I credit my discovery of Shaan curry house to a noon-hour punctured tire on Merivale Road. It’s rare one celebrates a flat, but my lunch at Shaan gave me such a lift that the 40-minute wait for a guy called Don with a jack and a truck turned out to be a column-worthy pleasure. (Although returning with my family for a second taste the next evening was disappointing. Please note Shaan closes every night at 7 p.m.)
Shaan is not an expensive place. Nor is it in an expensive part of town. And the atmosphere — there are perhaps a dozen tables for those who wish to eat in – though clean, bright and carefully decorated, is plain. Plates are foam, forks plastic, but the plants are real and the hospitality genuine. This is clearly a family eager to please. But Shaan, I would suggest, is mostly used for take away.
I’m in a line behind four guys in ties – men who clearly plan to take their curries to their desks. These are regulars. Shaan owner Pal Shandhu knows them all. “Say hello to your mother,” he tells one young man. They leave in a group with brown paper bags smelling sweetly of aromatic Indian spices.
I get to the front, examine the menu and, aware of those behind me who know it better than I, ask for help. Pal suggests a “Quick Meal.” He points to the lunch specials bulletin, to Wednesday’s deal, which is dollar-off day for any Quick Meal – plates of rice with curry and salad. You can substitute naan for rice if you wish. The curry options are chicken, beef, fish, shrimp, lamb, vegetable, chickpea or daal.
I order my curry, take a seat (I am the only seated person in the room — others are in the queue) and my plate is delivered on a red plastic tray. It was good. Thick, soft chunks of fresh-tasting tilapia in a slightly sour, saffron-coloured curry of moderate heat and major fragrance, piled on a bed of good, plain basmati rice, greened with a bit of chopped cilantro. I rejoin the queue and order the chicken curry to go, sampling it while Don worked his magic with a jack and my spare. It was moist, tender meat, real chicken off the bone (none of the usual squeaky chicken product at other Indian restaurants) in a ginger-garlic-spice stew good enough to convince me this was more than just a stopgap curry house in a nondescript strip mall for a deflated girl.
What hit the table at my next visit was hardly transporting, but it was certainly very satisfying, from the shrimp curry to the lamb chawal (with rice), the daal curry with lentils and kidney beans to good old butter chicken, which proved more complex and less sweet than the usual spiced-up Campbell’s tomato soup taste of other places. Shaan offers a few vegetarian snack dishes you don’t often see such as papdi chaat, which consists of chopped onion, soft potato and chick peas on a bed of puffed-up fried dough, drizzled with a yogurt sauce, fortified with green and sweet tamarind chutneys, and topped with coriander leaves.
With the exception of the naan and samosas, which are not Shaan’s forte (I suspect they’re reheated) we liked all we sampled and have started using Shaan for take-away curries ever since. The price is right, the food is good and the family kind.