Updated: 21st June 2012: This restaurant is closed according to Urbanspoon.com
At my place of work, we have a number of contract staff from India. They had been with the company for over a year already. A couple of weeks ago I bumped into them at the coffee machine. We chatted and of course I had to ask them this question “what is the most memorable Indian food you had ever tried in Vancouver?”
I still remember a long time ago when I had dinner with Michelle. Michelle is a another foodie who follows chowtimes but she hardly participated in comments. She knows her food and travels the world in search of good food (I like her lifestyle!). Well, knowing that she is familiar with East Indian cuisine, I asked her the same sort of question … “Is there a very good Indian Cuisine restaurant in Vancouver?” She could rattle off names of a lot of other type of restaurants … and she couldn’t come up with one that is Indian.
Yet another friend, also East Indian, said that it is hard to find really authentic home made Indian food too. He was telling me that the perennial Vancouver favourite, the butter chicken, is so westernized that he hardly want to try them in restaurants. He said that many restaurants will cream up the curries with whipped cream.
Yeah … there is so little I know about authentic Indian food although I grew up with Malaysian food which is heavily influenced by South Indian cuisine.
Back to the contract staff at the coffee machine …
Their answer to my question was unanimously “Dakshin”. My question launched them into an excited description of why Dakshin is their favourite restaurant. I enjoyed that conversation as obviously these guys are passionate about food as much as I do.
All of them are from South India and two of the more vocal ones are from the city of Hyderabad. They gave me a crash course on Hyderabadi cuisine saying Dakshin is an authentic Hyderabadi restaurant and the restaurant makes the food like they have at home in Hyderabad. The one dish they spoke so much about was the Hyderabadi Biryani.
So for the entire week, each time I bumped into them at the coffee machine, we were mostly talking about Indian cuisine and Dakshin’s dishes.
By the time Suanne and I got the chance to go to Dakshin on our Friday date night, I felt I already know what I wanted to order.
Dakshin is a long drive from home. It is in Surrey, a part of the Lower Mainland that I hardly go to. I am very sure that there are a lot of good restaurants but I know so little of the place. Anyway, Dakshin is located on King George Highway at the intersection with 80th Avenue. It’s easy to find.
Dakshin is a nice big and spacious restaurant. It is clean; a little dim with soft lights. Sorry, I color corrected the picture above and it turned out to be brighter than it is. LOL!
It was quite empty on that Friday night. Despite the size of the restaurant which can seat … ooh … 60-70 people at least, there were only 3 other parties.
We were initially served by a young Indian girl. She was soooo soft spoken and shy. I asked too many questions and she appeared unsure in her replies. So she got someone else to help us — a guy who seems in charge of the floor that night. He was really helpful and obliging with all the dumb questions I had. He was also very knowledgeable too.
Click on pix above if you can’t read the small prints.
Here is a bit more info … the name Dakshin simply means “South”. This restaurant specializes on food from Hyderabad and Chattinad. The waiter told us that they spare no effort in making their famous Biryani the way it is uniquely done in Hyderabad — no corners cut. He also told us that their chef is a chef who used to work in the Taj Palace (it’s a hotel, not a palace BTW) in Hyderabad. I thought the way he said it like its a big deal adding that the Taj hotels and palaces are the finest hotels in India.
The waiter also told us that Dakshin is one of only two Hyderabadi restaurants in Metro Vancouver. The other one is also owned by them a few blocks away which serves crepes and snacks. Dakshin had been operating for the last 1.5 years already — so, pretty newish.
They don’t have a big menu. Just four pages of it. Captivating.
Their prices are OK — not too expensive. The Indian contract staff at my office told me that they had recently lowered their prices because at one point it was very expensive. For instance, the Biryani is $12 now. It used to be $14-$15.
A few days before my visit, I mentioned about Dakshin on vanchow. Someone took a look at their menu and pointed out that they even have Chinese (eg. Chicken Corn Soup) and North Indian food (eg. Butter Chicken) on their menu … that kind of watered down Dakshin’s claim to being authentic Hyderabad. So I just HAD to take this “issue” up with our waiter. He laughed and told us that he just had to put in a bit of everything to cater to more people’s taste — a fact of life in Vancouver’s restaurants.
Other than the Biryani, the other highly recommended dish from my colleagues at work is the Chicken 65. This is one interesting dish.
Chicken 65 is traditionally eaten as an appetizer. But what an appetizer. This is $9 but there are so much chicken in this that you might as well have this as an entree.
The origin of the name Chicken 65 is interesting. There are no such thing as a Chicken 64 or a Chicken 66 and yet in Indian if you ask for Chicken 65, everyone knows what it is. Don’t try to ask them why the name because everyone would have their own version on how the name came about.
So I checked this up in Wikipedia. Here are some of the possible origins:
- It is made with 65 ingredients
- It is made with 65 types of chili
- It originally costs 65 rupees
- Each piece should weigh 65 grams (unlikely)
- It was invented in 1965
- It takes 65 days to make the marinade
- The chicken used must be 65 days old
- The most interesting one is this. Some Indian troops from the north were stationed in the southern part of the country. They couldn’t speak the local language but they love the item #65 on the menu of this particular restaurant. So they always ordered Chicken 65.
Like I said, there is no Chicken 64 or Chicken 66. However, the waiter told me that there is a Mutton 56. LOL!
Lovely, is how I would simply describe Chicken 65. This is a perfect appetizer with the right flavour that you don’t need this with rice or bread. The chicken is boneless and it is batter fried … so it does give a nice crunch and a light crisp but at the same time not at all like fried chicken. It is moist … spicy with a hint of tanginess. That spiciness leaves a nice lingering heat on the lips. We love it and couldn’t stop munching on them.
THIS … this is what the folks in the office was raving about.
And I want to say up front that I never had Biryani this good. The name is Hyderabadi Dum Ki Lamb Biryani and it is $11. If you come to this restaurant, this is the only dish you need to order if you just want only one thing. You can have the chicken version but lamb is the way to go.
The million dollar question I had to the waiter was “So what makes this so great?”. His eyes brightened up and went on to explain that there is nothing like this on this earth (he he he … don’t they always say that?). He explained in such minute details in such quick speed that some of it went swoosh over our head.
Here is what makes it such a big deal: Something like this in my simplistic understanding. The lamb is marinated for 1 day and it is layered in between layers of rice. The rice is cooked with the juice of the meat and it cooked sealed with dough to keep in all the flavour. That process is called “dum” (meaning to steam).
Dakshin claims that they are the only restaurant in Metro Vancouver who cooks it this way, the traditional way. It is difficult to make and to perfect and constant attention is required to make sure it is cooked right.
It is very flavourful as the rice is cooked with the juice of the meat. The lamb is meaty (I thought someone was telling me their lamb is boney) and hardly any bones in them.
The rice has different shades of yellow from saffron. It is fluffy, individual grain … EACH grain has flavour. Try eating it one grain at a time and you will know what I mean — what more a spoonful. LOL!
The Biryani was served on the side with raita, a masala sauce and raw onion. These sauces do give the biryani a different dimension of flavour.
But seriously, the biryani itself is so flavourful that the sauces are not necessary. The raw onion on the other hand goes superbly well with the rice.
Yes sir. This is the Biryani to rule them all.
Here is a new tip. Don’t order this $12 size. My colleagues told me that you MUST ask for this in a family platter size because it is a much better deal. It is not on the menu. Just $24-$25 and you can feed easily feed a hockey team … I mean up to six people. I was thinking about this and yeah … it’ll probably costs only $5 per person. Even if you can’t finish, pack it to go.
Go check this out and report back?
The third dish my colleagues raved about is the $10 Chattinad Chicken. This is named after the region (city?) of Chattinad. It is a popular Tamil delicacy, boneless chicken cooked in traditional Chattinad spices.
Our waiter was describing the taste of Chattinad which has a kind of sea grass which gives it a minty flavour. Suanne and I tried and tried and tried to taste and see what he meant. We couldn’t get the minty and seagrass thingy he was mentioning. The taste is a complex blend of flavour that we cant distinguished what’s in it. We just know it is very addictive.
We must have the Chattinad Chicken with bread. They have a few types of bread, naan and such. The waiter recommended the Lacha Paratha ($2.25) which is like roti canai.
Like roti canai, it is folded in many layers. They make it fresh, not frozen.
This is not quite as flaky as roti canai. I am thinking about the roti from Kurumba which I like a lot.
Everyone was using their hands. We too. Frankly, it is very nice but we are such noobs to Indian curries that we can’t tell one type of curry from another. They are all nice.
Oh … the waiter also told us it took them 6 months to tone down the Chattinad spices as the original Chattinad spices is too spicy for Vancouverites.
Going backwards … we also got some soup for starters. The Nihari Shorba ($5) is a rich lamb broth seasoned with aromatic Hydrabadi spices. I thought it is rare to see soup item in Indian restaurants.
Anyway, the waiter asked if we are sharing the soup and offered to serve the soup in 2 bowls. It is very considerate of him and we thought we got more soup than the original size. Two bowls for $5 is quite a deal.
The waiter told us that it’s the spices and pepper that gives the soup it’s orangey color. The spices infused into the ground goat meat in the soup. The meat is slightly chewy and that brings out the fragrance of the spices.
This is a heaty soup — good for a cold day.
We wanted to try their beverage. I had the Madras Coffee $2.45 and Suanne had the Chai Tea (about the same price).
It’s a small cup, served with milk and quite strong. It is just so-so.
I had enough but Suanne can’t resist desserts, especially when the waiter said it is sweet. For me what sold me on getting a dessert is only because he said “yes” when I asked him if it is “Hyderabadi”.
He recommended the Double Kameetha — which is just $3. It is a Indian bread pudding served with saffron sauce.
The dessert is very sweet. East Indian desserts are usually super sweet, don’t you agree? The double sweetness came from both the bread and sauce.
It is garnished with almond slices. The bread pudding has crispy edges. For those with a sweet tooth, you will like it.
For all the good food we had, I thought the price was more than reasonable. Of course we had to take some home because we over ordered.
Sun to Thurs: 11:30 am to 10:30 pm
Fri & Sat: 11:30 am to 11:00 pm
This Post Has 0 Comments
Ben, I gotta hand it to you. The way you describe the food, so detailed and so yummy that I dont even need to see the pictures to enjoy the dishes. Its so enticing. Now I really want to try Dakshin eventhough I cant really handle spicy foods.
Is it a sign that a restaurant is Westernized if they ask you how hot you want a dish? Did they ask in this case? This place sounds really great!
Hi Shirl: I don’t think so. I don’t think a restaurant is westernized if they ask how hot you want the dish. It is not only in Indian restaurants but also spicy Chinese restaurants too. On the contrary, if they ask, I think they are more authentic because they can make it very spicy as it is meant to be … and that they are concerned if you find it too hot for your personal liking. On the other hand, if they don’t ask you and tone it down automatically for you, I would be upset. Oh, maybe not upset … I would just prefer if they ask me so that I can tell them to make it super spicy. Ben
Crispy Lechon is right. You write so well by describing the origins and spices and those photos… I can’t help but drool over the food. I really enjoy reading your blog even though I am thousands of miles away!
I live in Vancouver, but I’ll definitely make a trip out that way. Everything sounds and looks great! I’m drooling right now.
You didn’t mention whether you tried the “breath freshener” potpourri you hold in your hand. How was it? I just remember it as having a gritty texture and tasting like licorice.
Hi Liz: Writer fatigue … that was a long post and I was getting too tired to write anymore. 🙂 Anyway … to your question … yeah, I like the “breath freshener”. They have this on a bowl by the door and I went back a few times to get a handful. Suanne did not quite like it. She told me that she used to painstakingly “de-shell” the fennel seeds manually in one of the kitchens. It was a lot of work for so little. This is quite common in most east Indian restaurants I would think. Ben
No doubt that all restuarant cater to some extent to the masses. How many times have you wanted to go out with a group of friends most of whom are adventurous but there will be some a little less so and they will say something like “If we are going for Indian, I only like butter chicken”. By having these items on the menu they let the more adventurous partake in the Authentic.
This is a great review, I am sure my wife and I will be giving this a try on the weekend.
I’m still avidly following your blog and enjoying every entry that you and Suanne make. I’m on a diet right now so I’m living vicariously through your photos and food descriptions….I’m loving your food court series. Arvind and I did try Dakshin in the summer(also a recommendation to us). We had the chicken 65 and biryani as well. I thought it was quite tasty too.
I’m holding out for the laksa hotpot you found out about (you mentioned it on your facebook page) to break my diet…:-).
He he he … too much eating, Michelle? What a way to break a diet with laksa hotpot! I’ve sent some feelers out and am waiting to see if any restaurant will bite. 🙂 Ben
Dakshin is my go to place for biryani. Its great that people are more and more becoming aware that there is more to Indian food than butter chicken and nan bread. It is similar to Chinese food in Canada over the last few years. I remember when there was only Cantonese food everywhere. With Indian food it was limited to Punjabi or other North Indian stuff. Now we can find good South Indian, Hydrabadi, and even Maharashtran food. On a side note if you would like to try something else that is Indian try Pakwan House in Surrey and order the shami kebabs, nihari, and biryani. For me it’s a toss up between Dakshin and Pakwan House. I like the rice at Pakwan House but prefer the meat at Dakshin. They both make actual Dum biryani, which means they cook the raw rice and meat together in a dough sealed dish so the flavor of the meat is absorbed in the rice. Most other places cook the rice and meat separately and assemble it later. Now I’m hungry.
Hi Ryan: Thanks for the Pakwan suggestion. It is a Pakistani restaurant isn’t it? Ben
The line between Pakistani and Indian food is quite blurred as Pakistan was part of India until the British ceded power.
Hi Ryan, where do you go for Maharashtrian food?
Bombay Bhel in Burnaby. They also have the ubiquitous North Indian dishes on the menu though. Their bhel puri is good. Their prawn vinadloo is close to homemade too. I’m heading to India on Sunday….can’t wait!
Thanks for the tip Ryan, I thought that the name was just random — didn’t realize that they’d actually have the food too. Have a great trip to India.
I’ve been wanting to try south Indian food for so long, and never knew where to find it. Thanks, Ben – this place is close to us and now we even know what to order. Can’t wait.
GLAD to see they lowered their prices to a more reasonable price point!!!! Their food is fantastic but when they were first opened, ouch it was expensive. Your bill looked reasonable for the feast you had. Everything looked yummy. I hope people leave them nicer tips now that the prices are good as well. The biryani especially is special here.
Had my first experience when l went for a christianing dinner @ my South Indian friend’s place. The wife who never was a keen curry person was so enamoured with the dishes (buffet @ his house)she had 2nd and triple on top of it. Considering this is kinda South Indian, its the best l’ve ever had sure beats Malaysian South Indian expecially the saucy dishes.
you wrote about Bombay Bhel serving good Maharashtrian food. I had visited the restaurant a few years back and was very. Disappointed with the food. Has something changed? I do not wish to go back if the food is going to br the same. If there have been changes in the team, I would give it another shot.
Hi Piyush: Off topic … I see from your website that you are the executive chef of UBC. I was reading this thread on Forum Vancouver the other day. It is the most sinfully delicious looking waffle-fries-poutine and I heard that UBC had banned the kitchen from serving this. All for less than $4! He he he … as the executive chef, can you PLEASE bend the rules and allow me to order this? Ben
I’m not sure how the food compares to a few years ago. When we went there last year we enjoyed what we ordered with the exception to the biryani. The sev and bhel puri where spot on. I also liked the Prawn vindalho, pomfret curry and veg thali. Obviously you cannot compare the food to the likes of Trisna, Masala Craft, or even Anant Ashram in Bombay but for Vancouver it is as close it comes. Out of curiosity what did you order last time you were there?
Ben, we had to find an opportunity to try this place, because you made it sound so wonderful.
And the verdict is… I agree with you (and your Hyderabadi co-workers) whole-heartedly: our meal was excellent!
In actuality, my beloved sweetheart went to lunch at Dakshin and kindly brought me leftovers. But I was very indebted to him for doing so, since they are so very far from our home.
I must admit the disclaimer that, in truth, I know nothing about Hyderabadi food. But the dishes we tried were varied and full of individual, rich, and well-integrated flavour.
As a testament to your mouth-watering descriptions, the dishes ordered included the dum ki lamb biryani, chicken 65, and Chettinad chicken. Also the Goa prawn curry and the rasam. I absolutely enjoyed them all, but the biryani particularly stood out to me in its richness and flavour. I have never really enjoyed biryani before, as it can be so uninspiring. But now I finally understand that it can be excellent in the hands of a master. 🙂
The bottom line is that I really enjoyed the food I tried from Dakshin, and I wish them every success in a tough business. I hope that the exposure through Chowtimes things.
Sigh, my mouse ate my good wishes. That last line should read “I hope that the exposure through Chowtimes brings them good things. Or something like that. Sometimes I wish I could directly edit my posts. 😛
Personally, I like Mayuri ( http://www.ekam.ca/biz/mayuri-indian-cuisine-surrey/ ) better than Dakshin. It’s fully vegetarian but better than any non-vegetarian food I’ve had.
I’ve also heard Mayuri (http://www.mayuriindiancuisine.ca) is very good.
But then, as you mention, Mayuri is all-vegetarian… which is a plus or minus depending on your mood and lifestyle. 🙂 (I have a major soft spot for Dakshin’s lamb biryani and chicken 65. Errr… maybe also their haleem and Hyderabadi eggplant. The first three of these, I think, may be too meaty for Mayuri. 😉 )
Actually, I’m a little bit worried that Dakshin is finding it a lot of work to educate their customers about a new and unfamiliar cuisine. On our last visit, I noticed that they had moved some of their wonderful Andhran and Hyderabadi dishes (e.g. varutha kozhi, tala hua gosht, tawa fish, nihari shorba, kodi kura, egg masala, royya vepudu, nellore fish pulusu) to make room for some more familiar south Indian dishes (idli, dosa, uttapam). Although I’m heartened that they still offer their biryani, fish and chicken 65, soups, haleem, chettinad dishes, and many other forms of goodness.
Personally, I love both cuisines. But I really hope we don’t loose something unique here. Dakshin took a risk to bring a whole new cuisine to greater Vancouver. It was refreshing to visit a restaurant that offered something other than the most famous few northern dishes. I’m hoping that they are able to hold on for customers to discover what Hyderabadi food has to offer.