had the best food. It was all you can eat and they kept bringing food over. It was so delicious I literally didn’t stop eating for about 2 hours. I didn’t even have dinner that night. Ever since then I’ve been hoping to find Gujarati food here but have had no luck. I decided to try again today, though, and managed to find a place. Of course it was in Scarborough, where all of Toronto’s best food seems to be.
We headed out in to the snow. The weather was magical. It wasn’t too cold yet but the snow was really coming down and had covered everything. There were no worries about the weather affecting our travel, though, because one of my favourite things about transit is that while it might be delayed by weather some, it still goes where you need it to go and you don’t have the stress of driving in it. And in fact, much of the trip was by subway. Part way there the subway came above ground and went through a forest.
Eventually we got there. The restaurant was in an out of the way plaza that I wouldn’t have noticed had I not known about it.
Hidden in this plaza was Govardhan Thal, the restaurant we went to, but also a restaurant serving Bombay style fast food (there’s no name on their sign) and also Mirchi Dhaba – a Punjabi restaurant as well as a paan/movie shop and a large Indian grocery.
The restaurant itself was fairly small – able to seat maybe 20 people but the offerings were amazing. There were about 20 different items in the buffet. So many that I couldn’t try them all. I got my first “round”.
Clockwise from 6:00 I got: a delicious chaat of mixed cereals, onions, tamarind chutney, and potato curry. At 7:00 you’ll see the pani puri (or gol gappa if you prefer). Use your thumb to put a hole in the top, spoon in some of the potato from 3:00, add the minty water from 12:00, the tamarind chutney from 1:00 and pop it in to your mouth. Amazing! At 10:00 and 11:00 were two delicious vegetable curries I don’t know the name of (based on the description I think 11:00 might be what my friend made). At 4:00 you’ll see a small bit of delicious green chili pickle. There was also a vada pav on the plate before I took the photo – a sandwich with a deep fried potato dumpling with chutney spread on top. But this was only the beginning.
Not long after I started eating, the owner came by with our roti. It was all freshly made. The plain roti were paper thin and covered in delicious butter. There was also a masala roti and a sweet roti stuffed with sweetened lentil paste – yum!. A few minutes later she came back with chaas – a delicous buttermilk drink.
I got a few more things in my next visit. A small savoury cake called ondhvo (I just looked this up). While it appears to be made of lentil flours the flavour was very much like a savoury cornbread. I tried a different curry and also got some pav bhaji. This one was really interesting. Something about the flavour instantly took both Sage and I back to the land where Sage’s mom used to live – about as far from India as could be. But we both were taken there. I was trying hard to figure out why but never managed to.
The owner came by to refill our water and offer us more roti. This time out of habit she accidentally said “roti chahiye” before switching to English. Not missing a beat, I said “Do aur.” – I wanted two more. Then she and another customer asked if I spoke Hindi. I said I spoke a little and then we talked a bit about my last visit and next visit. They suggested I visit Gujarat next time. The food alone would make it worth it. I could even find the biggest thali in the world here. It costs the equivalent of $30 Canadian and has 100 dishes including 33 different sweets. If I were to be able to finish that they promise nearly $2,000 Canadian to someone who can eat it all. But I think there’s little chance of my doing that. Today, after just that small bit of food (relatively speaking), when the owner came by one more time to ask if I’d like to try a millet roti I had to turn her down saying that I really wanted to try it but would need a bigger stomach to be able to. Something to try next time. And there will be a next time. So no championship eating for me.
Instead, we both rode home through the winter wonderland and found our way back in to our cozy apartment. Filled up with a feast fit for kings, we did just what royalty would do next. We had a long and delightful afternoon nap.