Shop with a Chef: Chindi Varadarajulu, Chutney Villa

December 31, 2007

Twelve years ago, when Chindi Varadarajulu moved to Vancouver from Singapore, there was little opportunity to make South Indian food from scratch. "You couldn't even get fresh curry leaves back then," she recalls. For the past five years, Varadarajulu has been the charming powerhouse owner/chef of Chutney Villa (147 E. Broadway, 604-872-2228), making it her mission to tempt locals away from the more familiar Mogul cuisine of India's north. She recently introduced the "Village Feast" menu-a vegetarian special of nine different dishes served on a banana leaf. "I didn't want any vegetables a Canadian would recognize," she says with a laugh. That meant long discussions with her trusty Sri Lankan suppliers Jeya And Brothers (757 E. Broadway, 604-707-0157) to bring in drumsticks (green pods from the Moringa tree) and snake gourds, often seen wrapped around the necks of merchants in Indian markets. She also uses every edible part of the banana plant, as well as parboiled red rice, a specialty from Kerala. Varadarajulu recently signed on to the Ocean Wise program, replacing tiger prawns with ethically farmed Texan white prawns from Burnaby's Royal Shrimp (604-436-4639). She's also working closely with Albion Fisheries (1077 Great Northern Way, 604-875-9411). "We had to find something that is sustainable, firm enough for a curry-and, most importantly, that I like to eat. They have a great selection of halibut and tuna." And as for those once hard-to-source curry leaves? Now widely available, Varadarajulu gets hers from Thurga Trading (6049 Fraser St., 604-877-0087)

Mini Review: European Deli

Generic as the outer decor may look, this not-so-European deli is worth a peak inside. Lined up on the shelves, alongside Italian sauces and French cheeses, are jars of lime and mango pickle, sangak (a Persian flatbread), and other distinctly Iranian fare, including authentic saffron, imported direct from Iran through owner Ata Hosseinzadeh’s brother-in-law. Even better are the dips prepared by Hosseinzadeh’s wife, Marzieh, which include (depending on the week) eggplant mirza, shallot dip, and homemade hummus (so good you’ll eat it with a spoon). 1220 Davie St., 604-688-3442. Open Monday to Saturday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. and Sundays, 9 a.m.-7.pm.

Hot Buy: Haute Chocolate

A trip to Paris inspired the founding of Williams-Sonoma’s first store in 1956, and it’s Paris’s velvety chocolate tasses that are behind the luxury kitchen and home decor empire’s top-selling hot chocolate mixes. Most commercial brands rely on cocoa powder and freeze-dried marshmallow bits; this one favours bittersweet chocolate shavings from Guittard, a 139-year-old chocolatier. The result is a thick, rich drink, best topped with warmed whipping cream. The peppermint mix is laced with natural peppermint oil, and will undoubtedly be favoured by those addicted to PC’s candy cane fudge crackle ice cream, which will be hitting dairy cases just as Williams-Sonoma unveils its first Vancouver location this month. 2903 Granville St.

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