Journalist Sarah Efron explores strip malls and hole-in-the-wall restaurants in search of the city's best ethnic food

Monday, August 15, 2011

Great street eats from Malaysia served up cheap in Scarborough

***UPDATE: Gourmet Garden is now called Gourmet Malaysia and it is now located across the street at 4466 Sheppard Ave. East.

Behind a nondescript plaza filled with shady massage joints in Scarborough, there's a small building housing a food court. If you like spicy Asian street food, it's worth the trek to check out Gourmet Garden Malaysian and Singaporean Cuisine at 4465 Sheppard Ave. East.

This place has a big menu of Malaysian, Singaporean and Indonesian rice and noodle dishes and curries selling from $5 to $8. If you come on a weekend before the dinner hour, you'll see people picking up giant batches of food for family gatherings at home. Customers tend to be immigrants from South East or South Asia.

The restaurant is run by the husband and wife team of Tan "Yummy" Hok Kien (above), who hails from Java, Indonesia, and Amy Lam, from Ipoh, Malaysia. Amy and the team of cooks handle the day to day orders while Yummy fields calls at his job as a computer support tech while moonlighting at the restaurant. 

Yummy says Gourmet Garden's set up and recipes are modelled after street vendors, called hawkers, that run food stalls in Asia. "Hawking is like calling out, it's like the sound a bird makes," says Yummy. "Here people pay and sit down and we call out their order, like hawkers do in Asian when your food is ready." 

We ordered soto ayam (above), a giant tasty Indonesian soup made with chicken, vermicelli and tumeric. The chicken satay skewers didn't have the best quality meat, but the satay sauce was delicious. My favourite was mee goreng, a giant plate of fried spicy noodles with bean sprouts, green onion, fish cake and squid. 

Another good dish was the nasi lemak (below), coconut rice served with curry chicken and sambal prawn curry. The prawn curry is sweet when you first taste it, but it's followed by a powerful spicy kick. This version is a deal for just $6.50, but you might be better off getting the smaller snack version of the dish, which sells for around two bucks—according to Yummy, its served wrapped on a banana leaf and features a spicier, more authentic recipe. 

If you're feeling adventurous, top the meal off with an "ais kacang." This is a dessert made of crushed ice and topped off with everything but the kitchen sink. The ice is sweetened with syrup and comes with strings of jelly, salted peanuts, creamed corn (!), red beans and sweet basil seeds that taste like tapioca. Yes, it is just as disgusting as it sounds, but worth trying just once for an unforgettable culinary experience. 

Thanks to Anthony and Anna for the tip. Autoshare provided transportation for this Spice City Toronto mission. 

Gourmet Garden is located at 4465 Sheppard Ave. East, Tel: 416-322-8765 or 647-764-1188. Hours are 11am to 9pm Sunday to Thursday, 11am to 10 pm Friday and Saturday, CLOSED on Tuesday. 

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  1. Awesome post Sarah ! that dessert looks insane : )

  2. I just found your blog through your posts on Torontoist.

    It is amazing. I am amazed. I need a car.

  3. Thanks Michael. For what it's worth, I don't have a car either. I get to all the places on the blog using my bike or AutoShare.

  4. how much was the ice kacag?

  5. Just checking my take-out menu. Ais kacang is $4.99.

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  7. My SO and I went here on Sunday(make sure you google map before you go - we forgot and had to drive to the Fairview Mall to use the internet at the Apple Store to look at this blog again to find it! I'm so ashamed...)

    The Nasi Lemak was fantastic, and Hainanese Chicken Rice was the best I've had outside of Penang. I lived and travelled in South East for about a year and a half so know my food from there. Loved it!

    The only bad part was they misunderstood my SO's order the first time and served a plate of deep fried chicken wings, plain (not so good). AND, I can't believe I FORGOT to get the Ice Kichang! It was my favourite desert in Malaysia and Singapore. Oh well, will just have to make another trip I guess.

    Thakns for the great find. Love the blog!

  8. Ah!! I used to live in Singapore as a Student and have been missing the food way too much! This post is amazing!! Cant wait for some Chicken rice and Nasi Lemak.