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Just like home: North Indian spices bring out a sense of nostalgia

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WATCH ABOVE: The taste or smell of specific foods can bring up strong memories -- who would have thought the pop and fizz of a Fanta bottle does just that for one Indian-Canadian? Global's Rachel Lau discovers how sometimes, it's the littlest things that ignite that sense of nostalgia.

Each day at Gurnam Singh Malhi’s restaurant, Malhi Sweets ( 880 Jarry St. Ouest), starts with a prayer — thanks for all the wealth and good luck bestowed upon them over the last 22 years in Canada.

“In India, in the small villages, there are many people, many fathers who don’t have money for their daughters’ marriages,” he says tearfully.

“Many people have no food. Many people’s father have no money for marriage. This way, I put $3, it’s OK. I don’t feel it if I put $3, but over there, if I send 150 rupees per day, it’s enough.”

Every day, a pray and an offering is made.
Every day, a pray and an offering is made. Max Kalinowicz/Global News

He talks about giving back as he sits at a table with Dipti Gupta, a cinema teacher at Dawson College, and her husband, Rahul Varma, a playwright and co-owner of Teesri Duniya Theatre — they too are very active in the South Asian community.

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As they share plates of eggplant, lentils, butter chicken and naan bread, the three reminisce about the country they grew up in.

“We all have something we love when we’re growing up so [Fanta] used to be my favourite drink as I was growing up in India on the west coast,” Gupta says.

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“It’s something that I would always drink very often and this was a treat given to us. When I saw that Malhi-Sahib has this drink in his shop, that brought me back all the way to my being my seven-year-old or five-year-old self.”

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Though people from all walks of life enter his restaurant, Malhi says his focus is to make sure people from his home province of Punjab recognize the food on their plates.

“It’s like homemade. It’s not even north Indian, really, it’s homemade. Like mama makes,” he tells Global News.

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Just like home: A new food series

There are a few simple ingredients that go into almost every dish: ginger, garlic, onion, green chili, turmeric, cumin seed, anise, coriander seed, black pepper and oregano.

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“When you say ‘Indian,’ people often connect with butter chicken or a certain type of food,” says Gupta.

WATCH BELOW: Gurnam Singh Malhi gives back

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Just Like Home: Gurnam Singh Malhi gives back
“When you’re travelling [in India], food, as well as the dress changes quite rapidly — the way people dress and the way people eat their food. The cuisine completely changes. Every province has a staple diet.”
Cooking up a storm at Malhi Sweets.
Cooking up a storm at Malhi Sweets. Max Kalinowicz/Global News

She insists that Indian food is much more than just “curry.”

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“I think curry has become the key word,” she muses as Varma nods, adding: “The fact that they homogenize it as a curry, it confuses the issue. It’s a lot more than that.”

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The couple says, as people who were born and raised in India, eating at Malhi ignites all their senses and brings out a sense of nostalgia.

“When Malhi opened and I found that he retained the flavour, he has that kind of reputation and that manner and there’s a certain level of comfort that most of us feel when we come to this place,” Gupta tells Global News.

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“That’s so essential that we can connect that way.”

WATCH BELOW: Just Like Home brings people together

Just Like Home is a series that discovers the restaurants and places Montrealers from all walks of life go to have a little, nostalgic taste of their home countries.

rachel.lau@globalnews.ca