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Seema Omar’s dining room table is packed with ingredients. There’s finely diced raw mango, onions, sev, squeeze bottles filled with tamarind and mint chutneys, diced lime, paapdi, and a serving tray with small heaps of spices.
Seema starts to put together a helping of sev puri – the dish that started her and sister-in-law Amreen Omar on a journey of serving Indian snacks in Toronto, the Canadian city with a large Indian diaspora.
“Torontonians really took to sev puri,” said Amreen, as Seema passes a carefully prepared plate. She said that when they first started out at a stall in a farmers market, people had preconceived ideas about Indian food. “Everybody asked for naan,” she said.
After becoming a hit at farmers markets, pop-up shops and food expos in Toronto, Amreen and Seema are now preparing for their next major pit stop – a bricks-and-mortar establishment in downtown Toronto named Bombay Street Food, which is set to open this month.
But it was the sev puri that fuelled the duo’s early success. Amreen recalls one of their early food expo experiences.
“There was this guy from India – he spoke Hindi. He had one,” she said. “Then he took a round and came back for one more. Then he had two or three more. His wife joked they should have just stayed at our stall, since he had used up all his tickets. It’s nice when someone from your country appreciates it because they know what it should taste like.”
The experience of dishing out traditional Indian snacks to an uninitiated but warmly receptive clientele has been fulfilling enough for Amreen, a former crown prosecutor, to quit her job as a law professor, and for Seema to consider a new role beyond being a full-time mother.
The idea for Bombay Street Food came about soon after Seema married and moved to Canada from Mumbai, where she was working for fashion designers Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla. She found herself missing Indian street food staples and decided to recreate a childhood memory.
“I grew up in a Bandra building complex [in Mumbai], and every day at 4.30 pm, this sev puri and bhel puri wallah would come to our complex, and all of us kids would make a line,” said Seema. “I still remember him. He used to dress very nicely in white dhoti and kurta. I would watch him as I waited in line. I make my sev puri the same way he made his – he used raw mango, and so do I. Some people put chopped tomatoes, but he didn’t – so I don’t.”
For Amreen, her childhood memories are full of summer trips to India and winters in New Brunswick, the eastern Canadian province that borders the US. The only Indians for miles around, the family sustained themselves through snowed in winters with food and movies.
“I grew up spending Canadian winters with Shammi Kapoor, Raj Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan and my mother’s dal chaawal sabzi, gosht ka saalan or kadhi khichdi,” said Amreen.
Their first stint as food entrepreneurs began in May 2014 at a newly opened farmer’s market in downtown Toronto. After that they moved to a more established weekly farmer’s market in the city’s east end. Requests to cater holiday parties soon followed. The sisters-in-law also cooked more than a few times at The Depanneur, a foodie hub where every Friday night guest cooks from amateurs to established chefs can present their favourite foods.
Patrons raved about their Besan Ka Chilla savoury pancakes and Hyderabadi-style dessert Qubaani Ka Meetha (apricot puree topped with cream, a dollop of custard and almond slivers). But their full-fledged debut was six months later at the Gourmet Food and Wine Expo.
“We made chaat for 1,600 people that night,” said Seema. “People didn’t know what sev puri was, and were confused by what they were calling ‘crispy noodles’. But they kept coming back for seconds and thirds.”
And that event proved to be the turning point. “We decided to go for it,” said Amreen.
Straight from the source
Seeking inspiration, the duo and their business consultant travelled to Mumbai a little while ago. They connected with food bloggers such as Kalyan Karmaka, who gave them a tour of Mumbai’s finest street eats, including stops at Bohri Mohalla, Mohammed Ali Road, as well as haunts such as Suleman Usman Mithaiwala.
Seema even got hands-on tips from a pao bhaji stall owner behind the Cricket Club of India.
“I’ve had pao bhaji in places like Shiv Sagar and Sukh Sagar, but this was the best pav bhaji I tasted,” said Seema. “He showed me his technique, and it was very similar to mine. I felt so relieved.”
Their Mumbai food quest turned out to be rather eventful.
“Then there were places that had no name, like this one restaurant that served only keema and pudding,” said Amreen. “All of us were very keen on trying everything, from frankies to vada pao. And no one fell sick.”
While Bombay Street Food draws on all these experiences, its main inspiration comes from Mumbai’s famous Irani cafes, which are slowly disappearing from the city’s streetscapes.
“We visited all of them including Ideal Corner and Britannia,” said Amreen. “But our place is really inspired by Yazdani Bakery – the ambience, the colour, even the wood details. We spoke with the owner, Rashid Zend, who is in his seventies. We had chai for Rs 15, and it was the best tea I had in my life. We also spoke with his nephew Tirandaz. He was frustrated because there’s a Starbucks opening two doors down, and he wants his uncle to make some changes. But the uncle was having none of it.”
With their new restaurant, the Omars want to pay homage to the Mumbai of both past and present. The menu features dishes ranging from frankies to keema pao. Cutting chai can be enjoyed with a serving of khaara biscuit or naan khatai, sourced fresh from a Gujarati bakery in Toronto. Their pao, meanwhile, is being custom baked by a local bread chain to replicate the hardier Mumbai version as compared to local hamburger buns.
“We haven’t toned down anything, not even the spice,” said Seema. “Torontonians are ready for stronger Indian flavours. The only thing we have changed a little is the presentation.”
Amreen said they want to stay true to their niche.
“We’re not interested in doing fusion food,” she said. “We are sticking to our comfort zone; stuff that we love and have perfected.”
Despite their success, there is one dish that hasn’t gone down too well their customers and most likely won’t make it to the menu at Bombay Street Food. “Falooda! People kept on asking us why we gave them spaghetti in their milk,” Seema said with a laugh.
New Delhi: In a bid to bring down onion prices in the national capital, the Delhi government on Monday said it has decided to approach the vegetable’s importers. “We will contact the businessmen who import onions so that the onions can reach wholesale markets in Delhi,” Delhi development minister Gopal Rai said, adding that the imported onions would be available between Rs.35 and Rs.39 per kg in the wholesale market.
Onions have become dearer over the past fortnight with prices reaching as high as Rs.80 per kg. Rai hoped that due to reduction in onion prices in Maharashtra, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, the rates in Delhi would also fall in the coming days. Meanwhile, the city government has sought the central government’s help to ensure sufficient supply of onions. The Delhi government had also published the names of 280 Fair Price Shops in the capital, where onions are being sold at Rs.30 a kilogram, after the prices shot up to Rs. 70 – Rs.80 per kilogram.
By NewsGram Staff Writer
Onion prices have always been under the radar. They keep going up and then get stable only to go up further. The common man has to suffer endlessly. Now again, the onion prices are all set to rise. Prices have already crossed Rs 70 per kg mark at many places. These prices are likely to remain on the higher side till September-end as per the reports of National Horticultural Research and Development Foundation (NHRDF).
In Delhi, onions were selling at Rs 65 per kg in retail. In the past one month, the prices rose by Rs 25 per kg. This inflation has forced people to think of onion as a distant entity.
This problem is nationwide as onion is a very common vegetable in every household. In fact, dhabas are incomplete without them. However, now even the dhabas have decided to charge extra penny for serving onions in salad.
In Kerala, Onam festival is round the corner. The onion prices are a cause of major worry as now they would either have to compromise with the taste or spend some extra money.
“Today, I am selling it at Rs.65 a kg, whereas a week back it was Rs 40. With the festival season of Onam round the corner the price could cross Rs 70,” vegetable vendor Ramesh in Thiruvananthapuram said.
Reshmi Nair, a housewife in the Kerala capital, said that for the time being, she is saved as last week she purchased around five kg of onions at Rs.39 per kg and this would last through the Onam week.
Some housewives are now beginning to cut down on onion usage in their homes.
“I use onions in every vegetable, but the steep hike in the prices has now forced me to do without onions in my kitchen. For me it is no more affordable at Rs.70 a kg,” Archana Bharti, a housewife in Shimla expressed.
“The common man feels cheated by the continuous price rise of essential commodities,” she added, blaming the Modi government for not doing enough to check onion prices.
The price hike is a serious burden for the common man who has to either quit eating the vegetable or compromise in some way or the other. The family budgets too will have to be revised in order to fit in this extra costly vegetable.
Should we expect a time when onions will start getting displayed in shops with jewellery items or is the Modi government listening to the public plea anytime soon?
(With inputs from IANS)
By Nury Vittachi
How much are you worth in onions? You don’t know, right? The exciting news is that supermarkets are getting self-service counters where you can scan an item’s bar code and then jump up and sit on the weighing scales yourself.
After learning my value in onions (more than $130!), I was planning to work through a wide range of supermarket items (wouldn’t you love to know your worth in chocolate or floor mops?)
But I had to leave, as my embarrassed children had run off, shouting: “He’s not with us.” (Children have NO respect these days.)
That was in Britain. The good news for the intellectually curious is that do-it-yourself supermarket check-outs are coming to Asia. They are being tested at a new zero-staff, honesty-based store in China. That should be interesting, as the food sector in that country is not exactly legendary for its moral integrity. “Comrade! We sold every item in the supermarket on the first day! We got a dollar fifty!”
Yet people promoting be-your-own-cashier stations claim that humans have a natural sense of morality.
If that’s true, it’s buried pretty deep. Just last week I overheard a pregnant colleague saying that her husband spent the whole weekend “babyproofing” their house. I was shocked and plan to tell her that if the kid can’t get in, she can leave it with me.
But it did occur to me that maybe places with low crime rates, such as Japan, are evidence of natural morality. Remember the inexperienced guy who tried to rob the Saitama Resona Bank in Kumagaya some years back? “Any idea how you rob a bank?” the man, armed with a knife, politely asked counter staff. They politely responded that they did not, and suggested he leave. He accidentally cut himself with his knife on the way out, but police kindly got his wound seen to.
Still, natural morality makes sense to me, as I totally believe in karma. I’ll never forget the nice woman named Chen who took her dog for a walk near her home in China’s Laohekou city in Hubei. A horrible pair of snatch thieves on a motorbike grabbed the parcel she was carrying and sped off with it. They got clean away with a large portion of fresh, warm dog poo. Nice one, karma.
Stop press: a reader just sent me a recent news item that is relevant. A pair of drug-pushers in the US sampled their own stock and became woozy and paranoid. They convinced themselves that they were being pursued by law enforcement agents (which was not the case) and so gave themselves up to police. Did their subconscious sense of morality cause them to have themselves arrested? Or is there another word for it, such as “stupidity”?
I was still puzzling this out when another crime story arrived. A bank robber with a red beard in the US city of Pittsburgh raided four banks. On his fifth and sixth, he wore a disguise: a fake red beard, carefully balanced over his real red beard. Is this madness or genius?
There is a very thin line between acts of idiocy and acts of brilliance. I wish someone would explain that to my children.