Quick Bite: Jalsa Indian Fast Food
Jalsa is a full-service restaurant that classifies itself as Indian fast food. The resto boasts a red colour palette with a stone accent wall and a decorative string of lights lines the front window and casts a candlelight hue upon the restaurant. Jalsa is hidden in a plaza along Erin Mills Pkwy across from Erin Mills Town Centre and you probably don't know about it unless you live in the immediate area and frequent the plaza, as the resto-front is only visible off a side street and not from Erin Mills Pkwy.
Jalsa specializes in vegetarian street food from Mumbai - the most populous city in India (previously known as Bombay). Mumbai is famous for the street food that is available on almost every street corner 24/7. Street food is an important part of the culture and food scene in Mumbai and some restaurants in the city now offer it on their menus.
The menu has a wide selection of street food favorites, including samosa (triangular pastry filled with savory meat or potatoes and fried), a variety of chaat and bhel (savory street snacks), bhaji (a thick potato based curry), Indian sandwiches, fusion dishes including Indian-style pizza and masala fries and paratha (similar to naan bread and stuffed with ingredients such as cheese and spices or vegetables). The menu also includes a South Indian section of various dosas (thin, crisp crepes made with fermented lentil and rice batter and rolled with a variety of ingredients) and uttapam (thicker version of a dosa with the ingredients cooked right into the batter).
I arrived at the restaurant for a quick and late dinner around 8 pm (at which point the place was only a quarter full) and every five minutes or so fellow late diners would show up. By the time I had left, it was almost a full house and for a Monday night, I'd say this place is doing something right.
I tried the Punjabi samosa, dabeli, paneer butter pav bhaji and kachori chaat, which came to just under $23 for a substantial amount of food. I also wanted to try the dosas on the menu, but I was told by the server that the person who makes them wasn't working that night. I hope they are working on training all the cooks on how to make them.
Samosas are a typical Indian snack food that I think most people are familiar with, but if you aren't, it's one of my favorite Indian snacks that packs bold flavour in a crispy outer shell. The Punjabi samosa is made with a thick layer of pastry, fried until nicely browned, filled with spiced mashed potatoes and peas and served with house-made chutneys (a sweet one and a spicy one). The samosa was fairly large and flavourful and will be my go-to dish the next time I visit.
Dabeli is a vegetarian sandwich made with spicy potatoes blended with a signature Dabeli masala and homemade chutneys, garnished with pomegranate seeds and peanuts and stuffed inside warm buttered pan-grilled bread. I like the various textures of the dish; however I didn't find it all that spicy. A little more spicy chutney would have satisfied my need for spice, but I wanted to save room for the rest of the dishes that I had ordered.
The paneer butter pav bhaji is a thick potato-based curry dished garnished with shredded paneer coriander, chopped onions, a dash of lemon and served with buttered bread rolls (pav). The bhaji is served warm and is bland compared to the other dishes I tried on the menu, making it my least favorite.
The kachori chaat is a sweet and spicy blend of kachoris (a dough and mung bean mixture seasoned and deep-fried and reminiscent of a very crunchy crouton) that contains onions, boiled lentils, tomatoes, potatoes and is topped with sweetened yogurt and sweet and spicy chutney. This dish is a medley of colours, textures and flavours that are sweet and sour at the same time. Don't let the appearance of this dish fool you -- it may not look appetizing to some, but the harmonious flavours and various textures of this dish were an addicting experience and something that I would definitely order again.
The menu is extensive and I will be revisiting to try additional dishes like the dosa, paratha and some of the fusion dishes like masala fries.
Punjabi Samosa, Dabeli, Paneer Butter Pav Bhaji, Kachori Chaat
Punjabi Samosa $2.95 + Dabeli $2.95 + Paneer Butter Pav Bhaji $8.45 + Kachori Chaat $5.45 + tax and tip
Dine-in wait time was approximately 30 minutes total. The only server working the restaurant was helpful and friendly. My first dish arrived in less than ten minutes and the subsequent dishes a little over ten minutes per dish as the restaurant filled up.