A foodie’s gold mine
Mississauga plaza has plenty of gems: from Vietnamese hot pot to freshly roasted nuts
‘‘ People love my food because I put a lot of work and detail into it. I put love inside everything
CATHYHUYNA, DAI BI CHAY
Officially called Cawthra Holdings, this two-story plaza north of the QEW in Mississauga doesn’t look very remarkable outside of its green roofs, but there is a reason why the parking lot is so often full by the late morning and some of the shops have lineups: This is one of the best places for food in the Greater Toronto Area.
There aren’t many signs or indicators (or menus for that matter) at 2395 and 2399 Cawthra Rd. to make it known, but this is the place where diners can find one of the GTA’s few fully vegetarian Vietnamese restaurants; Iraqi caterers that do gigantic platters and freshly baked bread, or if you ask nicely, an off-menu takeout lunch; a Palestinian-style dairy shop that makes its own ice cream, ghee and cheese; and a bulk food shop that roasts its own nuts (they are so good you won’t want to return to pre-packaged stuff ).
Rather than doing neighbourhood guides, we’ll be eating through a suburban plaza every once in awhile. This week, we take a look (and of course, a lot of bites) at where to get a full day of meals (and leftovers) to make this Mississauga plaza a worthwhile visit. Invite friends, bring an empty stomach and make room in the fridge.
There’s no shortage of Vietnamese pho restaurants and banh mi shops along Dundas Street East from Bloor to Hurontario in Mississauga. But Dai Bi Chay, a vegetarian Vietnamese restaurant, is one of the few places to get hot pot.
It’s a beautiful sight: A ring of lettuce, watercress, mushrooms, tofu blocks, mock seafood and meats sit above a portable stove of bubbling broth (available in mushroom, soy bean paste with lemongrass, taro paste or, the most popular option, tom yum). Save the noodles for the end, once the broth gets even more flavourful after simmering the mushrooms and greens.
For the solo diner, the bun bo hue chay (spicy vegetarian noodle soup) has greens, tofu, mushrooms and sticks of chewy mock meat swimming in a bright red broth.
Owner Cathy Huyna and her husband Quoc previously ran restaurants that made the usual beef broth pho, but in 2012, Cathy became a vegetarian when she went to Vietnam after her mother died.
“I’m a Buddhist. I prayed for her for 49 days and started eating vegetarian,” she said. “When I came back to Canada, I had a pho restaurant and was still cooking meat, but in my mind I wanted to open a vegetarian restaurant. I go to temple a lot and the monks cook vegetarian very well and I learned from them.”
In addition to the sit down restaurant, there is also a hot takeout counter of vegetables and mock meats (including some very convincing roast pork with crackling). In front is a mini market with packaged dried seitan, condiments like vegan fish sauce and house-made chili oils, and bottles of concentrated Vietnamese coffee for sale.
There’s a narrative in North America that plant-based dining is still a novelty or uphill battle, but when Dai Bi Chay opened in the plaza in 2017, it was an immediate hit since vegetarian cooking has long been established in Asian cultures.
“That day when I opened, I got 60 people from the (nearby) Chinese temple and we were fully booked,” Cathy said. “Right now, a lot of people are becoming vegan and vegetarian so that brings more customers.”
The plaza at 2399 Cawthra Rd. might be easily missed, but those in the know keep coming back.
“People love my food because I put a lot of work and detail into it,” said Cathy. “I put love inside everything.”