Taste of Home: Varsha, Victoria’s family-owned Indian fusion restaurant

Taste of Home: Varsha, Victoria’s family-owned Indian fusion restaurant

Varsha is a creative Indian-fusion restaurant located at the edge of Victoria’s Chinatown. This gem is run by a local Punjabi family that’s been serving Indo-Canadian cuisine since 2012. The fusion fare combines traditional Indian spices and ingredients with Western food classics like the tandoori chicken burger, masala fries, and butter chicken poutine. Customers experience the family’s take on cooking through a large menu with servings prepared from scratch. They include authentic Indian spices, local ingredients, and flavour combinations. Aside from some tantalizing twists, the traditional North Indian dishes include samosas, pakoras, biryani, and 12 styles of curry!  

Taste of home

Aneet Toor is a UVIC student whose heritage is Punjabi. Her family emigrated from the northern state of Punjab.

Aneet was born in Surrey, Ontario, where a large part of the population is South Asian Canadians. “I grew up in a very prominent Punjabi Sikh community so I was privileged enough to grow up around family and peers. They are proud and knowledgeable about our culture and made sure it was always part of the youth or communities’ lives.” 

Aside from living in Surrey and speaking Punjabi at home, Aneet stays connected to her culture through food. “Food was a big part of staying culturally connected. My mom has always been an amazing cook, and growing up we always ate Punjabi food for dinner.” Among the daily busyness, Aneet’s mom makes sure to cook three Punjabi meals a week. 

“We cook Punjabi food at home. Indian cuisine is a really vague umbrella term that doesn’t really make sense to us because India itself has hundreds and hundreds of different cultures and communities. So it wouldn’t be humanly impossible to make food from all of those cultures at home.” Aneet says.

With a mother who cooks “every Punjabi dish under the sun,” the dish that most reminds Aneet of home is Shahi Paneer. This traditional dish is rich with spices, cream, and paneer, an Indian cheese made by curdling milk with heat and acid. Paneer is a common food that is used in many Indian dishes, as it doesn’t melt when heated and absorbs flavours easily. Its flavour is mild and milky and is mostly used in marinades and sauces to heighten flavours and spices. This dish translates to “royal cottage cheese.” 
“To this day, my mom makes sure I have it at least once before I have to go back to Victoria for school,” Aneet says.

Aneet says Varsha cooks the same dishes she grew up eating, but the tastes are different because families would take traditional dishes and customize the cooking and ingredients to their preferences. “Varsha’s dishes are the same ones I grew up eating for dinner but their taste reminds me more of Punjabi wedding food than homemade,” Aneet says.

Overall, Aneet enjoyed Varsha’s take on Indian cuisine. “I preferred the dishes that were traditional options because I think they remind me the most of Surrey and eating at home, which was something I really needed after moving to Victoria, which is a predominantly white community.” Places like Varsha, serving Indian cuisine, help Aneet find a sense of comfort and home since moving to Victoria for school.  

Picture by Annika Olson

Our experience: 

What makes Varsha stand out is its many fusion choices. Customers can choose to have traditional Indian food or investigate how Varsha explores common Canadian classics! This is a perfect restaurant for someone who isn’t particularly adventurous but wants to try Indian spices and ingredients. 

The menu has a section dedicated to Indian-style burgers, incorporating ingredients like lamb, chutney, tandoori-marinated grilled cod, and kachumber salsa, a traditional Indian salad made with tomato, onion, cucumber, and lemon juice. Each burger is served on a Portofino bun with a gluten-friendly bun option.

We tried five dishes, including both traditional and fusion fare. For appetizers, we ordered the paneer pakoras and masala fries for our fun fusion dish. The pakoras were amazing! The big juicy pieces of paneer were covered in a crunchy deep-fried chickpea and Indian spice coating. The spices assured this cultural dish can beat the Western chicken nugget any day. It came with tamarind chutney for a spiced sweet flavour that perfectly paired with the savoury paneer. The masala fries were shaken in their house-made spiced seasoning salt, but the pakoras easily took first place as the Indian spices were more intense. 

The shahi paneer (Aneet’s favourite) is both sweet and tangy from the tomato shahi gravy. “The tanginess comes from the tomato purée and spices, while sweetness comes from adding sugar to the shahi,” she says. The ingredients commonly used in shahi paneer are tomato paste, Tarka (a sauté of onion herbs and spices), whipping cream, and paneer.

Varsha’s wide selection of naan choices includes garlic, coconut, cilantro, palak paneer, butter, and aloo, a traditional potato and cauliflower vegetarian Indian dish. 

The menu

All curries on the menu are served with basmati rice. Basmati rice is grown in India and was traditionally served on the side until it was incorporated into curries and rice-focused dishes like biryani and pulao. Known for its sweet aroma and soft texture, pairing it with Indian spices is Cupid’s best match made.  

“From Tandoor” is an Indian method of cooking where food is cooked over a charcoal fire in a cylindrical clay oven called a tandoor. In this oven, meats usually are marinated in yogurt and spices and come out orange because of the natural dye called tandoor rang. Some menu options include Baja fish, jumbo prawns, broccoli, paneer, chicken, and soya chaap, one of the newer dishes with vegetarian meat made from soya bean chucks. Indian cuisine is widely known for vegetarian and vegan options from ingredients like lentils, chickpeas, cashews, and both raw and cooked vegetables. Varsha incorporates a wide variety on the menu from the traditional Indian Kachumber salad to curries using cashew-based gravy in the navratan korma or Punjabi-styled chickpeas in the chana masala. 

Varsha serves a huge selection of drinks, featuring signature alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails, wine, cider, and local beer on tap like Hoyne, Driftwood, and Lighthouse. The cocktails maintain the fusion theme with pakora-bacon caesars, chili mango martini, and the rangpur gin and tonic that uses Tanqueray Rangpur gin, made with an exotic citrus fruit from India. The must-try creative yet traditional Indian-style desserts include kheer, an Indian-style pudding infused with saffron and matka kulfi, and traditional Indian ice cream that comes in mango malai (Indian clotted cream), kaiser, and rose coconut. An exciting twist for cinnamon lovers is the cinnamon naan, served with a side of chocolate sauce. 

If you don’t know what to order, why not try some of the customers’ favourites, such as Varsha’s butter chicken, lamb curry, Varsha poutine, and mom’s samosa. With weekly specials and a daily happy hour, there are many reasons why Varsha should be added to your Victoria food bucket list.

Varsha Indian Kitchen

varsha.ca
@varshayyj
101-1600 Government St.

Written by

Annika Olson

Intern at Tasting Victoria