NARULA'S (1438A Gerrard East, at Ashdale, 416-466-0434) Some may be put off by the way this bare-bones Indian vegetarian kitchen looks, but the inexpensive spice-intense -- salty, sweet, fiery, sour -- snacks dished up here cause the palate to detonate in myriad directions. And everything's 2 bucks on Tuesday! Complete meals for $10 per person, including all taxes and a large tip. Open Tuesday to Sunday 12:30 to 9:30 pm. Closed Monday. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: one step at door, washroom on same floor. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Always on the lookout for off-beat and off-the-beaten-track spots, I've found that Narula's, a two-year-old vegetarian snackateria in Little India, certainly fits the bill. From the curb, this modest take-away looks unpromising: a bleak, shade-free concrete slab with beat-up picnic tables out front and, inside, a lunch counter, a compact open kitchen wallpapered in aluminum foil and a small fluorescent-lit eating area.But -- and it's a big, natural-born but -- this hole-in-the-wall dishes up some of the most unusual, spice-intense grub I've discovered in my downtown travels.
Think of Bhel Poori as Indian fried rice, a quick midday pick-me-up that combines masala-scented basmati with finely chopped cooked potato, raw onion, crunchy chickpeas, fried lentils and peanuts with coarsely shredded papri (crisp, puffy wafer) and a tangle of chopped coriander leaves. Sweet red tamarind sauce and slightly sour mint relish add to the salty-bitter-sweet-fiery spice composition.
Consider Chat Papri subcontinental nachos. Here, papri are used as scoops or crumbled like soup crackers into cool yogurt mined with cubed potato and chickpeas and bombed with roasted cumin, red chili powder and fresh coriander. As you eat, the disparate spices explode on the tongue. Two lentil doughnuts laced with curry leaf -- vada -- come with a soupy, delicious sambar of carrot, tomato, cauli, okra and long beans for dunking. Aloo Tikki finds chickpea fritters stuffed with creamy lentils and sided with sugary cardamom chana striped with raw onion (all $3.49).
And because today's Tuesday, everything in the joint, excepting drinks like mango lassi ($2.99), costs only 2 bucks. A toonie'll even get you the three-curry thali (otherwise $4.99), a substantial spread that includes subzi (today, zucchini with flat beans, eggplant Alu Bhaigan and rather mediocre Matar Paneer), plain white basmati, some Indian-style roti and marvellously paper-like papadam. No wonder a small crowd has waited politely for almost an hour until everything's ready!
Thinking myself some kind of know-it-all, I imagine Seasoned French Fries ($1.99) must be some kind of intoxicating exotica like the spice-drenched grilled corn on the cob they sell down the block. Wrong: pre-salted McCain's and ketchup. And sure, everything other than the thali is served with styrofoam plates, paper napkins and plastic cutlery. But a non-stop soundtrack of Bollywood show tunes and Nusrat singing that same song that goes on forever adjusts the atmosphere considerably.
Narula's veggie grub may be a steal on Tuesdays, but its worthy of support all week long. Go often and tip heavily.the last thing vegetarians wantto see in a restaurant is sides of pork ribs hanging from meat hooks. But that's what greets them at New Kee Hong (396 Spadina, at Nassau, 416-596-1576), an almost year-old veggie eatery close to U of T that paradoxically also flogs animal flesh as the old Hong Kee BBQ House. Say what?While there's lots of Buddhist-style mock meat on offer -- vegetarian kidneys, anyone? -- there's plenty for herbivores with a more adventurous appetite. Stir-fried imitation chicken ($7.50) sounds awful but delivers a tasty payload: chewy barbecue-like "chicken" dusted with five-spice and tossed with sweet bell pepper, roasted cashews and flakes of red chili heat. Singapore-style curry noodles ($6.99) are just that, delish curried rice angel hair tangled with scrambled egg, raw sprouts, al dente red pepper and rubbery faux squid and butterflied shrimp that taste sorta like the real thing. Srirachi optional but essential for the full delish effect.
Another doppelgänger, grilled Special Vegetarian Kebabs ($5.99), sees four bamboo skewers loaded with faux shrimp and shallots as well as fake fake-crab and mock fish balls and real zuke and peppers. Skip the weird, oily dip and ask for the advertised peanut sauce instead. There's nothing distinctive about Special Sweet Crispy Roll, a sad quartet of egg rolls stuffed with yucky taro ($3.99), with the same odd sauce on the side.
New management has spruced the place up by Spadina standards. Paper lanterns hang from a trellis overhead woven with plastic plants, and soft Prince-purple vinyl covers the tables. But those obscene slabs of dead meat under heat lamps right next to the veggie steam table are going to scare away more po-tential customers than they'll attract. Most peculiar.
when the weekly saturday organic farmers meet relocated to Saint Patrick Market -- the abattoir-turned- food-court across from MuchMusic -- two years ago, it also opened a small takeout café at the rear of this mis-used city-owned building. Next to submarine shops and bubble tea dispensaries, the obviously named Organic Market Caf (238 Queen West, at John 416-703-4975) provides preservative-free vegetarian noshes for hungry VJs like Ed the Sock and that Rainbow dude.Juice combos like beet, apple and ginger (12-ounce $3/16-ounce $5) taste sweeter than non-organic blends. Cool gazpacho (small $3/large $4.50) swims with seedless cuke and super-ripe field tomato, and
could use a generous grind of fresh-cracked black pepper.
Equally under-spiced, hefty spelt popovers filled with turtle beans and onion ($2.25) seem like a week's worth of roughage. Despite its deep apple flavour, earnest strudel ($2) needs butter and sugar to be truly dessert. But, hey, organic coffee's a buck, and there are prepared organic foods, too -- breads, soy milk, pastas and wonderful homemade preserves and pickles. email@example.com