Hot weather makes it the perfect time to check out Montreal’s varied south Indian restaurants. Southern food is usually made from rice and lentils — soaked, fermented, and ground — and offers a summery (and gluten-free) contrast to north Indian breads and curries. Crispy dosa crepes, fluffy idli rice cakes, uttapam rice-based pancakes, and biryani — called the ultimate rice dish — are wholly different to more wintry foods such as butter chicken and naan.
While you’re exploring, try some options beyond the relatively common dosa — there’s Chicken 65, a non-saucy stir-fry with red chilies and curry leaf (and a mysterious origin to its name), and chutneys made of coconut, ginger, peanut, or tomato.
South Indian restaurants are scattered around the city — they aren’t the exclusive domain of Park-Ex’s de-facto “Little India” strip. Look for menus that feature dosa, idli, biryani, and anything “65” as the main offerings. Here are three notable options, featuring owners and cooks from the region.
4759 Van Horne Avenue (corner Victoria) in Côte-des-Neiges
Opened in 2012 on a strip surrounded by kosher fishmongers, Chinese barbecue joints, and Filipino grocery stores, BYOB restaurant Thanjai was a trailblazer in Montreal’s South Indian restaurant scene. Owner Kumaresan Muthukrishnan, originally from India’s Tamil Nadu region, came to Montreal for an IT job but quickly saw a need for food from home. “I’m not a cook,” he says, “but I just love idli.” Kumaresan is convinced of the idli’s health benefits: dipped into sambar, a light lentil soup spiked with vegetables, this is how southern Indians often start their day.
Kumaresan loves dosa, too: Thanjai’s menu of these thin crepes features every imaginable variety, from plain (flat and folded), paper masala (a round, crunchy tube of pancake with potato stuffing inside), wrap dosa (not dissimilar to a burrito) and the pièce de resistance, a six-foot dosa to share with your besties. Customers come from far and wide to dig in, even though there’s a popular branch in Ottawa.
Thanjai’s samosas are definitely South Indian style. These are a flatter variation stuffed with caramelized onion and peas as the main event; potatoes take more of a back seat than in a northern-style samosa. Their homemade tamarind chutney is a sweet, tart counterpoint for this popular starter.
Thanjai is currently working on a business lunch delivery service and a kitchen facility to prepare south Indian snacks and sweets: murukku, a crunchy, mildly spicy snack made of rice flour and ground lentils, is already for sale at the restaurant.
Make sure you order: In addition to the six-foot dosa, Thanjai’s Chicken 65, topped with raw sweet onion and a squeeze of lemon, is the dish to try here.
790 Jean-Talon W (corner Outremont) in Parc-Extension
A humble mom and pop operation with their two sons as key staff, Sanjay Verma’s Dosa Pointe serves a dizzying array of dosa, from a flat Mysore dosa, smeared with garlic and red chilli, to their own creations, such as ginger, tamarind, green tamarind, and Chettinad-style (think fennel seed, anise, cinnamon, and black pepper), with or without potato masala stuffing. Those dosa are served on classic stainless steel thali plates with sambar and two chutneys: the standard coconut and a house special, Andhra peanut chutney, to dip into or pour over.
The crowds really roll in for Dosa Pointe’s well-loved biryani: on Friday (lamb) and Saturdays (vegetarian), Verma and his wife focus in on this Hyderabadi dish, redolent of cardamom and cloves and prepared dum-style, with a thin, pie-like crust to keep the steam in as it cooks. On these nights, the place is “busier than Tim Horton’s”, Verma says with a laugh: in short, Dosa Pointe’s customers know a good South Indian meal at an excellent price.
Make sure you order: In addition to the weekend biryani options, Dosa Pointe’s sour and spicy rasam broth will put your taste buds on alert. Meanwhile, the seasonal fresh mango lassi, the original South Indian smoothie, is the drink of choice.
350 Mayor Street (corner de Bleury) in downtown Montreal
Our Place chef-owner Srinadh Nerisetty boasts he can make four dosas every two minutes, a culinary challenge that he trained for as a chef in India and Canada. Located alongside the Quartier des Spectacles, the menu is pan-Indian, and he has the tandoor oven to prove it. But Nerisetty’s heart lies in his native South Indian dishes. Fully licensed, the restaurant is starting to gain attention for the wide range of dosa and special southern recipes like curd rice (a comfort food of basmati rice coated in yogurt and mild spices). Also worthy of note is the chana samosa chaat, a snack dish featuring crunchy samosa wrapping, diced potatoes, and chickpeas in a sweet, sour, and salty yogurt, tamarind, and date dressing.
For vegetarians who want to try more than rice- and lentil-based dishes, Our Place has a paneer variation of Chicken 65, using the same spices to infuse the Indian cottage cheese with chilli and curry leaf seasonings. The restaurant has separate cooking vessels, oils and utensils for those with gluten-free and peanut allergy requirements, as well as distinct stations for cooking vegetarian and non-vegetarian foods — something that many Indian restaurants do as a matter of course.
Make sure you order: The rava onion dosa, laced with methi (fenugreek) and curry leaves. Douse it with the house special ginger chutney, a punch of sweet and sour flavour not otherwise found in Montreal.
Some other notable spots for South Indian food
- India Curry House, 996 Jean-Talon W (corner Birnam) in Parc-Extension
- Lakshana’s Chettinad Kitchen, 5623A Chemin de la Côte-des-Neiges (near Côte-Ste-Catherine) in Côte-des-Neiges
- Le Royal Madurai, 5701 Chemin de la Côte-des-Neiges (corner Côte-Ste-Catherine) in Côte-des-Neiges
- Le Super Qualité, 1211 Bélanger (between Normanville and de la Roche) in Petite-Patrie