FOOD & DINING
Bollywood Twist on Tacos
Story by Erin Elliott | Photos by Kirsten McGoey
A wild new mural is set up on the corner of Simcoe and Bond Streets in downtown Oshawa. From afar, a blast of colour and pattern catch the eye. Up close, the artwork reveals a loud, iconographic mash-up: Mahatma Gandhi in a tie-dye t-shirt, a cactus with a cartoon sitar, and a psychedelic Mayan statue. Then a Dia de los Muertos skeleton pops up in front of the Taj Mahal. The competing imagery doesn’t make a lot of sense, and the official name sign The Bollywood Tacos: Indian Inspired Mexican Street Food only piques more curiosity. What is this place all about? And why does it smell so good?
Raising curiosity in passersby is all part of the master plan, says Rajeev Ganesan, owner and chef of The Bollywood Tacos, a delicious fusion take-out spot that is raising the stakes in Oshawa’s downtown food scene. “People see the mural and our name and say ‘what is this?’” says Ganesan. “They may keep on walking, but that question is going to be stuck in their head.” He’s right. The cultural collision piques curiosity and has people talking. “It’s like a clue you throw out there, and people have to figure it out. They wonder what is it. Then they come in, and say ‘Wow. This really is something different.’”
Luckily for hungry customers, the guessing game ends once they step inside. The interior decor is simple but sleek. There are no tables, just a few bar stools. The menu is stencilled on the wall and guides customers through a four-step ordering formula. There are big, delicious decisions to make.
First, choose a base layer from Mexican-inspired food formats: taco (folded naan bread), a bowl of rice or salad greens, burrito (wrap), nachos or – for a Quebecois twist – “poutine,” which translates to a base of fries.
Second, add a layer of protein from one of several Indian-inspired curries bubbling on the stove behind the counter. These stews are scratch-made daily and include butter chicken, curry chicken or lamb, shrimp or paneer tikka, and chana masala.
Next, add texture and flavour with exciting toppings that will bring flashbacks of the mural outside: purple cabbage minced to confetti, sweet and tangy pineapple salsa, sour hunks of pink pickled onion, paper-thin pickled cucumber, or bright red pickled thai chillies, plus familiar taco-bar standards like cilantro, pico de gallo, cheese, guacamole, and lettuce. Top it off with a choice of sauce: a creamy mint chutney, fruity tamarind, and hot sauces, of course.
Everything on the menu is house-made, right down to the hot sauces and pickles. “We don’t use anything generic. And we are even thinking of new, different items to bring in the future,” says Ganesan. All of the curries are prepared mild, with hot sauce an added option for those who want to turn up the heat.
Side dishes include naan bread, fries or samosas. Dessert is Indian favourite gulab jamun: a fried sweet dough in rose water syrup. The fridge is also stocked with ready-to-go cups of creamy, sweet and sour mango lassi and soft drinks.
With so many combinations on offer, you could eat here every day for years and never taste the same fusion twice. This culinary diversity is exactly what Ganesan is hoping for. He can’t even come close to choosing a favourite meal himself. “That is impossible! Not fair,” he laughs. “I made this menu because I love it all, so much.”
Ganesan’s love of food and cooking began in his boyhood in Sri Lanka. “I always loved food. I stayed with my mom in the kitchen. I always helped her and ran around the kitchen learning from her too.” In 2008, his family moved to Canada to escape the ongoing civil war. They settled in Scarborough and eventually Ganesan started working as a dishwasher. Slowly but surely he moved his way up the kitchen chain of command. “I was lucky I had great people who helped me out and taught me this is how you prep, this is how you progress. I fell in love with cooking. It was the career path I wanted to travel.” In addition to owning and running The Bollywood Tacos, Ganesan is also co-partner of Simcoe House Ales and Grill in Durham College’s Campus Ice Centre.
His love of flavour combinations is driven by his creativity. “I always want to pair something and try it. Something new, that is not a tradition. I like fusion.” He says that authentic cuisines like Sri Lankan or Italian are great, but lack the element of surprise that gets him excited. “You can get strictly Indian food anywhere. I wanted to stand out and do something different, so I got into fusion. Every time I write a menu I put some kind of fusion in it.” Ganesan says once he had the Simcoe and Bond Street location secured, he developed more than a dozen creative fusion ideas before deciding on an Indian and Mexican mash-up for the restaurant. His goal is to franchise his model and bring The Bollywood Tacos to other cities.
The restaurant’s lack of seating might surprise diners, but this is meant to be street food. “It’s quick. You grab and eat on the go. It’s fun. It’s bold flavour. Enjoy it and get on with your day.” Maybe take it back outside, and eat it while you try to figure out the mural.
The Bollywood Tacos
36 Simcoe St N, Oshawa
How to Build the perfect Fusion Taco
Ready to get creative in your own kitchen? Chef Rajeev provides some insider tips on how to balance the elements to build the best fusion taco:
- Wrap it right: start with naan bread, seared hard on the outside so it doesn’t leak, and soft on the inside to soak up the flavour of the main protein and keep the taco juicy
- Add protein: simply choose your favourite seasoned protein source or curried stew
- Build body: salad provides bulk and texture, so don’t skip the lettuce, pico de gallo or cabbage
- Add heat: pickled chilis or hot sauce will bring forward the spice
- Find balance: a sour cream, burrito sauce or creamy mint chutney will cool down the spice
- Prime the palate: add sweet-brined pickles for acidity to help stimulate the taste buds to receive the full flavour of your fusion creation