SpiceCityTo

Journalist Sarah Efron explores strip malls and hole-in-the-wall restaurants in search of the city's best ethnic food

Sunday, December 12, 2010

This grocery store carries all the specialties of South Africa -- and it's run by a guy who's never been to Africa

**Update in Dec 2013: This shop has been renamed The South African Store and it's now located at 3889 Bathurst Street. 

If you live in the Greater Toronto Area and you have a craving for South African goodies, you'll likely find yourself at this convenience/grocery store, Memories of Africa. It's located at 1733 Eglinton Ave. E #5.


They have a collection of South African candy bars, roiboos tea and various curry sauces, the latter being a legacy of the Indian migrants in South Africa.




The chatty owner of this place, Alex, is happy to explain the various specialties and offers some samples of  biltong, a type of dried, spiced meat. But don't call it jerky. "Calling it jerky is an insult," warns Alex. The store also has boerwors ("farmer sausage" in Africaans), a type of spiced sausage based on old Dutch recipes.


The store gets a steady stream of South Africans coming to get nostalgic brands from their homeland--some South Africans live in Thornhill, while others live farther afield, in Pickering and other outlying communities.

Where is Alex from? Turns out he's from Turkey, and has never been to Africa. He got into this line of business after buying a store selling South African goods a few years back.

**Update in Dec 2013: This shop has been renamed The South African Store and it's now located at 3889 Bathurst Street. 
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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Yanksgiving: Expat Americans gather in Toronto to celebrate turkey, cranberries and Barack Obama

There's a strange cultural ritual that takes place in Toronto every November: The Democrats Abroad Thanksgiving dinner. It's an event where left-of-centre Americans living in Canada gather to eat dinner and chat about the nuances of American politics.

Two years ago on the heels of Obama's election, it was a packed house, with more than a hundred people gathered to take part in the ritual. This year a more subdued and much smaller gathering took place at The Chef House, the restaurant of the culinary students at George Brown College. Off of Obama's highs and after the Democrats midterm losses, the group has shrank back down to its core: draft dodgers in their 60s and their spouses.


They're a friendly bunch and they love their rituals. Yes, turkey and cranberries, but they also do a reading of the bill of of rights to remind themselves of "what the right wing is trying to take away from us." People cheer after each amendment, except the second amendment, about the right to bear arms, which got a few boos.

Then it was on to an obscure American politics trivia quiz and a music quiz, with the winning tables getting a free bottles of wine.

You can watch your food being cooked on the kitchen cam. 

The turkey and cranberries were okay, but this maple sugar tart was wonderful.
Despite their smaller numbers after this year, the group vows it will regain its strength. Organizer Adrienne Jones told the crowd that the midterms didn't mean Obama would be a goner after the next election--Clinton also suffered during his first midterms and went on to win a second term.


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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

This place sells five samosas for a buck—and they're actually good!

People line up to get samosas at Samosa King in Scarborough, and it's not hard to figure out why. The veggie samosas are five for a buck, a measly 20 cents. The meat samosas are two for a dollar.

All photos in this post by Dana Lacey
Part of the Embassy Restaurant at 5210 Finch Ave. East, this place has beautiful displays of gorgeous looking Indian sweets. They're sickly sweet, but you have to appreciate the visual presentation.



They have heaps of other deep-fried goodies made of potato, lentil and chick peas that are pretty good. The main attraction, the samosas, don't disappoint. True, they are smaller than your standard samosa, but the dough is fresh and they're good and spicy.




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Sunday, November 21, 2010

My French Canadian boyfriend says this is the best poutine in Toronto

Update: Poutine plus is now closed. Read the full story here.

There are so many poutine places on Queen West now, and Poutine Plus is a late addition, taking over a formerly healthy pita type joint at 657 Queen Street West at Bathurst.
The place is packed with kitschy Canadiana and is already drawing a nice late night crowd of 100% drunk males.

My quebecois boyfriend always tries the poutine wherever we go and inevitably is disappointed. Cheese curd standards have been improving in the city of late, but the gravy is never right, he says, or there's too much, making the fries soggy. Poutine Plus is the first place in Toronto to win his favour.

The fries are good quality. The cheese, while not squeaky fresh, is authentic. The gravy is the key--dark, thick gravy in just the right quantity. If you've been there, let me know what you think in the comments, below.

Vladimir Poutine enjoying his namesake dish.


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Poutine Plus on Urbanspoon

Monday, November 15, 2010

It may look like a divey KFC rip-off, but it's really a Filipino restaurant in disguise

Chae's Chester Chicken Express is at 23 Howard Street, just next to the housing projects of St. James Town. On the strip there's also a mini strip of Filipino shops, a variety store, remittance shop catering to the Filipino community.


"Chester Fried--The Crispy Moisturized Chicken" 

I've spent some time in the Philippines and although the people are absolutely lovely and the scenery is fantastic, it feels like the Asian country that food forgot. How can a place near food meccas like Malaysia and Thailand have such mediocre food? Perhaps the years of American rule are to blame.

The typical fast food in the Philippines is flavourless chicken or pork dish, cut up and fried in the morning, and left in a pot all day and served lukewarm at some later point. Canadian Filipino restaurants often recreate the effect by leaving food in the steam tray for extended periods of time.

So I wasn't expected much here. I got the chicken pancit--a noodle dish that is influenced by Chinese cuisine. I also got the pork adobo. Adobo is the national dish of the Philippines, marinated meat made with soy and vinegar.

To my surprise, the food was tasty. The pancit had nice fresh veggies. The adobo had generous chunks of good quality, tender pork and a nice, salty flavour. I got a generous portion for only $4 and ate it in the restaurant as a parade of Filipino visitors came in, many to enjoy the chicken.

They also have a bunch of Filipino baked goods there. I picked up one of my favourites, hopia baboy. These are wonderful flaky, chewy little cookies they sell all over in the Philippines. However, I was a bit disturbed to read the ingredients: flour, sugar, salt, onion rings. Onion rings?!?! I had never realized that onion pieces are standard in hopia baboy and found the thrill of eating it was gone. Sometimes ignorance is better. Next time I'll get the cookies with ube, the strange purple yam that's a Filipino classic.


A nice range of Filipino dishes, adobo, pancit, caldereta, etc. 



Last ingredient is "onion rings." Hmmmm. 
My hopia baboy will never taste the same again. 
Spice City Doggie Bag Index: Three stars
★ Don't bother taking any leftovers home
★ ★ Take leftovers home and stuff in the back of the fridge indefinitely
★ ★ ★ Tomorrow's lunch
★ ★ ★ ★ Proudly present the leftover as a present to significant other or roommate and then wait impatiently for them to eat it so you can steal some
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Midnight snack. Is it midnight yet?



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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tibet Kitchen

I hadn't eaten Tibetan since they shut down the amazing Little Tibet restaurant at Queen near Bathurst. Parkdale is chock full of Tibetan restaurants thanks to the large refugee community living there.

We aimed to hit up Le Tibet but the atmosphere in Tibet Kitchen (1544 Queen Street West) was more inviting. It is brightly painted and was packed with Tibetans.

We ordered a firepot with seafood. This was a sort of yummy soup jam packed full of seafood. Tibet is nowhere near the ocean last time I checked but I wasn't complaining.

We also had the tsey curry, a vegetable curry. This was not very flavourful, nothing close to the great curry they had at Little Tibet. It was improved with a frighteningly potent chili sauce. I hope to check out the other Tibetan places on the strip to compare.

After dinner  we had the butter tea. Yikes, if you haven't had it before, it's quite the experience. Looks just like a nice English cuppa and then you take a sip and it's salty and kind of meaty....yeach. The chai was much more palatable.

Fire pot, complete with fire to keep it warm. 
This curry left something to be desired--flavour. 
Butter and tea...some things were just not meant to be together, sadly. 

Spice City Doggie Bag Index: Three stars
★ Don't bother taking any leftovers home
★ ★ Take leftovers home and stuff in the back of the fridge indefinitely
★ ★ ★ Tomorrow's lunch
★ ★ ★ ★ Proudly present the leftover as a present to significant other or roommate and then wait impatiently for them to eat it so you can steal some
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Midnight snack. Is it midnight yet?



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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Rashnaa Restaurant

Rashnaa is a cozy restaurant specializing in South Indian and Sri Lankan food in a converted house at 307 Wellesley St East at Parliament. 

Having had some great Sri Lankan food at Hopper's Hut in Scarborough, I was thinking this would be similar, but I was in for a surprise. The eggs kothu roti is made from chopped, sauteed pieces of naan bread with veggies. It didn't rival Hopper's Hut's, but was still very good.

The string hopper kothu is similar, but it's made from chopped rice flour noodles. 


This fast-moving lassi was a hit.
We ordered from the Sri Lankan section of the menu. This is the eggs kothu rotty combo, with vegetables and chicken. The chicken was tender with a nice curry sauce. 

This is the string hopper kothu combo (veg and beef).The beef was very chewy but came in a marvelous spicy curry sauce. The veggie dish that accompanied was also quite good.


Spice City Doggie Bag Index: Four stars



★ Don't bother taking any leftovers home



★ ★ Take leftovers home and stuff in the back of the fridge indefinitely

★ ★ ★ Tomorrow's lunch



★ ★ ★ ★ Proudly present the leftover as a present to significant other or roommate and then wait impatiently for them to eat it so you can steal some


★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Midnight snack. Is it midnight yet?



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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Roti Time

We made a long trek out to the junction to see a spin off of Gandhi Roti called Roti Time, 2542 St. Clair Ave. W. near Runnymede Ave.

The place looking comfortably minimal, more sparse than another Gandhi spinoff, Mother India. You order at the counter and they call out your order. The menu is literally the same as at Gandhi and so is the signage.

We ordered two of our Gandhi favourites to see how they compared with the real thing and we weren't disappointed. Chicken roti and chicken jalfrizi roti--both had that perfect texture of the wrap surrounding a wonderfully spicy Indian-style curry.

Great place for Gandhi roti lovers living outside downtown!

All photos in this post by Dana Lacey


Look familiar, Gandhi lovers?
Amazing roti! Don't miss it.
Spice City Doggie Bag Index: Five stars
★ Don't bother taking any leftovers home
★ ★ Take leftovers home and stuff in the back of the fridge indefinitely
★ ★ ★ Tomorrow's lunch
★ ★ ★ ★ Proudly present the leftover as a present to significant other or roommate and then wait impatiently for them to eat it so you can steal some
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Midnight snack. Is it midnight yet?



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Saturday, October 9, 2010

Matahari Bar and Grill

The Matahari Bar and Grill serves "nyonya" cuisine, a blend of Chinese and Malaysian. It's located in the solid block of restaurants on Baldwin Street near Spadina (39 Baldwin Street). This is a good little strip to bring indecisive visitors to town because it's like a food court of real sit-down restaurants of various types of international food.

This is the first Malaysian resto I've been to in Toronto and it didn't disappoint. The menu was full of interesting things and we settled on eggplant malay, nasi lemak and the Matahari curry chicken.




The malay eggplant cooked with shrimp paste was a surprise. Crispy and sharp tasting, unlike Thai eggplant dishes.  Worth sampling.
This nasi lemak was wonderful and serves as a nice sampler of regional tastes. It's centered around coconut rice and comes with tamarind prawns and a fried egg. It's also served with ikan bilis sambal, a garnish made of dried anchovies. Variations of this dish are popular street fare in Malaysia. 
A solid Malaysian-style curry with potatoes. Pretty good. 
Spice City Doggie Bag Index: Four stars
★ Don't bother taking any leftovers home
★ ★ Take leftovers home and stuff in the back of the fridge indefinitely
★ ★ ★ Tomorrow's lunch
★ ★ ★ ★ Proudly present the leftover as a present to significant other or roommate and then wait impatiently for them to eat it so you can steal some
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Midnight snack. Is it midnight yet?



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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Vanipha Lanna

Vanipha Lanna is a Lao Thai place at 863 St. Clair West (between Dufferin and Bathurst). We went to check out the Laotian dishes. The waiter warned the food would take a while and he was right. 

Laab gai (larb gai) is the a northern Laos speciality, eaten at Lao/Thai celebrations. It was a really intense chicken with lime and herbs, kind of like ceviche, and it wasn't really to my taste. 
The soop puck was interesting. It was a steamed vegetable dish that came with puffy rice bits, kind of like pieces of breakfast cereal.  

The best dish we had was gang hoh. It was like a curry, fairly spicy, served with veggies and thin glass noodles. Overall, I'd say the food was interesting, but not that great. And I was kind of hungry when I left, not a good sign. 







Soop puck, with shrimp chips and crispy rice.

Gang hoh was similar to familiar Thai dishes.

Sorry Laos, this was all we could manage to eat of your national dish. 
The ice cream, however, was really great: this is coconut and mango. 




Spice City Doggie Bag Index: Two stars

★ Don't bother taking any leftovers home

★ ★ Take leftovers home and stuff in the back of the fridge indefinitely


★ ★ ★ Tomorrow's lunch
★ ★ ★ ★ Proudly present the leftover as a present to significant other or roommate and then wait impatiently for them to eat it so you can steal some

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Midnight snack. Is it midnight yet?


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