Suresh Doss: This is another virtual pop-up that I came across on Instagram through my friend. The idea of a virtual pop-up is not new by any means, as you know. But because of the pandemic, we’re just seeing a lot of action in this space on social media, from both professional and home cooks that are using kitchens and selling food through Instagram and Facebook.
And in the last six months, personally, selfishly, I’ve seen and tasted so many expressions on regional cooking. Like in today’s example, KhaoSe TO — a pop up run by Nabiha Hussain and Jojo Rinch. And they’re serving food that you can’t find in a typical Pakistani restaurant.
Ismaila Alfa: OK, Suresh, that is a very bold claim considering we have many great Pakistani and Indian restaurants in the GTA.
Suresh Doss: You’re right. But it wasn’t until recently that we started to see micro-regional specialty dishes, because the appetite is growing in the city for it, right? Like this khao soi dish that Nabiha and Jojo make, which is originally this breakfast noodle soup that you would find in Myanmar (also known as Burma).
I want you to picture, Ismaila, these egg noodles that are kind of like dancing in the silky coconut milk broth with slices of curried chicken on top. And imagine that every spoonful you take will play a different chord.
Ismaila Alfa: So this is like the Thai khao soi, then?
Suresh Doss: Yeah. So there are versions of coconut milk-based noodle soups throughout southeast Asia, like the khao soi from Thailand, as you mentioned, and laksa in Malaysia. But Nabiha and Jojo wanted to make a very unique version of this, this Karachi interpretation of the dish.
Unlike the Burmese dish, in the Karachi version, the meat is kind of cooked separately and then mixed in with this milk gravy and the spaghetti.
Ismaila Alfa: Spaghetti?! is that a common ingredient?
Suresh Doss: Common enough. There are a few versions of this particular dish in Karachi, and some families will use flat noodles, wheat noodles. And many use spaghetti because of its just natural ability to cling to the sauces a lot better. So it just provides a better eating experience. And even then, there are many versions.
Jojo tells me that his grandmother would make this dish with a yogurt sauce instead of coconut milk. So similar to like the Punjabi pakora, where you have, like, pakora that’s dunked in a yogurt curry.
Nabiha’s grandmother, who is from Burma, uses coconut milk for the gravy. So what they’re doing is a new version. It’s a mix of both. And it really is a love song to both their grandmothers.
Ismaila Alfa: And they offer two types of khao soi? That’s the menu?
Suresh Doss: That’s the menu. There’s a beef version, where the meat is kind of cubed and cooked low and slow for three hours. So it kind of has this like Malaysian rendang quality, where it’s not really saucy.
The sauce is quite thick, and it clings to the noodles.
And there’s also a chicken version, which is wonderfully spicy. They don’t really hold back on the spice. So you get both of these dishes that are dressed with this wonderful assortment of crunchy bits on top, garlic chips and fried onions, and these things called slims, which are these small potato crisps that are a very popular street snack. And then there’s some green onions for vibrancy.
So when you order the food, and you get the dish, you pour the coconut gravy on top of the noodles and the meat sauce, and then you go to town and top it with the crunchy bits to your liking.
Ismaila Alfa: All right. So how do I order?
Suresh Doss: So you go on their Instagram, which is KhaoSe TO, and you place your order before noon. You pick either the beef or the chicken, or both, and you’ll be able to pick up your dinner near Yonge and Bloor. And depending on the size of your order and where you live, Nabiha will also arrange for delivery.
Ismaila Alfa: OK, so Nabiha and Jojo are using social media to find an audience. Was that always their intention?
Suresh Doss: So before COVID, they mentioned that they toyed with the idea of opening a restaurant. Jojo ran a bakery back in Karachi with his family. And Nabiha says that, you know, it was their intention to bring the food of their homeland to downtown Toronto, because most of the Indian restaurants that we see here are outside of the core.
But with COVID, they put their plans on hold, and they decided to experiment with this menu on Instagram, which I have to say has instantly found a following in the Pakistani community.
Ismaila, you can’t find this dish anywhere else.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
For more of Suresh’s picks, check out the map below.