Beautiful Surrey, B.C.: a visitor's guide
Surrey is a tight-knit and vibrant community, a haven for the people who call the area home. Many Vancouverites, not being familiar with the area, rarely venture into Surrey. And they're missing out -- with its endless range of top-quality restaurants, dazzling clothing boutiques and a state-of-the-art library, Surrey has many offerings that make it an ideal area to live and to visit.
"It's a great place to raise your family," said Jas Cheema, leader of diversity services for Fraser Health. Born in India, Cheema has lived in Surrey for 25 years and has raised her own family there. "There are lots of recreational opportunities and programs for young kids. It's home."
With Cheema as a guide, VO took to the streets of Surrey to find out the
best places to eat, shop and find entertainment in its South Asian neighbourhoods.
Almost immediately, she introduced me to 128 Street, which seemed to have it all – from high-end clothing shops to budget grocery stores. "It's Little India, all in one block," Cheema laughed. She said that she often goes to the textile shop to get fabrics, and near by, you can get your eyebrows done for just $2.
"Most of the businesses here are South Asian owned," Cheema said, gesturing towards the surrounding glass buildings.
Here is the VO pick of the top places to visit while in Surrey:
1. Made In India
From sarees to lehengas (long skirt), new brides can find all sorts of fabulous dresses for their big day. Mini crystals handstiched on the fabric, known as "zircons", border the sarees, while tiny ornaments hang from the sleeves of lehengas of all colours. But this ladies store isn't only about bridal wear. It's an extensive selection of dresses for any event. And the pieces are shipped all the way from India. While some are affordable at $299, others are on the pricy side, at $1,399. If you want to pick up something pretty on the cheap, a fancy bangle set is only $10.
Rajesh and Simmi Sharma
#104-8312 128 Street
Hours: Mon/Wed, Thurs-Sun: 11 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Luckey Shokar, sales associate at Made In India, displays the store's sumptuous offerings
A popular lunch place, Maharaja has been serving traditional Indian cuisine since 2009. The sweet smell of the buffet and the warmth which escapes from the kitchen adds to the homey feel and charm of this family-owned restaurant.
"We come here often, at least once a month for lunch," Bonnie Dhaliwal, mortgage specialist at RBC, said.
"They have such a variety at their buffet, so we usually go for the buffet, and they also have quite a few choices with the dessert as well." She had the sugary Jalebis for dessert. "They're very good – nice and hot, just the way I like them."
While Dhaliwal lives in Richmond, she works at the Surrey branch. "I love it, I get most of my business from Surrey," she said. "This is the place to be; it's a growing place, love the cultural part of it, as well."
The restaurant owner built his reputation as a caterer, and catering is still a large part of the business. He has a contract with the Wall Centre, Fairmont, Four Seasons, and other major hotels downtown.
Payal Business Centre
Unit 407, 8148 128 Street
Hours: Mon-Sun: 11:30 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Carrot Halwa, Jalebi, Gulab Jaman on our dessert plate
Chef Rajpal making Naan Bread
3. Grand Taj Banquet Hall
From political functions to engagement parties to fundraisers, it all happens at the Grand Taj. "Former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin was here,"said Sucha S. Padda, vice president of the Grand Taj. Surrey mayor's annual event also takes place at the hall. "They launched their campaign here," Cheema said.
The Grand Taj offers in-house and offsite catering, DJ, bar, decorations, limousines.
#6, 8388 128 Street
Hours: Tue-Sun: 10 a.m.- 5 p.m.
4. Kamal's Video Palace (KVP)
It's the only place in Vancouver that sells original DVDs. Inside, faces of legendary singers like Asha Bhosle and Geeta Dutt glisten on supersized posters which hang from the ceiling.
"Everything here is original, either from India, U.K. or States," Kamal Sharma, producer of Yaadeih and Kamal's Top 5 Hits on Shaw Multicultural Channel, said. "The majority of the people are actually selling bootlegs, the ones you download." His films don't have the glitches of DVDs you might be picking up elsewhere for $5.
Kamal Sharma shows off his extensive film selection
He said that his current top three sellers are "Singham" , "Ready" and "Dabangg." "They're the three best hits," Sharma said.
"The biggest superstar in India at the moment is actor Salman Khan,"
said Cheema, adding with a giggle: "Every woman's hearthrob."
Salman Khan, Photo sourced from sizzlingcelebrity.com
"This year, so far, the biggest hit is his movie, Ready. Last year, the biggest hit was his film which was, Dabangg, and on E! special release will be his new one called, Bodyguard." He said that the movie will play at Hindi theatres in Vancouver, too. It's a "hugely anticipated film."
He added Shahrukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan to the list of big names of the industry.
Sharma has been in Surrey since 1999, and he said that while every city has its ups and downs, the best thing about his area was that "communities here are living peacefully."
Kamal's Video Place
#103-8268 120 Street
Hours: Wed-Mon: 10 a.m. - 9 p.m.
5. Tasty Indian Bistro
On the cusp of Delta,Tasty Indian Bistro, with its exquisite traditional cusine, is known for its homemade style of cooking.
"So, people really know that it's made with love and care, and they come back because of that, and so the competition hasn't really affected them," Cheema said. Rectangular cushions which glitter from each table add to that at-home feeling.
While they just opened three weeks ago at their new location, the restaurant has been around for 11 years. Though lunch time is busy, evenings tend to be busier, and despite not advertising, they are full every night. It's a good thing: "We spent lots of money."
8295 120 Street
Hours: Mon-Sun: 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.
A cup of warm Chai is enough to revatalize yourself after a long day.
The gorgeous interior design makes the Bistro a favorite hangout spot.
6. Surrey City Centre Library
They're calling it the future "downtown" of Vancouver because of its central location and growing vigour. With the smell of fresh paint and last-minute touchups, the library is set to open September 6. Designed by the famous Bing Thom, it's a mirror into the future, a ravishing piece of art. Just minutes from the Skytrain, it hopes to be the new cool place to hang.
It has everything: a wireless cafe, a living room and reading lounge, gaming activities, SFU facilities, ultra-comfy luna chairs, and even a meditation room.
"This is set up as a bit of an auditorium, so we could do author readings, or lectures," Melanie Houlden, deputy chief librarian for the Surrey Libraries, said, as she pointed to the stair-like structure below.
"Or, if people want to have their weddings in here..." she trailed off, laughing.
Their old Whalley library could be seen below, shabby by comparison. "It's fabulous to be able to replace that building with this one. That place had 10 public computers -- this place has got 80."
The spacious 82,000 square feet building was designed for the future, as the initially proposed 65,000 square-foot library is expected to outgrow Surrey's population in five years.
Houldon talked about the library's plans to have a "living library," an idea which came from Denmark.
"The concept is that people carry around lots of ideas and experiences in their heads, a lot of knowledge that they can then share with other people," she said. "The original intention of it was to break down barriers and get past stereotypes."
Melanie Houlden, top and right, with Jas Cheema, centre.
The concept is to bring someone who is homeless or blind or is a new refugee, and a person will be able to literally "check them out" and have a 30-minute conversation with them.
"It's an exchange of knowledge and experience that you can't really get from reading a book because you kind of get that whole emotional element, like what's it like to be in that person's shoes," Houldon explained.
She's worked in Surrey for a long time, and thinks it's an exciting place to work.
"It's changing and growing so much all the time that I've had a really great career here because of that," she said. Things change and grow so quickly; by the time that I've been here, we've built eight libraries, so that's fairly unsual in my profession."
"SFU is putting another tower, there are new high rises being built, the mall is being redeveloped, all within two blocks, so there's a whole bunch of activity happening here...It's so much fun to be part of all this," Houldon said, her eyes filled with admiration.
10350 University Drive
Hours: Mon-Fri: 9:30 a.m. - 9 p.m. Sat: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Sun: 1 p.m. - 5 p.m.
Official Grand Opening Celebration is on September 24.