Indian food is the art of goop.
Indian food is goop. There is nothing inflammatory about this, for it is ultimately true. Butter chicken is sweet meaty goop. Curries are spicy goop. Dal is chunky lentil goop. Aloo gobi is cauliflower/potato goop. Rogan gosh is fiery lamb goop. Tandoori chicken is chicken smothered in goop, then baked – so is chicken tikka masala for that matter. Lassie is a sweet, thin goop that you drink. Kheer is sweet goop. Kulfi is frozen goop. And rasgula is sweet goop boiled down and then solidified into goopy semisolid balls of goop.
(Admittedly, I’m skipping over naan and rice, but they only exist to soak up goop.)
I love Indian food – I really love it – so when I first found out about Veda (842 Yonge St. – two blocks north of Bloor) my curiosity was naturally piqued. (Okay, so I found out about Veda six months ago. I wasn’t a big-name Torontoist blogger then! SHUT UP AND LET ME WRITE MY ARTICLE, YOU NITPICKING VULTURES.)
Veda is, bluntly, an initial stab at an Indian fast-food chain. You can tell because franchising information is advertised on the window. You can also tell because Veda looks like a fast-food restaurant – it is brightly lit, with a clean white-and-inoffensive-orange design scheme, and the lit-glass menus behind the counter are clean and easy to read. The look of the place was clearly given a lot of thought, right down to the logo (an homage to the Dabbawalla couriers of Bombay, as the extensive explanation written on the wall tells me, and I’m ever so thankful that they did).
Knowing that Veda is a fast-food chain means that you have to judge the food accordingly. Fast food by its very nature has to be slightly more homogenous than most types of food to appeal to the widest possible range of palates – this doesn’t mean it can’t be good, but it does tend to mean that it’s less surprising and less unique than most types of cuisine. So when I’m assessing Veda’s food, I’m just looking for solid, reliable Indian food – no frills, just the basics.
Veda serves out its food in combos packed into tiffin plates. Each tiffin plate has three sections. Firstly, there is the “more rice than anybody could want for a single sitting” you traditionally get at any Indian restaurant. Then there is a choice of vegetarian dish. Finally, you can get either a meat dish, or a secondary vegetarian dish if you are a filthy animal-loving hippie.
The rice (Basmati, of course) comes in two varieties: plain and spinach. Both are acceptably fluffy. The spinach rice does not taste much different from the plain rice, but there is a tiny hint of spinachy flavour and it looks slightly green, so let’s give points for effort.
Veda serves three different vegetable dishes. The chickpea curry is mildly spicy with a slightly sour aftertaste – not unpleasantly sour, but it’s there. It has a good texture. The mixed vegetable curry (peas, potatos, cauliflower, and I can’t make out the fourth vegetable on my notepad because of a stain, but they have one) is milder than the chickpea curry – in fact it’s slightly bland – but it’s not tasteless by any stretch, and it’s cooked very nicely. The big winner, from my carnivoristic view, is the red lentil masoor dal, which is thick, chunky, mushy, and delicious, and serves as an excellent counterpoint to any of the meat dishes.
The meat dishes are pretty predictable. First off, there is butter chicken, which is the sweet and sour chicken balls of Indian food – you knew going into the place there was going to be butter chicken, there can’t not be butter chicken, the only question is the quality. Veda’s butter chicken is decent. Not the most superlatively amazing and awesome butter chicken ever, of course, but the sauce is sweet; not too sweet, just sweet enough, and exactly the right thickness. It doesn’t sit in your gut like a lead weight – presumably due to the low-oil sauces Veda uses for all their dishes – and the chicken quality is very good. (Veda also does a butter tofu, which I did not try, but come on, it’s tofu. I already told you what the sauce tastes like, so you can kind of extrapolate from that if you’re a big fan of the beancurd.)
The saag chicken is less awesome; the meat quality is still good, but for a chicken dish that in my experience is supposed to have a decent spinachy flavour, I found that it did not so much have that. Without that nice taste it kind of comes off as a very generic meat-in-goop sort of dish. Not offensive by any stretch of the imagination, but definitely on the McDonald’s side of the fast food axis rather than the A&W side. (Or whatever fast food restaurant you like. I like A&W. Their burgers are salty!)
The final meat dish is a beef Madras that is Fast Food Spicy. Fast Food Spicy means it is about as spicy as, say, buying a Taco Bell taco and pouring a couple of the “extra spicy” sauce packets on it. In other words, it is moderately, pleasantly spicy while you are eating it, then five minutes later the spice sensation is gone and you don’t even taste it after that. However, like I said – this is a fast food place, and that means you have to deal with spicy food being Fast Food Spicy.
Every Veda meal comes with a naan, which – oh, hell with it, it’s not a naan! Naan is fluffy. The Veda “naan” is this flat little pancake that looks more like a thick corn tortilla than it does a proper naan. It’s also way too small. It tastes fine, but it’s not a naan. They should just rebrand it as a Veda-specific food item, call it “Vedabread” or something. Because, and I can’t stress this enough, it is not naan.
On the side, Veda offers tasty but extremely small samosas that cost about a buck fifty and are conveniently about as big as a loonie and two quarters in terms of surface area. They have good, cheap strawberry and mango lassies. They also offer a small range of desserts that seem kind of incongruous and if anything just seem like a case of “this is what was in the neighborhood that we liked” syndrome (rice pudding, chocolate mousse balls, coconut lemon squares, etc.) rather than a coherent plan. Not that this is a big deal to me. I’m just saying.
Overall, though, Veda’s food is a success. Like most fast food places, it errs on the side of safety. This isn’t daring cuisine. But it is a full takeaway Indian meal for under ten bucks with quality ingredients, and that counts for a lot with me. Moreover, it’s good, healthy food, it’s served really fast (I’ve never waited for more than a minute and a half to get my food once I order), it’s a nice place to sit down if you want to sit down, and if you know anybody who’s a real pussy about trying new foods who’s never tried Indian it’s a good place to start them off.
OTHER STUFF YOU MIGHT WANT TO KNOW: Open seven days a week. Dinner for two about $18-20 with tax. Not licensed.