Masrawy owner, Mohamed Salah Saleh, grew his catering buiness into a spacious Egyptian restaurant in Mississauga.

Long before Masrawy Egyptian Kitchen opened its doors in Mississauga, I was ordering food from its owner Mohamed Salah Saleh. I was working with the Egyptian Students’ Association at Ryerson University and options for catering culturally specific food were slim in the GTA. After hearing from a fellow member of the association about Saleh, who was cooking out of his home at the time in 2014, I sought him out for events.

We went to him because he made the food we were used to back home, and it was different from the typical Middle Eastern restaurants in the city. He specialized in things beyond the shawarma. He prepared macarona bechamel, a layered pasta dish that every Egyptian mom would make. His grape leaves were stuffed with rice and vegetables whereas many other Middle Eastern cuisines would add beef (typically in Egypt we keep the basic rice and veggies).

Chicken tikka, marinated and grilled half chicken, on a bed of rice.

Saleh has since grow his business into a spacious brick-and-mortar operation so that those who weren’t in the know before could order his food.

“We noticed that while almost every ethnic group has restaurants serving their national cuisine, Egyptian food was typically found only in the homes of Egyptian families,” said Saleh.

“I always look forward to seeing families and friends celebrating life and love with one another, while they are immersed in the most authentically welcoming Egyptian vibe they could have dreamed of. It’s nostalgic and the emotions on their faces make our hearts so full.”

Located in a plaza at the corner of Turney Drive and Britannia Road, west of Square One Shopping Centre, the restaurant is modern and bright with colourful tiles.

The menu has the staple dishes that have become familiar to people outside the Egyptian community thanks to other spots like Maha’s Egyptian Brunch in Toronto’s east end that helped bring the cuisine to diners’ attention. There’s the koshary, a carb-heavy layered dish of lentils, rice, pasta and tomato sauce; fuul, the breakfast dish of slow-cooked fava beans; and skewers of kofta.

Om Ali is an Egyptian dessert of bread soaked in milk and topped with coconut, raisins and pistachio.

On a recent visit, I brought along the Star’s food reporter Karon Liu, who wanted to order a few plates I considered essential since my family is from Cairo.

He’s had koshary and fuul, and Egyptian-style falafels before, so I ordered the molokhia, one of our national dishes and often referred to as “Royal Soup” because it supposedly has healing properties (despite its royal name, it’s an everyday soup at our house). It’s chopped mallow leaves stewed in chicken broth creating a thick, vegetable soup with a strong garlic flavour and a bit of cumin.

Fatta (braised lamb shank), often eaten during Eid, is served year round at Masrawy. The shank is braised for four hours until fork tender and served on top of rice flavoured with garlic, vinegar and tomato sauce with chunks of fried baladi bread and fried garlic to add a contrasting crispy texture.

Kebda eskandarani is an Alexandrian specialty of seared beef liver with peppers, onions and baladi bread, the ancient whole-wheat flatbread that fuels Egyptians. A squeeze of lemon gives the bittersweet liver an acidic zip.

A figure of Egyptian footballer Mohamed Salah is displayed at the restaurant.

Egyptian food draws influence from both the country’s geographical location — it’s in North Africa with the Middle East and Mediterranean and Red Seas as borders — and its history. Coastal cities like Alexandria tend to have dishes heavy in seafood, as well as spices like cumin and coriander, a nod to when the city served as a port for the spice trade.

In addition to having a large Muslim population, Egypt is also home to a large Coptic Christian population that abstains from animal products during fasting periods, so a good chunk of the dishes on Masrawy’s menu are naturally vegan or vegetarian (even if molokhia traditionally uses chicken broth, the restaurant makes a meat-free version).

While the restaurant itself is new, having opened just three years ago, it’s been a staple for those looking for a taste of Egypt and it’s also established itself as part of the community.

During one call, Saleh had to cut the interview short because he was making deliveries for a group of newcomers. The pandemic has ravaged the restaurant industry, but Saleh said it’s important to still look out for those around him.

“It shows our communities that we care about them, that we are knowledgeable and stand in support of their life choices.”

The Mainstays is a regular series highlighting long-standing restaurants and neighbourhood favourites of the GTA. Food reporter Karon Liu offers recommendations for delicious takeout while also sharing stories of how restaurateurs are faring in the pandemic. Craving something in particular? Email with what you’d like to see him write about in the future.

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