The sheer variety of salty snacks at Himalaya Restaurant (6587 Main Street) would cause the CEO of Frito-Lay to hang his head in shame. A long row of glass bins is filled with every single Punjabi munchie that you can imagine, from kachoris (deep fried pastries stuffed with mashed veggies) to mixes of deep-fried peas and lentils. “Buying snacks here is like buying chips in a supermarket,” says Mani Pabla, assistant manager as he stands behind the counter.
There’s a constant stream of customers approaching Pabla to order snacks, from groups of chattering women to older grandpa-types. Pabla estimates that most customers buy about 450 grams to a kilogram, but they can order upwards of 45 kilograms, especially when snacks are doled out as wedding favours, or served at big celebrations. They come not only because of the large selection, but also because of the fresh, consistent quality of the snacks made in-house. Pabla gives a tour of the back kitchen, where green peas sizzle in oil, while a mountain more wait, in a huge metal bowl, to be fried.
By far Himalaya’s bestsellers are strips of samosa dough that are deep fried until golden crisp. Their version is light and flakey, with just the right balance of cumin-seed spicing and saltiness. The result is addictive (and great with beer for the guys or a cup of tea for the ladies, says Pabla.) Also popular are the different varieties of roasted cashews: plain with black pepper and salt; a red chili and cayenne pepper version; and another kind coated in chickpea flour batter. Peanuts and almonds are also available with similar spicing and fried in chickpea batter. The pakora batter is equally good on its own—small, nummy bits of fried goodness that you can pop by the handful into your mouth.
Other places on Main Street’s Punjabi Market have more limited offerings but do them well. By the window at All India Sweets & Restaurant (6507 Main Street), grab a brown bag and self-serve by loading up on veggie and beef samosas, aloo tikki (deep-fried potato dough), and paneer pakoras (deep-fried cheese coated in chickpea batter) for more substantial noshing. The firm texture of the paneer works well with the light pakora batter, and even better, it isn’t too oily or salty, passing the brown bag grease-mark test.
Manager Sandeep Chahal chats in Punjabi to customers, recommending the badana bhujia, the ultimate sweet-and-salty combo of deep-fried chickpea-flour noodles with deep-fried lentil-paste balls coated in butter and sugar and dyed a shade of orange. For those who just want salt though, she says stick with the sev, which is basically chickpea-flour dough extruded through a press and deep-fried. All India has a bunch of different shapes, from skinny noodles, wide flat noodles, and thick “udon” noodles to a star-shaped tube. Their sev have a nice solid bite—a dense crunch, especially when you munch on the fatter ones.
Strangely, you can also order pizza while you’re stocking up on salty snacks at Dhaliwal Restaurant and Sweets (6555 Fraser Street). There, a customer chats on her cellphone, Dhaliwal pizza in one hand, and a box each of their Indian desserts and savouries stacked on top of one another in the other. Pizza aside, Dhaliwal does a really good mathri, deep-fried salty biscuits spiced with cumin seeds and black pepper. Some versions are on the hard side, but theirs is crisp (probably from a generous amount of ghee.) Also worth the visit are the fiery, turmeric- and chili-spiced samosa skin strips, and the three “trail mixes” on offer. A melange of puffed rice, skinny fried chickpea noodles, and spiced nuts is an especially enjoyable play with textures, as is a protein-heavy one of lentils, cashews, and chickpeas.
Rounding out the nearby options are Sartaj Sweets & Restaurant (6665 Fraser Street) and Apna Bhaia Sweet Shop & Restaurant (6616 Fraser Street). Sartaj has quite a limited selection of savoury snacks, from sev to a trail mix of lentils, peas, and nuts. Go though for larger mathri (more than two bites) and their bags of samosa skins.
Apna Bhaia is the quintessential family-run business with family talking and preparing food at the back. Young school-aged daughter Kiran Ugre occasionally hangs out at front, keeping out of her mom’s way. Though shy, after a bit of prodding, she points out the veggie pakoras on the counter, triangular shaped mathri, the fried lentils that she says are “salty and good”, and especially, the gol gappa, paper thin, deep-fried spheres of dough. Asked when she indulges in the many snacks in the plastic bins behind the counter, she replies, “Whenever”. In other words, there’s no need for an excuse.