Meeru Dhalwala

August 31, 2015
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For years, if you wanted Indian food in Vancouver, there was really only one place to go: Vij’s. But since opening the eponymous restaurant, Vikram Vij and Meeru Dhalwala have gone on to open four others, including a food truck.

Going for dinner at Vij’s sometimes means waiting for up to 90 minutes for a table. But it is worth it. Not just because of the interesting conversations you might strike up with complete strangers but because Vikram Vij himself will come over and offer you a complimentary snack or chai tea. The real magic happens when you finally sit down at your table and the friendly staff begins to deliver dish after dish of mouthwatering food. The food at sister restaurant Rangoli is more casual but no less spectacular. And that is all the work of Dhalwala.

“Vikram and I can both cook everything on the menus,” Dhalwala explains. “But I’m the one who comes up with the recipes, and I’m the one who’s actually day-to-day running the kitchens. He’s out front doing the wonderful thing that he does.” Indeed, early on Dhalwala made the decision she wanted to stay out of the public eye. But some of that changed when she opened Rangoli, next door to Vij’s, and Shanik in Seattle (the restaurant closed earlier in 2015).

Here, Meeru Dhalwala guides us to her favourite places in Vancouver.

Where do you go shopping?
I have two favorite stores. Smoking Lily for women’s clothing and jewelry. It is tiny, yet elegantly full of the coolest locally designed and made clothing. In their own words, their designs are “creepy beautiful” — beautiful, high quality cottons and silks and very feminine shapes but with silk screen designs such as rattlesnakes, spiders, animals, other insects, actual body organs (heart) handguns. You feel as if you’re being warmly welcomed to someone’s personal room in the Virginia Wolf style. That’s the ambiance: Creative, confident, private and feminine. Smoking Lily also sells men’s t-shirts with the same creepy beautiful designs, including periodical tables.

The second is Fluevog. The store is a monument to funky and wonderful and strong shoes. It’s almost like a modern shoe museum. It’s crazy shoe world in a big, high ceiling building. And if you’re in Gastown, you might as well visit Inform furniture just to see all the modern design furniture showroom. Expensive, but fun nevertheless to see all the Italian and Danish/Dutch/German furniture.

Where do you go for products for the home and accessories?
Walrus for design store with very cool and useful stuff. Walrus is run by two partners, Daniel is Swiss and Caroline is Goan/Philippino and everything in the store is so personally chosen by two very warm people with a male and female touch. It’s as if they have tried everything in their own lives before deciding to sell it. Walrus is also cozy, and full of interesting gifts, jewelry, kitchen tidbits, art, etc. I buy everything from my kid’s backpacks to their ear phones, to jewelry and home nicknacks from there. About 80% of my Christmas presents come from Walrus. The ambiance of Walrus is also very personal.

Where do you go for a night out on weekends?
Next block up from Walrus on Cambie is my favourite weekend hang-out, which is the Kino Cafe. You don’t go to Kino for the food, and the alcohol is generic and flowing. But they have the best, best live Flamenco music and dance!  In my mood of warm and personal, which is what I would really like to experience if I’m in a new city, Kino is the perfect place to go after shopping, cafes, and dinner. It’s real Flamenco and often you feel like jumping out of your own seat when you see the ladies dancing to the live guitar and clapping. The place is packed with locals and neighbourhood regulars. We often take our girls there on a Friday night at 9pm and we watch the dance, and soak in the fun of everyone around us, including the performers.

What’s your favourite building in Vancouver? 
The Museum of Anthropology is a gorgeous, stunning building inside and out. Even if you know nothing about Canadian First Nations cultural, physical and art history, you will enjoy this museum. It has everything from large scale art work to tiny trinkets. The exterior and interior carry the dignity of the First Nation’s cultures and this dignity manages to come through in a very modern building that carries the weight of thousands of years of culture.

What about a hidden spot that maybe not many people know about?  
UBC Farm is the natural secret of Vancouver.  It’s like finding the secret, hidden garden and walking through the farm and sitting at one of the places within is an oasis. UBC Farm is Vancouver’s last working farm. It’s at the edge of Vancouver and even though the trees block it, the farm is right on the ocean. It smells fresh and the natural noise of the farm is peaceful.  The flowers, the plants, the foliage are all mesmerizing.

Where do you go for a quick bite?  
Can I write my own Rangoli?  It seriously is my favorite place and it’s right in the middle of shopping mecca. It’s so playful and cute, and my food there is the real Tuesday night home cooked dinner deal. But other place for a quick bite is  La Taqueria on Cambie/Broadway and in Gastown-Yaletown border. I’m all about ambiance, so here, the ambiance is festive–it’s decorated like a Mexican small town taco place with small soda bottle serving as the main decor. Yellow is the main colour. It’s fun and fast. And while it’s fast and packed with people, you never feel like you’re eating greasy junk food. Their meats are medicine- and hormone-free. And the mini soft corn tortilla tacos are out of this world. You can choose a bunch of different ones.

Do you have a favourite beach?
Finally someone is asking me. Third Beach. In the Summer and after 6pm. Perfect with the sunset creeping up on you for four hours. We eat a dinner picnic. Parking is ample and the water is warm (or seems warmer than the other beaches). It is quieter, yet dignified in the old way ambiance. It’s not the place for volleyball and bikini watching. It’s the place to come with people you are close with and want to quietly enjoy their company. It’s also stunning.