When you go to Kitchener’s Hakka Aroma, start with the momos.
“Momos are one of Nepal’s most famous items,” says Suraj Simkhada of Hakka Aroma. “The authentic ones are steamed and not overcooked. The dumpling should be juicy. When you put it in your mouth, it’s almost like it has a bit of soup. You must have a really good chutney on the side if you really want to taste the momo.
Granted, we didn’t have the steamed momos, but opted for Vegy Chili Momos instead ($11.99 for 10 pieces). It’s the garlic, ginger and onion that are blended with the soy chaap (a mixture of soy flour and ground wheat) and paneer, which give these tender hand-filled plumlings a sweetness to herbal basis. While chili sauces and mixes can sometimes be heavy, this chili stir-fry has a subtle shine that settles into the nooks and crannies of the wrapper. They are a great way to start a meal.
Opened just four months ago, Hakka Aroma is a family-run restaurant that is growing a neighborhood following for home-cooked meals with fresh, whole ingredients and earnest, friendly service. The packed menu is mostly Indochinese Hakka, but there are also a handful of Indian, Chinese, Nepali and Southeast Asian dishes – flavors and ideas familiar to the Simkhadas, who moved from Nepal over the course of the last decade.
The Simkhadas are a family of entrepreneurs. In Nepal, their parents owned a general merchandise store and their sister moved to Australia and opened a restaurant. Here in Kitchener, their uncle Damodar Dhungel opened Kitchen Wall Hakka.
Suraj followed his brother, Kiran, who came to Canada almost ten years ago. They learned the ins and outs of the industry here and a few years ago decided to open a restaurant. They left their first business, Cambridge’s Aroma Indian and Hakka Cuisine, to open Hakka Aroma.
In Stanley Park, Suraj manages the dining room, while his brother is in the kitchen with other family members and family friend Bhupindra Bhandari (formerly of Bombay Kitchen in Guelph). Together, their more indulgent dishes satisfy a range of appetites and spice tolerances.
Along with the momos, the Hakka noodles ($12.49, with beef) are a customer favorite. The mound of springy noodles is sprinkled with thin slices of beef, vegetables and scrambled eggs. The smoky breath of the wok lingers everywhere.
Our other non-vegetarian entrees, the Crispy Dragon Chicken ($13.99) and Hot Garlic Prawns ($13.49) show some of the cuisine’s range. Bite-sized chunks of chicken, tossed in chili sauce and sprinkled with chopped cashews, make for a savory blend of fire, meat and crunch. Meanwhile, the prawns are tender and juicy, with plenty of garlic sauce to dip into the rice.
The mottled, puffy surface of the Lachha Paratha ($4.99) offers large, tearable flakes, making the flatbread ideal for tearing off chunks of Dragon Chicken and Gobi 65 ($11.99). Gobi 65 is a South Indian favorite (and a likely precursor to “cauliflower chicken wings”). Bronzed chickpea florets are a treat, especially when dipped in tamarind, coriander and cilantro mint chutneys.
For those who want North Indian dishes, the Dal Makhni ($12.99) does not disappoint. It is rich, creamy and aromatic with warm, earthy spices. Before plunging into the tandoor, snow-white pieces of paneer are marinated in spiced yoghurt. This Paneer Tikka ($10.99) emerges sunshine yellow, with caramel highlights, and gives in to the tooth.
It’s easy to see why Hakka Aroma is quickly becoming a favorite. The family is warm and helpful, and their food strikes a good balance, as evidenced by the flood of diners coming in for take-out or dine-in during the weekday afternoon I visited. And when they are only a few months old, the family plans to open another restaurant, called Doon Village Bistro, this time specializing in Punjabi cuisine.
“We have big plans,” says Suraj Simkhada smiling. “My dream is to open a gourmet restaurant. But this is only the beginning.”
200 Lorraine Ave, Kitchener
Hours: Monday, Wednesday and Thursday: 11am to 9.30pm; Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday: 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; closed on Tuesdays.
Menu: Indian-style Hakka dishes; some Punjabi and Southeast Asian dishes. Vegan, vegetarian, non-vegetarian dishes. Flour and flour products are in the kitchen. Halal. Please advise of any dietary restrictions when ordering as some dishes may be suitable for gluten-free diets or spice tolerance.
Drinks : Lassis and pops. Wines, beers and spirits not yet available. Alcohol will not be available for delivery.
Payment: Cash, Debit, Amex, ApplePay, Mastercard, Visa.
How to get your food: Open dining room, reservations available. Pre-order pick-up: Call to place your order. Walk in.
Accessibility: Limited — No automatic opening on front door or restroom. The toilets are not suitable for wheelchairs and do not have grab bars. The dining area is wheelchair friendly and there is good space between tables. The menu is clear and easy to read. Lighting is good. The music is not intrusive. Grand River Transit stop a short walk away. Parking on site.
The law project: $103.87 for eight dishes
Ordering food in the time of coronavirus: As restaurants make day-to-day decisions, please check their social media or call them for updates. Lists of restaurants open during dining room closures are available at https://bit.ly/3d2JV74 and wilmotstrongertogether.ca; a crowdsourced list can be found on Facebook’s Food in the Waterloo Region at bit.ly/3d1cKAX