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

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Summer brings new life to Scadding Court market

When the Live Local Marketplace opened up at Scadding Court at Dundas and Bathurst about a year ago, I loved the idea but I worried about the market's future. The market was a project of the adjacent community centre, and it aimed to revitalize this stark intersection by converting old shipping containers to storefronts. An eclectic group of merchants took advantage of the monthly $325 rent, peddling everything from cell phones to Indian street food.


In the past year I've periodically gone back to check on the developments at the market, which never seemed to be very busy. It seemed to be getting into a loop where low customer traffic led to merchants closing up their shops for days on end. I wondered how the market would survive the winter.

But with spring, the market seemed to fill out again, and it adopted a new moniker, Market 707. The merchants who survived were still as keen as ever, and they were joined by newcomers excited about their chance to start on a business on the cheap. The new merchants are almost all restaurant vendors, which gives the market a consistant feel it lacked before. 

Survivors from the original crew include Original One Bubble Tea, which added dim sum to their menu, Monteforte Dairy, and Magic Oven, an Indian street food stall that has greatly expanded its menu. It now offers classics such as butter chicken and samosas, as well as its signature "sloppy bunjo," a tamarind and yellow pea sandwich. 

One of my favourites of the new merchants is the Tunisian stall, Casbah. The chatty owner Dali Chehimi loves to serve up North African dishes, such as merguez, tangine, lamb burgers, and for the adventurous—camel burgers.

Kims a la Carte has sporadic hours, but killer Korean food. You can't go wrong with these dumplings and rice cakes that sell for just a couple bucks a pop. The stall also has an outlet in the amazing Latin food court  in Kensington. 
Last but not least is Kanto, a Filipino restaurant run by Diona Joyce. Diona succeeds in elevating Filipino food—typically the restaurants serving one of our biggest immigrant groups tend to serve overcooked cubes of meat and sauce, served lukewarm from sweaty steamtables. 

Instead, Diona serves fresh ingredients prepared with care: try the palabok, cornstarch noodles peppered with intense shots of pork cracklings and shrimp. The restaurant also has addictive sweet plantain pastries and garlic peanuts made by Diona's mother, Catalina Libunao. "I've been making these peanuts since the '80s when my daughter was in kindergarten," Catalina recalls. 


One nice surprise addition to the market is a bike repair shop Spin Can, run by impossibly young looking Satchel Dille-Boyd and Chase Brokenshire. The cheap rent allowed them to set up shop and offer low prices for tuneups and bike tubes. I look forward to seeing how the market will evolve in the springs to come. 

The hours for each business vary, but they are generally are open Tuesday to Saturday 11am—7pm.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

One of Toronto's best Asian restaurants gets new digs

A restaurant that served unusually good Asian meals in a food court behind a derelict Scarborough plaza has been reborn. Gourmet Garden made a huge variety of Malaysian, Singaporean and Indonesian street eats its tiny kitchen. It was run by the husband and wife team of Tan "Yummy" Hok Kien (originally from Indonesia) and Amy Lam (from Malaysia).   

Earlier this year, the restaurant moved into new digs across the street at 4466 Sheppard Ave. East near Brimley Rd. The newly renamed Gourmet Malaysia is in a sprawling 6,000 square foot complex that includes banquet space and private karaoke rooms. The new kitchen is set up with work stations for making roti, noodle soups, desserts and wok-based dishes, says employee Jenny Wong.

The food is incredibly good—in fact, it seems to be even better than it was at Gourmet Garden. The Singapore laksa (above), a large coconut-based soup filled with thin noodles, warms the throat with its perfect blend of spices. The tender chicken is covered with golden, yellow curry sauce and comes with an order of light, flaky roti bread. Mee goreng, a classic Malaysian fried noodle dish, is jam packed with bits of fish cake, shrimp and squid. Prices are very reasonable, with many dishes cashing in at $7 or $8. 

There are also many exotic drinks and desserts to try. The winter melon longan drink comes with a crust of ice and potent but sweet melon balls at the bottom. The ice tea is a rich, creamy drink reminiscent of a frappuccino. 

Gourmet Malaysian also sells Asian groceries, such as jars of sambal chili sauce, jack fruit chips, tamarind candy and fresh pineapple tarts.  

Gourmet Malaysia is located at 4465 Sheppard Ave. East in Scarborough, Tel: 416-291-1883 or 647-764-1188. Hours are 11am to 9pm Sunday to Thursday, 11am to 11:30 pm. 

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