Vij’s was first opened in 1994, and Vikram Vij and Meeru Dhalwala have been creating innovative and inspired Indian cuisine ever since. Previously occupying a spot in South Granville, Vij’s can now be found on Cambie Street in a spacious location that also features a popular rooftop patio.
Warm and Welcoming
The Vij’s dining room is multi-level and spacious. Marc Bricolaut designed the interior, as he did the Granville location and the now closed Rangoli. There are warm touches of wood throughout the dining room, including a stunning carved door. The decorative screens on the windows overlooking Cambie, create a pleasant feeling of protection. Inside, stained glass windows add colour, and somewhat shield an otherwise open kitchen. The bar is beautifully tiled, with turquoise flowers that match the occasional turquoise painted cup among the thousands of unpainted terra cotta chai cups that adorn part of the ceiling.
My first introduction to Meeru and Vikram’s food was at Rangoli. This casual lunch spot was beside Vij’s on Granville. For those like me still mourning the loss of the Rangoli, recipes for some favourites are in the Vij’s At Home cookbook, for example, the spicy pulled pork. Apparently the inspiration for this dish is from Meeru’s American school lunch sloppy joes. Meeru and Vikram have actually published three cookbooks, ranging from fine dining to casual home cooking.
Ripples and Ramifications
I had the opportunity to chat with Meeru about the philosophies that inform the choices she makes at Vij’s. She heads an all female kitchen team and is rightfully proud of the almost zero staff turnover she has had. The long standing team provides a strong foundation on which to build and experiment. Meeru adapts and changes the menu based on seasonal flavours and availability but there are also favourites that are menu fixtures such as the famous wine-marinated lamb popsicles.
Meeru has been working with Naty King, and her late husband Gary, at Hazelmere Organics for decades and their trusted relationship provides the restaurant with the best locally sourced produce. Hazelmere’s reputation is not just for providing high quality, organic produce but also for providing personalized and caring service. Hazelmere has built long lasting relationships in the community. By encouraging and supporting the best possible farming practices, they have facilitated farm to table dining in a number of renowned Vancouver restaurants.
Creating Culinary Community
Meeru and Naty’s goals align when it comes to education and impact. Understanding where your food comes from and how its grown changes what you choose to eat and why.
You cannot always know where ingredients have come from when dining at a restaurant. The nice thing about Vij’s is that you can make whatever selections from the menu you wish, knowing that every effort is made to ensure that the ingredients are of the highest quality and are grown with the health of the environment in mind. For example, the creamy and warming Bengali style chicken curry is served with a sprouted lentil salad. Containing not just lentils but also mung beans and black chickpeas, this salad is a textural pleasure which is also nutritionally rich. While we may benefit from eating these legumes, the soil also benefits from the growing of them; lentils and beans are actually nitrogen enriching which is why they are used in crop rotation to revive and replenish nutritionally exhausted soil.
Each dish at Vij’s begins with its own specific and intentionally crafted masala. The chickpeas come in a star anise and date masala. The cauliflower, jackfruit, and kale curry has a coconut base with no onion or garlic. Equal care is taken in sourcing the produce as well as the protein. The same level of attention is paid to both when it comes to recipe development and preparation.
Relax Honey, It’s Vij’s
There are ramifications to the decisions we make, for Meeru, as a restauranteur, and for myself as a diner. But this conscious consumption doesn’t have to be heavy. Vij’s isn’t trying to bum you out or guilt you, but encourage you to contemplate your food in a joyous and celebratory way. It’s about loosening up. Meeru told me that her mother would not let her children eat while “tight.” Meeru scrunched her face and crossed her arms to demonstrate to me the internal grumpy, irritated feeling. She likewise discourages this tightness in the kitchen at Vij’s. Know this, and and leave any tightness you may be holding on the sidewalk when you enter. Come loose and hungry and ready to enjoy. There are layers to the food and I don’t just mean in terms of depth of flavour.