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What I Would Change About Ethnic Food In Canada

06/23/2013 11:28 EDT | Updated 08/24/2013 05:12 EDT

Leading up to Canada Day, the Huffington Post blog team asked prominent Canadians what they would change about one aspect of our country. We are publishing their answers in our series "What I'd Change About Canada" leading up to July 1. You can find the full series here.

Since I came to Canada in 1989, it's been very important to me to spread the word of Indian cuisine to as many people as possible. I think it is gaining momentum, but attitudes towards ethnic food, and the boundaries around the way it is presented, still need to evolve.

I wanted to change the perception that Indian food was simply "butter chicken and tikka masala"; I wanted to go beyond tradition and introduce people to new ingredients, new spices and then create a whole new way of cooking those ingredients and spices together. There are many great chefs in this country that are seeking the same challenges. If you take a look at what Susur Lee has done in Toronto and other cities, as well as Tojo's in Vancouver -- they have taken chances and they've changed attitudes towards Asian cuisine across North America.

Of course it's not just about chefs pushing the envelope -- it's about customers trying new things too. Diners need to be open to accepting new ideas and new flavours, even if it's something they are suspicious of. Meeru, my wife and co-owner of Vij's in Vancouver, has recently added a curry to our menu that contains jellybeans. It's braised shortribs with roasted okra, walnuts and jellybeans -- and people love it!

I'm often asked by customers at Vij's, "What do you recommend we try?" and one of my favorite dishes is our goat curry. Some people have never eaten goat before and they're a little skeptical, but I tell them: "If you don't like it, I will pay for it," and you know what? I've never once had to pay for it!

I would also love for people to try cooking foods from other cultures in their own homes. I want them to go to a restaurant and be inspired to try it themselves. You don't have to become masters of that cuisine -- but I want people to become excited about buying spices and experimenting with them and creating something unique.

I've recently done two live online cooking classes where the sole purpose was to encourage people to cook a delicious homemade curry along with me and eat it together as a family. I used spices that people traditionally have in their kitchens -- paprika, turmeric, garlic; as well as different spices, to encourage them to experience new flavours and to create authentic Indian dishes using the same ingredients Indian families have used for generations.

As part of my journey to bring Indian food into more Canadian homes, I co-wrote two cookbooks with Meeru, featuring hundreds of dishes we regularly serve in our restaurants. We are hoping to demystify Indian cuisine and make it accessible. Funnily enough, I don't follow recipes myself -- I'm always adding more spice or substituting meats and vegetables. But that's what cooking is all about; the journey, expressing yourself and enjoying what you eat, from every corner of the world.

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