From ugali to puff-puff, this Scarborough restaurant serves up beloved East African dishes

Pili Pili is located at 1960 Lawrence Ave E, Scarborough

Pili Pili is located at 1960 Lawrence Ave E. in Scarborough

Pili Pili is run by Azim Kara and his partner Amanda Hagerman. (Suresh Doss/CBC)

Metro Morning's food guide, Suresh Doss, joins us every week to talk about one of the many great GTA eateries he's discovered. 

Today, he talked to host Ismaila Alfa about a spot in Scarborough where you can find East African comfort dishes.

Ismaila: So we're heading back to Shawarma Row this week in Scarborough this week? 

Suresh: If you haven't figured out by now, Ismaila, we're going to cover every inch of Lawrence Avenue East. But yes, we're back to Wexford Heights in Scarborough.

I want to talk about this wonderful East African place, Pili Pili. It's been open for nearly a decade as one of the signature strip plazas that sit on Lawrence Avenue.

It's run by Azim Kara and his partner Amanda Hagerman. The menu is broad, but it's essentially a takeout counter, and that's important. Because while Azim's and Amanda's cooking is heavily influenced by Tanzanian and Kenyan food, there are some wonderful tweaks because they're food is suited to go.

Mandazi, a sweet fried dough, is served with a bowl of barazi, pigeon peas cooked in a coconut curry with green chilies and ginger and garlic. (Suresh Doss/CBC)

Ismaila: Give me an example of that. 

Suresh: An example is ugali, one of the signature foods of Africa. It's a type of cornmeal that has different names as you travel throughout Africa. In South Africa, it's pap

I think you know it as fufu in West Africa. It's this pliable, thickened porridge that is a vessel. You pluck a piece of the cornmeal with your hand, then you make a dent in it with your thumb. Then it becomes a vessel to pair it with greens or stews.

Azim got a lot of requests for ugali, but he wanted to present it in a more takeout friendly fashion. They look like thick hand-cut fries, but really well seasoned. And you can get the ugali fries at Pili Pili with all sorts of dishes. 

You can get it with the mishkaki – different cuts of meat that are generously seasoned and grilled. You can even order it in poutine form, where it's served with cheese curds and a really thick spicy gravy. 

I personally love to have it with this hen dish they have on the menu.

Pili Pili's dishes are influenced by Tanzanian and Kenyan food. (Suresh Doss/CBC)

Ismaila: Tell me about this dish.

Suresh: So it's basically a Cornish hen that is fried whole. After it's crisped up, it's then tossed in a secret sauce blend with a variety of spices, thick enough that it clings on to the chicken. It has a really nice tangy note to it, which [resembles] the way meats were preserved generations ago with a lot of lemon.

That and the ugali fries come with this spicy mayo that's made with garam masala. It's great. 

I've got one more item for you to try: mandazi

Ismaila: It's a fried bread sort of thing, right? 

Suresh: So this is the fried sweet bread, the beignet that is also common throughout Africa. 

It has different names as you cross every border such as puff-puff or bofrot. It is a signature item here at Pili Pili. 

Picture a big triangular piece of fried dough, it's got a thin layer of crunch on the outside that gives way to the softest interior. 

Mandazi varies from place to place. Sometimes it's made with baking spices, so there might be cardamom or cardamom and cinnamon together. There's eggs in the dough, coconut milk sometimes.

Pili Pili's cornish hen is served with ugali fries, fries and naan. (Suresh Doss/CBC)

Ismaila: It's not an easy thing to master, you're aiming for a soft and stretchy dough. 

I have tried making this at home. It takes some skill. 

You want to be careful with how much flour you add or how much you knead. 

Ismaila, there have been many times where I will just pop in to Pili Pili just to get my fix of mandazi.

Mandazi is fried sweet bread, similar to a donut. (Suresh Doss/CBC)

Suresh: I was recently introduced by Azim to a very personal dish of his that uses mandazi. He grew up in a Muslim community on Dundas Street near Bloor Street. He remembers that after religious services, everyone would be served mandazi with a plate of barazi, which is pigeon peas cooked in a coconut curry with green chilies and ginger and garlic. 

Ismaila: It really sounds like the ultimate comfort food, doesn't it? 

Suresh: It's so satisfying. I can see the nostalgia when I eat the dish. 


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