Get to know the first eatery in town to focus on the country's flaky, savoury meat pies
The British may have invented the meat pie, and Jamaica and Australia have since made it their own. But it’s entirely possible that Zimbabwe has perfected it.
That’s clear from the first bite of Evis Chirowamhangu’s savoury pies, the first of their kind in Toronto, which come piled in layer upon layer of puff pastry, so thick the pies stand 2 inches tall. Inside, oozing beef or chicken fillings are fleshed out with mushrooms, onion or kale, all redolent with spices shipped directly to Chirowamhangu from southern Africa by her brother .
“The filling is nice and gooey, and then salty and savoury, and it balances out well with the puff pastry – the butteriness, the little bit of sweetness,” she says. “It’s the perfect bite.”
Toronto was largely ignorant of the Zimbabwean meat pie’s existence until last month, when Chirowamhangu opened Mnandi Pies (“mnandi” means “tasty”).
Only a few weeks after opening, the city’s food press has already eaten up the young chef’s backstory. Chirowamhangu grew up in a rural township in a household of two adults and seven kids. When her mom got paid once a month, she’d pick up a beef pie and chop it into nine pieces so each family member could have a taste.
In Toronto, Chirowamhangu cooked a beef Wellington for friends one night, her first experience working with puff pastry. She soon realized that the pastry-swathed treat of her youth wasn’t available anywhere in the city, and began experimenting in an effort to recreate the exact flavour of the steak and onion filling.
“I didn’t have a recipe whatsoever – I was going from the taste in my head. And when what I was thinking and what I was tasting merged, it was like, ‘Yesssss!'”
Adam Rosenbaum, left, and Evis Chirowamhangu sling pies at Mnandi Pies’ stall in Market 707.
She soon rounded out the lineup of pies (all $4.99) with a mild chicken-and-mushroom version with a touch of pale gravy, a beef-and-kale inspired by a stew commonly found on family dinner tables across Zimbabwe and a vegetarian option that reimagines a staple tomato-kale dish with carrots for bulk.
She chose to set up shop in Market 707 on Dundas West, one of the city’s favourite showcases for lesser-known street foods and cheap-and-cheerful dishes from around the globe.
“A friend of mine came to visit, and she was like, ‘It’s like the United Nations of food,'” Chirowamhangu marvels. “You’ve got something from the Caribbean, something from Japan, from Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Philippines, Canada, Colombia. It’s an amazing market.
“Because (our pies are) something unique, something different, we thought this would be the perfect place to see if Toronto would like them.”
As it turns out, we do. Given that the Jamaican meat patty is pretty much Toronto’s unofficial snack, it’s perhaps not surprising that Mnandi’s pies are to our collective taste.
Zimbabwean eats are few and far between in the city, and while those unfamiliar with the country’s cuisine have been game to try it – and instantly charmed – it’s meant more than Chirowamhangu could have predicted.
“I never realized how big this was, even for Zimbabweans themselves,” she says. “They have come out in droves. When you’re growing up, you get attached to these foods, and when you can’t have them, you don’t realize how much you miss them until they’re presented to you.
“It’s been amazing. It’s emotional.”
707 Dundas West, at Bathurst, 416-434-3309, mnandipies.com. See listing.
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