These fluffy, flaky and savoury Uruguayan empanadas are baked in Brampton
La Gran Uruguaya is located at 5 Ardglen Dr. in Brampton
My favourite type of street-style food is any kind of savoury stuffed pastry. I'm a sucker for Jamaican patty, Indian samosa, egg-stuffed parathas, Chinese bao, Sri Lankan short eats (I'll take all of them please), and empanadas.
A really satisfying empanada is harder to track down in the city. My personal preference is a baked version that derives from Argentina. They are half-moons with a slightly sweet and soft dough stuffed with lightly spiced meat and vegetables. Uruguayan empanadas, I recently learned, are similar to the Argentinian variety.
"The only difference really is the spicing sometimes and the use of olives," Cindy Silvera, owner of La Gran Uruguaya explained.
Silvera and her partner Jermaine Duhaney sell an assortment of Uruguayan pastries that are savoury and sweet at their bakery in Brampton. Puffy empanadas are baked daily that are stuffed with vegetables, cheese, and meat. My go-to is the classic lightly spiced beef.
I learned of La Gran Uruguaya, a parking spot-sized bakery located at the back of a strip mall, while eating through a strip mall at Kennedy Road and Clarence Street in Brampton.
That strip, visible from the main road, has a row of Sri Lankan, south Indian, and Nigerian shops. Tucked behind the row of restaurants is a larger, newer strip mall with a dozen more restaurants, including Vietnamese, Trini, and Afghani cuisine.
The street-facing restaurants are run by an older generation of first-wave immigrants, while the eateries in the new plaza are run by second-generation immigrants.
La Gran Uruguaya is tucked away in an adjacent building across the street close, to the residential neighbourhood. I was tipped off by the owner of a Nigerian restaurant in the row who expressed his love for a young couple making great Uruguayan empanadas.
"There's a sizeable Latin American population in Brampton, but we don't see any Uruguayan places," said co-owner Duhaney.
Duhaney is of Grenadian descent and Silvera comes from a Uruguayan family. Both were born in Canada, met when they were young and decided two years ago to open their shop.
Silvera said there are bakeries everywhere in Uruguay and that's why she decided to open one in Canada.
"They are meeting places for the local communities, right? So we wanted our own here," she said.
La Gran Uruguaya became a hit with the local Latin American contingent. You will run into throngs of families that stop by to pick up boxes of empanadas and biscochos on the weekends.
Biscochos are similar to croissants, a slightly ferment-y but flaky pastry that is stuffed with sweet jams and dulce de leche.
Due to the small seating in the bakery, you'll spot families enjoying an empanada or two curbside before they jump in the car and drive off. Important to note: if you want biscochos, go on the weekend and go early. They sell out quickly and are only sold on the weekend.
The best way to enjoy La Gran Uruguaya is to pick up an assorted box of savoury empanadas. They freeze very well, and get one or two ready to eat on the way out. I would suggest one stuffed with cheese, and try the jerk chicken empanada.
"It took us a few tries to perfect this," Duhaney explained.
"We felt that an empanada is a perfect vessel for something like jerk chicken."
I agree. Imagine chunks of heavily spiced chicken wrapped in a puffy blanket of dough. It packs a punch, the flavour and textural contrasts work very well in an empanada.
The jerk chicken empanada is a result of Silvera and Duhaney experimenting in the kitchen to expand beyond the classic menu. It is my favourite thing they make, along with whatever sweet biscochos I can get my hands on.