A petite, older lady in giant sunglasses came in the door with her husband at One2 Snacks in deepest Scarberia. “Do you have any of the sweets left?”
No, we’re sold out, said the friendly young man behind the counter. The woman and her husband went back to the drawing board and the woman noticed us looking at the large colour pictures of different Malaysian delicacies on the wall. “Oooh, I’ve had that chicken curry, it’s very very tasty…what are you getting?”
Char Kway Teow (a mixed fried noodle dish) and Curry Laksa noodle soup, as a matter of fact. Margie has been on a long quest for laksa since her last trip to Australia, and it was inevitable that we would find ourselves here, standing in front of this particular take out counter. “Laksa is my signature dish,” the young man had told us. “I really think you should try it,” he said, gently steering us away from our original request for Loh Meen, an obscure item that he suggested was more of an acquired taste (read: “you will probably hate it”). We originally intended to just pick up one dish, but at these prices ($5.99 each for the noodles and the laksa), why not play around?
One2 Snacks was written up by the Star last year as one of the places You Must Go To, but the clientele still appears to be primarily Malay. While we chatted with Sunglasses Lady, her hand placed companionably on Margie’s wrist whenever she really needed to emphasize something, another young woman popped her head in the door: “Are there any sweets left?” “No.”
One2 is famous for Malaysian desserts that are both difficult to make and difficult to find, and sells them only on weekends. According to the Star, arriving any time after 2pm and expecting to find these sweets available for sale is a laughable exercise in optimism, but the whole time we waited, hopeful people continued to arrive.
But fortunately, they never seem to run out of the savoury dishes. After about 15 minutes, three styrofoam containers were handed out from the kitchen: the char kway teow in one, the laksa carefully divided between the other two (noodles in one, soup in the other, only to be combined at the last minute before consumption).
We were offered a choice of noodles (thick yellow egg noodles, or fine rice vermicelli) but went with a mix. The char kway teow was made with thick flat rice “ho fun” noodles. “I’ll give you some of this, too,” said the young man, holding up a tiny plastic container with about two teaspoons of an innocent looking reddish-pink paste, “but be careful, it’s incredibly hot. It’s balacan.” Okay, then.
It was very tempting to perch on one of the three stools along a bench at the window and get right into the food, but we had a car full of goodies from all our other stops on the Scarberian culinary road trip and we had to be on our way. Among other things, we had a box of baklava from Patisserie Royale burning a hole in our plastic bags:
Patisserie Royale was the southernmost of our stops, a Syrian/Lebanese bakery with a sideline in other foods, including traditional string cheese and halloumi. It’s part bakery, part community centre, with a comfy couch and bulletin board, but 100% serious when it comes to the careful crafting of authentic middle eastern baklava:
So precise, so elegant, so delicate and so delicious. They have other baked goods, but there is no need to stray from the long row of a dozen or so wide metal trays holding beautifully wrought, sticky, nutty jewels of pastry perfection:
This is most definitely, most defiantly *not* a nut free environment. There are slight fluctuations in price per different type of sweet, but the best strategy is to take the hit and pay the small premium for mixed sweets ($27.00/kg vs. $24.00-$25.00/kg). We got one (sometimes two) of everything, which rang up at about $14.00. The friendly guys behind the counter pack it up nicely in a little box for you: the perfect hostess gift, unless you can’t stop yourself from devouring the contents in the car. Not that you would ever do that. Of course.
What I’m saying is that we had somewhere to be, which was back at Margie’s place, at the bottom of a bunch of plastic bags. I slopped brilliantly yellow curry laksa on her tablecloth, I was in such a rush:
Because that laksa smelled amazing. A thick, creamy, coconutty broth, with beads of chili oil spreading over the surface, loaded with moist roasted chicken, fish balls, big pink prawns, the occasional bit of soft cooked potato or a strand of onion here and there. The broth enveloped the noodles, and there were a few handfuls of fresh bean sprouts thrown in with the noodles for some crunchy contrast. “It’s not the fish head broth laksa,” the young man had said, “it’s chicken based,” and indeed, the broth was run through with golden chicken flavour.
The prawns were well cooked, considering how long they’d been sitting in hot broth in the car: my guess is that if you ate this at One2 Snacks instead of taking it home, the prawns would be just right, barely cooked, only just turned pink. The noodles also tasted great, because they hadn’t soaked in the curry and taken on too much of the taste. We were glad we had asked for medium heat: anything hotter would have obscured the subtlety of the broth too much. I did catch myself wishing for a squeeze of lime, or a sprig of fresh coriander, but that would have taken the whole composition in too much of a Thai direction, I suppose.
The char kway teow was a thick tangle of dark fried rice noodles, slices of chicken, fried egg, green onion, prawns, bean sprouts. We cautiously applied a little of the balancan on this: worth doing. It was tasty, but a bit oily and the chili cut right through that. Both dishes were extremely good value for the money.
After plowing through the Chinese barbeque and the sampling the samosas (see companion post, “World Tour of Scarberia – Part 1”), at last, it was time for dessert. Needless to say, a short recovery period was needed and we took our time clearing up the dishes; Margie brewed a pot of extra-special Mariage Freres “Rouge D’Automne” black tea, freshly imported from Paris. A fine cup of a tea is the ideal thing to pair with the prospect offered by a box like this one:
Like players of an exquisite game of chess, we sat across from each other at the table, adroitly choosing this piece or that piece in alternation. I opened, with walnut…Margie blocked with pistachio:
Covered in fine kataifi phyllo, the pistachio nuts underneath were a vivid, fresh green. Everything, the assabeh (simple rolls of phyllo wrapped around finely ground almonds or walnuts, densely packed together with honey) to the basma (a layer of nuts between two layers of semolina baked crust, soaked with rosewater and honey) to the fat rounds of borma (kataifi rolled around a thick core of candied almonds) was impeccably fresh. A deft hand with the butter endowed every bite with a rich crunch, but always drew back before anything got too heavy.
Baklava, though usually cut into small pieces, can often be both overly, unpleasantly syrupy and dense: both of these sins are nothing but the memory of a bad dream at Patisserie Royale. The balance between the nuts, the honey, and the rose and orange flower water, and the remarkable airiness of the hundreds of delicate phyllo layers is close to divine. I’ve had baklava as good as this before: but only once, and it was made by someone’s Greek yia-yia/grandma. Margie thought it stacked up well even against the vast reputation of Abdul Rahman Hallab in Tripoli.
The nuts were nicely roasted, and the turnover in the kitchen at Patisserie Royale ensures that they’ll never be in the storeroom more than a week. The honey tasted warm and sweet but never cloying, and if the late afternoon sunlight of the mediterranean tastes like anything, it might be that. Margie held up a piece appraisingly: “it can only taste like this when it’s made with a lot of love.” Amen. From Scarborough, with love.
Patisserie Royale, 1801 Lawrence Avenue East (at Pharmacy) – http://patisserieroyale.com
Mixed, transporting baklava $27.00/kg
One2 Snacks, 8 Glen Watford Drive (Midland and Sheppard)
No dish more expensive than $6.25