I envy my friends who have a defined cultural background. I have friends who are Italian, Indian, Asian, and Jewish, they have these amazing family gatherings that include recipes and dishes that have been passed down through generations.
My mom came from a German family, and by all accounts, my grandmother was a wonderful cook, but she died when I was 3. My mom left home at the age of 16, and I remember her saying to me that she regretted not learning how to cook from her mother.
My mom was an amazing baker, but we never really had a cultural identity, other than Canadian. We are, like many in this country, a mish-mash of British, Irish, Scottish, and then German and Russian on my mom’s side. But we grew up on meatloaf and mac and cheese.
While it’s always made me a little sad that I don’t have a specific culture’s cuisine to learn from my family, it has also opened me up to exploring other culture’s cuisines. I love learning about cooking traditions, spices and dishes from other countries.
I recently got to have lunch at an Indian restaurant called Sizzling Tandoor in Victoria, and the feeling I left with (other than feeling really full and satisfied) was the wish to be able to learn how to cook like that from the restaurant’s chef, Narpinder Bawa.
Sizzling Tandoor is a family-run restaurant, and you can feel the love. It’s in the service, and it’s most definitely in the food. The restaurant is the “retirement plan” of Napinder and her husband, Gurinder. While Napinder runs the kitchen, Gurinder manages the front of house, and the long hours they put in have paid off. Sizzling Tandoor now has two locations in Victoria, and has been voted “Best Indian Food in Victoria” the last three years running by the Times Colonist.
This is Indian comfort food at its best, lovingly prepared, spicy, and rich.
Our meal kicked off with a cooking lesson. We got to go back into the kitchen and watch Napinder make Kabuli. It’s a kind of sweet naan bread stuffed with fruit, nuts and coconut, then baked in the Tandoor (which is a very hot clay oven where they bake bread and also do skewers of meat).
It was a hot day, and the mango lassis (a yogurt-based drink with fruit) were very cooling.
One of my favourite bites of the day were these Aloo Tikkis. Potato pancakes, soft on the inside, crispy on the outside, topped with cooling raita and the most amazing mint chutney. There were, of course, also samosa, and (not pictured) delicious curried mussels, for an Indian-meets-west-coast kinda dish.
Mains included a variety of curries, including lamb (Rogan Josh, with the flavour of mango), vegetarian, paneer (cheese) and, of course, butter chicken. The Tandoori Fish, however, was my favourite. The bright colours of the tandoori spices (from turmeric and paprika) and the extreme tenderness of the fish made it an absolute winner.
(recipe from Napinder Bawa)
- 2/3 cup water
- one orange pekoe tea bag
- 2-3 green cardamom pods
- 2-3 whole cloves
- Pinch of fennel seeds
- Pinch of ground cardamom
- sugar to taste
- Bring water to a boil in a small pot on the stove, and add the tea bag.
- Add the chai spices, and allow to simmer for 5 minutes.
- Add half a cup of milk, or as desired, and sweeten to taste. Bring to a boil.
- Remove from heat, strain tea to remove tea bag and masala; now enjoy!
If you are in Victoria, and looking for Indian food like your mom used to make, head over to Sizzling Tandoor. They’ll make you feel like one of the family, and feed you like you are one, too.