Motimahal Restaurant
By YP Contributor

Firsts, Fires and Still Famous

The Gerrard India Bazaar in Toronto’s east end was not always a bustling community bursting with bright saris, gem shops, aromatic spices and bumping bhangra. When Gurjit and Davinder Chadha came to Canada from Delhi in 1970 and opened MotiMahal in 1976, it was the first Indian restaurant in the area.

Neelu Sabharwal, one of their daughters who manages the family restaurant, recalls how her parents got some of their first customers: “My father would hang out on the street in front of the shop and when passersby would ask him if he knew any good places to eat, he would say, ‘This place is great!’ pointing to MotiMahal. They would always be surprised when he would follow them into the restaurant and pop up behind the counter to take their order!” After four decades, several franchises, three daughters and a devastating fire that levelled the original restaurant, MotiMahal is still a local institution.

People are devoted to this place and it makes us feel really good. - Neelu Sabharwal, manager
MotiMahal, Vegetarian and non-vegetarian Indian cuisine, Samosas

Food For All

Rarely do customers get more than what they pay for but at MotiMahal, the deliciousness of the food is underrepresented by its price tag, which is part of its allure and success. The atmosphere is simple and welcoming, meaning the effort is reserved for the food. It’s a service counter, clean-up-after-yourself style dining experience, and at $6 to $12 per plate, it’s friendly for families, artists, retirees, business or construction workers on their lunch break and, of course, roving journalists looking for a midday bite.

And what a bite they offer. Known especially for their channa bhatura (a classic chickpea dish that many customers claim tastes just like back home) and their butter chicken, MotiMahal maintains the authentic, home-cooked taste that Gurjit and Davinder brought from India so long ago. Even in her 60’s, Neelu’s mother still cooks at the restaurant and brings the food home every night for her family.

MotiMahal, Vegetarian and non-vegetarian Indian cuisine, Samosas

Growing Up MotiMahal

Perhaps the best thing about MotiMahal, second to the butter chicken, is the intergenerational connection that exists not only within the family that owns it, but also amongst the clientele. The history of the restaurant is as rich as the ras malai, (a delectable dessert of cheese balls in cold, thick, sweet milk): grown men now bring their children to MotiMahal, where their mothers took them as children, and blushing brides cater their weddings with the MotiMahal meals they’ve been eating since they were eight. “People are devoted to this place and it makes us feel really good,” says Neelu.

MotiMahal is not just a restaurant, but a house with open doors, welcoming prices and a mother’s home-cooked meals. More than 40 years after its inception, MotiMahal is still the centre of the Gerrard India Bazaar, and hopefully always will be.

MotiMahal, Vegetarian and non-vegetarian Indian cuisine, Samosas
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