New Malaysian eateries score big with street foods
TROPICAL HOUSE (149 Baldwin,
at Spadina, 416-260-5888) Unpretentious
Kensington hole-in-the-wall brings
Singapore street food to the Market.
Food-court-style seating, but the spicy
noodle noshes make great take-away.
Complete meals for $10 per person,
including all taxes, tip and a coconut juice.
Open daily 11:30 am to 8:30 pm.
Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating:
toronto’s claim to being the most multiculti metropolis on the planet is no better exemplified than by our broad range of restaurants. Why, we practically wrote the book on pan-global cuisine. But when it comes to street food — the in-yer-face sidewalk dining that energizes other diverse centres like New York City and Hong Kong — Toronto’s strictly pedestrian. Hot dog, anyone?A true culinary crossroads, Singapore is synonymous with street eats. While Toronto has its share of high-end Singapore-inspired spots — Susur, Red Tea Box, Matahari (see sidebar) — we don’t have the inexpensive noodle noshes known as hawker food for which that city-state’s famous. True, Jean’s in the east end has a few hawker-style dishes on its mostly Thai and Malay menu, but until Tropical House opened three months ago in a Kensington storefront, we hadn’t seen the real thing.
Meant as a quick appetite fix, hawker food will never be confused with fine dining. Tropical House itself fits the bill: food-court-style seating, McDonald’s-style lineup area complete with garish photos posted over the takeout counter and schlock E-Z rock on the radio. But amiable owner/cooks Catherine Neo and Vincent Neo make up for the lack of ambience with warm welcomes and cheap ‘n’ cheerful, spice-rich grub.
Their fare hasn’t got the knock-your-socks-off thermal intensity of some Southeast Asian dishes. It most resembles Vietnamese cooking, where sour collides with sweet, textures crunch or slide and every now and then there’s a blitz of chili.
Nasi Lemak ($4.99) finds short-grain rice tinted green with pandam extract — not food colouring, but a vanilla-flavoured essence — and piled with two skewers of grilled chicken satay and three gyoza dumplings stuffed with minced pork. Over top, a handful of deep-fried ikan bilis anchovies and whole roasted peanuts throws this typical Singaporean main in even more taste directions.
Most of Tropical House’s selections — like much street food — are variations on a few basic ingredients. Made with wide rice stick (a kind of noodle), Fried Kuay Teow ($4.50) features sliced canned clams, slivers of Chinese pork sausage and a toss of sprouts, all in a tangy tamarind gravy.
Yong Tau Foo ($5.50, and the most expensive thing here) sees rice vermicelli strewn with deep-fried tofu pockets stuffed with whitefish and some stray chicken satay bits. It’s greasy, but good greasy.
Delicious Singapore Curry ($4.20) stars two steamed chicken legs swimming in thick coconut gravy studded with salty black beans and ladled over steamed rice. Cloudy chicken vermicelli soup ($3) brims with slurpable linguine-like rice noodles mixed with chicken, sprouts and bok choy. It makes a great hangover cure, or so I’m told.
More of a pickle, Tropical salad ($1) comes thick with English cuke, grated carrot and canned pineapple chunks, all in sesame vinaigrette. Dolloped with house-made sambal olek hot sauce ($1.20), crisp deep-fried spring rolls ($.70), wontons wrapped around bean sprouts and peanuts, are the perfect snack to get you through Saturday Market shopping. food & drink