Toronto·SURESH DOSS

The Korean-style fried chicken at this Ajax restaurant is 'incredibly addictive'

Ating Bahay is located at 71 Station St #5, Ajax.

Ating Bahay is located at 71 Station St #5, Ajax

The soy garlic fried chicken has a rich flavour with an umami kick. (Suresh Doss)

Food writer Suresh Doss, in conversation with CBC Metro Morning host Ismaila Alfa, on the growing popularity of fried chicken.

Suresh Doss: Ismaila, I've noticed 5 or 6 places new every week that are offering fried chicken in some form. Or restaurants that used to have a completely different menu, but they're now offering fried chicken.

Ismaila Alfa: Why do you think it's getting so popular?

Suresh Doss: I think generally when people are ordering takeout, they want to order foods they can't easily make at home. I'd rather order fried chicken from a place that does them regularly and well without messing up my kitchen, with all the frying oil and mess. Also, fried chicken travels really well

Ismaila Alfa: The travelling well part of that is so important in these times when you're getting take-out and taking it back home to eat. 

Suresh Doss: Exactly, and on that note, I want to take you to the Durham region, to Ajax. 
Ating Bahay is a grocery store and a restaurant. It's a cornerstone for Filipino foods in Ajax. (Suresh Doss)

A few years ago I found this food spot in a community page, a hidden gem in every sense. This place is tucked behind a very big commercial plaza on Harwood road. I only found it because I went looking for it. Its called Ating Bahay and the owner Erick Lazaro and his family opened it up a few years ago and it became a cornerstone for Filipino food stuffs and for prepared dishes in the Durham region.

Ismaila Alfa: So it's a grocery store and a restaurant?

Suresh Doss: Yes, so you would go here to buy imported Filipino ingredients, stuff you won't normally get in grocery stores like Calamansi juice, or canned toppings to make halo halo — a wonderful Filipino iced dessert. You can get rare things like Suka Pinakurat there.

Ismaila Alfa: What's that? 
Ating Bahay is a hidden gem tucked away behind a big commercial plaza on Harwood road. (Suresh Doss)

Suresh Doss: It's a rare spiced vinegar made from fermented coconut sap. So a great place for ingredients for the home. And there was also a tight menu that Eric and his wife Ruby and son Ervin would prepare. You would find classic Filipono dishes like lechon kawali, fried pork belly, or pancit palabok, a popular noodle dish mixed with a sauce from shrimp stock  served with crisp pork belly and shrimp. This place Ismaila was also very popular for its boodle fight.

Ismaila Alfa: This is when you eat with your hands in Filipino culture?

Suresh Doss: Yes, also known as the Kamayan feast. Picture yourself sitting with a dozen of your closest friends and you have banana leaves spread across the table, and then an assortment of dishes are presented in front of you. There will be fried milkfish, dozens of spring rolls, plenty of shellfish — fried shrimp, mussels, an assortment of vegetables; steamed okra, stewed eggplant and a mound of garlic rice. The tradition is to just dig in with your hands, and enjoy this feast together.

Ismaila Alfa: I really wish I could be doing this right now.

Suresh Doss: I know and the good news is you can order the boodle fight, you'll still get all the elements just in a takeout form.

Ismaila Alfa: So tell me about the fried chicken on the menu. 
Ating Bahay is known for its boodle fight. You can get fried shrimp, mussels, steamed okra, stewed eggplant, a mound of garlic rice on a bed of banana leaves. The tradition is to enjoy this feast with a group. But, in pandemic times, you can get the boodle fight to go. (Suresh Doss)

Suresh Doss: When I went back to Ating Bahay about a month ago, I noticed that they were now serving fried chicken, Korean style. They added it in October. The story is this; Erick's son Ervin is a graduate from the culinary program at Centennial College and his partner, Dahee Lee is of Korean Descent. She was born in Seoul and her dad runs a fried chicken place there. With Covid, the family finally decided to try this concept that Dahee was encouraging. She came up with the sauces and some dishes inspired by her father.

Ismaila Alfa: How does it taste?

Suresh Doss: It is incredible. I'm going to say that this is the best, sauced fried chicken I have had in a long time. I got the yangnyeom fried chicken, a classic Korean style, where the chicken is tossed with a red Chile paste. It's incredibly addictive. There's this wonderful raw Chile note— but not spicy — and Dahee has added a few other ingredients. There's pronounced garlic and an underlining sweetness. But the most pleasing aspect is how crunchy the chicken is. Ismaila, it's like double the crunch of the next best place. Ervin and his mom Ruby say it's a secret technique and something they've perfected over the last year. 
The yangnyeom chicken at Ating Bahay is crunchy and flavourful. (Suresh Doss)

Ismaila Alfa: Are there any other type of fried chicken?

Suresh Doss: The garlic soy chicken and the spicy chicken. The garlic soy has a wonderful umami kick to it. It's got this really rich flavour. The spicy chicken, it just has more of the chili paste and then Dahee adds dried Chile to it. So it's got a kick. But again Ismaila, it's all about the crunch. 

Ismaila Alfa: So are there plans to keep this new hybrid menu once things go back to normal?

Suresh Doss: Absolutely, the fried chicken is a huge success. You have to order ahead by calling at least a day or two in advance. Don't just show up. Ervin and Dahee are very encouraged by this evolution and their hope is to one day open a Korean counter. Maybe it will be next to Ating Bahay, adding to the mosaic.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

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