Where chef Tawfik Shehata gets to-go curry crab, pan-fried pork buns and massive sandwiches

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Where chef Tawfik Shehata gets to-go curry crab, pan-fried pork buns and massive sandwiches

We’re asking Toronto chefs and restaurateurs which takeout dishes have been getting them through the pandemic

Having spent over three decades in the restaurant industry, Tawfik Shehata has lead kitchen brigades in busy Financial District spots (Vertical, The Ballroom) to Caribbean resorts. He’s currently the executive chef at the International Centre, a spokesperson for Foodland Ontario and a teacher at George Brown’s Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts and Humber College’s faculty of business. But somehow, he and his partner, Christine Holloway, found the time to launch a cooking school last year. Julia’s Child offers virtual classes for students of all ages, who are encouraged to make a meal for their family after each session.

When he’s not cooking—or helping others learn to cook—Shehata is supporting local businesses. “Almost every small restaurant owner has a family, and I think of my own family and the struggles this pandemic has caused,” Shehata shares. “If we don’t support them now, they may not be around when the pandemic is finally over. Small family-owned businesses are what make our city diverse and unique. Many introduce us to their culture through their cuisine, and to lose that would be devastating.” Here are some of the local mom-and-pop restaurants Shehata likes to frequent.

Saigon Star

330 Highway 7 E., Richmond Hill, 905-731-7221, saigonstartoronto.com

“I have been going here for over 20 years. They are well known for their B.C. crab. Service is great and the owner always stops by each table to say hello to diners—back when indoor dining was permitted, of course. When you order the crab—and you must—they include a plastic apron and gloves so you can dig in with abandon.”

Go-to dish 1: Lemongrass black pepper crab
Tasting notes: “They dip the crab in seasoned egg whites then deep-fry it. Then, it’s tossed in a sauce made with lemongrass and coarsely ground black and white pepper. The way the coating and sauce cling to the crab makes it tempting to eat it—shell and all.”

Go-to dish 2: House famous specialty curry crab
Tasting notes: “This is another hot mess of deliciousness. The crab is tossed in rice wine and a simple curry sauce. The simplicity is magic—the sweetness of the crab really shines through. Be warned, though, that things can get messy. It’s wise to order a side of the Malaysian roti, as it would be a shame to let that any of that sauce go to waste.

Go-to dish 3: Pineapple fried rice or fried rice with cashew nuts
Tasting notes: “I don’t like anything to get in the way of the crab, but I still want something good to go along with it. The pineapple fried rice is served old school–style in a hollowed-out half pineapple.”

Big Beef Bowl

8362 Kennedy Rd., Unionville, 905-470-7575, bigbeefbowl.com

“This 10-seat noodle shop was once in Toronto and considered a destination. And when it relocated to Markham, loyal customers started to make the trip. They offer a variety of noodle thickness, all with a fantastic chewy texture. Chef Evan Lu worked for me at Vertical Restaurant, before venturing off to work his noodle magic.”

Go-to dish 1: Braised beef brisket bowl
Tasting notes: “Perfectly tender braised brisket in an awesome broth with daikon and yu choi. Every order of noodles is hand-pulled to order.”

Go-to dish 2: Shanghai pan-fried bao (pork)
Tasting notes: “These are similar to xiao long bao, but a million times better. They’re crispy on the bottom, chewy on the top and filled with a super tasty broth.”

Topol Sandwich

8 Kingsdale Ave., North York, 416-792-1333, topolsandwich.com

“Topol means ‘fat’ or ‘filling’ in Farsi, and these sandwiches are both of those things. There are lots of great sandwiches in the city but for an amazing, unique experience this can’t be beat.”

Go-to dish 1: The Bomb Lati
Tasting notes: “Packed with Persian sausage, deli chicken, fried sausage, fresh mushrooms, potato sticks and Topol sauce, one sandwich is about the size of my forearm. It’s topped with mozzarella cheese which is seared on a flat top creating a crispy and gooey crust that traps everything inside. It’s fresh, crunchy and one sandwich can easily satisfy two people.”

Go-to dish 2: Bomb hotdog
Tasting notes: “This also borders on the ridiculous, but I mean that in the best possible way.”

Go-to dish 3: Special Fries
Tasting notes: “If a sandwich and hot dog isn’t enough, these fries are topped with deli beef, mushrooms, bell peppers and mozzarella cheese.”