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COLUMN: Big flavours, fresh ingredients reign at downtown Indian restaurant (8 photos)

Simmi Hundal cooking up comfort food at 5 Indian Sisters; 'I don’t just copy what other people are doing,' she says

Simmi Hundal’s culinary curiosity as a kid in the kitchen followed her from India to England.

Now she’s putting that experience to use in Canada — right here in Orillia, in fact.

As a young girl in Punjab, India, she watched and helped her mother, Kanwaljit, cook.

At 12 years old, while her mom was grocery shopping, Hundal decided to apply what she’d learned. The result surprised her family.

“My dad was shocked. I didn’t even tell him I was in the kitchen,” she said. “‘You made lentils? Daal? Chapati?’”

Her parents loved it, which was an early vote of confidence.

When she was 16, Hundal moved to England, where she learned from a friend how to make samosas from scratch. She also opened an Indian café while there.

Fortunately for us, she made her way to Canada in 2015. Eventually, she set her sights on Orillia.

About two-and-a-half months ago, she opened 5 Indian Sisters, a small takeout joint in the plaza at 10 Front St. N.

She saw a demand for Indian food in town. (Yes, there is 5 Rivers on Mississaga Street West, and it’s fantastic, but having only one Indian restaurant in town constitutes a demand.)

Hundal feels what makes her food stand out is her obsession with the fresh ingredients she uses to create such robustly flavourful food.

She’s particularly proud of her samosas. The fried pastries are packed primarily with potatoes and peas and go well with Hundal’s tamarind sauce. For a brighter, zingier taste, she also has a sauce made with mint, onion and fresh coriander. She should probably sell that stuff by the litre.

“I like to give different flavours to food,” she said. “I don’t just copy what other people are doing. I like to add my own ingredients, my own secret recipes, because some recipes are very common.”

I’m not a chef. I don’t have a sophisticated palate — adequate palate would be more accurate — and when it comes to Indian food, it’s all over the place. My taste buds are both amused and confused. But I know I like what I’m tasting, and ‘like’ is an understatement when it comes to Hundal’s chicken korma.

Green pepper and onion play prominently in this dish, which features tender chicken stewed in a creamy sauce rich with tomato and turmeric and other spices. I enjoy it with naan. Hundal says try it with chapati. Obviously, you should listen to her.

“In India, the meal is not finished if there’s no chapati,” she said.

She also recommends the seekh kebab. She uses chicken breast, with a bit of thigh and leg for juiciness, and flavour-bombs it with coriander, garlic paste, ginger paste and onion before skewering it and cooking it in the tandoor.

Many associate Indian food with spiciness. Most of it is packed with spices, making it spicy by definition, but it doesn’t have to mean hot. Those who can’t handle the heat can take comfort in knowing Hundal cooks with mild in mind. If you like hot, though, let her know. She can do that, too.

For those who aren’t familiar with the cuisine, she has some suggested introductory dishes: butter chicken (there’s also a butter chicken poutine if you're feeling that Canadian), samosas (she’s offering everybody one free samosa, with no purchase necessary, through to the end of the year) and veggie pakora. Mix it up and order a thali: six items, including three of Hundal’s curries.

Whatever you order, it’s worth finishing the experience with dessert. Not ice cream or pie or crème brûlée. 5 Indian Sisters offers less sweet, more savoury options, including rasmalai (hers consists of paneer and cream) and besan cake (gram flour, turmeric, sugar and butter).

Hundal isn’t bound by her menu. She takes requests. If you give her a day’s notice, she’ll be happy to whip up a prawn curry or fish pakora. She can cater to vegans, too. Just give her a call at 416-818-8138.

Winter is coming. There’s no better time for comfort food, and that’s what Hundal does best.

Shout-out to her niece, Nanki Bath, who designed the 5 Indian Sisters logo and came up with the name. Hundal had intended to call it 3 Indian Sisters, since she has two of them, but Bath insisted she and another niece were pretty much like sisters. Do the math.

The good stuff

Most popular: chicken tikka masala and butter chicken, but the goat curry creeping up the list

Simmi Hundal’s favourite: seekh kebab, veggie pakora, samosa

My favourite: chicken korma with rice and naan

Nathan Taylor’s local food and drink column appears every other Saturday.

Nathan Taylor

About the Author: Nathan Taylor

Nathan Taylor is an experienced multimedia journalist and editor who covers Orillia and other parts of Simcoe County.
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