The Turkish community rallied around this restaurant, 20 years later it's still thriving in Etobicoke
Anatolia Restaurant is at 5112 Dundas St. W., in Etobicoke
Whenever I am asked for dining suggestions in Etobicoke, I point to three streets: Lakeshore Road West, Dundas Street West, and the Queensway.
Three streets that, in my opinion, wonderfully showcase Etobicoke's diverse food culture.
You can spend all day exploring the neighbourhood while also enjoying some of the best fish and chips, stuffed West Indian roti, and even some great Bangkok-style street food.
Ayse Aydemir's Anatolia Restaurant opened 20 years ago, and was one of the first Turkish restaurants in the area.
"When I opened this place, the plaza was empty," the owner and chef said. "Everything has changed."
The story behind Anatolia Restaurant is one of perseverance, and the power of a community coming together.
Aydemir was born near Ankara, where she was a stage actress in her early adult years before moving to B.C. shortly after getting married in the early 1990s.
"Life in B.C. was challenging, we didn't have success finding work. Then we heard about the wonderful Greek community in the Toronto area, and we decided to move," she explained.
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In Etobicoke, Aydemir was welcomed by the vibrant Turkish community, which regularly held cultural events throughout the city.
She noticed, though, that there was a void when it came to traditional Turkish cuisine.
"My friends in the community learned that I knew how to make Turkish phyllo pastry, and they encouraged me to open a place," she said.
Chef grew up cooking with family in Turkey
Aydemir had grown up learning how to cook from her mother and grandmother in kitchens where groups would gather to make everything from Turkish dumplings, or manti, to sigara boregi — crispy phyllo pastries stuffed with herb and cheese and rolled to look like thin cigars.
At first, she operated out of her apartment kitchen making phyllo for local community events and family gatherings. Eventually, Aydemir's food started popping up at the annual Turkish festival.
With a quickly growing business and the community's support, Aydemir moved her operations into a commercial facility off of the Kingsway. But the move was temporary as the landlord found a new tenant, leaving Aydemir without a space.
"It was a very stressful time for me but the community came with open arms," she said.
Members of the local community found a new space for Aydemir on Dundas Street West, and they even helped furnish the restaurant.
"Three ladies offered their help to decorate the place. They help painted the walls in the restaurant and donated Turkish paintings and money."
She decided to name the restaurant Anatolia, named after the westernmost Asian portion of Turkey — a region whose food is heavily influenced by trade and migration from its surrounding regions.
"When we first opened, it was mostly Turkish people that would dine here. Now I would say over 90 per cent of our diners are non-Turkish. They are people that want to know more about our culture," Aydemir says.
Phyllo is foundation of most dishes
Most of her dishes include phyllo pastry. Whether it's deep fried, baked or soaked in syrup, phyllo is the foundation of most dishes. This is what Aydemir built her mini empire on.
Anatolia's phyllo is crisp and light, but somehow also dense, with a bite to it, unlike the store-bought variety that has all the crisp, but none of the texture.
My first visit to Anatolia was sometime in the mid 2000s. I was in conversation with a friend of mine who was trying to explain manti to me. Manti are Turkish dumplings that visually resemble a mix between Italian ravioli and Chinese Jiaozi. Few places in the GTA offer manti, and even fewer did back then.
At Anatolia I was told manti is made from scratch every day.
The menu was foreign to me with little English translations, but the service was warm and friendly enough to help decode the dishes that I didn't recognize.
Minutes later, a bowl arrived at the table. A thick layer of yogurt was spattered with vibrant specks of red, green and black. Surrounding the yogurt was a thin veil of melted, browned butter.
From beneath the yogurt there were these faint streams of steam that floated above from pillowy dumplings.
The dumplings are stuffed with a herb-mixed meat, and when you spoon them from your plate your mouth is treated to a variety of textures and flavours, from the spice in the paprika, to the tang in the sumac, to the creaminess in the yogurt. The butter brings it all together with its nuttiness, which seems to accentuate all the other flavours.
I have never devoured something so quickly in my life. It's a dish that displays how Turkish cuisine has been influenced by the spice route and its neighbours, from the shell of the dumpling to the spices that finish the dish.
At Anatolia, manti is just the beginning. It is a gateway to a plethora of traditional Turkish dishes that speak to each corner of the transcontinental country.
Also try the adana kebab. Charcoal grilled beef and lamb kebabs are served on a bed of bulgur, and domates ezme — a spreadable mixture of chopped tomatoes, onions, peppers and spices.
For the full Anatolia experience, I recommend you gather a small group and make a reservation on the first Friday of the month. Once a month, Aydemir hosts a lavish dinner with live music and belly dancing, along with a prix-fixe menu with an array of appetizers and main dishes.
For Aydemir, these special dinners are a chance to showcase the vibrant dining culture of Ankara.
Anatolia Restaurant is at 5112 Dundas St. W., in Etobicoke.
Suresh Doss's weekly food segment airs every Thursday on Metro Morning. Watch for video of his jaunts across the city on CBC Toronto's Facebook page.
Do you know a GTA restaurant that Doss should visit? Tweet us @metromorning or send us a message on Facebook. And if you try any of the places he features, we want to see photos!