Banana Mafia presents Asian Street Market

Posted on May 16, 2012


When my friend invited me to an Asian-themed-cookoff, a foodie like me ultimately has only one option.  To say yes, of course!  My friend Robbie Hojilla, sous-chef at esteemed Ursa Restaurant, emailed me about Banana Mafia and its inaugural Asian Street Market food event held at Amsterdam Brewery last night. Banana Mafia is a collective of chefs showcasing contemporary Asian cuisine.  Together with Robbie, included in the list were Chef Nick Liu of upcoming GwaiLo, Leemo Han of Swish, Jeff Claudio of Yours Truly and Jonathan Poon of Chantecler. With the exception of Ursa, I haven’t been to any of the restaurants of the four other participating chefs. I was most in anticipation in tasting Chef Nick Liu’s food as I have heard so much about his cult following during his time at Niagara Café.    There was also curiosity for the food offerings of Yours Truly as it also have raving reviews in the Twitterverse.

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I arrived at the event 5 minutes early and saw that parking was not an issue in this event.   There was a vast parking lot behind Amsterdam Brewery and it almost feel absurd that I have the luxury of free parking in the middle of downtown Toronto. As I was approaching the building, I noticed my friend Robbie fussing over a warm grill.  I stopped to say hello and he gave me a run-down of what his dish was for the night.  His protein was pork and that was music to any Filipino’s ears (*insert big grin here!*).  His description of his marinated pork that he was crisping up the grill just whetted my appetite.  I love it that he always seemed to pull his inspiration from Filipino cuisine and surprising me with how he delivers it using Canadian ingredients.

As I was early, I arrived on site than my friends, Diona and Trevor.  The night being a little on the chilly side, I entered the event venue alone and took the time taking pictures.  It is quite cool to see the visible sections of the brewery and have the leisure to look around.  If I weren’t that cold, I would have stayed longer to look around and do more photography of the beer casks and the beer paraphernalia that were within my reach.  Ah well, the alternative was not all that bad.  It was me taking part in a cook-off.

Following the sounds of faint music and audible chatter, I walked up a ramp and saw that a wide space of a sea of tables and hawker stands line up one side.  Before getting inside, I was handed a loot bag that has my food tickets, chopsticks, wasabi peas and candies. A few minutes after sitting down, I was handed my complimentary Amsterdam beer.  What made it even more exceptional was that my friend Robbie came up from behind me and gave me a big piece of chicharon.  What foodie would turn that down?  Like seriously!  I must have looked so lonely while waiting for Diona and Trevor. It was so sweet for Robbie to take time to hand deliver the chicharon despite his crazy busy time prepping for his hawker booth.

Before I could finish the chicharon (I didn’t finish it right away as I was taking pics of it of course!), Diona and Trevor arrived and I split the chicharon with Diona.  That was a good start of the night, tasting really crisp and well-seasoned chicharon.  We then lined up for Jeff Claudio’s Bang Bang Chicken and my!  Wasn’t that fireworks in my mouth!  After a few bites, I was impressed with the layers of texture and flavour.  I just wish I have a high tolerance for ultra spicy dishes.  After all those years of Indian curries, biryani and samosas, I find I still have a lot to learn.  That level of heat was beyond me and was not able to finish the big serving.  Ah well, I have my work cut out for me for next time.

We then moved on and lined up for Chef Nick Liu’s sambal trout.  It was quite entertaining to see his quick hand put together his dish.  He was explaining that it was fresh sambal trout that was sourced locally from Goossens Trout Farm, with in-season crisped fiddleheads and a jellyfish slaw.  I wished I heard what was the green that he garnished his dish with.  With music blaring in the background, I didn’t catch the name.  After taking pictures in much haste, the first crunch of the breaded sambal trout was satisfying.  What most surprised me was how much I loved the crisped fiddleheads.  I think I could eat a whole plate of that alone and  started daydreaming about running away with Chef Nick Liu’s tub of crisped fiddleheads.

Next in line was Chef Leemo Han’s steak tartare.  Laden with garlic, jalapeño, cilantro, Korean pear, pine nut and quail yolk, the steak tartare was quite generous in size.  As Chef Han hands us our food, he told us to mix the serving to get the most of what he created.  The meat was marinated perfectly and the texture that was brought by the Korean pear and pine nuts enhanced the dish.

We then finally approach Robbie’s hawker stand and I stand there in anticipation as he prepped our servings.  He again repeated his vision to Diona and Trevor as he handed us our food.  Of course, the snapping of the pictures happened first before I dug in.  The pork was so tender I could easily pull the meat apart with my chop sticks.  I initially thought I had to have a fork to cut it up in small pieces but my chopsticks did the job just fine.  The meat had a good crusty sear and the fermented vegetables and ramps completed the dish.  I wish I was home and have the comfort of eating this dish at my leisure with a cup of steamed jasmine rice.  It reminded me of my grandfather’s pork humba recipe.  Soft and tender pork, flavorful and elegant.

Saving the sweet for last, we line up for Chef Jonny Poon’s Almond Tofu with Asian Pears in an Osmanthus Syrup.  Watching him prep for another foodie, I confirmed that his dessert was similar to a sweet Filipino snack we call taho.  Soft and smooth curd made of bitter almonds,  I wait in line in anticipation.  I expected it to have the same feel as taho as he combined it with a sweet syrup and tapioca pearls.  As I tasted my first spoonful, I was comforted by the smoothness of the almond tofu and the texture that was added by the Asian Pears.  It was a good ending to the night’s feast.

Thank you Robbie for inviting me to this event.  I hope there would be more Banana Mafia events to follow! :)

Posted in: Toronto Eats