This Armenian dumpling dish goes back decades at one Scarborough shop
Mamajoun is located at 209 Ellesmere Rd. in Scarborough
There is a small stretch of Ellesmere Road in Scarborough, from Pharmacy to Warden Avenue, that punches above its weight when it comes to mom-and-pop food shops, but in my opinion does not get enough notice.
Mamajoun is new to the block, which includes Kostas Meat Market, a samosa shop, Hakka restaurant and Lebanese kebab takeout cafe. Owner Mihran Boudakian opened his shop as an ode to his grandfather and his lifelong career as a baker in Syria.
"My grandfather had a bakery in Syria, where he was widely recognized for making lahmajoun. My father and his siblings grew up in the bakery helping him at a young age," Boudakian explained.
Lahmajoun, Armenian-style pizza, has been Boudakian's specialty since he opened the shop in 2013 and it is how I discovered him.
In the early days, Boudakian ran the shop himself. He would greet you, explain the menu, take your order and disappear into the kitchen to cook. A few minutes later he'd arrive with paper thin flatbreads which he would dress with an assortment of spreads.
"The thinness is key. Lahmajoun, Armenian lahmajoun needs to be thin and light," Boudakian explained about the flatbread.
For your first time I suggest you get Lahmajoun topped with red pepper paste or za'taar. There's also the papajoun, flatbread topped with a mix of ground beef, red pepper paste, garlic and onion.
The lahmajoun is some of the best I have found in the GTA and Boudakian insists on making each batch by hand. It is key in getting the desired consistency and thinness without compromising dough quality. You should also know that he's still using the same recipe as his grandfather, a century-old recipe that he is trying to preserve.
Through the years I've witnessed families drive in and out of the province to pick up stacks of lahmajoun. In one case, a family drove in from Detroit for the weekend.
During their late morning meal, Boudakian surprised the family with what looked like bowls of chunky tomato soup. "Enjoy the mante," he said as he presented the bowls.
Mante is a dumpling dish that is popular in Turkic cuisine. A while back I featured the Turkish version at Anatolia Restaurant in Etobicoke.
Boudakian serves the Armenian version based on his grandmother's recipe.
"Apparently when I was a kid I was a picky eater, I didn't eat anything. My grandmother would feed me her mante because it was the only thing I'd eat," he said.
Something as simple as dumplings soaked in a tomato-chicken consommé can bring back hits of nostalgia with the first spoonful. When you receive a bowl of mante at Mamajoun, you'll see a bed of dumplings surrounded nearly to the top by bright red liquid with a generous dollop of yoghurt on top.
It arrives warm. Stir the bowl a few times to mix the yoghurt into the consommé, then scoop soup and dumpling into your mouth.
The flavour of chicken and umami from the tomato essence will hit first and last as you bite through the dumplings. There's a subtle hint of spice that comes through with the tartness of the sumac that lingers.
Both the lahmajoun and the mante are from century-old recipes. This recurring theme of preserving his family's legacy comes full circle for Boudakian with the mante.
"I feel like with both these dishes, I am able to pay respect to both sides of my family."
So the obvious question is, why is it an off-menu item? Boudakian runs a small operation at Mamajoun, the lahmajouns are made daily by hand.
"We can't use machines. It changes the dough. I don't even have room for machines here even if I wanted to have them," he explained.
Compared to your average dry or soup dumplings, mante are a fraction of the size. Pinches of meat filling are dropped into small square sheets of dough. The edges are then squeezed and pinched a few times to trap the meat into the dough.
"There's a technique to pinching them that I haven't quite mastered yet. You can't do it quickly. My dad will come in to help once in a while. His eye sight is poor but he does it all through muscle memory. It's impressive to watch."
Once the mante is formed, it goes into the oven where the heat crisps up the horns of the dumpling.
Until recently, Boudakian only offered frozen mante by weight at Mamajoun and because it sells out quickly, you'd have to get them Tuesdays because that's when the kitchen makes them. But, now they're available daily.
The surrounding Maryvale neighbourhood of Scarborough is home to a significant Armenian population, many families frequent Mamajoun on the weekends following services at the Church of St. Andrew Anglican. The church has created a community for Armenian newcomers, who have since discovered Mamajoun through word of mouth.
"A few years ago I didn't have the capacity to do lahmajoun and mante. Thankfully I've had a lot of support from the local community which motivated me to put this dish on the menu."