Culture  Hidden delights, served hot and spicy

A guide to Parc-Ex’s best Indian food

The Parc-Extension may just be everything the McGill ghetto isn’t. The multi-ethnic neighbourhood has African, Pakistani, Indian, Greek, and Caribbean grocers and restaurants, African beauty supply stores, and fish markets. A short bus ride north on Parc will take you to the corner of Jean-Talon and Birnam, where you will be surrounded by not-so-reputable driving schools, fluorescently lit computer stores, Jean-Coutu, and discount stores where you check your bag at the front. Only steps from one another stand three competitive Indian restaurants ready for the hungry bargain hunter and those indifferent to decor: Pushap, Maison Indian Curry, and Bombay Mahal. I paid a visit to all three and ordered thalis, which is usually the chef’s daily meal, serving different dishes in sectioned-off silver platters to loyal patrons.

Pushap (975 rue Jean-Talon O.)

With its location nestled above an electronics store, I had to look twice to find the unassuming Indian food and sweetshop chain Pushap, located on the north side of Jean-Talon. Despite its all-vegetarian menu, the carnivore in you won’t be disappointed on account of the strong flavours and spices. Meat- and alcohol-free, you can feel relatively good about your health after a meal here.

I ordered the enormous $9 thali combo, which came with samosas, shahi paneer, sabji, chickpea curry, fluffy fried sourdough bread, thin fried whole wheat bread, rice, milky tea, and a super-sweet homemade dessert. After stumbling over language barriers, the waitress politely explained to me which dish was which, since most of the dishes had the same curried scarlet hue. She also told me that the chickpea curry is their specialty, which was hands-down my personal pick for best dish.

Pushap may not be a first-date spot, but it’s a spot for regulars where you seat yourself, pay at the front, and pack your own leftovers. It’s perfect for the restaurant-goer with a big appetite, small budget, and no pretentions about ambiance.

Maison Indian Curry (966 rue Jean-Talon O.)

Located on the south side of Jean-Talon is the liquor-licensed Maison Indian Curry, which lives up to its name, since it has a dimly-lit, homey atmosphere where your waiter just might take a seat at the table next to you.

I went for the non-vegetarian thali priced at $7 flat (tax included), which came with rice, salad, naan, papadum, lentils, tandoori chicken, and butter chicken. The vegetarian thali is an even cheaper eat at $6. The creamy yet spicy butter chicken was to die for, the fresh coriander in the lentils gave it kick, and the tandoori chicken was roasted to tender perfection.

By the end of the meal, I had wiped the platter clean with my naan. I shared my meal with an unusual dining companion, someone who abhors most spice and isn’t exactly culinarily creative. My dinner guest brightly declared, “I liked the lentils and I don’t even like lentils.” My only complaint was that two-thirds of the dish was chicken, and we would have preferred some diversity of meat.

Bombay Mahal (1001 rue Jean-Talon O.)

Bombay Mahal is a Zagat-rated, bring your own wine and beer restaurant on the northwest corner of Jean-Talon and Birnam. Out of the three non-vegetarian choices – butter chicken ($9), lamb curry ($8), or chicken curry ($7) – I opted for the lamb curry, served with white basmati rice, naan, salad, tandoori chicken, and assorted vegetables cooked in Indian spices.

My platter came quickly with a smile from the server, and I immediately took a bite of the tandoori chicken, which was so tender that it slipped off the bone. It was the least spicy dish out of the pungent lamb curry and the peppery vegetables. The obviously frozen veggies, however, were a disappointment.

The popular Bombay Mahal has the largest seating capacity of the three restaurants, and on a Tuesday evening before 6 p.m., people were constantly trickling in. Take the following statement with a grain of salt: I observed that Bombay Mahal had the most non-Indian customers, which some ethnic foodies would argue takes a stab at the restaurant’s authenticity – although conversely, it also had the spiciest foods.

Photos by Pamela Willis for the McGill Daily