A Taste of India isn’t your typical takeout joint. There’s no restaurant and they don’t have their own kitchen. Culinary couple Prem and Sangeeta Nijhawan started the venture last November as a catering company.
Word quickly travelled about this new, authentic North Indian Cuisine, and they were getting dozens of requests from people wanting to place an order. So, they decided to do a trial takeout run.
“I would get phone calls ten times a day sometimes from small groups wanting to try the food,” Prem says. “So, I came up with the idea to have a preset menu. We started with a three course Indian dinner which includes an appetizer, one chicken curry, one vegetarian curry, rice, naan, and one dessert. I put it on Facebook and made a Google order form.” Within two days, they had more than sixty orders.
Prem says there’s a big demand for Indian food in St. John’s. “Ten or twenty years ago there wasn’t much exposure to Indian food. Now, because of people travelling, and more people coming in from other provinces, [there is] demand. And once people get hooked on the spices and flavours of Indian food, they don’t want to go back to bland potatoes and turnip.”
The couple wanted to meet the demand but had to keep overhead costs low. So, they decided to rent a commercial kitchen from Easter Seals, a charity devoted to helping children and adults with disabilities. They use the kitchen twice a week to cook takeout orders and people come to the building on Mount Scio to pick up their meals.
“This gives Easter Seals exposure as well,” Prem says, “and the money I am paying for rent to Easter Seals is going to a great cause. A lot of people rent commercial kitchens but, I know the money I am giving is going to a cause I support.”
I joined the Nijhawans in the kitchen as they were preparing Wednesday’s takeout orders, and was greeted by the most delightful smell of curries. I was immediately drawn to the bright orange and red colours on the stove. It didn’t help that I skipped lunch and was really hungry: I was probably drooling when Sangeeta assured me that I’d get a taste test.
The couple credits their home in Northern India for the inspiration. Prem says growing up in New Delhi, food was a big part of life. He says his mother was a fabulous cook and most of the meals on the takeout menu come from family recipes.
I got to bring home some Allo Mater, a potato and green pea curry, and some Chicken Jalfrezi (marinated chicken fried in oil and spices to produce a dry, thick sauce, with chunks of peppers and onion). It was a family hit … even my nine month old baby couldn’t get enough of the mild vegetable curry.
The Nijhawan family has been cooking authentic Indian meals in their own St.John’s kitchen for more than two decades. They came to Newfoundland in the 90s to start a business–a gift shop in the Avalon Mall called Home Impressions. But when rental rates started climbing, they had to close shop.
So now, they are trying a new venture. It’s gourmet ethnic food without the high costs that come with running a restaurant. Everything the couple serves is fresh. No bottled curry paste here. Prem travels to India for spices.
“We believe in grinding our own masalas. We buy them as whole spices, roast them ourselves, and then grind it ourselves because they’re fresh,” Prem says. “Something that you purchase from the store could be there a long time and the spices lose their flavour if they’re on the shelf for a long time.”
The Nijhawans have only been up and running for seven months but business is booming. You can now get Taste of India prepackaged lunches at Belbin’s Grocery Store and Prem says you will likely see their authentic Indian meals popping up at other food retail locations throughout the city. Takeout is twice a week and they post the menu along with the order forms on Facebook. Phone number: 746-3928