By Gurmukh Singh
VANCOUVER: Indian (read Punjabi) food is going mainstream in Canada thanks to the growing diaspora in this country.
Not surprisingly, tandoori kebab, butter chicken, dal makhani, etc, are increasing become the delicacies of choice for Canadians. And the ever mushrooming Indian restaurants in cities are a testament to the popularity of desi food.
This spurt in popularity can be ascribed to the innovation and western touch brought to Indian cuisine by many young restaurant owners and chefs.
Punjabi chef Siddharth Choudhary has been given the Best Asian Food in Vancouver Award for taking desi cuisine into the mainstream. Called Chef Sid, he has been credited with putting Indian cuisine on the food map of western Canada.
His four-year-old restaurant is called Siddhartha’s Kitchen and it sits in Vancouver’s widely popular Commercial Drive – which has often been rated as one of the most happening places in North America.
Among his regular clients are Hollywood star Max Martini and many other celebrities. And Chef Sid has played host to many Bollywood stars, including Jaya Bachchan, Gulshan Grover, etc.
“Whenever Hollwyood star Max Martini is in Vancouver, he always comes to eat at my restaurant. He says my restaurant offers the best Indian food anywhere in North America,’’ gushes Siddharth who worked as a chef at Delhi’s Ashoka Hotel for three years before moving to Ireland in 2000 to work as a main chef for a five-star hotel chain there.
“I am a Punjabi chef, but today my skills are a blend of different cuisine styles. In India, my specialty was Indian cuisine. In Ireland, my specialty was continental and Italian food. Today, my specialty is Indian cuisine with western gourmet-style presentation,’’ says Siddharth who moved to Canada from Ireland in 2007.
Explaining the growing craze for Indian food, he says,“It is tasty, yummy, mouth-watering…everybody is getting hooked to it now. Previously, business people were running restaurants with untrained staff who prepared oily, overcooked food. But now trained chefs have brought pride to Indian cuisine. Indian food is no more oily, over-spicy, greasy and overcooked. They are experimenting, they are cooking, roasting, braising…they know overcooking is a crime. That’s why our cuisine is now becoming very popular among mainstream communities.’’
Siddharth is one of the few chefs who are also run their business. “Because I am chef as well as owner, I constantly innovate by trying various combination of Indian and Canadian cuisines. One India-Canada dish I have created and which has become very popular is local smoked salmon served with coconut chutney.’’
Explaining why Indian food served continental-style has become very popular, he says, “This adds to the visual effect…food should always look visually appealing and smell good. Indian cuisine served continental style is such a temptation.’’
He says Indian cuisine will soon become an integral part western menu charts.
And like so many in the Punjabi diaspora in Canada, Chef Sid is also obsessed with politics in India. As elections in Punjab and Goa and other states roll around, he says he too is headed for India.
“Because Indian politicians have no accountability and anything that they do also impacts us here, I am financing a project in India under which people will prepare digital report cards of ministers, MPs, MLAs, etc., so that politicians held accountable as is the custom in Caanda.’’
He says he has named his project Swarnimbharat. “It will be like Trip Advisor or Yelp for Indian politics. I am very serious about it.’’
(This story appeared in the Times of India on Monday, January 2)