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Introducing: Hawker Bar, Toronto’s first spot for Singapore-style street food

(Image: Karolyne Ellacott)

Hawker Bar joins the likes of The Saint and Bellwoods Brewery on the strip as the new kids on the Ossington block. Run by a pack of longtime friends—Casimir Alyea, Andrew Mistry and brothers Nicholas and Frederic Laliberté, who are also behind Poutini’s—the joint offers up a first for the city: Singaporean street grub.

After a trip to Australia and Southeast Asia, where the Laliberté brothers found themselves chowing down on street food from Singapore, they assumed they’d find it somewhere in Toronto when they got back at home. Much to their surprise, they could not. When chef pal Alec Martin heard them reminiscing about the stuff, he let it be known he could make a mean laksa—the rest was history. Squeezed in beside I Deal Coffee, the narrow space features cherry red walls and sundry wooden accents: an ash floor; a bar built from white oak and tree stump stools from the Ottawa Valley. Seating only 25, the vibe is casual, with many folks popping in to grab take-out. The menu is scrawled on bits of cardboard, with sharing encouraged and prices maxing out at $12.

Apps include “son-in-law” eggs, which are meant to be popped into the mouth whole; soft-boiled and then fried, the spheres are served with prik nam pla and house-made chili jam and garnished with fried shallots ($6). The focus of the menu is laksa, which falls somewhere between curry and pho, and is available in chicken, vegetarian or vegan versions. While steaming bowls of the stuff are churned out of the kitchen at a rapid-fire pace, creating the paste itself is quite time-consuming. A medley of galangal, turmeric, shallots, garlic, ginger and lemongrass is tossed into a food processor, then cooked down and blended with veg stock and coconut milk. The dish is then finalized with the addition of rice noodles, tofu puffs, snow peas, red pepper, eggplant, and—to top it off—a soft-boiled deep-fried egg ($9 for a small, $12 for a large). The short dessert menu includes banana fritters with house-made red bean ice cream ($4); the fritters’ vibrant green colour is thanks to the addition of pandan essence). While Hawker has already garnered plenty of, um, gawkers peering in through the front window, resistance from some neighbours has left the place sans liquor license. The owners hope to rectify this soon, but until then, diners will just have to resign themselves to a mocktail or two.

Hawker Bar, 164 Ossington Ave., 647-343-4698,

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  • Insulted singaporean

    I know these guys most likely have good intentions, but where the hell did these guys go to eat Singaporean hawker food? They’ve ruined some classics like the Chicken rice. Most Singaporeans would look at their interpretation with disgust.

    Also… we’re in the 21st century and last I checked… most hawker stalls use proper signage… not some hand-written piece of cardboard. For most authentic food that’s probably equally priced, there are far more authentic places around the GTA.

  • CBC

    It’s sad to see the food from my parent’s country done so poorly. It looks like they got sucked into the tourist trap food hawker centres in Singapore (Newton & Lau Pau Sat). The food looks almost identical to Melbourne’s Gingerboy (another restaurant attempt to spin on Singapore cuisine and where the Chef had worked).

    Where’s the Popiah, Rojak, Chili Crab, Fish Head Curry and more national dishes of a country that’s absolutely mad about food?

  • Michael

    I’ve been so excited for this place to open and I was beyond disappointed. First, my understanding of the “hawker” scene in singapore is that there can be 50 “Hawkers” on a block all serving something different and delicious. So, I expected an interesting menu with a variety of items. Instead there were just a few things scribbled on a piece of cardboard??? We were still excited about our choices. My second expectation is that when the menu is that small, they should be able to execute those few dishes really well. Everything was BRUTAL! They couldn’t even get the side of plain rice right. It was a bowl of wall paper paste!

  • Feel the same

    I usually do not post but I hope the owners read this so they can improve, the idea is fantastic, normally I head North to get my fill of Malay/Sing cuisine.

    Having travelled to Singapore and Malaysia, I can say this food was way off the mark, it was horrible! I have had better tasting more authentic entrees in food courts in Singapore, never mind hawker stands. Please owners, do a little more research, if the food is good, we will come back, lots of us will come back.

  • Igor Kenk

    Singapore isn’t a country. It’s a city-state like the Vatican.

  • Get it right

    Irgo Kenk – check your facts before writing an incorect statement.

  • Igor Kenk


    “Singapore is an island city-state in Southeast Asia. About 5 million people live and work within 700 square kilometres (270 sq mi), making Singapore the 2nd-most-densely populated country in the world after Monaco, another city-state. “

  • john smith

    We just happen to be recommended to this place and have not gone yet but are shocked to read such negative reviews ……we will still go to find out for ourselves… the saying goes no venture no gain …..
    mustn’t always belief what you read nothing personal
    I am also an X- singaporean………it would be bad not to find out for myself.

  • Kenny

    The food is a total disgrace to Singaporean cooking. The worst hawker food in Singapore is way better than the best (if there’s any) Hawker Bar has to offer. Please refrain from using name “hawker” and any affiliation with Singapore would perhaps be less insulting to their high standards of culinary skills.

  • Food Authority of Toronto

    To the so-called Singaporeans that are slamming this joint, take a chill pill.
    Finally the word “Hawker” has hit the Toronto landscape. Been explaining the meaning of this word to my local buddies for years.
    Everyone in that region knows that one does not go to Singapore to try Malaysian favourites. The real stuff is in Malaysia, not Singapore.
    I am glad the Aussie and company are introducing this style of food to the hipsters on Ossington although it may not be 100% authentic as there seems to be a modern twist to these old school favourites based on the pics. I will be coming down to try the food soon.
    It is sad that one clown is complaining about the signage. Probably doesn’t get out much and does not understand the current restaurant interior design trends. Wierdos!

  • Laverne

    Irgo Kenk, Singapore is officially known as the Republic of Singapore. It has its own national government, currency and standing army. Don’t let Wikipedia mislead you.

  • Rudy

    Igor Kenk: Singapore is a sovereign city-state, and one which occupies its full political and geographic boundary. As such, Singapore, officially Republic of Singapore, is a country.

    From wikipedia: “A country may be an independent sovereign state or one that is occupied by another state.” In the case of Singapore, it is not occupied by another state, and the country of Singapore exists as a sovereign state.

  • Rudy

    Having now viewed the photo gallery… I have never seen menus on cardboard in Singapore hawker centers (this must be like the Singapore Noodles that are popping up all over the US; these noodles are not available in Singapore); in fact, in most hawker centers, there are no table-side menus; instead, each hawker stall has a lit, plastic signboard advertising their wares at the stall.

    You might get fried Singapore chicken wing at the KFC, but nothing like that exists at the hawker centers. The curry pork satay is just plain wrong. Satay comes with a peanut dipping sauce in a separate bowl; never bathed in curry. Many satay vendors in Singapore are muslim, so pork satay would be a big no-no. The bowl of laksa looks like it might taste good, but it won’t be laksa, which derives part of its fierce flavor and texture from dried, salted shrimps, so laksa can’t be vegetarian. The Hainanese chicken rice looks like an abomination; it’s never served like this. Is the banana fritters supposed to be goreng pisang? When have they ever been green in Singapore?

    Please don’t think that hawker center food in Singapore is anything like this.

  • brisa

    How many Canadians can even place Singapore on a map?

  • Food Authority of Toronto

    Finally tried the food at Hawkerbar and would say it was satifactory but could improve.
    Like the take on Rendang…..Beef cheek meet was very tender and the rendang sauce was unique. Not traditional but had the flavor and it was unique.
    Chicken Satay was mediocre as it needs some spicing up….looks like thigh meat was used. Do agree with one other critic that the sauce should be served on the side. The traditional cut up cucumber, onions & maybe the rice dumpling (ketupat) would please the people from that region.

    Ice Kachang missed the mark completely. It was Ice Kachang minus the Kachang. It was missing all the ingredients that makes the Ice Kachang e.g. good helping of cooked red bean, corn, chendol, grassjelly, peanuts(Kachang), evaporated milk etc. The fancier ones have pieces of young coconut & palm fruit.
    It was scraped ice or a North American version of a Snow cone with Pandan & white palm sugar flavouring with a teasespoon of red bean & corn.

    The folks at Hawkerbar have the right idea and just need to do a little more research to fine tune the menu. Good starting point.
    Don’t worry about the Singaporean that are whinning as they should be happy that someone is introducing the food from that part of South East Asia to this city although all of these foods are part of the Malaysian cuisine.
    Call it Malaysian Hawker Food and it will shut them up.

  • Blissfully Ignorant

    Went here for a celebratory dinner a few nights ago and was pleased. I’d go back. Food was fresh, hot, nicely prepared.

    Everyone in our group was anything but from Singapore. We went because of good reviews noting more veg options than usual, as I don’t eat meat.

    Without deconstructing each dish, I’d say the restaurant offered a unique menu of fresh well prepared food. Whether or not the restaurant is authentic, it definitely is different and priced well. I had the block of oven baked silken tofu and it ended up being a really pleasing change from the usual vegetarian fare.

    To those foodies and people from Singapore who think some crime has been committed here, all I can ask is please look the other way. Many of us can’t hop on a plane to go half way around the world on a regular basis. We just want restaurants taking a few chances so that we aren’t eating the same things over and over again.

    And the handwritten menus were cute. Sapporo and 4 other beers on tap.

  • Linda

    We had dinner at Hawker Bar Monday evening and absolutely loved all our dishes. We shared most dishes such as the stingray, and coconut rice,the son-in-law deep fried eggs, and Laksa Lemak (coconut curry soup, noodles with snow peas and eggplant ++). Despite being fully sated we could not resist the Banana Fritter with Red Bean Ice cream – we waddled out of there but it was worth it! Staff was so friendly and explained each dish. We live in Mississauga and love that the route there is very direct and avoids downtown traffic. Like the comment above, thank you for introducing us to a new dining experience.

  • Tony N

    Most of these blogs on Singapore-style food lack an authentic Singaporean perspective — because GTA has few Singaporeans since relatively few ‘Singaporeans by birth’ emigrate from Singapore). I happen to be a Singaporean Canadian who was born in Singapore, lived there for 30 years, and loved eating the most delicious food at hawker centres throughout Singapore. I’ve also opened large 5-star luxury hotels in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Shanghai. So here’s my two cents.

    The GTA has several restaurants cashing in on Singapore’s fame by claiming to serve Singapore-style street food and/or to be ‘Singaporean restaurants’ (including ‘Singaporean-Malaysian restaurants’ that are really Malaysian-Chinese restaurants). However, for the past 20 years, there is only one restaurant serving genuine Singapore-style street food in the GTA — and it is certainly not the Hawker Bar, whose food is a bad facsimile of Singapore hawker food. Of course taste is personal, so you’re entitled to like whatever the Hawker Bar serves — even if you’re clueless about genuine Singapore food or have only a fleeting experience as a tourist.

    Since the mid-1990s, the GTA has always had authentic Singaporean street food — at Lion City restaurant in Mississauga.It probably makes the best Singaporean cuisine in North America (I’ve eaten ‘Singaporean cuisine’ in all major Canadian and American cities over the past 25 years). Lion City is right to claim that it “is the only restaurant in the Greater Toronto Area that is Singaporean owned and operated that offers authentic Singaporean cuisine”. You won’t find the fictional “Singapore noodles” common in a genuine Singapore hawker centre (it’s really a Hong Kong dish)… nor in Lion City restaurant.

    Owner and head chef Lilian Ow is genuine Singaporean (of Peranakan-Teochew Chinese heritage). Her preparations of hainanese chicken rice, laksa lemak, satay, char kway teow, ice kachang, pisang goreng, wat tan hor fun, fried carrot cake, beef rendang, chwee kway, oh luak, tahu goreng, rojak, popiah, spicy eggplant, hokkien mee, etc. is closest to the Singapore cuisine described in CNN’s “40 Singapore foods we can’t live without”, Forbes “The World’s Top 10 Cities for Street Food”, Dr. Leslie Tay’s “Top Ten Things to Eat in Singapore: The Hawker Edition (see his ieatishootipost blog), KF Seetoh’s makansutra, etc.

    Lion City remains the oldest restaurant in a predominantly HK Chinese plaza (it is one of only two restaurants that have not changed ownership in the Golden Square Centre plaza). This is testament to its quality and loyal customers.