Surrey is among Canada’s most diverse cities, but many of its restaurants, which represent cuisines from India, Afghanistan, Malaysia, South Korea, Vietnam, Mexico, Colombia, Jamaica, and more, aren’t well known outside the community. The new Spice Trail, launched this month by Discover Surrey, the city’s destination marketing organization, aims to change that—by bringing the world to Surrey’s world cuisine.
More than 30 restaurants, cafés, and shops are participating in this self-guided food crawl, which helps diners identify where and what to eat, whether you’re sampling a single eatery or grazing your way through Surrey’s six neighbourhoods. While the Spice Trail is particularly strong in foods from South Asia, representing regional Indian, as well as Indo-Chinese and Nepalese cuisines, you can find dishes from many parts of the globe.
Showcasing Surrey’s Diversity
“We have so many different types of cuisines in Surrey,” says Marvin Magana, who has owned Guacamole Mexican Grill with his wife and business partner Rosa since 2019. “The Spice Trail is exciting because it brings to light the culinary diversity of Surrey.”
Spice Trail restaurants range from the higher-end My Shanti, owned by Vancouver restaurateur Vikram Vij, to family-run Mek’s Delight, which serves peanutty tofu goreng, nasi lemak (coconut rice with chicken, egg, cucumber, and dried fish), and other Malaysian classics, along with teh tarik, a sweet, milky “pulled” tea prepared by pouring liquid between two containers. You’ll find gol gappay shots—crisp, snack-size pooris filled with a potato-chickpea mix, served with “shots” of mint-cilantro water—at stylish Chacha’s Tandoor & Grill, or homestyle ropa vieja, a beef stew plated with rice and fried plantains at Union Latino’s Food.
“The Spice Trail is an empowerment for customers” as well, Magana says. Not only does the trail make it easier to figure out where to dine, it also highlights Surrey’s growing number of passionate food entrepreneurs.
Although both Marvin and Rosa were born in El Salvador, they each spent time in Mexico, and Mexican dishes, such as tacos, enchiladas, and burritos, dominate their menu. They make a refreshing ceviche de camarones (shrimp marinated in lime juice and mixed with chopped tomatoes, onions, and cilantro), as well as soups and stews, such as pozole, pork broth with hominy and chiles, and birria, a slow-cooked beef stew.
They also prepare a few dishes from El Salvador, including excellent pupusas and tamales, from Rosa’s mother’s recipes. Try the pupusas stuffed with cheese and loroco, a vine with edible flowers that give these filled pancakes an almost chive-like taste.
Running a restaurant is a challenging business, Rosa Magana acknowledges. But their regular clientele makes things easier. “We know so many people. They’re like friends. We can see that they feel at home.”
A Spicy Partnership
For Richie Hussett, owner of Di Reggae Cafe, a Jamaican restaurant around the corner from Guacamole Mexican Grill, participating in the Spice Trail is a natural fit with his brand. “Caribbean food is known for its spiciness,” says Hussett, who also owns the Loft in Vancouver’s West End, “and we spice up the whole community.”
Hussett welcomes the visibility the Spice Trail will bring to Surrey’s restaurants, both in the local community and farther afield. “There’s still a lot of folks that live within our neighbourhood that don’t know we exist,” he says.
Born in Jamaica, Hussett has lived in Canada since the 1980s. Though he was happily employed in communications for many years, he says that “growing up in the Caribbean, cooking was always in my blood.” He took a leave of absence from his communications job in 2011 and opened Di Reggae Cafe.
Many people don’t realize that Jamaica is as multicultural as Canada, Hussett notes. “Every race is in our country. And the nice thing about my restaurant—and Surrey—is that it’s a multicultural clientele.”
Tastes of Home
The most popular dishes at Di Reggae, according to Hussett, are jerk chicken, oxtail, and patties, sourced from outside but baked fresh in the restaurant. He also serves ackee and saltfish, callaloo, and other Jamaican seafood plates. He says he’s pleased to bring these diverse tastes of his homeland to Canada.
A similar desire inspired Sujith Raj Rajasekharan, chef and owner of Surrey’s Kerala Kitchen, to open his restaurant in 2017. Rajasekharan arrived in Canada from India in 2008, trained in the culinary arts program at the Art Institute of Vancouver, and then went to work for Fairmont Hotels. But his dream was to launch his own eatery to serve food from Kerala, his home region.
His specialties are what he calls Kerala staple foods, dishes you’d find regularly in his tropical home state. One of his signature dishes is beef ularthiyathu, a “dry fry” seasoned with ginger, garlic, and coconut oil, typically paired with parotta, a layered bread that’s as common across South India, he explains, as nan is in the north.
Rajasekharan also makes appam, another Kerala staple. He suggests eating these thin rice flour and coconut milk pancakes with curries, such as his creamy Chettinad chicken.
Planning a Spice Trail Food Crawl
The Spice Trail website lists all the participating businesses with their location and cuisine, as well as an interactive map for planning your food explorations.
“Don’t be afraid to try us out,” Hussett at Di Reggae Cafe suggests. “We’d love to have you down here to visit us.”
Marvin Magana may speak for many of the restaurants along the Spice Trail, too, when he says, “We’re very proud to be in Surrey.”
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