I consider myself blessed to live by and work in one of the most multicultural cities in the world. I don’t need to travel far to get a taste of authentic cuisines from all over the world. It’s all right here in Toronto.
One of my coworkers, Pria, who was born in Sri Lanka of Tamil descent often brings her homemade lunch to work. She’ll heat it up in the microwave, sit down and start to eat that incredibly fragrant food. My nose reacts to it immediately, and hunger takes over me that I have the desire to eat my lunch right after the smell of her food hits me. Whenever we have potluck lunches, Pria will cook and bring her native food. Every time, it is wonderful, and I can’t wait to dig in. I asked her where I could get some takeout food, and she told me of a place in Scarborough, called Babu Catering and Takeout.
Scarborough was once a suburb bordering the east side of Toronto but has since merged along with other former suburbs into a mega-city all under the name of Toronto, with a population of over 1.5 million people. Scarborough was recently mentioned by writer, food blogger (and economist) Tyler Cowen as one of the best places anywhere to go to find the best ethnic food. http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2015/03/scarborough-ontario.html
One thing about the Greater Toronto Area (or the GTA, as we call it) is that it can easily take over an hour or more to commute from one end of the city to the other. My wife and I both work in the downtown core of the city. Scarborough is out in the east end of the city, and we live out in the suburbs west of the city.
In our quest for the best food, my wife and I are willing to go to great lengths in search of new food experiences. So one day, after work we decided to embark on a journey to take us there.
Babu Catering and Takeout specializes in Sri Lankan, Tamil, South Asian and Indian food. They have two locations, the one we chose to go to is the original one located in a strip mall in Scarborough. As we drove past an independent computer service business, auto tire and lube shop, hair salon, and other small businesses, we spotted Babu off in the distance, towards the back of the strip mall. By the time we got there, it was dark and the lights of the red and gold sign called out to us from the darkness.
As we entered, the smell was intoxicating. The many dishes were countless. We told them that my Sri Lankan co-worker recommended this place to us and asked them what their most popular dishes were. They were very helpful and gave us a little sample of a few of their dishes. The place quickly filled up with all kinds of people in line, many Sri Lankans and a few local “Scarberians” who obviously knew that this was the place to come for great spicy take-out food. There were so many choices that it was hard to decide. We ended up selecting chicken korma, chilli chicken, roasted mutton, eggplant pickle, and kottu roti with masala beef. As we left, we took some pictures of the outside of the place. Then we made the trek back home. We were lucky because rush hour was ending, it only took us under an hour to get home in the opposite end of the GTA.
By the time we got home, I was tired and hungry, and the smell of the food was driving me crazy. I didn’t want to wait any longer. As soon as Diana took some pictures of the dishes for this blog article, I grabbed the platter away from her and started to dig in. The smell of the different curries was vibrant. The dishes were hot and spicy, some more than others, but overall the layers of flavour were the most important thing to me. You could taste all of the spices. A very enjoyable, flavourful, satisfying meal I have to say. The meat was very tender and moist, and they gave us good portions of meat. All of the food we tried was very good, but two dishes stood out for me. One was the kottu roti that is made fresh and is cut up into small pieces like pasta, then mixed with your choice of curry. I’ve never had roti like that before. It was delicious. The second dish that stood out was the eggplant pickle; it was very spicy and sweet. Something different and very tasty. I noticed that a lot of the dishes had green chili peppers in them.
The one thing I sometimes worry about when trying out new hot and spicy food is the after effects on my digestion. The best thing about this food from Babu is that it is hot going in but not hot coming out if you know what I mean! It digested extremely well, like an everyday meal. No upset stomach, no problems from beginning to end! This speaks to the fact that this food was fresh, clean and properly prepared which is always important when eating any take-out food.
I would recommend Sri Lankan cuisine to anyone who loves, and I mean LOVES flavourful, hot and spicy food. It’s worth the drive to Scarborough to get your heat on!
By the way, I ate the food over the course of a couple of days just because we ordered a lot of food to sample a variety of dishes. The heat preserves it, and it tasted better each day. I’m happy to say that my mouth got used to the heat. The flavours were so great there’s no way I was going to let any of this go to waste!
Challenger’s Quest for the Best
Bree Hutchins created a beautiful book titled, “Hidden Kitchen’s of Sri Lanka”. It’s filled with stunning photography and real stories of the wonderful Sri Lankan people who shared their love of cooking with her. If you want to discover more about Sri Lanka and their food, this book is a good place to start.
If you want to find the best food in and around your area (or in any major metropolitan city), check out this article written by economist and foodie Tyler Cowen. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/05/six-rules-for-dining-out/308929/ He is right on the ball when it comes to discovering great food. I’ve always applied the same tips myself, even before I heard of this guy. He just wrote them out before I got a chance to!
Tyler Cowen also wrote a book a few years back titled, “An Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies” which shares his love of food along with his extensive knowledge of economics to make you think, not only about the food you eat, but where it comes from and how economics (globally and locally) effect the quality and availability of the food that we eat.