Finding Jassi Da Dhaba

Two friends team up to share their love of Punjabi cuisine via a catering venture with home at its heart.

Jassi Da Dhaba

Jasvinder Kaur and Swati Chaudhary were looking for each other before they met through a friend on a Friday night two years ago. "I cannot do this by myself," Kaur says, "so I was looking for someone I can get in touch with, someone I can trust."

"I was looking for exactly a person like her," Chaudhary echoes.

The two women, who both moved to Halifax from India in 2015, started Jassi Da Dhaba Catering Services at the end of February. The business grew out of their mutual love of cooking and their mutual longing for the food back home. What's missing in Halifax, they say, are the true flavours of India and fresh Indian food. They want to make Indian dishes that don't exist here yet, and cook the ones that do authentically.

"Our main goal is not to reach just the Indian people, we want other people to come and eat," Kaur says. At the moment they're catering to groups of 10 or more, mostly at office and birthday parties. It's no different from cooking for fun, they say, except now they have a Facebook page.

Their home base is a shared industrial kitchen in the African Community Investment Cooperative of Canada cafe, on Herring Cove Road. The cafe is part of ACICC's business incubation and skill enhancement program, which aims to lower start-up costs and support new businesses run by people of African descent and others who face economic barriers.

Kaur is 26 and studies business at NSCC and Chaudhary, 29, has a full-time job in quality assurance. Currently their venture is limited to weekends, but with the semester's end in sight for Kaur, they're already planning a possible food truck at this summer's Halifax Busker Festival, and ultimately, a restaurant.

More immediately, they served up chole bhature at their first Punjabi cuisine event in the ACICC cafe this past Saturday. They see the event as one step towards a restaurant: An opportunity to reach more people and get feedback on their cooking.

Chole is a thick, rich chickpea curry, and bhature is a deep fried, spiced bread. The meal is served with onions, a mint coriander chutney and mango pickle and has significance to both women.

"That's the first thing I was looking for when I came here," Kaur recalls.

"When I was in India I used to eat chole bhature everyday in my lunchtime," Chaudhary adds. She says she's found the dish in Halifax, but it's not what she remembers from home.

At the event, almost every one of the 15 or so tables is occupied, and there's a 30-minute wait for food. Though there's no shortage of chole behind the counter where Kaur's sister scoops it up, it's the bhaturas that can't keep up with demand. Every few minutes Sanjeet Singh, Kaur's husband, leaves the cash register to go to the kitchen, emerging with a fresh plateful of the breads.

Both Kaur and Chaudhary came to Halifax because their husbands were here, and Kaur is quick to give credit where credit is due. "They are the first reason why we are doing this," she says, adding that their husbands encouraged them to follow their passion, and—as neither woman has her driver's licence yet—take them to buy groceries.

Despite meeting only two years ago, Kaur and Chaudhary have become like family to each other, they say. They cook and grocery shop together for their business, but they've also gotten to know Nova Scotia as a pair. "She calls me 'travel manager,'" Chaudhary says, laughing. Last summer, the two were hardly ever home. They explored almost every weekend, from Cape Breton to Montreal.

The name of their business—"dhaba"—is famous in India. Dhabas are roadside restaurants, like India's Tim Hortons, Kaur says. "If you hear dhaba anywhere in India it means that you will find a taste just like home."

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