Montreal Has A New Indo-Chinese Restaurant In Saint-Henri Serving Up Hakka Cuisine
The best of both worlds.
It’s billed as Montreal’s first full-fledged Hakka restaurant serving Indo-Chinese street food commonly found in India’s cities: Oorja (the Sanskrit word for ‘energy’), one of the newer restaurants that have been open in Saint-Henri since May this year.
So what’s the food like? Hakka is a broad and complex cuisine resulting from Chinese diasporas travelling to and cooking in many countries around the world. Oorja focuses on how those communities cooked on the streets of Indian cities, elevating the results on their menu.
You can expect spicy and savoury dishes that mix Chinese cooking with Indian spices and ingredients. Using that as a foundation, the 45-seat restaurant plans to experiment a lot in the coming months.
“This is the second favourite cuisine in India after Indian cuisine. The reach of Indo-Chinese cuisine is super strong, not just in India but major cities like New York, London, or Toronto, but Montreal was missing this cuisine,” explains Oorja’s owner Charan Vaddadi.
Diners can expect dishes like wok-fried paneer cheese (instead of tofu) with bell peppers and onions in a spicy chilli garlic sauce — to be served with fried rice or noodles —or chicken or vegan dumplings served with tomato chutney. They’ll also do more creative dishes like braised pork belly with five spice on sticky rice, and desserts like red bean ice cream served on bao buns.
“This cuisine is close to my heart. What we see in Indian cuisine (here) is not at all what we get in India… Indo-Chinese is our street food, that’s where you have more flavours and more vibrant dishes,” says Vaddadi.
It’s the owner’s first restaurant. Holding a Master’s in Building Engineering from Concordia University, he says that cooking was a way for him to take a break after he finished his studies.
“I always loved cooking… but growing up in India, you never get to take any breaks in between education, so after my Master’s I wanted to do something I really liked and loved.”
That was back in 2017. Charan went on to work at spots like Weinstein and Gavino’s before getting stuck in India during the COVID-19 pandemic. Returning to Montreal, he ended up working at Otto Yakitori and started learning about how he could open a place of his own.
Vaddadi turned to Camara Boodram to be Oorja’s chef, while Corey Quinn of Brass Door Pub and Jess Long of Le Mal Nécessaire helped curate the restaurant’s first cocktail menu and the design of the space.
The food menus will change depending on the season, as will the one for drinks which also plays on the restaurant’s concept with ingredients like masala bitters, tamarind syrup, orgeat made with cashews, or Chinese baiju liquor — in addition to Indian Kingfisher beer.
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