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

Monday, August 8, 2011

A visit to Toronto's only Burmese restaurant

****Dec 2012 Update***This restaurant is now closed. Karelia Kitchen, a Scandinavian restaurant, is now at this address. 

Did you know that Toronto has a Burmese neighbourhood? On Bloor Street between Landsdowne and Dufferin, there is a small but growing population of people from Burma (Myanmar). 

The strip consists of a few variety stores selling imported Burmese food, but as there are sanctions preventing imports from the isolated country, the merchandise comes from neighbouring countries such as Thailand. In one of the stores, a sketchy looking outlet cluttered with piles of dusty merchandise, the clerk will tell you tales of his time fighting the Burmese army in the jungles that straddle the Burmese/Thai border.

His story is a common one on this strip. Many of the local Burmese are refugees from the Karen ethnic group. After suffering under the Burmese military regime and spending years in Thai refugee camps, they came to Canada to start their lives again. 

Thida Khine (above), a former computer teacher in Rangoon, came to Canada in 1993 as part of an earlier wave of Burmese migration. For years, she ran her restaurant, Motherhome Myanmar Cuisine, at Front Street and Blue Jays Way, but moved the business to 1194 Bloor Street West a year ago to take advantage of cheaper rents and to be closer to the Burmese community. "Lots of people from our country live around here," she says. 

Burmese food is a tasty blend of flavours that you also find in other Asian cuisines. "Our cooking is similar to India, China and Thailand, but the spices are different," says Thida. "In our country we use fresh herbs like lemon grass, curry leaves, basil, and lots of different kinds of coriander."

I'd recommend trying the daily special. For just $5 for take out ($5.99 for eat-in), you can get an excellent curry from the steam tray, served with veggies and rice or noodles. They also serve street snacks like Baja-gjo ("gold coin," something similar to a pakora), golden triangles (samosas) and mutton rolls. 

If you're more adventurous, you can order dishes off the menu that are more distinctly Burmese. I tried the tea leaf salad (below left), a classic Burmese dish that is a staple of social gatherings, as the caffeine gives you a bit of a buzz. I've got to say that this dish, made of fermented tea leaves, is incredibly bitter and might not be the best choice for your first visit. The moke hin nga (below right) is a safer bet: it's a dense soup made of minced fish, noodles, lemon grass, coriander.

One of the charms of Motherhome is that it serves as a de facto student cafeteria for Burmese university students studying in Toronto. Students such as this York University business student (below) pay in advance for a meal plan of 15 to 60 meals. This provides a much welcome taste of home for students on their own in a far away land. 

Motherhome Myanmar Cuisine, 1194 Bloor Street West. Tel: 416 792-2593. Open Monday to Friday 10:30 am to 10pm; Saturday and Sunday 1pm to 10pm.

****Dec 2012 Update***This restaurant is now closed. Karelia Kitchen, a Scandinavian restaurant, is now at this address. 

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  1. Hey Sarah.

    Thanks for another great tip.

    The only time I've had Burmese food is in San Fran. There are a handful of restos there. I happened upon Pagan restaurant completely by chance right outside Lincoln Park after visiting the Legion of Honor museum. I ordered a noodle dish and was pleasantly surprised when the server came and tossed the curry sauce right at the table. I also remember how they used ground dried split pea powder as a thickener.

    Do you recall seeing anything like this on Motherhome's a la carte menu?

  2. Hi Gilbert,

    I've got their take-out menu here. They describe their Burmese curries as made of tomatoes, onion, tamarind sauce, malasa, lemon grass, coriander and chili. No mention of split peas, but you should ask them about it. Funny, I was just in San Fran and I noticed a Burmese place there.

    cheers, Sarah

  3. Interesting - I did not know that Toronto had a Burmese restaurant, and I had searched but never heard of this one. Rangoon in Philadelphia is an old favourite of mine - and quite well known and popular there. I will have to see if this compares. And on the split pea issue, one of the dishes at Rangoon was always served with dried yellow split peas as a crunchy garnish.

  4. My only other experience with Burmese food was Burma Super in San Francisco, which was one of my favourite food experiences — pretty colours, spicy, and a non-pretentious/laid back atmosphere (I'll link a picture of one of the dishes I had).


    While the man working at Motherhome when I went there was very friendly, I must admit I was rather disappointed with my experience. To me it seemed just like mediocre, western Chinese food.

    I am, though, excited about the possibilities of ordering items not on their menu! How does that process work out — do you need to order ahead of time, and are the items listed anywhere?

    Btw, really happy to have found this blog! Darcy from Food Forwards mentioned it to me tonight and I was very excited to hear about this combination of Spicy + ethnic foods + Toronto :)


    1. Hi Jason!
      check out the myanmar pavilion at carabram in Brampton. it starts on july 13th to july 15th. you wont be disappointed. They sell some dishes of burmese food and you can also buy those pickled tea leaves there .. but you need to buy passport ... sort of like CNE .. there are some shows too.. not just burmese, other cultures too.. kids under 12 are free to get in..
      here is the link
      or www.mcab.ca

  5. Before I forget, thank you Anonymous! I will look into these later on, when I am not at work!

  6. Thanks! Enjoyed a very good Burmese meal in Ottawa a week ago. Looking forward to trying this place.

  7. Hi

    I called the number for Motherhome (416-792-2593) and it was a recording. Sounded like a home number. Is the store still open?
    Any Filipino restaurants in GTA?

    1. Hi John

      I'm pretty sure Motherhome is still open--just go by and check it out. There's a good Filipino place at the Scadding Court Market aka Market 707. Check out kanto.ca.

      cheers, Sarah @ Spice City TO