Finding Indian Food in Calgary is easy as a consequence Canada’s immigration policies, global markets and overnight air. We can find fresh Indian ingredients, well-stocked grocers and tantalizing restaurants.
In India, an array of vegetables and fruits are picked fresh and brought to market daily. The distance between Canada and India means we don’t have that level of freshness but nonetheless, I still have some favourite grocers where I can find the authentic ingredients I crave.
I’ll share the grocers that help me in my perennial quest of Finding Indian Food in Calgary as well as some of my favourite Indian restaurants in this post. Once you start shopping for, making and eating great Indian food, you might even be curious enough to travel to this magical place yourself. Food was the key that opened the door to this ancient culture for me. Maybe it will be for you too.
Key foods of India
It’s a myth that the food of India makes travellers sick. If travellers to exotic places get sick, it’s almost from the microbes in WATER. If you are very careful about what water you drink and avoid salads and fruits washed in water (and smoothies and such on the streets), you’ll be able to concentrate on all the wonderful freshly cooked things you can eat. And wow, there’s a lot to enjoy.
I love the variety of produce available in India. I miss it all terribly when I’m back in Canada. Whenever I go to an Indian market here, I think about how different India is from Canada.
Indian Demographics and food
India is about a third the size of continental United States. And yet, it has a population of 1.4 billion people. That’s a fifth of the world’s population. Canada is the world’s second largest country but we only have a population of about 36 million people.
India has snow-capped mountains in the North, desert in the West, rich estuaries in the East and the South is a tropical paradise. When you think about what grows in India and the religious customs, it explains the cuisine that has evolved. Let’s explore that some more.
A third of people in India are vegetarian. That relates to their adherence Hindu, Jain and Buddhist religions and lifestyles. The 84 per cent of Indians who are Hindus do not eat beef. The 12 per cent of the population who are Muslims do eat beef. People living in the coastal regions enjoy fish. Mutton is eaten but in India, mutton is usually goat, not lamb. I’ve seen the odd pig wondering around (I’m really not sure who eats them). Chicken is very popular.
Many grains are grown and eaten but, rice is the key staple. Rice originated in India and has been cultivated there for about 5000 years. There were once about 2000 varieties of rice. A third of all arable land is devoted to growing it and of all the rices grown, basmati is the most sought after.
The word basmati comes from the Sanskrit word for fragrance and aging helps make the rice even more flavourful and fragrant. Dehra Dun in Northern India and nearby Pakistan are where basmati grows best. In the backwaters of Kerala in South India, a short grain red rice is eaten and the land can produce three rice crops per year because of it’s dikes and irrigation systems. South India is nicknamed the rice bowl of India.
Fruits, Vegetables and Pulses
A great variety of vegetables and pulses (peas, beans, lentils and chickpeas) grow throughout India and make possible the varied vegetarian diet that over 300 million people adhere to. The eggplant is indigenous to India and is a favourite along with cauliflower, onions, tomatoes, fenugreek, amaranth, chillies, melons, squashes, drumsticks, greens and beans. Mangoes, papaya, melons and bananas are favourite fruits.
The cow is sacred and not killed for its meat but used instead for dairy. Yogurt, clarified butter or ghee and buttermilk are used extensively in cooking, especially in the North. Coconut milk is used instead in the south. Water buffalo are prevalent and their milk is delicious in chai tea and kulfi ice cream.
Tea and spices
Tea is the world’s most consumed beverage and India’s South Nilgiri hills and the Northern regions of Assam and Darjeeling produce vast quantities. Darjeeling is widely believed to grow the best tea in the world.
Spices grow in jungles in the south and form the foundation for the cuisine throughout the country. Spices are made from petals, roots, berries, seeds and buds of plants. Examples include cinnamon, cardamom, pepper, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, cumin, turmeric and mustard. Herbs are also plentiful and are used for their leaves. Coriander (cilantro) is the most popular herb and is used as a garnish on almost every Indian dish.
Putting It Together on the Plate
A typical Indian meal would contain a balance of sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent. These tastes mirror the five elements – water, earth, fire, air and space – and are taken in combinations to balance the elements within our own systems. Combinations on the plate could include meat, dal (cooked pulses), rice, a soup or salad, yogurt raita, chutneys, pickles and/or bread. Sweets are rarely consumed as part of a meal but instead are for celebrations or special tea time snacks. Truthfully, a bit of dal, a chapati and a chutney or chilli are as elaborate a meal as most can hope for.
While most people refer to Indian dishes as curries, the word curry means a spicy gravy. It’s the misspelling of the Dutch word karee meaning the same. An Indian cook is skilled in blending spices to make dishes known as masalas. Masalas are usually dry preparations. Curries has spice mixes but are wet spicy gravies.
The Masala Daba
The most important tool in an Indian cook’s kitchen is their Masala Daba. Masala Daba literally translates as spice mixture box. Mine contains black mustard seeds, cumin seeds, ground cumin, ground coriander, cloves, green cardamom pods, star anise, whole black pepper, cinnamon bark, Indian chilli powder, and turmeric.
The spices in a masala daba will vary depending on the region of India you visit. In the south, coriander might be replaced by fennel for example. Cooks in Kolkata might favour yellow mustard seeds over black.
Fresh chillies, garlic and ginger pastes are also used in most recipes. Tamarind, lemons and mango powder are used for adding a bit of sour.
Finding IndiaN Food in Calgary (markets and Grocers)
When I’m looking for Indian staples in Calgary here are some of the places I go:
- Apna Punjab Groceries & Movies (aka Fruiticana) – 300 – 5075 Falconridge Blvd NE | 403-590-1611 – this place has the best selection of South Asian produce in Calgary.
- OK Food & Produce – 1023, 5075 Falconridge Blvd NE | 403-293-1188 – good prices on spices and some handy cooking implements.
- Apna Desi Meat Masala – 7171 – 80 Ave NE | 403-764-4455 – great meats marinated in their proprietary spice masalas (mixes). I love to take them home and throw them on the grill. They also cater and are often lined up out the door on weekends.
- Lahore Foods and Halal Meats – 13, 4525 – 52 St NE | 403-590-7736 – busy and good.
- Dalbrent Spice Rack – 132, 3604 – 52 St NW | 403-289-1409 – great access for people in the North West – say hello to Mr. Hasnian Jack, the owner, from me. I buy dosa batter here. Ask Mr. Jack to show you where it is in the freezer section.
- Silk Road Spice Merchants – in Inglewood and the Calgary Farmers’ Market – they have super fresh spices and they sell the A Spicy Touch cookbook I wrote with my beloved mentor, Noorbanu Nimji.
- Sheehen Grocery and Afghani Bakery – 4655 – 54 Ave NE |403-293-0909 – lots of Persian ingredients and great basmati rice. I buy the Sheehen “Best Sella” Basmati in the bright yellow bags. It’s the best I’ve ever had. Plus, I can never leave without a bag of the fresh Afghani flatbread.
- Taradale Calgary Coop – Indian food is a focus here – Check out their curry bar take-out section.
- India Grocery and Convenience – 15425 Bannister Road SE | 403-460-6677 – it looks small from the outside but is bursting at the seams on the inside. I found fresh mangoes and real jaggery with no additives here!
Finding IndiaN Food in Calgary (restaurants)
When I want to eat Indian in Calgary, here is where I go:
- Maharajah – 912-10 Discovery Ridge Hill SW | 403-246-0800 – this is where I order take-out from. The owner Raj makes consistently delicious food.
- Fahad Restaurant – 1009 – 5075 Falconridge Blvd, NE | 403- 590-9797 – now owned by Faisal (see below)
- Faisal’s Kabab Hut – #155 – 5120 – 47 St NE |403-590-7101 – amazing Pakistani cuisine. Try the Seakh kebab or fish tandoori. Note – Faisal’s also runs a place called Fatima at 76 – 55 Castleridge Blvd NE – same food just nicer decor.
- Clay Oven – 1 – 3131 27 St NE | 403-250-2161 – the best Naan in town, fresh from their clay ovens. Gurmeet Gill was the wonderful cook who founded the restaurant. His son, Balpreet took over the restaurant and moved it to its current stylish digs. He also moved the clay ovens out front so you can see the delicious kebabs and breads being cooked. I love this place.
- Mirchi – 101, 825 – 12 Ave SW | 403-245-3663 – this place is for take out. They only have a few seats for dine in. The Mirchi Kebab is spicy hot and good!
- Mirchi Restaurant – 1130 – 76 Westwinds Crescent NE | 587-623-7585 – opened in 2021, this dine-in restaurant has an elegant silver and grey decor with furniture, art and artifacts from Pakistan. And the food is divine.
- Rajdoot – 2424 – 4 St SW | 403-245-0181 – good vegetarian selection.
- Raj Palace – three locations – so special because they feature South Indian food and Dosas!
- The Himalayan – 3218 17th Ave SW – 403-984-3384 – Nepali cuisine – lots of gluten-free options – newly renovated – make a reservation – it’s packed
- Dostana (formerly A Touch of India) 3 locations – tasty Indian with East African influence.
- Cinnamon – 1207 11 Ave SW | 403-470-5077 – lovely interior in yellows and grey. One of the best butter chickens in Calgary. They do lots of catering.
- Safari Grill – 255 – 28 St SE | 403-235-6655 – owned by Ali and Salina Moledina, the food is impeccable East Africa meets Indian fusion. Originally from Tanzania, this couple serves beautifully prepared Khoja Ismaili food. And the decor is super fun East African Safari, just like the name suggests.
- Masala Bhavan – 4604 – 37 St SW | 403-667-3540 – I go here for the vegetarian food and the dosas!
- Moti Mahal – 1805 14 St SW | 403-228-9990 – one of Calgary’s longest running restaurants and for a good reason. Owner Jesse’s pick is the Papaya Prawn Curry.
- Indie Counter Culture – 126 10 St NW | 403-970-9129 – all the sandwiches are tasty but get the Butter Chicken Poutine! It’s sumptuous.
- Calcutta Cricket Club – 340 17 Ave SW | 403 -719-1555 – contemporary pan-Indian food with an emphasis on Kolkata’s Kathi Rolls and other Bengali delicacies. Thirst quenching beers and gin drinks in a stunning setting that was awarded Canada’s top restaurant design.
Beautiful ingredients make beautiful food – photo credit – Karen Anderson
Great ingredients inspire me. Indian food inspires me. Put them together and you’ve got something to truly help you savour it all.
I hope this post is helpful for my friends in Calgary looking to source Indian ingredients. And if you don’t live here, I hope you’ll go out and explore what’s available in your own area. In my experience, food is the key to open the doors to any culture.