Korean BBQ withOUT the smell. Or: An evening at Arisu

Everyone I know loves (or at least likes) Korean BBQ. Everyone I know does NOT love the effect the cuisine has on your person. When every table has its own table-top grill, it’s understandable that the resulting effect is a layer of smoke almost as dense as the one caused by an Indonesian forest fire and a smoky smell that will cling on to your hair and clothing more strongly than your college ex-girlfriend.

Oh, it's you again. -- from mashable.com

Oh, it’s you again. — from mashable.com

This is why when I heard about a modern and sleek Korean BBQ place downtown called Arisu that promises no smoke and no smell for my dining experience, I couldn’t believe it. Oh, and apparently PSY ate here too. I was there faster than Sonic the Hedgehog on speed, being careful not to forget to (gently) drag my wife along the way.

Upon entering, I gotta say, the place looked swankier from the outside. The inside looked a bit more modest, but that’s by no means a bad thing. It was pretty spacious, and interestingly, the whole space looked like a collection of three separate but slightly disjointed rooms.

Good lighting, though!

Good lighting, though!

We started with some appetizers. The most notable was the ssam bap, an interesting dish that can be best described as small ball-shaped purple multigrain rice, which you mix with tender grilled pork, and wrap inside lettuce leaves. With a dab of soybean paste on the side, it was extremely good and something that we’ve never tried before.

The ssam bap. As much fun to say as it is to eat!

The ssam bap. As much fun to say as it is to eat!

We then (obviously) ordered a whole bunch of meats to try out. The unexpected star of the show was the unseasoned beef. Yep, you read that right. UNseasoned beef. See, most people (myself included) assume that Korean BBQ is always sweet. This isn’t always the case and is actually only a small subsection of the overall Korean BBQ dining experience. Dipped into some sesame oil mixed with salt and pepper (provided by the restaurant), the beef was tender and delicious, unsullied by additional seasonings and sauces. I actually said “Oh my God, that was excellent” OUT LOUD, it was that good. We also sampled the pork and ribs, both delicious without being too fatty. And of course, the classic LA ribs, which in this case WAS marinated to perfection. The food was all delicious, without being overwhelming.

Don't worry, we had lots more than these pictured here.

Don’t worry, we had lots more than these pictured here.

We later found out that this restaurant was the only one that participated in the Summerlicious and Winterlicious events, a pretty good testament to the quality of their food since as you know they don’t just let ANYone in for these dining events (lest a Taco Bell show up on the list). And guess what? Everything they told you about being smokeless is pretty much true! While we can still smell the deliciousness of the meat sizzling in front of us as it was being cooked, virtually none stuck to our clothes. You can ostensibly walk right from a dinner here and go to the opera, and be perfectly OK.

Arisu apparently was another restaurant in the past with the same name which didn’t do too well. As a result, many people who pass by it may not even want to venture in because they don’t know that the whole restaurant has changed hands. And it’d be a shame, because this was one of the better Korean BBQs I’ve had the pleasure to try. I’d wholeheartedly recommend people to give this place a shot. It’s also one of the more underrated places I’ve been, and a bit of a hidden gem (if you can call being on freakin’ BLOOR STREET hidden).

Oh, and that bit about Psy? It’s true. He did eat here with his entourage during his stop in Toronto.

This time, it's ARISU STYLE!

This time, it’s ARISU STYLE!


–Final verdict: Mari Makan!


584 Bloor Street West
Toronto, ON M6G 1K4
(416) 533-8104


Why Hakka does NOT exclusively mean Indian-Chinese

There’s something that I’ve wanted to put forth for a long time, and for some stupid reason have never had the opportunity to. Sometimes, when I have so many things to say about a particular subject,  my stupid brain locks up and goes into a 404 PAGE NOT FOUND mode, which may be entertaining for a comedy show, but is really lousy for someone who’s supposed to be the model of erudition (at least when it comes to food)

The point that has bugged me for a very long time is simply this: in Toronto, the term “Hakka” is used ALMOST EXCLUSIVELY when referring to a type of cuisine cooked by Chinese people who came from India. This is incorrect, and I will explain why below.

"So sit yo 'ass down!" (note: this may or may not look like me) -- from englishharmony.com

“So sit yo ‘ass down!” (note: this may or may not look like me) — from englishharmony.com

I’m not going to waste your time giving a long explanation about the history of how a large group of Chinese settlers ended up in India (Wikipedia does it so much better here). But what I want to tackle is the usage of the term “Hakka” when referring to the type of food that they cook. You see, the Chinese population in India ended up adapting their cuisine to local tastes, using local spices and herbs (the most notable one being garam masala), with the result being a beautiful fusion cuisine of the complex flavours of Chinese cooking and the punch and flavour of Indian cuisine. And who were the Chinese settlers in India? Hakka people. That is to say, a subgroup of the ethnic Han Chinese.

Well then, I hear you say (I sometimes hear voices, humour me), what’s so incorrect about calling the Indian-Chinese fusion cuisine as Hakka cuisine? The answer lies in that ACTUAL authentic Hakka cuisine is a million miles away from the interesting dishes you see in an Indian-Chinese restaurant. Real, traditional food of the Hakka people (which is therefore called “Hakka cuisine”, I know eh, what a concept) look much more like, surprise surprise, traditional Chinese food. Case in point, the salt baked chicken.


Damn! Where's the cornstarch and gravy? -- from wikipedia.org

WHAT! Where’s the cornstarch and gravy? — from wikipedia.org

Moreover, the Hakka people migrate all over the world, and not just India. The majority of Chinese people in Central America and the Caribbean, for example, are Hakkas (major example: Chinese Jamaicans). A crapload of Hakkas also immigrated to Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia, the place where I was born and once lived. So to say that Indian-Chinese food is “Hakka” food is to unintentionally but completely discount two things: A) actual, authentic Hakka cuisine (that most people have never heard of) and B) OTHER Hakka fusion cuisines that Hakka people all around the world have created (such as Jamaican-Chinese fusion food – you never hear them called “Hakka”). It doesn’t help that the Indian-Chinese restaurants call themselves Hakka as well. While it’s not TECHNICALLY incorrect (the people who open these restaurants are, after all, Hakka people), it’s not exactly accurate either.

As some of you know, I’m not a traditionalist or purist when it comes to food. Hell, I’ve professed my love for Manchu goddamn Wok publicly, and insist that the oft-mocked American/Canadian-Chinese food is a legitimate type of cuisine in and of itself. So believe me when I say that I’m not trying to be pedantic just for the sake of being a pain in the ass. I’m just a bit tired of people asking me what’s my favourite cuisine, and having answered “perhaps Indian-Chinese food”, be faced with the reply “oooh, you mean Hakka food?”. Actually, no I do not.

So why does it bug me? Well, because I’m Hakka Chinese. And I have had many different kinds of Chinese cuisine cooked by wonderful Hakka cooks. Indian-Chinese dishes are just one wonderful part of the Hakka cuisine spectrum, but it is far and away only a small slice of it.

At the end of the day, I guess you can call it whatever you want, but let me ask you a question. To grab a random example, if you were a Quebecois Canadian, and your whole family emigrated to Japan, and your entire family opened a chain of restaurants that primarily serve sushi-poutine with wasabi, would you still call that Quebecois cuisine? Of course not. It’s become a beautiful Quebecois-Japanese fusion cuisine. A new cuisine in it’s own right. And THAT is what the so-called “Hakka cuisine” is in Toronto. It is, and always will be, Indian-Chinese food for me. And I will always love it.

Now gimme SOME MOAR Chicken Manchurian and pakoras!


Pull my pork. Or: Pigging out on some BBQ in Pickering!

Last long weekend, on a whim I decided to drag my wife off to Pickering to try out Pig Out BBQ. My super lovely coworkers have mentioned it to me a few times last year. I’ve always meant to give it a try but for a plethora of reasons (most of them bone idleness) have never actually done so. I don’t quite know why I wanted to go there out of the blue, but since I live on the edge (no, LITERALLY, I live on the edge of the Markham/Pickering border) I thought why not. It wasn’t until we got there that I realized that the restaurant was featured on my favourite Food Network show, You Gotta Eat Here featuring my Italian brother from a different mother.

It's like he's my twin. We go everywhere together. -- from cp24.com

It’s a bromance thing. You wouldn’t understand — from cp24.com

Naturally, at that moment my interest level went through the roof. But then I noticed something a bit odd. I originally thought that this was going to be a typical sit-down joint. But what I saw in front of me was a fast food-like setup not unlike a Harvey’s (but with much better quality food, naturally). You take a look at the menu options, which were all mounted on a list on the wall, order, pay, then sit down until they bring your order on a tray to you. Pros: no need to tip, faster ordering. Cons: definitely NOT a date place. Though the fact that I even considered a rib joint as a date place probably says a lot about my priorities.

Though the cute piggies by the ordering area DOES provide something for the ladies to go AWWWW about.

Though the cute piggies by the ordering area DO provide something for the ladies to go AWWWW about.

In addition to the menu items on the board, you can customize your dish further by either ordering it sweet, spicy, or smokey. WW ordered the pulled pork sandwich (spicy!) and I had the 3 Little Pigs Sandwich (sweet!), a wonderful combination of peameal bacon, regular bacon, pulled pork, cheese, and cholesterol, in a bun. As the sandwiches only came with coleslaw and without fries, we also got a side of sweet potato fries on the side. This is actually a set up that I appreciated, because I felt too many restaurants, by putting in a full-sized “side” as part of their meal, end up making the dish more expensive, while providing way too much food. We rarely can finish two orders of fries if it came with the meal, so the chance of just having to finish one, and therefore PAY LESS, is a good option. There’s only so much carbs that a wee Asian couple can take, yknow?

The food took only around 10 minutes to come. The portions do look a bit small by Canadian standards, but just about right for us. WW’s pulled pork was tasty and juicy. It had a crapload of tender pork, smothered in their sauce which, much to my pleasant surprise, was ACTUALLY a bit spicy. There were parts of the meat that were a little bland in the middle (it WAS a very thick sandwich), but overall I would recommend it. Definitely better than Montana’s, and that’s coming from a man who loves that restaurant like Canadians love curling (i.e. a lot, even though most don’t understand why).



My heart attack on a bun sandwich was really lovely. Essentially, it was WW’s order but on steroids. The peameal bacon was SUPER juicy and actually overshadowed the regular strip bacon, while the cheese nicely tied the whole dish together, bringing a layer (pun intended) of richness that permeates through all three types of meat. The pulled pork itself was, as was the case with WW’s, pretty durn good. The sweetness of the sauce wasn’t as pronounced as the spicy counterpart, unfortunately, but it’s still very nice. We also both loved that the buns weren’t very dense, but rather soft without losing its consistency when sandwiching a very moist layer of thick meat.

Hot damn, lookit this thing!

Hot damn, lookit this thing!

Finally, I have to give props to the sweet potato fries. They were actually sweet (the actual flavours came through nicely) with just the right amount of crispness and the dipping sauce was rich and delicious. Next time we may order a slightly bigger portion.

One of the very few times I kind of wished we had MOAR FRIES.

One of the very few times I kind of wished we had MOAR FRIES.

I would recommend this place and we plan to return. The only cautionary notes are that the portions are a tad small (not a problem for us) and that they actually do put proper heat in their spicy offerings (also NOT a problem for us). For a quick, simple, budget BBQ meal, it’s hard to beat this place. They even have a location downtown on Spadina, which is awesome should I ever feel that my sedentary job ISN’T making my body fat fast enough.

–Final verdict: Mari Makan!

Pig Out BBQ

780 Kingston Road
Pickering, ON L1V 1A8
(905) 492-7222

The best Taiwanese popcorn chicken! Or: Who’s your Papa?

There’s a few restaurants out there that, upon visiting for the umpteenth time, make me say to myself “Huh, I can’t believe I’ve never reviewed this in my blog”. Papa Chang’s is one of those places. Funnily enough, after getting married I (relatively) recently moved into a neighbourhood that’s actually closer to this restaurant than my old place. So I suppose it’s a sign, the stars have aligned, cats and dogs living together (whoops, wrong quote), I HAVE to review this place now.

You can see the resemblance. OBVIOUSLY. ---from Zap2it.com

John Catucci would be so proud.
—from Zap2it.com

Toronto isn’t short of Taiwanese restaurants. In fact, you can view a lot of them right here (who’s that handsome dude who wrote this Dickensian article, I wonder?). But Papa Chang’s has always been, and most likely will always be, my favourite. Coincidentally, the post also lists this place first. What a coinkydink.

I first became aware of Papa Chang’s when I visited some food fair or another in Markham many years ago. It may have been Taste of Asia, but I can’t be sure. The fried fish that they sold was so awesome that I could scarcely believe it when they handed me a takeout menu. “You mean this food vendor actually HAS A PHYSICAL LOCATION?”. Needless to say, shits were lost and I immediately went to the restaurant. I loved it ever since and, despite its cramped interior (it seriously feels like dining in someone’s brightly-coloured warehouse) and haphazard seating, have fallen in love with the place, visiting it over and over again.

If your warehouse was filled with lucky cat figurines.

If your warehouse was filled with lucky cat figurines.

On this recent visit, I was happy to see that they’ve updated the signage and the menu. The logos now look consistent and cohesive (something that always tickles my fancy as a marketer) and everything felt a bit more organized. It felt like a stronger brand, and I loved that: seeing the place actually become more established and refined. We ordered our regular favourites, hoping that the new sleeker look hasn’t had a negative impact on the food taste. We needn’t have worried.

Seriously, isn't that the cutest menu you've ever seen?

Now isn’t that the cutest menu you’ve ever seen?

This time we ordered the popcorn chicken bento box (our favourite!) and the Japanese-style fried shrimp. Yes, this makes this meal a little deep fried-heavy and no, this isn’t the only type of stuff that they sell. But we were craving for some good ol’ Taiwanese street food goodness and these certainly were perfect. We also ordered the Taiwanese sausage + minced pork rice, for good measure.

The popcorn chicken is delicious, as always. Something which I appreciate is how they’re able to ensure that the chicken meat itself is flavourful. Most Taiwanese popcorn chicken I consume have a nice crispy outer layer but pretty bland inner meat. This wasn’t the case here, which I loved. I also liked the vegetables and fish cake that came in the little cute lunch box too, everything was tasty but not overpowering.

Eat your heart out, KFC.

Eat your heart out, KFC.

The Japanese-style fried shrimp was basically like a poor man’s version of tempura, but using a simple breadcrumb batter instead of tempura batter. These, as expected, didn’t actually have too much taste to them, but were fried just right and went well with the smattering of sauce that they provided. I kind of wished that they had more of the sauce on the side to dip in, but then again I do have a sauce problem.

"I told you you had a problem!" -WW

“I told you you had a problem!” -WW

Finally, the rice bowl. The portion was adequate and the minced pork was lovely and fragrant. I thought the Taiwanese sausage was OK (I’ve always been a bigger fan of the old-school fatty Chinese lap cheongs, but this is hardly the restaurant’s fault) and complemented the dish nicely. It’s a good, filling dish and actually would pair nicely if whoever you were dining with had the Taiwanese beef noodle soup (which we didn’t get this time around but have done so before – DELICIOUS!).

The only non deep-fried dish we had that day.

The only non deep-fried dish we had that day.

Overall, Papa Chang’s was (and always is) an enjoyable experience. The food is excellent and prices for these dishes, most of which are around $6-$7, basically push it into the stratosphere of excellence for cheap Chinese people like myself. The service is always pleasant, and I find myself craving their dishes from time to time (a good sign for a restaurant). What’s more, I heard they opened up a smaller version of the restaurant in Pacific Mall called Papa Chang’s Express. Long may it continue, Papa!


–Final verdict: Mari Makan!

Papa Chang’s

5970 16th Avenue #110
Markham, ON L3P 7R1
(905) 554-7211

ZenQ, ZenQ very much. Or: Balls balls balls!

I have (yet another) confession to make. I’ve never actually really liked Chinese dessert. There’s something about having hot sticky gruel-like stuff at the end of a meal that never really appealed to me. Plus, growing up in Indonesia, I was very much used to the concept of “how can we make this shit as unhealthily delicious as possible?”, which pretty much translates to dousing everything in either condensed milk, coconut milk, or straight up sugar. NONE of these are available in traditional Chinese desserts, much to my dismay. Dating and eventually marrying WW, however, slowly changed that, as I glacially gained an appreciation for the subtler, lighter fares that the Chinese enjoy following a heavy meal. My (very) gradual shift is now  made complete thanks to the addition of one of Taiwan’s most popular dessert chain: ZenQ.

I gotta stop using Borat jokes ---from blog.accessdevelopment.com/

Sorry, sorry. I promise this is the last time —from blog.accessdevelopment.com/

ZenQ marries the conventional ingredients of a “healthier” Chinese dessert with the popular mix-your-own-toppings style of a modern dessert house. Think of it as if a traditional Chinese dessert house produced an offspring with a Yogurty’s/Menchie’s. All wrapped up in a nice and cheerful ambience (and BRIGHT, holy crap do Asians like their shiny white tiles or WHAT), this place finally seals the deal on what I’m looking for when it comes to this kind of food. And while it ain’t exactly cheap, it’s right on par with how much conventional desserts cost these days, aka at around the $5-$6 mark.

Coming in, WW and I quickly realized that this was a special soft opening ceremony, hence the large amounts of balloons, photo booth, and general pandemonium around the place. Everything felt so new and polished, a far cry from the often dim and disorganized feel that I often associate with most Chinese dessert places. We discovered that ZenQ operates using a pretty simple and ingenious concept: most of their dishes have a “base” on which you basically add toppings on to. There are five bases, each called “series”, and the menu lists the base version + some other possible topping combination suggestions. You are, and I stress this tremendously, extremely free to add your own stuff a la carte. Most toppings are around 50 cents extra, with the heftier ones (usually the chewy balls) costing a buck more. The friendly staff there took my order, and freshly prepped everything in front of my eyes to my exact specifications.

Right before your eyes, guys.

Right before your eyes, guys.

This gives you pretty much carte blanche to do WHATEVER you want (a very modern twist which is all the rage these days) on a your Chinese dessert (a much-loved classic offering). The combination is about bringing the new into the old, and I really appreciated it. Now, granted, this can become overwhelming if you’re a complete noob, and that’s why the menu lists some recommended combinations. Finally, after consulting with some of the staff, we ended up trying 3 main things: the tofu pudding series, adorned with tapioca balls, peanut, and taro; the grass jelly series, topped off with Q balls, taro, and brown sugar; and finally the glutinous rice series, with a wee bit of longan and sweet taro.

Firstly, my favourite: the grass jelly series is awesome. For the uninitiated, it may sound a bit gross, but grass jelly actually tastes almost like nothing. It’s the texture that you go for. It really is a bit like wobbly jello, with a clear, refreshing, and cooling feel to it. This contrasted beautifully with the chewiness of the Q balls, which are a collection of different rolled up tapioca balls which contains taro, green team and sweet potato. All of this is coated in a sweet (yet not overwhelmingly so) syrup on which the brown sugar rests on. The result is like a party in my mouth. It was hitting all the right notes, and not once did I feel bloated or disgusting the way I do after eating my way through a conventional dessert (I’m looking at YOU, Oreo cheesecake).


Pictured: Somewhat healthier than a cheesecake.

Secondly, the one that felt the lightest: the tofu pudding series. This is pretty much dou fu hua (豆腐花), but again given the supercharged treatment with all the toppings.  This dessert is super light and gives new meaning to the oft-used phrase “melt in your mouth”. The grittiness of the peanut, the chewiness of the tapioca balls, and the “meatiness” of the taro provide a sumptuous array of contrasts to the buttery smoothness of the tofu pudding. I kind of wished they had some ginger syrup, but overall this was also very pleasant and, dare I say, calming. Oh, and did I mention it was a warm dessert? Nice on a winter night.

Finally, the “heaviest” dish of the lot: the glutinous rice. WW loved this, especially as she’s always loved sticky rice. This felt almost like a small meal, as it was very hearty. Yet at the same time, the fruity sweetness of the longan and the chunks of sweet taro provide slight punctuation marks that cut through the overall heftiness of the dish.

True comfort for the freezing Toronto nights.

True comfort for the freezing Toronto nights.

Much like the bubble tea shops of today, you can alter the level of sweetness to taste by just ordering a side of brown sugar and dunking as much of it as you desire. And speaking of bubble teas, yes they have those as well, made with lovely earl grey teas. They are also delicious and smooth, although I would still emphasize that ZenQ’s signature offerings are definitely their non-bubble tea desserts.

I would recommend this place. And that’s coming from me, who at one point disliked Chinese desserts, only to then slightly improve to the position of sitting on the fence on this topic for so long my butt hurts. I think I can say now that ZenQ provides a solid tipping point for me to say “Yes, I do enjoy Chinese desserts”, which is a thing I never really thought I’d say. It’s a bit more expensive than the smaller mom-and-pop shops that serve similar offerings, but miles better in presentation, ambience, and options. That’s more than enough for me.

Photos courtesy of ZenQ marketing.


–Final verdict: Mari Makan!


8333 Kennedy Rd
Markham, ON L3R 4P8
(905) 604-9367

Getting Luckee! Or: Trying out the hippest dim sum joint in town.

To say that I like dim sum is like saying that Lady GaGa politely appreciates your attention. I’ve grown up eating this collection of little dishes and have always loved it to its fullest. So when Beffy asked me to go try out Luckee, the new dim sum restaurant by Susur Lee, I told him “Get bent!” and chuckled uncontrollably by myself for being so witty. After his puzzled look subsided though, I finally embarrassingly mumbled something like “Thankyounowletsgo” and wasted no time going there for a little post-work tapas, Chinese style.

This guy again. Thank God for this guy.

This guy again. Thank God for this guy.

Walking in, Luckee felt strangely like a Canadian hipster joint that tries way too hard to be “old-school” Chinese. With red flurescent lighting accents, old-timey Asian pictures, and concrete brick wall accents, it’s really, really hard to see Luckee as anything other than a rich white kid who decided to have a really Chinese room in his house, but with the provision that said Chinese room can only be inspired by what that kid has seen in classic Chinese pop culture.

And I loved every bit of it.

The kitschyness mixed with the undoubtedly refined atmosphere (it was located in the ground floor of the Soho Metropolitan Hotel in Toronto after all) was actually a wonderful combination. Instead of being stuck up, the whole place to me seemed to shimmer in a semi self-awareness that became charming. The prices, on the other hand, were a little less thrilling. I mean, I know that I’m gonna be hit harder than in a regular dim sum place, but seeing that I’d have to fork out 9 bucks for four pieces of har gow was a little DIM on my SUM of money (I’m here all week, folks).



We ordered a little smorgasbord of morsels, but since listing them all will make this article super long and boring, I’ll give some of the highlights and lowlights, beginning with the latter. The crispy shrimp with tofu dumpling, for one, wasn’t too superb. It wasn’t bad, but it was basically a fry-up with shrimp. Fresh ingredients but not worth the $8 price they hit you with. Similar points for the crispy crab and tofu cake. I was just expecting so much more than a simple…well, crab and tofu cake (I guess they win points for naming accuracy). It was a bit underwhelming and I was hoping that they were able to put a unique twist on their fried stuff, but I was sorely disappointed.

How can something so fried taste so meh?

How can something so fried taste so meh?

In the winners section was the beautiful steamed har gow. Though a bit pricey, they were plump and juicy, and (shock) orange-coloured! I was told that the colouring came from carotene, the stuff you get in carrots, so it had the benefit of providing a stark and cool new look on an old favourite dish of mine without altering the actual flavour itself. The xiao long bao was also pretty good, although admittedly Ding Tai Fung’s are better. But my absolute fave was the shrimp cheung fun. Unlike its traditional counterpart which only uses steamed shrimp, this one has some fried dough/batter surrounding the shrimp, without turning it into an all-out fried snack. It was, most definitely, still true to its steamed roots. The flavours came alive extremely well for this dish, and it is the first one I would recommend to anyone coming here.

Have you ever seen such brightly coloured har gows?

Have you ever seen such brightly coloured har gows?

I would recommend Luckee for the sheer experience of it. I do think you’ll get more value for your money from a strictly food standpoint by going to one of the many awesome traditional dim sum places in town or in Markham, however for the chance of having a “haute couture” dim sum dining experience, Luckee delivers. Still, for me, this is strictly on the “so glad I came, but I don’t think I’ll come back” list.

Moral of the story? Order the steamed ones, and leave off the fried ones. Never thought I’d every say those words.


–Final verdict: Boleh Makan!


328 Wellington Street West
Toronto, ON M5V 3T4
(416) 935-0400

The only Indonesian restaurant in Toronto….again. Or: Let’s eat (at) Little Sister!

Toronto, as a major North American city, seems to have a “one-ness” problem. What is that, you ask? Well, let’s consider this. In a city of this magnitude and global reputation, there is only ONE major highway that takes you to the northern suburbs. There is only ONE major subway line that takes you to said suburbs (and even then, not all the way there). There is only ONE major east-west highway throughout most of the city. There is only ONE major shopping mall in the downtown core (people from Jakarta would never believe this). And my biggest beef of them all: there is only, at a maximum, only ONE Indonesian restaurant that operates in the city at any given time. Seriously.

At one time, there was only Warung Kampung. A great beacon of hope for those who were looking to have Indonesian food in an actual, sit-down location. It was the only Indonesian restaurant in Toronto. And less than a year later, it was gone. While it was initially said that they were simply relocating, they seem to have little interest in re-opening a physical location, going instead on the much-more-popular route of home-based catering. Thus, as it has been for so many years in the past, the only way you can eat proper Indonesian food is to know someone who knows someone who operates these catering businesses, and good luck getting info on any of them outside the Consulate General or Indonesian church bazaars.

So now, it is with some excitement that I found out that there is a new Indonesian restaurant that opens up. Since the demise of Warung Kampung, this place is now the ONLY restaurant you can get authentic Indonesian dishes in Toronto. I personally found it funny, in a bitterly sad kind of way, that there once again can only be one of these places at any given time. Where one Indonesian restaurant opens, the other one closes.

Minus the killings.

Minus the killings.

But enough moping about that! The new Indonesian restaurant has the extremely un-Indonesian name of Little Sister, named so because it is the little sister restaurant of Quince, a restaurant on Yonge Street that seems to be rather unremarkable, until I found out that the owners were Dutch and that they held a rijstaffel banquet once every few months or so. It’s also funny that the owners of this establishment actually reached out to Warung Kampung when they were still around, to touch base and tell them that, at least in theory, there would be a time when Toronto would have TWO Indonesian restaurants. #thatscrazytalk

And so we have Little Sister. I was a bit confused as to how the restaurant worked because the dishes were served tapas-style. In other words, all the portions were extremely small, and the prices were way too high for the size that they came in. This seemed the antithesis of proper Indonesian food, but hey, in a city of ONE, it’s not like I had any other options. And I don’t care how many times people try to point this out to me, but GOURMET MALAYSIA IS NOT AN INDONESIAN RESTAURANT GODDAMMIT. It’s a Malaysian restaurant, and a fine one at that. But it’s not, and never will be, an Indonesian restaurant.

The place was cute, with many little tidbits of Bahasa Indonesia terms written on the walls, and I could’ve sworn I saw a makeshift sign of some sort that said “Garuda Indonesia”, which is the long-standing national airline of the country. It’s very amusing, and a little bit sad, that the first time I actually sat and ate at restaurant that proudly shows Indonesian elements in its decor, it’s run by non-Indonesians. The whole place felt like a bit of a hipster joint, but at the same time it retained little bursts of old-world Indonesia. It was a rather nice sight, I have to say.

It's as if a little Indonesian warung opened up near my house and was run completely by white people. UPVOTE!

It’s as if a little Indonesian warung opened up near my house and was run completely by white people. UPVOTE!

We ordered a smorgasbord of food from the menu. I was already anticipating micro-size portions due to the aforementioned tapas-style servings, and (un)fortunately they truly did not disappoint. The portions were so small that even a small Chinese guy like me (who is notorious for not being able to finish most of my restaurant dishes) found himself unsatisfied. The first thing we ordered were the satays. There was a satay lilit (Balinese style satay) and good ol’ satay babi (pork satays). They were actually ridiculously delicious, and one thing that struck me was that Little Sister does NOT skimp on the spices and seasonings. The dishes actually both tasted almost like how they would back home. The consistency of the meat was a bit different, in that they were almost too refined compared to the coarser (but fattier) authentic Indonesian counterparts, but all in all it was an extremely good try. The problem was that these two dishes cost us basically $12 and we had…uh….very very little food to the point that each piece had to be further shared between our table members (there were 5 of us).

THIS much...

THIS much…

....and THIS much.

….and THIS much. Yikes.


We were fully aware of this possibility, though, so it’s not as if we ONLY ordered these two dishes. We also ordered up some babi panggang (roasted pork belly), ayam panggang (roasted chicken), grilled mustard greens, and some rendang tacos (which is probably the only fusion dish the place has – everything else is pretty authentic).  Again, we knew the portions were gonna be small, but when we saw the actual dishes, even many of my friends who were tapas veterans were rather disappointed. Flavours-wise, however, just like the satays,  the dishes were impeccable. It’s a bit hard to do individual reviews as we had so many of them, but suffice to say that Little Sister does not dumb down the seasonings, and I’m grateful for them.

Ayam panggang: not bad, but once again too small.

Ayam panggang: not bad, but once again too small.

The weakest of the bunch was the rendang tacos. It was very strange to be eating rendang, which is essentially almost like dry meat curry, mixed with spices and sauces that you would normally get in tacos. I can definitely say that the acidity characteristic of salsas (often part of tacos) that was present in the dish did NOT go well with the rich rendang. I love fusion food, but this was one that did not work.

On the other end of the spectrum, the babi panggang was by far the highlight of the meal for me. There is just the right amount of fat to be noticeable in your mouth without it overwhelming the entire experience. And the seasonings were to die for. I could’ve just ordered two of this for myself. Old-fashioned babi panggang is becoming somewhat of a rarity in Jakarta, so having one in front of me in Toronto was actually a wonderful experience. We cut up the (already) tiny dish into smaller servings so that everyone can get a piece, and I’m not embarassed to say that I probably would’ve body-checked the friend to my left to get at his serving if only that pesky conscience hadn’t kicked in at the last minute.

Damn conscience.

Damn conscience.

Overall, Little Sister was definitely a unique experience. I was happy to be able to once again taste the amazing flavours that literally burst in my mouth with every bite, just like in the old Indonesian restaurants of my childhood. And having it prepared by Caucasians was definitely interesting for me. The food is super top-notch for the most part, and mad respect to the owners for going full-tilt on the spices. However, I was very disappointed with the direction that they chose to take, with respect to how they choose their serving sizes. Indonesian food to me is NOT to be done tapas-style, because it only ends up minimizing the portions and maximizing the prices in my very humble opinion. As such, this is a restaurant where you probably would get more bang for your buck if you come in smaller groups (you can share a dish for 2-3 people. Anything more than that is way too tiny) rather than bigger ones. Because trust me, there’s NO WAY I’m gonna resist pushing whoever is beside me out of the way the next time we get that babi panggang.


–Final verdict: Boleh Makan!

Little Sister

2031 Yonge Street
Toronto, ON M4S 2A2
(416) 488-2031