The Gully Canteen
My city. Vancouver. Besides the fact that we’re already seeing signs of spring in mid-February (hello crocuses), one of the things I love the most about living here is our vast cultural diversity.
Food has always been my gateway drug to exploring new cultures, and Vancouver is a great city to do that in, because we have such a diverse population. A full 12%, the third-highest population in Vancouver, is made up of South Asians, so it’s not surprising that Indian food is popular here.
But if you want to venture out of your butter chicken (for me it’s butter paneer) comfort zone, and really rev up your taste buds, I’d suggest you head for the Tri-Cities.
Recently opened a few months ago in a nondescript strip mall in Coquitlam is The Gully Canteen. It’s not fancy. it’s not expensive. But the food… oh the food is real good.
This is legit one of those places that you kind of want to keep a secret, because it’s a true hidden gem. But you’d also be doing your friends a disservice by doing so.
I’m just going to take a small pause here to talk about seasoning. It makes me absolutely crazy when people uphold French or Italian cuisine as the gold standard of “good food.” I mean, yeah, I love both of those cuisines, but I have huge amounts of respect for Indian cooking and the way they combine spices and seasoning. It’s complex, and honestly, I’d love to learn how to do it. I’ve tried, I’ve had Indian friends teach me a few things, but when you meet someone that really understands that delicate balance, it’s a win.
The person in question here is Chef Shreyash Kulkarni. This guy gets it, and his food shows it.
The Gully Canteen (the literal translation of “gully” is “alley”) is named after the street food vendors of Mumbai, and the restaurant serves up street food, Indian style. This food is easy to grab and go, filling and tasty.
It’s worthwhile to note that The Gully Canteen also has a tandoor oven, which makes the experience way more authentic. The Tandoor, if you’re unfamiliar with it, is a circular oven that heats up quite hot (around 500 degrees). Meat is often cooked in here on skewers, and bread is baked on its sides, giving it that chewy/crisp texture.
The Gully Canteen serves up your Indian faves; they have a fantastic lunch thali that’s just $12.99 and includes your choice of curry, dal, either rice or roti, and then either riata or a dessert with a drink (get the cutting chai for the most authentic experience).
But I would recommend going with a friend or two, and doing it up tapas style. Get a bunch of the small plates and share them to try a bit of everything. By the way, while there is meat on the menu, Chef Shreyash himself is vegetarian and the menu is very vegetarian and vegan friendly.
The menu is a bit daunting because there’s a lot going on here, so let’s break it down a bit.
First up, there’s chaat. Chaat is a savoury snack or appetizer, something light. What’s great about them, is they satisfy all your desires in a small bite; they’re salty, crunchy, sweet, spicy and sour/tangy all at once.
Pani Puri are these small little puffed up breads that kind of remind me of pitas, but much, much smaller. They’re hollow inside, so handy for stuffing with all kinds of delicious things, often chickpeas or potatoes. Here, they also serve Puri, which is similar to the pani puri, but they’re flat, more like a cracker, and then the toppings are piled on top. Again, it’s one little bite, but so much goes into it, that it’s hard to balance all those ingredients and flavours and textures, but it’s done so well.
Next up, we have Gully Eats or Appetizers. These are slightly larger portions, some of them warm, some of them cold. Here you’ll find your samosas (another Indian food most people are familiar with), but also some things you’ve maybe not had before, but will recognize as being familiar, like the chicken lollipops (basically a fried chicken wing, but with them most outrageously delicious house-made Sichuan chutney–I wanted to bathe in it), or their version of a cheese sandwich. The chili cheese toast sandwich starts with two pieces of bread with a spiced potato mash in between. There are also bits of peppers for texture and two sauces to amp up the spice. It’s all toasted together. Yum.
I especially loved the Sev Khaman. Sev is kind of like a noodle that’s made with chickpea flour and fried, then it’s crumbled and served in a bowl with curry leaves and mustard seeds It’s just stunning.
One very popular street food in India is pav (roll). It’s soft, it’s pillowy, and it’s quite small, like a slider bun. Inside, you can put whatever you like. The vegetarian/vegan version is a spiced potato patty (carbs on carbs, yes please), that’s been deep fried, and then it’s served with chutney and a fried chile on the side. This is comfort food x10.
In terms of mains, the menu is divided into Street food mains, burgers (which are larger versions of the slider-sized pav), dosas (a thin pancake or crepe made from lentil and rice flour then filled), curries (everything here from veggie to fish to chicken to goat) to meat kebabs cooked in the tandoor.
We tried the flavour bomb of Vada Missal Pav. It’s made with sprouted moth beans, served with pav and a half a potato patty as well as the sev from above. It’s a stew, and the sev acts kind of like a crouton. This dish is spicy but so, so good, and the bread helps to calm down some of the fire.
We did try the Paneer Tikka Masala, because, you know, you gotta. It was creamy and lovely and perfectly spiced, as was everything we ate that day.
Honestly, we ate too much and I’ll have to go back another day for dessert, which is too bad, because I love Indian desserts. They have India’s version of a donut, the gulab jamun, but they also serve rasmali, and shrikhand, which is a kind of pressed yogourt pudding flavoured with saffron and cardamom.
Be sure to also order cutting chai (this is a smaller portion of chai, basically the original idea was to “cut” one portion of chai in half to serve two people communally), as it’s warming and perfectly spiced. They also make their rotis and naans in the tandoor, so they arrive pillow and warm and soft, but tear apart with a perfect crunch.
This place is legit. Chef Shreyash simply knows his stuff. This place is a hidden gem and seriously deserves to have a lineup out the door. But please don’t. Because I want to be able to walk in there whenever I like and get chai and chaat.
@findbex Mumbai-style Street Food at The Gully Canteen in Coquitlam. #sogood #indianfood #streetfood #mumbai #vancouver #vegetarian #vegan #spicy #pav #puri ♬ Sauce – Naïka
The Gully Canteen
#315 – 1196 Lansdowne Drive, Coquitlam
Open 11:30am – 10:00pm Wednesday through Monday, closed Tuesdays