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

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Tamil strip mall: Get six amazing dishes served on a banana leaf for $6

Update as of March 2015: The Steeles/Markham Road location of Amma is now closed. They had another location at 723 Kennedy Road, which is also closed. The Steeles/Markham Road plaza still has a ton of great Sri Lankan eats, including Poorani Vilaas and New Spiceland Restaurant and Grocery. 

Tamil cuisine is some of the tastiest food in the world. Lucky for Toronto, we have a large Tamil population from Sri Lanka and South India, so this food is available if you know where to find it. Tamil food is notable for its high spice levels, and it has a different combination of flavours and spices than Indian food. 

A shiny new strip mall—or rather, series of strip malls—at the Markham/Scarborough border is a great place to try authentic Tamil food. The Market East complex at the south east corner of Steeles Ave. East and Markham Rd., which opened up about two years ago, houses a grocery store, money transfer agency, dental office, jewellery shop and a newspaper that cater to the nearby Tamil community. 

There are two Sri Lankan take-out only restaurants that offer a mind-blowing variety of food for super low prices. Amma's Take Out & Catering (3351 Markham Road Unit A126, Tel: 416-754-1211) is a busy place where customers line up to get their orders. And no wonder.

They serve kothu roti, a wonderful dish made of chopped up roti bread cooked with meat. Also on the menu is string hoppers, a rice noodle dish served with curry, and pittu, a rolled cylinder of rice with coconut. 

I'd recommend trying one of the rice and curry meals served on a banana leaf, which is the traditional way of eating Tamil food. The meat version is $7.50 while the vegetarian one is just $6.00 (on special for $5.00 on Fridays). Below you can see the fish and veggie versions being served up.

The vegetarian meal was made up of wonderful variety of tasty dishes: an okra and tomato stew, a spicy salad with tomatoes, a mixture of ground banana flowers, a curry made of long beans and potatoes, shredded beets, dahl, and a generous portion of rice. Plus, it came with pappadam, a cup of soup and a dessert made of tapioca. 

One banana leaf meal is easily enough food to share between two or even three people. The photo below is of the meal, along with a mutton roll, some buns stuffed with various curried meats and vadai (chick pea fritters). Total bill: $12.

Similar fare is available at Poorani Vilaas take-out restaurant, in one of the other plazas in the complex (6055 Steeles Ave. East, unit 104, tel: 416-355-7775.) 

The friendly owner, Saroginidevy Ratnavel, was keen to show off her tasty "short eats," which are fried or baked street foods. Some are empanada-like pastries stuffed with tasty fish and potato curries, while others are timbitesque sweets you can enjoy after your meal...if you are not completely stuffed. 

Thanks to Vicky Tam for the tip and Jennifer Hollett for the photo assistance.

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  1. Hey! Great blog! Just to clarify for you though, kotthu roti is not chopped naan bread but just chopped roti. Also, puttu is not rice, it's more of a steamed flour-based substitute. Sooooo delicious! Definitely my fave!

  2. Hey Spice City Toronto, Please review Babu Catering. It serves Sri Lankan Tamil/ Indian style food.

  3. It’s my first time to see meals that were served on a banana leaf! Looks like this is one good way of presenting the food! Seriously, it adds an impact to the food; I would definitely try to put this on in our menu!

  4. A dish being served on a banana leaf is worth the try! This is definitely a new way of presenting the food, this gave me an idea on how to prepare for our upcoming party to be held in our garden this weekend; I can already imagine how perfect the setting is, with all the outdoor lights and patio tables and chairs being set up and we’ll have a great weekend for sure.