Roughly 75 restaurants spice things up in the city of Surrey, British Columbia, just across the U.S. border from Blaine, Washington. These establishments are stops along the “Spice Trail,” a self-guided journey into the cuisines of countries where spices and traditional ingredients are crucial. In this multicultural city, you can sample the foods from every part of India, and then move on to Afghanistan, Ghana, Korea, Japan, Colombia, Mexico, the Caribbean and more.
The Spice Trail includes everything from the restaurants of well-known, accomplished chefs to family-run “mom and pop” eateries. What they all have in common is a passion for great food and a genuine commitment to authenticity and quality. The experience is not only about tasting the foods, but also learning about the ingredients, the history of the foods and the people creating the dishes you are sampling.
Here are some solid Spice Trail highlights that just scratch the surface.
Celebrity chef Vikram Vij has been acclaimed as the best Indian chef in Canada. The menu at this popular, stylish yet casual restaurant takes diners on a virtual tour of India’s diverse culinary regions with Vij’s personal favorite dishes.
Flavors and spice blends are deep and complex. If you are not versed in Indian food, ask the helpful servers for their advice. And if Vij is at the restaurant lighting up the dining room with his vivacious personality, ask him what you should order. You’ll get a good representation of classic dishes if you select gol gappa (a popular street food in India), chaat (full of different textures and refreshing flavors), chicken korma (in a rich, velvety cashew sauce) and, of course, a side of paneer-stuffed naan.
This elegant, fine-dining restaurant is known for its original craft cocktails—the cocktail menu is presented in illustrated story-book form—and exceptional Indian cuisine that includes both the classics and modern iterations of the classics using local Northwest ingredients not typically found in India. At Clove, you can expect a contemporary atmosphere, diners dressed to impress and fine-dining service that is friendly and not stuffy. Suggestions: avocado and chickpea chaat (a refreshing salad-like appetizer), sufiyani salmon (cooked in a tandoor) and any one of the lamb dishes. Top off dinner with a comforting chai and a slice of gulab jamun cheesecake.
A bright restaurant with a contemporary flair, Curry Lounge is a perfect spot to slip into a booth and explore Indian cuisine with chef and owner Jatin Sharma at the helm. Sharma takes a creative approach with classic Indian ingredients and spices to deliver big flavor in his dishes. Tip: Curry Lounge is a perfect spot for happy hour. Besides a cocktail or a refreshing mango lassi, start with an assorted bread basket of various naans or the tandoor roti, then try the chili chicken and your choice from the vegetarian menu.
Executive chef Sujith Rajasekharan concentrates the food at Kerala Kitchen on the cuisine of South India, which is notably different from other regions of India. The restaurant is named for a coastal state in southern India, giving a hint into this restaurant’s regional cuisine. This is a casual, family friendly restaurant popular with the local Indo-Canadian community. Recommended dishes are beef ularthiyathu, Kerala paratha and South Indian coffee.
This popular restaurant is a hit with the locals for brunch, lunch or anytime. For brunch, start with an order of veggie momos (steamed dumplings) and chai and move on to the weekend special of chole bhature (a platter of spicy chickpea masala, raita, red onions and fried bhatura).
For those with a sweet tooth and a genuine interest in a traditional Indian sugar rush, Aggarwal Sweets is the place to go. Dozens of authentic Indian confections tempt from their glass display cases. Indian sweets are made from one of three foundation ingredients: milk, nuts and chickpea flour. With the addition of other ingredients and, of course, sugar, various shapes, colors, textures and flavors emerge. Load up with sweets to go for nibbling along your Spice Trail journey.
This family-run café serves up the authentic tastes of Colombia that proprietor and chef Miguel brought from his country of origin. Hearty and delicious, the food at Union Latino’s is a great way to start the day. Stop in at this casual, unpretentious eatery for a lunch of cheese and beef empanadas and the bandeja paisa—a platter piled with rice, beans, grilled steak, chorizo, chicharrons, fried plantain and a fried egg. Be sure to order a cup of Colombian coffee.
At Woo, you can go for the traditional Korean BBQ grilled at your table or order al la carte off the menu. To sample various dishes and pace yourself for other stops on the Spice Trail, a la carte is the way to go. Start with mandu (fried dumplings), grilled mackerel and a spicy bibimbap. For the undecided, lunch combos do the thinking for you. Of course, in Korean tradition, banchan (small side dishes) are served with every meal.
Like many restaurants in Surrey, the recipes at Afghan Kitchen were handed down within the owner’s family and came to rest on the restaurant’s menu. Afghan Kitchen is all about the traditional flavors of Afghanistan, and that comes forward not only in every dish, but also in their inventive and beautifully presented craft cocktails. For a traditional sampling, order aushak (delicate vegetarian dumplings served with split peas and yoghurt), bolani (a giant stuffed flatbread) and chicken kebab.
Authentic Mexican cuisine is not commonplace in British Columbia like it is in the U.S., so the addition of Guacamole Mexican Grill is a welcome feather in the Spice Trail’s hat. Proprietor Rosa Magana hosts the dining room and makes every guest feel like they are visiting her home. The original Magana family recipes served in this friendly, casual café span the spectrum of Mexican and Salvadorean classics. Order the refreshing shrimp ceviche, a side of fresh guacamole and birria tacos, and wash it down with fresh horchata.
This genuine “mom and pop” eatery serves dishes with ingredients from owners Isaac and Becky’s birthplace of Ghana. Those not up to speed on the traditional foods of West Africa will learn about fufu, banku, eba, ugali and other staples served in home kitchens. This is African comfort food at its best. For a dish with more familiar ingredients, order the jerk-honey chicken with jollop rice garnished with homemade pepper sauce and a side of fried plantains. Or try something altogether unfamiliar from the menu. End with African donuts when they are fresh and warm.
NEW CANADIAN CUISINE
Dominion Bar + Kitchen, the restaurant at Civic Hotel, is a champion of what is known as “new Canadian cuisine.” This merges traditional Western fare with multicultural influences, a gentle mashup of ingredients that puts fresh flavors on the plate. Corporate executive chef Rajeev Arora grew his craft and acumen in his native India and at high-end hospitality establishments around the world, and now he has set his sights on B.C.’s lower mainland for its diversity and availability of traditional Indian ingredients. Brunch at Dominion is a must on the Spice Trail.
MAKING THE MOST OF THE SPICE TRAIL
• It would take several trips on the Spice Trail to experience everything, so the website spicetrailsurreybc.com is the best tool to use to narrow down your selections.
• Set aside at least a few days in Surrey and resolve to be adventuresome.
• Surrey is a spread-out city; the Spice Trail is best explored neighborhood by neighborhood to make the most of your time.
• Plan to experience as many types of cuisines as time and your appetite will allow.
• Plan on breakfast/brunch, lunch and dinner with additional stops for small snacks and sweets between meals.
• Order small, sharable dishes, so you can pack the most variety into your trip.
WHERE TO STAY IN SURREY
The modern, well-appointed Civic Hotel offers exceptional hospitality in the heart of Surrey’s City Centre.