Imagine travelling to a new home more than 12,000 km away with your family to start a new life. A new life in a country with a completely different culture and endless opportunity.
Kirtida and Hitesh Jagad did exactly that on Labour Day, 2004. The young couple, along with their son, moved to Canada from Gujarat Province in Western India.
They settled into Western life here and became working members of our society raising their young family in their new found country. But, they always aspired to one day have their own vegetarian restaurant. Lifelong vegetarians themselves, they didn’t know if their new community was ready for their Indian, vegetarian food culture.
As life sometimes sends us opportunities disguised as misfortune, Hitesh was laid off from his local manufacturing job in 2008. They decided to test the market with a small, part-time, home-based catering business run from their basement, government inspected kitchen. They started cooking for friends but word spread quickly and soon their little business took off.
They needed a retail space to further test the mainstream market outside their own circles. Their Guelph Farmers' Market stall proved to be the place to grow their business. After the birth of their daughter and a short hiatus, they operated a booth there from 2012 to 2019.
During their time there, they opened their food truck and current storefront in the north end of Guelph in August, 2017 and December, 2017 respectively.
I met with Kirtida and Hitesh at Kirtida Kitchen one afternoon last month.
As soon as I entered the restaurant I was greeted with wonderful aromas and a warm “hello” from the kitchen before I saw anyone. A gentleman with a friendly smile, behind his mask, exited the kitchen. I introduced myself and was quickly told that he was Hitesh, but “Kirtida is the boss.”
Having just finished the lunchtime rush, Kirtida joined us in her apron. I expected the same response most ethnic food cooks give when I asked who taught Kirtida to cook. But instead Hitesh volunteered the response.
They were married in 1996 and Kirtida did not know how to cook. Like many cultures, cooking for the home is extremely important in Indian culture. Hitesh, a self-taught cook, taught his new bride how to cook for the home.
In the early days, when Kirtida was preparing the dishes for the new business she prepared her home recipes but they quickly learned that the palate of their non-Indian market was different. They also saw that the demand for vegan and gluten-free dishes was gaining more interest as well. They started developing more new dishes with their new clients in mind. By trial and error, they experimented and now have almost 50 different menu items.
Today the menu is 100 per cent vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free friendly, plus 99 per cent nut-free. Many of their dishes fall into more than one category. But, it is important to note that Kirtida Kitchen is an Indian restaurant first.
The menu consists of an array of appetizers, vegetarian curries, paneer curries, basmati rices, traditional flat breads, desserts and add-ons such as raita and mango pickle. You will also find a selection of Indian fast food enjoyed mostly by their Indian customers.
All the dishes are made from scratch with natural ingredients, such as fresh garlic and fresh ginger along with no colours or preservatives.
The most popular vegetarian curry is aloo gobi (vegetarian, vegan, gluten free and nut free). This traditional Indian curry marries potatoes and cauliflower along with garlic, ginger, onion, coriander, turmeric, cumin, tomato and peas.
Sahi paneer is also a very popular dish. It is a vegetarian, gluten free, nut-free version of butter chicken made with paneer, which is an Indian, pressed cottage cheese, instead of chicken.
The same spices as the popular chicken dish, along with the tomato based sauce, make this delicious with tandoori naan bread (vegetarian and nut free) or roti (vegetarian, vegan and nut free) to soak up the sauce! Hitesh tells me clients call him to tell him, “we didn’t even miss the chicken!”
It’s no wonder countless local awards adorn the walls of the restaurant and one special plaque of note is the one from the mayor of Guelph for COVID-19 Community Hero. For the first year of the pandemic frontline workers were offered free meals at Kirtida Kitchen. They also contribute weekly to The Bench downtown Guelph every Friday so the food insecure in our community can have a hot meal.
You can find Kirtida Kitchen on Eramosa Road in Guelph. The food truck is available for catering events.