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Apart from the occasional fender bender, the high-traffic intersection of Yonge and Davenport isn’t an area that one associates with explosions, let alone innovative eats. However, since the end of October, palates have been popping with the opening of POPpadum, a grab-and-go shop serving inventive Indian fare.
POPpadum takes its name from the crispy, thin-as-an-autumn-leaf flatbread that is a faithful companion to many Indian meals. But the moniker also alludes to its origins as a pandemic pop-up and delivery business started by corporate chef, Shreyas Nawkar, and his wife Sleshawhen, as a result of lockdown layoffs, both found themselves at home, jobless and bored. Their antidote to both predicaments was to begin creating menus consisting of revisited traditional Indian dishes. They cooked the food out of their home kitchen and marketed it via their social media accounts.
Over the next two years, the Nawkars gained such a following that they were greeted like culinary rock stars at GTA pop-ups. By this time, they were running their business out of commercial kitchens. With the end of the pandemic, both had planned to return to the stability of the corporate world. However, their success caused them to rethink the future. Instead of playing it safe, they decided to invest in a brick-and-mortar location on Yonge Street, which they did with the help of a friend, Sourabh Rajwade.
POPpadum specializes in regional Indian food with a Western twist. On the savoury side of the culinary spectrum, this translates into sourdough focaccia topped with charcoal roasted eggplant chutney and colourful veg and a grilled double-decker smokey chicken tikka sandwich, layered with aged cheddar, mozzarella and spicy mint chutney, served on slices of toasted brioche.
Also popular is the chefs’ take on the classic Mumbai street snack, kheema pav. It starts with a customer choosing between spiced minced goat, chicken or soy curry, which is then piled onto fluffy mint-buttered pav, and served with a side of pear salad.
The mash-up of ingredients and culinary traditions is equally intriguing when applied to sweets. The gulab jamun tiramisu is layered with mascarpone and saffron sabayon, and topped with pistachio crumble. There’s also a shrikhand cheesecake in which tried-and-true Philly cream cheese merges with the less industrialized and more fragrant likes of hung yogourt, cardamom and saffron.
While some popular offerings will remain permanent fixtures on the menu, Nawkar plans to constantly introduce new dishes to the mix, based on seasonality, supplies and sheer whim. As he confessed in a recent interview with CityNews, “The idea was to never just kind of set [POPpadum] up and then forget about it – just getting somebody else to come in and run it for us. The idea was to kind of make it our own and bring our own little twist to everything that we do … keeping that personal touch.”
POPpadum is located at 874 Yonge Street and is open for takeout and delivery from Thursday to Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.