Try a slice of Laguna at this Filipino pie shop in Toronto
Verna's Laguna Special Buko Pie is at 356 Wilson Ave, North York
Suresh Doss: Ismaila, I'd like to introduce you to buko pies. This is a sweet Filipino delicacy and I suggest we go to a shop called Verna's Laguna Special Buko Pie.
Ismaila Alfa: That's a real mouthful just in the name. Where is Verna's Laguna Special Buko Pie?
Suresh Doss: It's on Wilson Avenue, on the stretch from Bathurst [Street] to Allen Road, you'll find a number of Filipino businesses here, small food shops, restaurants and cafes.
What impresses me about this strip is that it's a place in Toronto where you can find regional Filipino food that goes beyond the ambassador dishes because it's tailored to the local community. It's places like Verna's Laguna, which is a place that specializes almost entirely in one Filipino delicacy; buko pie.
Ismaila Alfa: I've never had a buko pie. What is it like?
Suresh Doss: I'm not surprised because it's hard to find. I haven't had it either until I went to this place. It looks like a regular fruit pie. You have a dough that has a perfect crust. Sometimes it has a lattice, sometimes there isn't. And there is a filling inside. And here is where things get interesting.
It's essentially a remix of the American apple pie ... Decades ago a woman named Soledad Pahud was working in the U.S. as a maid and she learned to make apple pies. When she returned to the Philippines, she created an alternate version, substituting young coconut for apples.
And it became this specialty in the city Laguna, on the island of Luzon. And that's where the owners of Verna's, Myrna and Silverio Mundin, are from.
Ismaila Alfa: How did Myrna and Silverio get into the pie-making business?
Suresh Doss: Silverio says that growing up there were rows of buko pie stores in his hometown. And his family ran a bakery where they specialized in these pies, creating variations of them with other types of tropical fruit
Ismaila Alfa: So baking buko pies is practically in Silverio's DNA.
Suresh Doss: Yeah I would say so. So, then, years later, he marries Myrna and they start a family. And then in 2007, she arrived in Canada as a caregiver on her own.
A few years later, the family is reunited in Canada, Silverio feels this yearning to make the pies of his homeland because he couldn't find them here.
And he partners with Myrna, who has never made it before. And they start to make a few versions, which Silverio takes to his day job and he shares it with colleagues. They love it, they start to order pies and soon enough this leads them on this journey where they open this modest little place on Wilson Avenue where they make about a half a dozen versions of pies daily.
Ismaila Alfa: So there's more than one pie?
Suresh Doss: Let me run you through the menu. So the original pie is the one made with young coconut.
So the pie has this really nice thin shell on the surface, and the inside you have this creamy filling, and there are these small slivers of young coconut. So as you're waiting for it, you get these pops of crunch. It's not a sweet pie, which I very much appreciate, and you have the wonderful aromatics of the coconut.
Ismaila Alfa: That's wonderful to hear because, while I like desserts, when they're too sweet, it's a bit too much for me.
Suresh Doss: I'm on your team with that. And in this case, too, you see something that looks like an apple pie but when you bite into it, it tastes so tropical, which is a nice surprise.
Second, there's the Ube pie, which I cannot skip over. Ube, being purple yam, is everywhere in Fiipino cooking, from pastries to soups to desserts. Myrna cooks ube low and slow to the point where it has this creamy consistency, a step or two away from being pudding-like.
And she finishes it in the pie crust in the oven. You cut into it and you're greeted with this bright purple interior. It's wonderfully creamy and tastes somewhat like mashed potatoes because it's yam. But it's much more gentle and sweet, with a hint of pistachio.
If you want the ultimate Myrna pie, it's the Ube Macapuno.
In this pie, there is coconut and ube. You get the tropical notes of the coconut and cream and the nutty and starchy quality of the ube. It was really wonderful. It sells out fast so I would call ahead. With all the pies, its best to call a day or two ahead and order them
Ismaila Alfa: So we have to try the coconut and the ube. Anything else?
Suresh Doss: On the weekends, there are specials. I had a pineapple pie that was wonderful. So they take whole pineapple and boil it down and create this really chunky marriage of citrus and apple notes. And that's really wonderful.
There's also this egg pie, which Silverio says is his favourite. I want you to imagine a marriage between a flan and a cheesecake. It's got that condensed consistency between the two and it's really good — really pronounced egg flavour but it's a wonderful not-so-sweet pie.
But the trick here is to try a few pies and work your way through the menu.
Ismaila Alfa: I didn't hear about a pie I wouldn't take great delight in trying there.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.