Some of the best Singaporean Street Food is found in Toronto

Tuesday, April 01, 2014


Editor's note: This post is an April Fool's satire. Do have a laugh. 

Some of the best Singaporean Street Food may well be found outside the sunny island. Here, we reveal some of the hottest finds in the winter of Toronto. 
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I have been living in Toronto on my Sabbatical since the end of last year.

Traversing through the little streets and corners of this fascinating multi-cultural city, I am pleasantly surprised to discover some authentic Singaporean street food.

I am not talking about "Singapore Fried Noodles” (what is that?) or some hodge-podge pan-Asian dishes. I am encountering authentic Bak Chor Mee, Hokkien Mee, Hainanese Chicken Rice, Ngor Hiang and the likes.

Not surprisingly, there is a migrated Singaporean behind every creation.

What are these great street food chefs doing here in wintry Toronto, far from the sunny island? That was my curiosity.

Here is my list of some of the best Singaporean street food in Toronto, all with their own little “why I left” story:

1. Singapore's Hokkien Mee at Pang Chui Lao Cafe, 15571 College Street

(See lead photo)

Introduced by a college mate, I came with very low expectations of this Toronto's take on the great Singapore Hokkien Mee. And as you can tell from the photo, it was every bit authentic and in fact, better than most back home.

Pang Chui Lao's version was patiently fried and the stock had soaked in. The al dente noodles comes with some great sambal.

I had to ask, “Mr Pang, you had to be a Singaporean to cook something like this.”

I was quickly corrected.

Loh did not want his picture taken. 
“I am Laurence Olivier Hendricks, “ he sung in his Canadian accent, “but you can call me Loh for short."

I suppose one has to fit in. "So, Mr Loh, why Pang…"

“That is a Hokkien phrase of course. Pang Chui Lao means 'let the water flow.' So, why did I leave my home country? I left because it was beginning to feel like a prison. It had too many rules. When they started fining those who don't flush the toilets, that really got to me. Can you imagine that? But here, in Toronto, everyone flushes, fines or no fines.”

“Hmm, Pang Chui Lao. Rather philosophical."

"Look at the sign on the toilet door.” I turned and noticed an unusual sign which says “Please flush and you won’t be fined if you don't."

“You will never be allowed to put up a sign like this back home. The thing is, this sign works here, every time. You do not need to create a pang chui law. We are not kids. ”

With that, he moved back to his huge wok. I had my plate. I visited the rest room (I flushed, of course) and walked off satisfied.

I will be back.

2. Bak Chor Mee, somewhere in Toronto


Bak Chor Mee was another surprising discovery.

It is rare that this can be made outside of Singapore.

Morgan Lim makes his own mee pok daily and uses chillies from Korea for his sambal. It is easily one of the best BCM I have ever eaten. And it tasted exceptionally good in the winter here.

He is the proud owner of this rather hard-to-find stall, tucked in a discrete corner. Bespectacled and soft spoken, he hailed from the Clementi Area.

"You like my Bak Chor Mee?” It was a rhetorical question as I was slurping my second bowl.

“Absolutely. And why…"

Reading my mind, he told me the story of how he used to work as a lecturer in Nantah. “That was many years ago." the wrinkled chef sighed. "I asked too many questions. I was a contrarian. Singapore of old is not like yours.

I was idealistic and I should say, I had some strong leftist views. I suppose that is why I finally left,” he chuckled. “They were looking for me. Please don’t reveal where this stall is online. I actually follow your blog and I can tell that you don't believe in secrets, not even those found in recipes. You can talk about my mee, but not me, understand?"

There was a soft threat to his voice. I assured Morgan that his secret was his. After all, I was already plotting my next BCM rendezvous. It had to be a weekly top up.

After daily doses of beef burritos, lasagnas, quinoas, pizzas and  everything tomatoey, one just has to recover with a bowl of this, even if it is cooked from the left.

3. Cracher Hainanese Chicken Rice, 2900 Dundas South Road


After weeks of searching, I finally came across a very good version of Singapore’s famous Hainanese Chicken Rice. This stall only sells this at dinner time.

I was left speechless when I first tasted it as I was expecting an average this-is-all-you-can-do-in-Toronto version.

No kidding. Cracher's version is as good as Boon Toong Kee's or Tian Tian's. The chilli sauce was gorgeous and nothing like the ubiquitous American-made Sriracha sauce.

Robbie Foo used to helm a famous stall at Tiong Bharu till he migrated 8 years ago.


“Toronto is so cold. Don’t you miss the sunshine of Singapura?” I asked him.

“Not a tiny bit, not even in this blistering winter."

"So, why did you leave?"

"I was doing very well till the day the HSA officer appeared. He slapped a “D” sign on my stall. Bad hygiene. Or so he thought. That was the end of it. I knew then I had no future in that sunny island. I suppose you can say I did not make the grade.”

“That is sad,” I quipped. "Your version is so good. It is a great culinary lost for us. Why a “D”?”

“Have you not noticed what the name of my eatery is?”

“I sure did. And you do make a “cracker” of a plate of Chicken rice. I am all cracked up about it as I miss this so much.”

“You don’t know French, do you?"

Excuse-moi?”

Cracher means spitting in French. You could never guessed, right? I cannot live and work on in a country which disallows spitting. But here, I can. Whenever I need to.”

I then realised that there were spittoons (mud jugs) on some corners of the floor. Gleeking and spitting, ptooie!...he expertly spat a projectile into one. It was a good 3-metre aim. This place was beginning to feel like an ancient eatery in rural China.

“You see, I have to cracher when I am cooking. I can’t shake off the habit. If Singapore cannot accept that, then they have to do with one less good version of Hainanese Chicken Rice. Look at my shop. You won’t find any alphabet grading on it. There is no need to grade anything and this is what’s great about Toronto.”

He is right.

I will give him an ‘A’ for his dish. His version could challenge some of the best back home.

And a ‘D’ - still - for his crachering.

It is just mental grading. I can’t help it. I am Singaporean.

4. Chini Ratatouille, 14 Asian Gourmet, The Fool's Alley


I was doing some shopping and passed by this eatery and noticed there were promoting Chini Ratatouille with the tagline "An authentic Singaporean experience."

What in the world is that? At a closer look, I saw Ngoh Hiang! I ordered a plate immediately and though expensive at $12.50, it was a taste of home at every bite.

I saw a young man helming the store. Joshua Kee is a business grad from University of Toronto, having left Singapore 9 years ago.

“Where do you learn to cook this?”

"From my parents, of course. They were behind the famous stall at Maxwell Food Center. I grew up helping them out. I am continuing my family's legacy here in Toronto.”

“You mean, this can sell here?”

“Look around. Look at the crowd.”

That was a stupid question to ask. I was surrounded by people of all races and nationalities, most who were downing his Ngoh Hiang with some pints of beer.

“But why do you call it by this strange name?”

“They would have found Ngoh Hiang strange too. But everybody knows what Ratatouille is. I would have used Chino but Chini rhymes. So, here you go.”

“Cool. And why didn’t you sell this at home, I mean, just take over your parent’s stall.”

‘I did. For a while. Then the food bloggers came. They took pictures. Ate my Ngoh Hiang. And CRITICISED. I was just starting out then. They blogged about it and my business couldn’t make any head way. I was demoralised. Cannot take it.

WAIT …are you a food blogger?

“Er, not quite.”

“I can see your camera. Not quite eh?”

“Hmm, I only blog what I cook. Occasionally, when I am overseas, I do review stalls and even then, only the one I had a good experience with.” I said that pretty quickly.

“I can tell, you will want to say something about my stall. Just tell your fellow countrymen back home: learn to be positive. Just eat once and then you conclude. How can you judge through one experience? Much like this Charlotte Ashton who made her conclusions about Singapore just through one bad experience. What surprises me is how many Singaporean took note of what she said. We take ourselves too seriously. Know the real world, get to know people. Set aside your prejudices and stop making assumptions. Till we truly understand other cultures, we may be kings in our own, but kids outside of it. Like me, stay long enough in another culture and you will truly understand.”

He could have carried on with his sermonising if not for the orders that were furiously coming in. "Two plates of Chinis and a pint of Rickard's please," a customer requested.



His Chwee Kuey was fantastic too. If you want to eat here, it is best to come during non-peak hours. And you may get a sermon or two too if you catch Joshua in his angst-y mood.

5. Southeast Asian Durian King, 1414, Bloor and Dundas junction


As I was nearing this stall, which came highly recommended by some long ago migrated Canadian ex-Malaysian friends.

I could not believe what I was smelling, let alone seeing: some of the best durians I have ever seen in my 50 years of Sinma life.

“You like my dulians? Suplise?”

Ignatius Tan was speaking in a disconcerting mix of Canadian English and Singlish. He could not roll his tongue.

"See how flesh it is! I only get the best, flown in from Malaysia.”

“Fascinating. How much a kilo?”

“Pounds you mean. $30.”

“Wow. That’s ex. That’s more than 60 per kilo!”

“If you want good dulians in Tolonto, for sure you have to pay.”

And paid I did. The damage was a cool Canadian 122 dollars. I was missing dulians - durians - so much.

His durians disappear fast. Call him first at 104-0104-2014.

6. Mutton Briyani at Double Bubble Indian Restaurant, 201 First of April Avenue


Where can we find the best Mutton Briyani in North America? Hands down, it is at Dutch East Indian Restaurant at Global Avenue. 

Thomas Xavier Prince, another ex-Singaporean, migrated to Toronto 14 years ago. He was working at one of the Muslim Restaurants at Little India, where he honed his skills at making Dum Briyani. Now, he recreates it here and it has been a sell-out every day. 

"So, Thomas, Prince...er, how should I call you?"

He lowered his voice. "Just call me Sobu Singh. That is my real name. I am sure you understand."

"Sobu, how do you recreate this in Toronto?"

"Wong, this dish can be made anywhere in the world. It is not about the availability of ingredients. It is how you cook it. Skills. Effort. Creativity. My curries are Indian in origins but refined through my experience in Singapore."

"Do you cook it the traditional dum way?”

"You mean sealing the pot with dough and all that? Yes, of course. Recipes are legacies. Respect the gathered experience of previous generations. That is how you create an authentic dish, even here in Toronto.”

I had to pop the question. "So, why did you leave Singapore?"

He paused for a moment. “I love Wrigley, Double Bubble and Winterfresh too much. If I don’t chew, I can’t make my briyani. This is how I cope with the stress of cooking. So when they disappeared from the stores, I knew I had to go. They had effectively made me an outlaw too.”

With that he popped another gum into his mouth. “Here, I chew all I want. Want to have one?”

“For sure."

What a shame. We lost another culinary great over a pack of gum. I should add that his Mee Rebus was superb too.



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It looks like the declining standards of Hawker Food is also due to migration. We are losing some of our best chefs to cities like Toronto.

Not that I am complaining.

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Note: Before you rush out and hit these stalls, do pause to note on what date this article is posted. If you have enjoyed it, you can also read some of our past articles to celebrate this annual day. We are just continuing a silly TFC tradition and hope you had some fun reading it. Unfortunately, the description above of Singaporean food here in Toronto is entirely wishful thinking. As for Singapore, I love my home, with the rules and all. They are often not as draconian as it might seem. But it is good to laugh at ourselves once in a while. 

Photo Credits: All photos were taken by my friend, Mark Ong. 

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15 comments

  1. ............. I see what you did there. Hahahah, well played!

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  2. Yes you can find really authentic food in Canada even comparable to those back home. Enjoy your stay. I love Canada.

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  3. Good one Canon! I was going to forward this to some friends in Toronto .... till I got to your tag at bottom of article. Have a good AF Day :)

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  4. "Kia Soo, Kia See. Kia Bor, Kia Boh. Kia Cheng Hoo!" - five great fears of Singaporeans - afraid to lose, afraid to die. Afraid of the wife, afraid of going without. Afraid of the government!

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  5. Eating that mutton briyani shown in above picture is Guaranteed to give anyone serious constipation later.
    And that, is NO April Fool's Joke...

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  6. Alamak! I was drooling and planning my eating spree, until I read the dulian part.... Sigh...

    Good one... I sure got fooled.... LOL! What I would give to find good hawker fare here in Toronto! =P

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  7. For the real deal, I suggest you try the Hokkien noodles (the one with the prawn broth) at Gourmet Garden in Scarborough. Only available on weekends, call ahead to make sure that it's available.

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  8. Jialat! are we loosing all our best hawkers to Toronto? No wonder most of our hawker food are cooked by Chinese nationals. even the younger generations of Singapore have not tasted the original versions of our heritage hawkers and do not know the authentic hawker food! What a pity! btw, enjoy your sabbatical. Great blog you have here!

    Lara

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  9. ...

    This is such a mean joke for someone who lives near Toronto.

    Oh well at least I can still make my own sambal belacan. *sob*

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  10. I agreed with Annoymous above my comment.. it is indeed a very cruel joke.... haiz....

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  11. What a cruel article. Singaporean food in Toronto is a particularly rare thing, this is just painful.

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  12. Naturally, this article being published on April Fool's day will cause users to regard this piece with a grain of salt and a bit of humor. People that live in Toronto will have no doubt already made several previous Google searches only to turn up disappointing results for Singaporean food in the downtown core. Those particular users that live in Toronto will make yet another urgent search on google and this recently published article will appear at the top of their search results. They will disregard the cues that this is an April Fool's day joke, because they will mainly be shocked that such food exists in the downtown core.

    Then they'll realize that this post is a heinous, cruel joke. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

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  13. Anonymous - Thanks for your feedback. We will make it clearer at the heading that it is an April Fool's satire. .

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  14. No need to fantasize. All these dishes have been available for over 20 years in the Greater Toronto Area at the Lion City restaurant in Mississauga, led by Singaporean chef Lillian Ow. Her Hainanese chicken rice looks better than Chracher's 'version'. The highest quality Musang King durians (Mao Shan Wang) are available at nearby T&T supermarket. The Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper, considers the Lion City restaurant one of the "Ten of the best places to eat just west of Toronto" (Google it). The best Asian food is rarely found in the downtown core in major North American cities -- for example, the best Chinese food is found north of Toronto in Richmond Hill and Markham.

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  15. Real review of Lion City restaurant in the Toronto area.
    http://www.thefoodsisterhood.com/2013/09/lion-city-restaurant-authentic-south.html

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