Originally, Shanik chef/owner Meeru Dhalwala envisioned the little cubbyhole next door to her restaurant as a lunchtime takeout spot. It was called Tiffin, after the stacked metal lunch pail, and built with a curved roof to invoke the feeling of a train car.
But the takeout concept didn't fly with Dhalwala--the pace and the food left over at the end of the day bothered her. And so, she regrouped.
"Anyone familiar with Rangoli will recognize this right away," Shanik Market's manager Noah Baker told me. It's true, the space does call to mind the little market-restaurant in Vancouver, the sibling to Shanik and Vij's, though the coolers and shelves are still being filled in.
Shanik Market still has a small roster of takeaway dishes. Just three items, plus Dhalwala's chai, are written on a blackboard. Recently the market's little counter was dishing out curried chickpeas, chicken koftas, and yellow lentil curry (each served with rice) for about $8 or $9 apiece. The focused menu is designed to keep service fast and prices competitive with the gaggle of nearby food carts. The ordering counter is called the Shanik Express, in keeping with the train car idea.
Now the north wall is lined with coolers and freezers. One is filled with Vij's brand frozen meals, boil-the-bag offerings of Punjabi lamb curry, curried chickpeas, or chicken curry. They're a common sight in Canada and their flavors and ingredients were approved by Dhalwala, a woman who does not strike you as an advocate of boil-the-bag curries. These are also about $9 apiece, and the neighboring cooler has chapati and chutneys from the Shanik kitchen, designed to make those bags into full-fledged meals, and refrigerated containers of yellow lentil curry and cumin basmati rice that require just a simple reheat on the stove for dinner.
Be aware: The wine bottles that fill the other wall's display case are for use in the restaurant. But there is a small section of bottles you can buy in the market, all of the Shanik wine list and all selected because they play nicely with the food. In addition to chai, you can walk out with a mango lassi or ginger-lemon drink. And, naturally, a copy of one of Meeru's cookbooks, her chai spices, or a masala dhaba--the traditional metal spice box filled with the spices that work their magic in the Shanik kitchen.
Other chefs around town (Matt Dillon, Tom Douglas, Joshua Henderson and Dani Cone) have been going the market route of late. While people might stop into a restaurant once a month or so, they eat dinner every night, and this is a way to reach customers more frequently, perhaps multiple times a week. And in Amazonia, a high-density land where people work long hours and want good food quickly and cheaply, the idea seems particularly apt.
Shanik Market is open weekdays from 11:30 to 7. There is a small counter with maybe four seats, but be aware this is primarily a takeaway kind of place.