Those three spots have big, flashy signs. Not Trupti Enterprises, the city’s most intriguing Indian spice shop. It’s at unit 40, deep in the plaza past a bunch of unassuming storefronts.
Pull open Trupti’s door at just the right time of day and you’ll be assaulted by the intoxicating scent of freshly roasted and ground coriander seeds, or possibly the pungent intensity of cumin.
The public part of the store is a utilitarian showcase for Trupti’s freshly ground (often roasted) spices, custom spice blends, roasted nuts, stone-ground flours, snacks, and imported Indian/South African groceries.
Warehouse-style shelves are neatly lined with clear plastic bags of colourful spices, mainly in hues of yellow (turmeric, curry), brown (garam masala, coriander, cumin) and red (chilies). The impressive chili collection includes hot Indian, hot Pakistani, extra-hot, fine keshri, coarse reshampatti, mild Kashmiri, Mexican, cayenne, Spanish paprika and crushed chilies. There’s even a white chili.
My advice? Head straight for the roasted cashews — the kind tossed with reams of black pepper, and the ones coated with fiery chili pepper.
If you need help navigating the options, Bharat or Apexa Kotak will likely be on hand.
The husband-and-wife team started working in Kensington Market in the 1990s, running Alankar department store on Augusta Ave., then Africana Grocers on Kensington Ave., before launching Trupti on Baldwin St.
Bharat was raised in Tanzania and schooled in India. Apexa is from Surat, a city in the western Indian state of Gujarat. They have been Canadians since 1980 and have raised two kids here.
In 1997, the Kotaks relocated Trupti to Thorncliffe Park, close enough to the high-rise they then called home to walk to work. The plaza was nearly empty, but the densely populated, predominantly Muslim neighbourhood was a landing pad for new immigrants in search of Indian spices.
Trupti launched with just one small coffee grinder and a folding table full of spice. Piece by piece, the Kotaks added grinders, mixers and ovens to the production area behind the retail shop. Wheat flour is stone-ground separately from millet, sorghum, rice and chickpeas.
Now Trupti employs 11 people, who roast, grind and package by hand. (An automatic packaging machine is coming.) Two storage rooms hold skids of bulk spices from around the world, and custom orders ready for pick up. Apexa has a spice room where she develops recipes and anlayzes the competition.
Customers are evenly divided between walk-in and foodservice (restaurants and wholesalers).
“We don’t try to cut corners to make money,” says Bharat. “We try to be on top of the quality.”
Trupti, he stresses, means satisfaction in Gujarati, Hindi and Sanskrit.
The Kotaks’ daughter Bhavika, who just graduated from the University of Toronto with a bachelor of business administration, is helping with marketing and accounting. She has just revamped the company’s website, started a Facebook page and Twitter account, and is working to set up online shopping.
During a tour of the production area, Apexa plugs in a portable induction burner and makes tea using Trupti’s chai masala, a powdered blend of cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, pepper and spices.
We drink it in the office, with a small feast, of course.
There are chili and black pepper cashews, plus dry-roasted, salted peanuts. Chevdo deluxe is a heady mix of fennel, sesame seeds, curry and coriander leaves, puffed rice, nuts and raisins. Jeera puri (thick, savoury flour chips dotted with cumin seeds) pairs perfectly with chai. Khaman dhokla is a steamed savoury lentil cake with black mustard seed garnish. At the end, there are two breath fresheners. Gujarati mukhwas is savoury with fennel, sesame, ajwain seeds, turmeric, dill and spices. The Kashmiri version, familiar from Indian restaurants, is sweet with candied fennel, sesame seeds, channa dal, sugar and spices.
Talk turns to dry roasted onions, crunchy bits that are worked into biryanis or used to garnish Indian dishes. Trupti’s version isn’t coated in flour and salt or fried like the kind you can buy elsewhere. It’s all the onion, with none of the greasy guilt.
The Kotaks speak lovingly of customers who’ve shared stories about how their flavours “remind them of home.” But what really makes the Kotaks brag is the fact that people take their products “as a gift from Toronto” on global travels — even to India. Tandoori chicken masala, chai masala and fish masala are the most popular.
Sure enough, customer Sakib Haveliwala lets me analyze his somewhat unusual order: 25 packages of tandoori chicken masala, 25 packages of crispy chicken coating, and 25 packages of agar agar powder (a vegetable gelatin used to make a drink/dessert called faluda).
“I’m going back home to India and my friends and family like these things to cook with,” says Haveliwala nonchalantly.
Bharat has complete confidence in the quality of what he does, but knows he must invest in bigger and better production to become well-known in Greater Toronto.
“Next year maybe we’ll get into a chain store.”
Until then, visit Trupti and the other food businesses at this unassuming plaza in Thorncliffe Park.
This article first appeared HERE.