The Flavour Merchants

From Germany to India, Syria to Mexico, these four spots will take your taste buds on an international tour

Photography Cooper & O’Hara; Parkash Chhibber, owner of Indian Fusion, The Curry House

For many immigrants, Edmonton offers an opportunity to achieve the dreams they have for themselves and their families. In 2018, new Canadians continue to add their mark to the city’s landscape and food scene. Whether you’re looking for an ingredient for your recipe or enjoying an evening out, these businesses offer tastes of their cultures in local settings.

Currying Favour in the Community

Tapestry rugs, plants and red brick walls create an atmosphere of warmth at Indian Fusion, The Curry House. Parkash Chhibber, who immigrated to Canada from New Delhi in 2005, became the Oliver restaurant’s sole owner in 2014.

While “fusion” is in its name, the restaurant doesn’t serve fusion-based cuisine. Rather, it’s a nod to the Fijian friends who helped Chhibber open the restaurant in 2009. Guests can dine on Indian, Fijian and wild-game dishes. Each dish is cooked from scratch, accommodating those with food allergies. The vegetarian dishes can be converted to vegan, and the restaurant uses a clay oven, allowing a healthy alternative to traditionally deep-fried foods. Guests can also choose from five different oils for their meals: Clarified butter, coconut, mustard, canola and olive.

Trained as a chef, Chhibber suffered serious injuries in 1992 when he was struck by a car. Unemployed and newly wed, he credits his community for their part in his recovery. “They fed us, they helped us,” says Chhibber.

The kindness of his Delhi neighbours left its mark. In 2014, after Chhibber saw a homeless man searching through the restaurant’s garbage bins, he and his staff began giving away meals.

All someone has to do is knock on the back door and that person will receive a box of food and coffee in donated travel mugs. Every Wednesday, with help from the volunteers of The Line of Hope, Chhibber brings food to the Hope Mission, along with groceries and clothing. He estimates the restaurant donates 2,500 meals each month.

While Chhibber is happy to be credited for Indian Fusion’s back-door policy, it’s important to him to acknowledge those who help make his pay it forward attitude possible. “I’m the name people see,” he says, “but it’s the donors, volunteers, and my staff who make this work.”

Emad Al Qitta, owner, Al Qitta Nuts in Dunluce

May Contain Nuts

When Emad Al Qitta and his family stepped onto Edmonton soil in 2016, he thought, “I won’t last more than a month. It’s too cold!” Along with bitter temperatures, the Syrian family had to adjust to a faster lifestyle, new jobs and schools, on top of learning a new language.

Al Qitta, who had owned a nut store back home, was determined to make a life for his family. He studied English at school and worked at a bar so he could work on speaking the language.

Last year, with the encouragement of his wife, Muna, and using a toaster oven donated by their sponsor, Julie Rohr, Al Qitta began roasting nuts in their home. Within months, he was getting phone calls from people saying, “I was at a friend’s house and I had your nuts. Can I order a kilo direct from you?”

In 2018, he opened Al Qitta Nuts in the neighbourhood of Dunluce. “My friends helped me with the store’s website, business cards, and the business requirements,” Al Qitta says.

The store is best known for its roasted nuts — among them walnuts, cashews and almonds. Patrons are welcome to browse the selection while sampling the store’s coffee, which is roasted daily. Al Qitta Nuts also stocks Syrian cheese, yogurt and Arabic ice cream, a light, creamy, vanilla blend with chopped pistachios.

“Before I opened my store, my dream was small, but now, when I open the store, my dream is big. I’d like to expand out, maybe create a franchise,” says Al Qitta. “I’m focused on my family, my kids, to give them the best life.”

Bernardo Maldonado, owner of La Tienda Latina-Argyll Foods

A Chili Reception

Walking the aisles of La Tienda Latina-Argyll Foods with Bernardo Maldonado, who co-owns the store with his older brother, Carlos Isaias, is a geography and language lesson combined. “Tomate,” he says as he unwraps the tomato from its leaves, “is Nahuatl [the language of the Aztecs] for “the fruit with the belly button.” Maldonado moves to a fragrant array of dried chilis. “We have 12 kinds,” he says, “and we also carry them in powder form.”

Variety seems to be the foundation of the store, which the brothers opened in 2009. Whether it’s the seven brands of corn tortillas, the eight kinds of flour tortillas, the cacti in the box or the pickled cacti in the jars, La Tienda Latina is about service.  It’s no surprise, then, that 12 restaurants in the city buy from it, or that 40 per cent of its customer base is non-Latin. From tamarind-flavoured sodas, annatto seeds, buñuelos or conchas, the store carries a wide variety of food from Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia, El Salvador, Brazil, Peru and Argentina.

When the duo opened the store, however, “We had more passion than knowledge,” Maldonado laughs. His background was in philosophy, while Isaias was an orthodontist. “When we moved here from Mexico, we thought about opening a travel agency or a bar, but we love food.”

Originally, the store shared a wall with a hairdresser’s shop. The brothers started out with a small base of Latin products and over time increased their inventory. Within nine years, the store had taken over the hairdresser’s space. “We felt we could fill a niche,” Maldonado says of why they chose Edmonton for their business. “Edmonton has a small-town feel with big-city amenities.” The brothers consider themselves proud Canadians and Edmontonians. “In Canada, it’s relaxed,” says Maldonado. “You have the opportunity to do what you want.”

The German Gourmets

Haus Falkenstein, owned by German immigrants Silke and Micha Hentschel, began with a chance email with a Canadian friend. In his message, chef Micha joked, “If you have a job in Canada…” The friend replied that there was a job, running a hotel in Lougheed, Alberta.

“It was a five-minute decision,” says Silke. “I read the email, I talked to Micha, and that was it.”

“It was going to be a challenge, running a restaurant out in the [Alberta] country,” adds Micha, whose father started their family restaurant in Herten, Germany, in 1975. “[But] we were thinking of our girls. In Canada, our kids have more opportunities.”

The family immigrated to Canada in 2009. Once in Lougheed, Micha and Silke served the local fare — steaks and burgers — and began incorporating German food. Soon, people were coming from out of town, sometimes in literal busloads, for a chance to try one of the 347 different types of schnitzels. “The most difficult part is coming up with the names for the schnitzel,” Micha says. “Our daughters sat for two hours thinking them up.”

Along with the schnitzel variety, which holds the Guinness World Record for the largest variety of fresh pan-fried schnitzel, there are 23 German beers, homemade croquettes, and the 40-year-old red currywurst recipe from Micha’s mother. “We don’t serve frozen meat, only fresh,” says Silke.

Variety, freedom, and the chance to experiment seems core to the restaurant and to the Hentschels. “Canada,” says Micha, “is independence.”

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