When I feel the need to experience India, and I’m stuck in Toronto, I head to the India Bazaar on Gerrard Street East. It’s a one-stop shopping destination for “all things Indian” and a visit there can make for a fun afternoon. India Bazaar is lined with Indian stores bursting with colourful finery, restaurants that feature authentic north and south Indian cuisines and stalls offering street food favourites like grilled corn, fresh sugar cane juice and golgappa (dumplings with sauce). Here are my favourite stops.
The street acquired its Indian flavour in the 1970s when waves of immigrants from South Asia moved in. The first generation offered traditional Indian merchandise, but a new generation is shaking it up.
Over the years of visiting India Bazaar, I have fallen into a predictable routine, and my first stop is invariably Udupi Palace. I always arrive hungry because the South Indian vegetarian food served at Udupi is very filling. Within moments of walking into the spacious room, a few steps below grade at 1460 Gerrard St. E., I’m greeted by the friendly staff and warming aromas that put me immediately into an India state of mind.
I’m torn between having a dosa (crepe with savoury filling) or the South Indian thali (plate of small dishes) — and owner Hubert Dabello assures me they are two of the most popular items on the menu. Hubert opened Udupi Palace in 2001 and introduced new taste sensations to the street, traditionally dominated by north Indian restaurants serving Toronto’s ubiquitous Punjabi-style dishes such as butter chicken, dal and naan. He was inspired by the popularity of South Indian restaurants in Bombay, and imported a winning formula.
From Udupi, I walk west and always stop in to say hello to friends at Nucreation. This huge store, at the corner of Gerrard and Ashdale, is one of the most popular stops for Indian bridal wear in Toronto. The entire second floor is devoted to showcasing unique and gorgeous beaded lenghas (tulip-shaped skirt with fitted top) and saris in dazzling colours for brides; and elegant sherwanis (jackets) for men.
Bejewelled evening wear
Nucreation is a family-owned business that has been on Gerrard St. for 30 years, one of the very first Indian clothing stores in Toronto. Owner and men’s clothing designer Manish Mahtani says, “We have grown along with the population of South Asians in the GTA, and we are optimistic about the future. The young generation loves to dress traditionally for weddings and parties, and there is growing interest among our western customers to dress in Indian style, too.”
I am one of the westerners who shop at Nucreation for distinctive evening wear: I have a georgette sari to die for — transparent shades of blue sky fade to azure, indigo and black, and a scattering of rhinestones make it look a starry night sky. In fact, it is the sari I am wearing in my “official” Breathedreamgo profile pic — and in this spread: My glam Bollywood makover.
Almost next to Nucreation is Jhumka, a small store brimming with unique, ornate bridal jewelry that appeals to modern Indian brides and westerners. Owner Tina Mahar has a knack for matching jewelry to clothing, and she loves to be able to meet the needs of westerners, as well as brides, looking for showpiece necklaces and earrings.
Ali Baba’s Cave of colourful treasures
Across the street is Rang, a very unique and enchanting home decor store. From the striking use of colour (rang is Hindi for colour) and bold sign, you can tell at a glance the store has a modern sensibility. Inside is a riot of colour and shimmering surfaces, a veritable Ali Baba’s cave of ornate beaded, embroidered and lacquered treasures. Owner Trishna Mahtani, sister of Manish at Nucreation, travels regularly to India to hunt for stylish pillowcases, draperies, wall hangings, boxes, candle holders and other household objets d’art. She chooses items that are inspired by traditional techniques, colours and themes — such as peacocks — but updated for modern tastes.
My last stop is usually Toronto Cash & Carry, or one of the other grocery stores, where I load up on spices, saunf (candy-coated fennel seeds), hot mango chutney, Darjeeling tea and long green chili peppers. Popping saunf into my mouth, I saunter down the street towards home, sated and satisfied.
On weekends in the summer, and during festivals such as Diwali and Eid, the Gerrard India Bazaar has a festive atmosphere. Families snack on street foods and desserts like kulfi (north Indian ice cream); mothers and daughters pour over heavily beaded bridal fabrics, trying to find matching costume jewelry; and the latest Bollywood hits spill out of the music stores. Sometimes, for a moment, if the weather’s warm and I catch the scent of spicy food cooking, I can pretend I am in India.
How to get there
India Bazaar runs along Gerrard Street for about five blocks, between Coxwell and Greenwood, in Toronto’s east end. Public transit: You can get there by taking the 506 College / Carlton street car; or by taking the subway to either Coxwell or Greenwood, and transferring to a bus south to Gerrard Street. Car: If you are like me, and you don’t own a car, you can rent a car in Toronto and drive to India Bazaar, though there is not a lot of parking (best is side streets and a nearby municipal lot). Here’s a map, with Udupi Palace indicated.
Mariellen Ward is a freelance travel writer whose personal style is informed by a background in journalism, a dedication to yoga and a passion for sharing the beauty of India’s culture and wisdom with the world. She has traveled for about a year altogether in India and publishes an India travel blog, Breathedreamgo.com. Mariellen also writes for magazines and newspapers.