It’s 4 PM on an overcast Wednesday afternoon in Victoria, and as I pull into a small parking lot in Rock Bay, I can’t help but feel a sense of nostalgia for when I used to work in this neighbourhood. For most Victorians, this area isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think of dining options, but with new businesses like Parachute Ice Cream, Wheelies Motorcycle Café, and Melt Truck now calling the area home, things are looking bright for this oceanside strip in the heart of industrial Victoria.
Having moved here from Toronto, I’m used to having cheap and delicious eats on almost every corner, but those kinds of options seem to be few and far between here in Victoria. So, when I first stumbled upon a small Indian restaurant called Delhi on the northwest corner of Government and Bay St., I could barely believe my luck.
Situated in the space formerly occupied by Touch of Europe Deli, Owner/Operators Baljeet (affectionately known as Belle) and her husband Jason have put a lot of work into making the space feel like home. Dozens of photos of the couple posing with celebrities during their time working in the film industry effortlessly intertwine with vintage portraits of Belle’s family and inspirational quotes like “success is not the key to happiness – happiness is the key to success.” And for those of us with furry counterparts, Belle keeps a water bowl by the front door aptly named the “Delhi Dog Bar.”
Born in Northern Punjab, Belle first came to Canada when she was seven years old. Growing up in Victoria and enjoying what could best be described as the Canadian dream, things took a turn for the worst when Belle’s parents unveiled their plans for her to have an arranged marriage. Multiple failed attempts at finding a suitor later, Belle snuck off into the night in search of a better future. She eventually ended up in Toronto, meeting her husband-to-be Jason on the set of a film where they were both working.
Over time, Belle transitioned from working in front of the screen to feeding the crew from behind it, spending several years pumping out eats for picky celebrities and film industry divas from an on-set food truck. During that time, a dream started to manifest in her mind. “Man, it would be amazing if you could just cook and make a living off that,” Belle fantasized, but alongside her dream of owning a restaurant came many doubts, and without the support of her husband, she says she never would have gone for it. But with Jason’s encouragement and a growing frustration with the hustle and bustle of the big city, the pair decided to pack up their belongings and make the drive west back to Belle’s childhood home of Victoria.
Soon after arriving, they found an ad for the space on UsedVictoria, and without any formal culinary training whatsoever, they decided to take a chance and open a restaurant. As construction progressed and opening day loomed ever closer, it suddenly occurred to them that “…maybe we should have some food to serve at the place. Creating the menu was really the last thing we thought about” Belle tells me, as she welcomes me to my seat with a steaming cup of masala chai. With relations still strained between Belle and her parents, she didn’t have any family recipes to rely on, so she set to work at reproducing the flavours of her childhood. A few weeks and a boatload of good ole fashioned ingenuity later, Delhi’s small but mighty menu was born.
Today, Belle starts me off with their best-seller – the “Naan 50.” With your choice of butter chicken or lentil dahl alongside a heaping bowl of delicate basmati rice, fresh naan, and a simple salad of tomato, cucumber, and onion, this is pretty much as good as it gets for $9.50 in Victoria. Originally intended to be served once a week, customers loved the rich, creamy, and profoundly-spiced butter chicken so much that it became Delhi’s signature dish. I think she’s already achieved it, but Belle tells me that her number one goal is to become the butter chicken queen of Victoria. I’m building an edible crown as we speak.
Next up is the Delhi Combo. For $13.50, you get both the butter chicken and the lentil dahl, along with all the fixings I described above. More like a soup than a stew, Belle’s take on dahl is more liquidy than other versions I’ve seen around here, but that just makes it even easier to slurp up the smoky, spicy, and warming curry. If food is medicine – this magical concoction of legumes and spices is like the ultimate multi-vitamin. Packed with protein and antioxidants, dahl is as close to a perfect food as you can get.
For those who prefer to stay plant-powered but have a larger appetite, the Veggie Combo is a great option too. Also clocking in at $13.50, the meal is identical to the Delhi Combo but the butter chicken is replaced with a hearty curried veggie medley somewhat like an aloo gobi (potato and cauliflower curry). The cauliflower is fork tender but not mushy and the potatoes hold their shape without putting up too much resistance. The masala used is deeply aromatic, a little spicy, but isn’t overpowering at all. Overall, this is an absolute homerun of a vegetarian meal.
Throughout the meal, I have been mixing in a little bit of Belle’s homemade mango achaar with every bite – an Indian-style pickle that has been marinated in brine along with a variety of spices. Not for the faint of heart, this staple Indian condiment packs an intense blast of super salty, spicy, and umami flavours that awaken your palate, so be sure to only take a little bit at a time (or it can be kind of like eating too much wasabi at once).
And while both the food and the prices are reason enough to head to Delhi, getting to hang out with Belle and Jason is the icing on the cake. For people who have overcome so much adversity in their lives, their positivity and dedication to making their customers happy is simply inspiring. So, if you find yourself endlessly deliberating where to eat lunch next and need a new spot to call your own, pop on over to 2504 Government St today and give our friends a visit.
You will not regret it.
Also, did I mention there’s free parking?