Jhumka, Gerrard Street, Toronto, Little India

India masala in Toronto

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Story by Mariellen Ward
Vacay.ca Senior Writer

TORONTO — Running about five blocks, between Coxwell and Greenwood, the Gerrard Street India Bazaar in Toronto is lined with stores, restaurants and stalls offering grilled corn, fresh sugar cane juice and golgappa (dumplings with sauce). The street acquired its Indian flavour in the 1970s when waves of immigrants from South Asia moved in. The first generation offered traditional Indian merchandise, but a new generation is shaking it up.

During the years of visiting India Bazaar, I’ve fallen into a predictable routine, and my first stop is invariably Udupi Palace. I always arrive hungry because the South Indian vegetarian food served at Udupi is very filling. Within moments of walking into the spacious room, a few steps below grade at 1460 Gerrard Street East, I’m greeted by the friendly staff and warming aromas that put me immediately into an India state of mind.

I’m torn between having a dosa (crepe with savoury filling) or the South Indian thali (plate of small dishes) — and owner Hubert Dabello assures me they are two of the most popular items on the menu, which is reasonably priced, with no item costing more than $10. Dabello opened Udupi Palace in 2001 and introduced new taste sensations to the street, traditionally dominated by north Indian restaurants serving Toronto’s ubiquitous Punjabi-style dishes such as butter chicken, dal and naan. He was inspired by the popularity of South Indian restaurants in Bombay, and imported a winning formula.

From Udupi, I walk west and always stop in to say hello to friends at Nucreation. This huge store, at the corner of Gerrard and Ashdale, is one of the most popular stops for Indian bridal wear in Toronto. The entire second floor is devoted to showcasing unique and gorgeous beaded lenghas (tulip-shaped skirt with fitted top) and saris in dazzling colours for brides; and elegant sherwanis (jackets) for men.

Nucreation is a family-owned business that has been on Gerrard Street for 30 years, one of the first Indian clothing stores in Toronto. Owner and men’s clothing designer Manish Mahtani says, “We have grown along with the population of South Asians in the GTA, and we are optimistic about the future. The young generation loves to dress traditionally for weddings and parties, and there is growing interest among our western customers to dress in Indian style, too.”

I am one of the westerners who shop at Nucreation for distinctive evening wear: I have a georgette sari to die for — transparent shades of blue sky fade to azure, indigo and black, and a scattering of rhinestones make it look a starry night sky.

Almost next to Nucreation is Jhumka, a small store brimming with unique, ornate bridal jewelry that appeals to modern Indian brides and westerners. Owner Tina Mahar has a knack for matching jewelry to clothing, and she loves to be able to meet the needs of westerners, as well as brides, looking for showpiece necklaces and earrings.

Rang, Gerrard Street, Toronto, Little India

Rang is a home decor store like no other on Gerrard Street in Little India. (Mariellen Ward/Vacay.ca)

Across the street is Rang, a home decor store like no other in Little India. From the striking use of colour (“rang” is Hindi for colour) and bold sign, you can tell at a glance the store has a modern sensibility. Inside is a riot of colour and shimmering surfaces, a veritable Ali Baba’s cave of ornate beaded, embroidered and lacquered treasures. Owner Trishna Mahtani, sister of Manish at Nucreation, travels regularly to India to hunt for stylish pillowcases, draperies, wall hangings, boxes, candle holders and other household objets d’art. She chooses items that are inspired by traditional techniques, colours and themes — such as peacocks — but updated for modern tastes.

My last stop is usually Toronto Cash & Carry, or one of the other grocery stores, where I load up on spices, saunf (candy-coated fennel seeds), hot mango chutney, Darjeeling tea and long green chili peppers. Popping saunf into my mouth, I saunter down the street toward home, sated and satisfied.

On weekends in the summer, and during festivals such as Diwali and Eid, the Gerrard India Bazaar has a festive atmosphere. Families snack on street foods and desserts like kulfi (north Indian ice cream); mothers and daughters pour over heavily beaded bridal fabrics, trying to find matching costume jewelry; and the latest Bollywood hits spill out of the music stores. Sometimes, for a moment, if the weather’s warm and I catch the scent of spicy food cooking, I can pretend I am in India.

Directions: From downtown Toronto, Little India is easily accessible by public transportation ($3 for a one-way subway, bus or streetcar ride; $10.50 for day pass for all TTC transit options). You can take the eastbound streetcar on College Street, which turns into Carlton Street east of Yonge Street. The College Street streetcar turns south on Parliament Street and then heads east on Gerrard Street, taking you to Little India. You can exit the streetcar anywhere between Greenwood and Coxwell Streets to experience the neighbourhood. The Gerrard India Bazaar is between Hiawatha Road and Ashdale Avenue.

You can also reach Little India by taking the Bloor/Danforth subway line to Coxwell Station and connecting with a southbound bus to Gerrard Street.

With public transportation, it will take you about 20 minutes to reach Little India from downtown, depending on traffic.

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