Suanne and I first came across Ashiana Tandoori Restaurant during our visit to EAT! Vancouver. When we blogged about the event, it just so happened that the picture we selected for our front page was two action pictures of them making fresh roti on site. It was Sonia who requested that we email them the pictures we took. So, one thing led to another, we were invited to Ashiana to check out their restaurant.
Suanne and I like invitations like this not because it was a free meal but that we get to speak to the people behind the restaurant and learn more about the restaurant, the food and the people. We realize that we appreciate the food we eat the more we know about it. We wanted to also learn more about Tandoori and see it in action for ourselves.
Ashiana Tandoori Restaurant is located at the intersection of Kingsway and Knight. It was in a bad location just a few years ago when the Vancouver flea market was just around the corner. However, in the past couple of year the neighborhood had undergone a major rejuvenation when the new King Edward Village was completed. It is amazing how just one carefully planned development project changes the face of the neighborhood just like that.
Ashiana is celebrating their 26th Anniversary this year. Having first opened in 1983, Ashiana is one of the first authentic Tandoori restaurant in Vancouver. The people behind Ashiana is Rick and Sonia. It was a pleasure meeting them and having them telling us their story.
Sonia told us the story how they got their first major exposure during the Expo 86 when they took their clay Tandoori oven. At that time, the Tandoori oven was quite a novelty and his clay Tandoori oven was the first in Canada. It just happen that Rick fell ill on the day and Sonia, even though a few months pregnant, had to stand in to do the demo.
They came across to us as a very hard working husband and wife team. Over the years, they had built a name for Ashiana and had won so many awards year in and year out.
You know, speaking to restaurant owners, Suanne and I had new respect for them. Like many restaurant owners, Sonia and Rick put in 14 hours a day, 364 days a year — closing only on Christmas. In all these years, they had only gone on a vacation once together! They had to take turns to manage the fledging restaurants. Even though, Ashiana had made a name in the restaurant business, Sonia and Rick said they do not encourage their children to take over their business. We were quite impressed by what we learned.
Ashiana has a banquet room that can easily cater for up to 150 people. They told us that it is rare that restaurants can get to their size these days. Ashiana first small restaurant is located on Victoria Drive. In 1992, they put in all they had and re-opened in this new location. Since then they had never looked back.
First thing we were served were Papadums. We learn now that is is made of lentil and is sundried. The ones Ashiana serve here are made in India. They could have microwaved this to provide a more uniformed charness. Instead they make it in the tandoori clay oven. Love the charred sides! He he he … is that carcinogenic?
We see the same type of dips that we had in La Tandoor a few weeks ago. The tamarind chutney and hot mint chutney are better than those we had then — particularly the hot mint chutney.
We told Sonia before the visit we would like to learn more about the Tandoori oven and to see for ourselves how they make our dinner. So, the first thing we did was to have a tour of their kitchen. We saw how our naan bread was made in the Tandoori oven — man, I had no idea how fast it was made. It was almost instantly we saw the air bubbles popping through the skin. I never quite figure out how the bread sticks to the side without falling off.
The fresh hot Naan out of the oven was fantastic! It was fluffy and soft … and particularly great with …
… Butter Chicken. They serve their Butter Chicken ($12) on a heater which is the first time I see it in an Indian restaurant. It was great because it keeps the Butter Chicken constantly warm. They told us they made it the way it is meant to be made by using only cumin seeds and fenugreek dry leaves. They do not use garam masala as any creamy sauce does not require it. I was not sure if I understand it all (LOL!) but thought that Rick was trying to tell me he refuses to make it any different than the traditional way.
Back to the Tandoori oven. Oh boy … it was deadly hot. I tried to take the picture from the top but it was so hot that I only managed to take one shakey shot. I did not want to get my camera combust in flame.
Rick believes in doing the Tandoori the traditional way by using charcoal and wood although modern ones that uses electricity and gas is more convenient and cleaner to handle.
There you go … our dinner!
They served it all in what they call the “Mixed Grill” ($19) from the section of the menu of Ashiana Tandoor Specialities. All of the items are cooked in the clay oven and served on a hot plate unlike what we see a lot in Chinese Restaurants.
Being traditionists, they told us that these are Indian style hot plates and had been specially made in India (with bronze inscription of maple leaves!). Meat lovers will like this. This hot plate has chicken tikka (tikka meaning small pieces), lamb tikka (very tender), seekh kebab, chicken tandoori and prawns. This is the most expensive dish that they have on the menu.
Rick also served us a new item on the menu. This is created because of requests from customers. They call this simply the “Vegetarian Platter”. This includes stuffed potatoes, cheese paneer, cauliflower (soft and moist). The items here are new to us. Suanne likes the Cheese Paneer.
What we both like a lot is the Stuffed Potatoes which is stuffed with paneer. It is unique and surprisingly delectable.
We talked about the types of meat mostly eaten in India. We asked about the difference between lamb and goat … and then the next thing we know, Rick got up and got us some Lamb curry! We tried to stop him because we already had too much food but to no avail. This is made with garlic, ginger and onion as a base with green coriander.
Rick told us that in Punjab, goat are more commonly eaten.
We can’t eat curry by itself … so we also had rice! Oh boy … we were stuffed.
For drinks we had Lassi’s served in antique copper and steel cups. We had mango and blueberry flavoured ones ($4).
One thing you will notice here is all the traditional ornaments and sculptures all over the restaurant. This are the real stuff and not cheap imitations. Sonia told us that Rick was crazy to ship 400 kg of these stuff all the way from India when they opened up this restaurant. I think it was smart of him because this makes Ashiana look more authentic Indian than others.
We went away admiring what Rick and Sonia had done to this restaurant … seeing for ourselves how much passion, sweat and tears they had put into making what Ashiana is today. If we had just walked into this restaurant on our own, it will only come across to us as just another Indian restaurant with fancy sculptures. Instead, we were privileged to see a side of the restaurant that not many people had seen.
Regardless whether Suanne and I had preferential treatment and that Sonia and Rick treated us to this meal, we had a great time learning and enjoyed the food.
So, Sonia and Rick … thanks for the hospitality and a great time we had at Ashiana.