EAT: Gourmet Malaysia @ Toronto

By way of the Torontoist and Spice City Toronto, I discovered Gourmet Malaysia in the heart of north Scarborough. I have grown up eating around the world, and more often than not our Saturday lunches would see us nomming on a few pieces of paratha and a nice southeast Asian style curry. When I read about a place that serves Singaporean-style street food (albeit, in a sterile and standardized setting as required by Toronto Public Health) in the city, Emilie and I  jumped at the chance to try it out.

The lack of an available parking spot in front of the establishment is always a good start (though there is ample parking just around the corner where a giant asian grocery is located). The next really good sign is the signature whiff of curry and lemongrass. Though the dining room looked pretty empty when we walked in, it filled up quickly with regular customers who were greeted warmly at the door.

Having been to Singapore once previously, we ordered what many consider as its national dish: Hainanese Chicken Rice. A Singaporean-style laksa was also ordered, as well as “Poh Pia”, an appetizer portion of crepe rolled with mixed vegetable and fried egg. To be honest, we shouldn’t have ordered so much food for two people, but a recent episode of No Reservations made me do it.

We started off with the Poh Pia. It was a soft crepe rolled with a mixture of vegetables and fried egg. Poh Pia is a first time experience for us, and it left us with mixed thoughts. It wasn’t spectacular, but it was tasty enough. Unfortunately, it was also very filling, and we worried that our stomachs wouldn’t be able to handle the onslaught that is to come. Worst still, I failed to capture it on camera. The lack of a photo makes me a sad panda.
Sad Panda is Sad.

Singaporean-style chicken rice, deconstructed: Start with a serving of chicken, boiled and chilled to allow for the skin to just barely separate from the flesh with a layer of gelatinous fat. Add a serving of rice cooked in a mixture of chicken broth and fat. Round out the dish with the necessary condiments of sweet soy sauce and a chili-ginger paste. Optionally include a few slivers of vegetables or onions to at least make an attempt to recognize the vegetable food group. Each of these components, though unremarkable, translates into something so special for a dish that is seemingly so simple. The chicken itself is perfectly tender (yes, even the breast meat) and is mildly flavoured from the broth it has been bathing in. The rice hints of pandan leaves and broth, and each granule separates nicely with the lace of chicken fat from the cooking liquid. The ginger paste was a good accompaniment, though the dish lacks the general kick without the trademark chili sauce that is usually served in a Singaporean street joint. I’ve noticed that restaurants around the GTA shy away from the bright fiery chili sauce as a chicken rice condiment, so I don’t fault Gourmet Malaysia for leaving this out. This arranged plate of chicken rice won’t win any awards in Singapore, but it’s the best I’ve had in the GTA area in a very, very long time.

I would have been completely content with the chicken rice, but the Singaporean-style laksa was calling out to me from the menu. “EAT ME NOW”, it shouted… who am I to refuse a demand like that? The steaming bowl arrived at the table, and I was immediately hit with a combination of coconut and chili, the hallmark of the Singaporean variant of curry laksa. Gourmet Malaysia’s variant uses thin rice vermicelli  rather than the thicker kind, but the usual suspects are present: fried tofu, chicken, shrimp, and bean sprouts in a fiery coconut-based broth. For me, the heat really accumulates over the course of consumption but the coconut milk cools off my tastebuds just enough for another spoonful. I ended up eating the majority of the bowl, and drinking a good portion of the broth for good measure. It gave me the sweats, but they were the good sweats.

Our decidedly Singaporean-leaning choices left us satisfied, but also made us curious about the Malaysian offerings that were left unordered. We made a second visit back to Gourmet Malaysia to try out some of Malaysia’s dishes, including roti with chicken curry, mee goreng, and the deceptively looking bowl of Penang-style laksa. Confession: this trip back, and the Malaysian slant of our meal, was inspired by a recent episode of No Reservations. Bourdain raved about his time in Penang, and since I can’t be there right now, at the very least I can try its food. The roti came out first. It was hot, flakey, and provides a perfect dipping vessel for the flavourful chicken curry. The curry itself isn’t very spicy, so for those who avoid curries because of perceived fiery death, there’s no need to in this case. Just plain deliciousness await.

I’ve never had mee goreng before, so I didn’t quite know what to expect. What came was a stir-fried plate of yellow noodles with vegetables and shrimp. The noodles are coated with thick soy-based sauce that has hints of chili, but it wasn’t overly spicy. It wasn’t the star of the meal, but it was a good introduction to something new.

Last came the Penang laksa. The differences between the Penang and Singaporean versions of laksa are quite stark, even though by description they are both bowls of noodles in hot broth. The Rather than creamy rich and fiery hot, the Penang variant is light and tangy, with a distinct sour taste from tamarind, its star ingredient. Consuming the Penang laksa was pure joy, as I just wanted to shove more into my mouth each each firey gulp.

Gourmet Malaysia is certainly no hawker stand, no street stall, and unlike its Asian cousins, is completely in compliant with western health codes. Perhaps this is the price we have to pay around here for some decent laksa and roti.

Gourmet Malaysia
Cusine: South Asian/Malaysian/Singaporean
4466 Sheppard Ave. East, Unit 101
Scarborough, Ontario
(647) 764-1188
Gourmet Malaysia on Urbanspoon

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