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Ma Yve Grill
When thinking about the GTA, Pickering doesn’t immediately jump to mind as a hotspot for diverse cuisine. However, in recent years, its relative affordability has made the suburb an attractive option for immigrants. Ma Yve Grill in particular is a standout, as a rare Congolese restaurant in the GTA. The spot is named after the owner herself, Ma Yve. Ma is a term of endearment and respect for women in Congolese culture, and Yve is short for Yvette Kavungu. Her claim to fame is her friendship with Serge Ibaka, former Toronto Raptors player who would often seek out Yve’s food for a taste of home. But make no mistake, her success is attributed to her hard working and kind nature… and of course, the food!
Ask Yve for recommendations and she’ll be sure to suggest Ibaka’s favourite dish, fumbwa. This vegetable stew is protein-rich with wilted wild spinach and loads of thick peanut butter. The earthy and creamy mixture is often enjoyed with kwanga, grated and steamed yam that’s shaped into a log and wrapped in banana leaf. Very starchy and chewy, this foundational element of Congolese cuisine deviates from the typical rice or bread options in other cuisines. The power combo of fumbwa and kwanga are probably just as crucial to Ibaka’s chiseled physique as his workout regimen.
Kwanga is also an ideal partner for ntaba, a grilled goat dish that Yve serves with a chunky pepper sauce. Goat meat is undeniably chewier and tougher than most others, but Yve deftly leverages the texture to pair with the smooth and mushy kwanga. Acid and moisture from the pepper sauce ensures the meat is well tenderized, and her secret marinade piles on the flavour. There’s earthy hints of beef stock and herbaceous notes from some sort of all-purpose seasoning. Bellpeppers and other slightly spicy varieties of pepper are slow cooked until soft and juicy, and provide further contrast to the chewy meat.
Make sure to sample some of the made-to-order mikate for dessert. Mikate, also referred to as beignets in Congolese cuisine, are delightful balls of fried dough. Yve has mastered the texture, with an exterior crunch that gives way to the airy, chewy pockets of sweet dough on the inside. Old fashioned timbits would hide in shame at the sight of her mikate.
La Fuente Del Puro Sabor
Hidden away in the west end of North York is Plaza Latina, a vibrant hub for Toronto’s Latin American community. The 27-year-old blocky mall is home to a range of businesses, from telecomm providers to grocery stores to restaurants. At the heart of Plaza Latina is their food court, home to stalls that represent Colombian, Mexican, Chilean, Ecuadorian, Peruvian and Cuban cuisine. While they all compete for people’s bellies, La Fuente Del Puro Sabor has a monopoly on those looking to quench their thirst. This newly renovated stall is run by Martha and her children, and is as old as the plaza itself.
Martha herself is Ecuadorian, but her business smarts helped her quickly identify a demand for drinks from all the Latin American countries. She imports bottled and canned sodas from across the region, displaying the dizzying array of options at the front of her stall. Take a couple of those home but while visiting, the must-try is their comprehensive menu of natural juices. A great starting point is naranjilla juice, made with the pulp of a fruit whose scientific name means “from Quito”, the capital of Ecuador. This nightshade has a unique off-citrus flavour, often described as a combination of rhubarb and lime. Martha mixes the pulp perfectly with chilled water and a couple tablespoons of sugar to create a top tier heat-beating beverage.
For a comprehensive Ecuadorian experience, the far corner of the food court is home to El Comedor Popular Ecuatoriano. Here, a young woman patrols the front of the stall and packs orders whenever time allows in between. She proudly proclaims their Ecuadorian-style empanadas to be the best in the city, and she could very well be right. Start with a basic empanada de queso to savour the crispy, light and airy fried dough. Stretchy white cheese sticks to the inside and provides a salty kick, counteracted by a mandatory sprinkle of sugar.
Be sure to check out some of the other stalls in the mall – Plaza Latina is home to one of the best collection of women owned restaurants anywhere in the GTA.
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