Macedonian Secrets | Toronto Global Eats Challenge #19

Pastrmajlija, a lard-covered flatbread topped with marinated meat and hot peppers at Macedonian Secrets, the only spot for Macedonian food in Toronto or near Toronto.
The homely, barebones interior of Macedonian Secrets, the only spot for Macedonian food in Toronto or near Toronto.

Country: North Macedonia

Restaurant: Macedonian Secrets

Neighbourhood: Newmarket

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The Spot

There’s a reason why I chose the GTA as the regional boundaries for this challenge. Toronto is fairly diverse but increasingly, suburbs are the last bastion of affordability for newer immigrant communities. The idea to visit Newmarket came from a Macedonian coworker, who lamented the lack of Macedonian food in Toronto. Within the community, she says, there’s a longstanding tradition of older generations preparing everything in their home kitchen. Macedonian Secrets is the first to bring the cuisine to the masses, ready to face the music of Macedonians loyal to their grandmothers’ cooking.

The exterior looks like an unassuming pizzeria (pizzas are on offer as well), but the Macedonian flag is a dead giveaway for those in the know. Upon entering is when I got a true taste of this spot’s character, provided entirely by owner Nicholas and his mother. Observing their simultaneously loving and snappy dialogue was the most memorable part of the visit, and that’s saying something. Nicholas is the definition of loud and proud, always ready with a witty response and very particular about respecting Macedonian tradition. They hand make everything, and watching them manipulate dough is a sight to behold. Knowing they would take their time, we placed our order and literally paced back-and-forth in anticipation.

Pastrmajlija, a lard-covered flatbread topped with marinated meat and hot peppers at Macedonian Secrets, the only spot for Macedonian food in Toronto or near Toronto.

The Pastrmajlija

There’s pizza, pide, manakeesh… and then there’s pastrmajlija. The world loves its baked-bread-with-toppings, but Nicholas was up front that this Macedonian rendition is heavier than most. They take thick dough, coat with a generous amount of lard, bake until crispy and add huge chunks of pork on top. Seriously, that’s it. There’s no tomato sauce or veggies to lighten the dish.

Their handworked dough wasn’t just for show – their work of art achieved my personal “three layer dough” designation. The base and crust had a super satisfying crisp from the lard, and Nicholas supercharged flavour by brushing on extra lard & spice mix just before baking. The middle of the dough was beautifully worked, with perfect air pockets and a great chew. The top, holding the pork, was richly soaked in olive oil and meat drippings, ensuring I didn’t feel the absence of a sauce.

The large pieces of pork tenderloin and shoulder were marinated in garlic, black pepper, paprika, olive oil and Vegeta seasoning. The texture of the meat was almost souvlaki-like, though the taste was largely carried by the paprika and Vegeta. Very tender and fatty, and completely unlike the crumbled meat that’s often layered on baked breads. The last minute addition of hot peppers (on request), sealed the deal. Full chili peppers doused in pork fat and lard is deadly, and I’m totally filing the combination away for future kitchen experiments.

Leek and onion zelnik at Macedonian Secrets, the only spot for Macedonian food in Toronto or near Toronto.

The “Appetizer” and Dessert

Their front display is fairly limited, given most items are made-to-order. What Nicholas guarantees is that there will always be zelnik, a savoury filo pastry made across the Balkans. Macedonians have a few tried-and-tested filling combinations, and we asked for Nicholas’s favourite. He blessed us with the leek and onion, accented with excellent feta that Macedonia has become famous for. The deeply savoury filling is an ideal contrast to their delicately layered, lard-fattened dough. Only true experts can create something so flaky, but it’s clearly second nature for Nicholas and his mother. FYI, we ordered just one portion and even that came sliced into four jumbo squares. Order a whole tray and you can feed a small village.

Last up was dessert, as if we hadn’t already ordered three days worth of calories. While their square baklava looked very appetizing, we settled on the lesser of two evils and got a couple pieces of gourabi, or walnut shortbread. On brand, they were like shortbread on steroids. I took one bite and the soft, dense and butter-loaded cookie crumbled in my mouth, mixing with the bits of topped walnut. This is a sneak downstairs at 2am, grab from cookie jar and feign ignorance the next morning type of cookie.

VERDICT: Macedonian food in Toronto may be missing, but this spot makes a trip to Newmarket very worthwhile.
UP NEXT: This country’s cuisine has some fantastic party snack recipes, include one with a very underrated cheese pull.

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