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Pili Pili

Posted by Jason Finestone / Profiled on July 5, 2013 / review policy

Pili Pili TorontoPili Pili on Lawrence East is where to go in Toronto for Tanzanian treats. Primarily a takeout driven destination for Tanzanians all across Toronto who know a thing of two about their ethnic cuisine, Pili Pili only officially opened their doors on June 1st but already they've amassed a loyal following.

Pili Pili TorontoWord of mouth has spread and the only complaints seem to be that the restaurant's mogo (fried, seasoned cassava root) is too addictive, and their Pili Pili AAA beef ribs (available by the pound - starting at $7.99) are too affordable.

Pili Pili TorontoAlmost all of their meats, condiments and snacks, like the crack-tastic Hollywood Chevdo ($5) - a mix of kefir lime leaf and citrus seasoned kettle chips, almonds, cashews, peanuts, rice puffs, yellow dal, green chilies and golden raisins - are pre-packaged or vacuum sealed for take-out.

Pili Pili TorontoFor those interested in eating in, there's a small circular table in the corner. The samosas ($1/each, $11/dozen) are as distinct from any I've ever tried - delicate wrapping stuffed with a dense but flavourful and juicy blend of either minced beef or chicken breast with green onion, coriander, lemon zest, green chilies and spices. Coming soon, I'm told, are samosas stuffed with jerk chicken, curry chicken, spinach and feta cheese.

Pili Pili TorontoThe most unique and most exceptional menu offering is their kebabs ($.80/each, $9/dozen). Not skewered, not grilled, but balled and fried, the kebab's crispy exterior contrasts with a soft blend of minced meat that melts effortlessly onto your palate. They work perfectly with an accompanying dip of sweet tamarind sauce, a dab of coriander yoghurt or a plunge into the requisite mbuzi (a habanero and tomato water sauce that's used as frequently and liberally as salt and pepper). I could eat these all day.

Pili Pili TorontoThrough sips of my Brio-esque Vimto soda my only decision was which bite to go for next. Would it be the saucy Korean short ribs ($10), or the smoky chicken leg quarters ($8) that were cooked in a scorching tandoor oven and then finished on the grill with signature Pili Pili sauce and dry spice blend?

Pili Pili TorontoInevitably, I kept coming back to the tender morsels of mishkaki ($10) - marinated for up to three days, the skewered bite-sized pieces of striploin were like little nuggets of meaty heaven.

If it's too much of a hike to get over to Pili Pili on the reg, you might want to consider signing up for their tiffin program to get the food delivered to your home. For the time being, Pili Pili will be offering up free delivery for their 5-tiered pre-packed lunches. At $12 for veg and $13 for meat, the tiffin comes packed with an appetizer, two curries, rice, and bread (naan, chapatti, or whatever fits best with the meal).

Pili Pili Toronto



Brandon / July 5, 2013 at 11:37 am
Looks pretty tasty. I'm guessing their name means something in Tanzanian, but I couldn't help but think they got the idea when they overheard a Filipino person speaking at a Portuguese restaurant...
gingerbread replying to a comment from Brandon / July 5, 2013 at 11:46 am
Lmfao I'm dying. That's hilarious. I thought the same too. A filipino trying to say "peri peri"
TO Gal / July 5, 2013 at 11:48 am
What is their delivery zone for tiffin service? That sounds amazing!
Angie / July 5, 2013 at 12:15 pm
Tanzania was "discovered" by Vasco de Gama (high school history has somehow stayed in my brain!) so Portuguese culture was inbued into a lot of the food and culture. I recently wiki-learned that Nando's is a South-African chain and serves portuguese-Mozambique-an food - another vestige of those colonial days.
puddlz replying to a comment from Brandon / July 5, 2013 at 12:18 pm
Hi Brandon,
Tanzanian is not a language. The official languages of Tanzania are Swahili and English.
Pili Pili means chili or pepper.
oph replying to a comment from Angie / July 5, 2013 at 01:53 pm
But the cuisine at this restaurant sways more Indian than Portuguese, owing to the large Indian population found throughout East Africa with many of them originating in Gujarat and what is now Sindh province in Pakistan. Hence the abundance of beef on the menu (the majority of traders were Muslim) and no mention of the Portuguese favourite pork.

The tiffin service sounds great and pretty affordable as well.
Swahili nation / July 5, 2013 at 06:41 pm
Pili pili means chilli pepper. Green peppers are "pili pili hoho"

A famous swahili wisecrack is "Pili pili usiyoila yakuwashiani?" used when someone is bitching about something that doesn't affect them directly. It literally asks one why they are burned by chillies they haven't eaten.

Pardon the terrible explanation... Swahili is a lovely language though

And this resto doesn't begin to capture the variety of food in TZ
Brandon replying to a comment from puddlz / July 5, 2013 at 07:28 pm
It was a joke...
Raheem / July 5, 2013 at 08:45 pm
This place is AMAZING - their ribs are the best. Unlike any other. My parents are from Tanzania and this food is right there with it. Think Indian and BBQ with really fresh ingredients. Just amazing stuff.
Urban Gal / July 5, 2013 at 11:15 pm
The food at Pili Pili is MOUTHWATERING and the chefs are passionate about the food they create and serve. Everything is fresh and made daily. It's an authentic blend of East African and Indian food. I live downtown but the trip to Lawrence East is worth it. You must try it - you will be going back for more! It is absolutely delicious!!
Mike / July 6, 2013 at 09:48 am
Food is incredible. Tanzanian food sounded exotic so I had to try it. Easily one of the top five eat options in the city. I just ordered 20 lbs of marinated ribs for this weekend for a bbq
R / July 6, 2013 at 11:08 am
Tried the ribs and fries and it was pretty good. The fries were spicy and lemon flavored a good mix. The ribs were tasty along with a spicy sauce on the side. A good takeout place.
aalimr / July 6, 2013 at 02:17 pm
is it take out only or is there space to sit down?
Shawn replying to a comment from aalimr / July 7, 2013 at 11:21 am
According to the review its primarily takeout with a circular table in the corner for eating...
Angie replying to a comment from oph / July 7, 2013 at 12:38 pm
ooh I didn't know that, cool! definitely going to try this week!
naxo / July 10, 2013 at 03:20 pm
i am there next week there......
Nahid / July 11, 2013 at 12:34 pm
The food here is great! So tasty! The chefs are passionate and this shows in their food. I have ordered some of their pre-marinated meats and they are great! If you haven't tried Pili Pili out it is a must!
mehbs replying to a comment from Angie / July 11, 2013 at 05:32 pm
tanzania was not discovered by vasco da gama the locals had discovered first famous explorers who visited tanganyika were david livinstone h m stanley the famous i presume vasco da gama passed by mombasa kenya back to the past friend
Rehana / July 13, 2013 at 11:00 am
Is the meat halal?
Karima / July 15, 2013 at 06:40 pm
Looking forward to some delicious food
Ed / July 16, 2013 at 11:31 am
Sounds great, is there a location in the West end?
sal / July 19, 2013 at 03:36 am
I this is the only location
Sal / July 19, 2013 at 03:38 am
Food is halal
Bobby / July 28, 2013 at 01:21 pm
Amaze-balls! Like nothing you've tried or will find anywhere in the city! An explosion of flavour! The short ribs are unbelievably delicious, and the mogo is cooked to perfection! I will definitely be a regular, these guys are super friendly! You MUST try this place!
Sherif Nathoo / July 29, 2013 at 12:32 pm
I have eaten here a few times and I must say this is the best East African Restaurant in town. I think these guys have the right idea and their customer service is bar none the best!
Tasnim / July 31, 2013 at 10:03 pm
haya basi we will visit you soon.
Amitab / August 2, 2013 at 07:01 pm
Ofcourse halal, really home cooking .. eat and bee happee.
Hugh / August 5, 2013 at 10:52 pm
We went today, inspired by this profile. We didn't know anything about Tanzanian food.

It was great fun. The two staff were friendly and helpful. The food was new to us and we liked it. The spicing was unique.

The ribs were very tender and tasty. Apparently they are marinated for two days.

The kebab were crispy on the outside and soft and moist on the inside. Very nice.

The Vimto tasted to me more like cream soda than Brio Chinotto. But at least some of the flavour was from real fruit, so it was more complex than cream soda.

We enjoyed everything. We will be back.
Dan / August 13, 2013 at 11:29 pm
After reading about Pili Pili here, we ordered for pickup and ventured out on Saturday. Order was promptly ready when we arrived, and we talked to one of the people there (I'm guessing the owner) who was really friendly.

We ordered the kebabs, short ribs, mishkaki, samosas and mogo. Along with the proteins and starch (mogo) we were given a bevy of sauces/chutneys to go with. The person helping us explained what each of the sauces were and what they best accompanied. Sauces were diverse in flavour and all delicious. Same can be said of everything else - very flavourful, and the short ribs were extremely tender. Samosas were different than the typical Indian variety that I'm used to in they were filled with vegetables but no potato, and had a really interesting mustard seed kick.

Highly recommended.
Naz / August 25, 2013 at 10:33 am
The food is awesome and the service is great. Highly Recommended...
Natasha / September 29, 2013 at 01:51 am
I remember finding this blog while searching for a place that sales Tanzanian food in Toronto-after reading all the amazing comments I was convinced enough to drive down to Pili Pili with my mother to experience what others were talking about. Upon arriving there, Zuli was very welcoming,friendly and helpful- their customer service is on point.

Oh, and the food...Oh my, you've got to go if you haven't yet. You are missing out!I had mishikaki, spicy fries and muhogo. Mhh...Let me tell you the food was the point that I had to order round two. Seriously I am telling you once you go there-you will defenitely go back for some more. Honestly...Go check it out for yourself and you'll see what i'm talking about.

I had a great time and I will be back.

karim samji / October 21, 2013 at 05:28 pm
great food ....very tasty....great value for the meal.....

all the best zuly....
masi replying to a comment from puddlz / November 6, 2013 at 01:28 pm
It looks so good< I will definitely try it, how can anything with hot peppers be bad.
Al / November 8, 2013 at 12:00 pm
The food is great overall. Portions are small for the prices.
We ordered 3 ribs, 3 chicken and 3 mishkaki, with Mogo and 2 plates Kababs. The total cost was about $140. The 7 of us finished it all and could have eaten some more.
Delicious meats and one of the best mogo I have eaten. So I guess it was worth it and I would order again but not as often as I would like to.
As for service, it was fair, though the food was not ready when requested even though the order was placed over 4 hours before.
Malachy / November 11, 2013 at 11:50 am
The food was great no doubt but the quantity did not match the cost.Ordered 1 mishkaki with mogo and paid $14 for a regular take away container.Would not go there very soon. Wait time also long as the items start getting prepared once you order.
Tara / December 11, 2013 at 09:35 am
I have been to Pili Pili on two separate occasions ordering a variety of options from the menu (Beef Mishkaki, Kebobs, Chicken Samosas, Mogo, Ribs, Chicken Mishkaki, Beef Bun) and I must say both times were mediocre at best. Let me start with the meat quality, it is very tender, juicy and that’s about all I liked about this place. The portions to cost ratio did not add up in my books. For such a small quantity of samosas, meat and fries or mogo (I wish they had rice) it cost me a whopping $12-$15! The flavors were on the bitter side of things with a very vinegary undertone to all of the dishes, which I was not a fan of. Sorry to say but I would much rather go to a place like Baymian Kebob where the portions, quality of meat and flavors are all excellent in my books.
Food lover replying to a comment from Malachy / April 12, 2014 at 04:53 pm
This is not a fast food joint my friend. They prepare everything from scratch with high quality ingredients. The ribs are AAA grade for example, very few places serve this quality. They cook when you order because this type of food needs to be served hot and fresh. Take the best steak, cook it, then let it sit and get cold. It's not a great steak... if you're impatient, call ahead and order. For those who complain about the portion size, keep in mind this is not a Denny's. They chose quality over quantity, that's just fine in my books.
Mike / July 7, 2014 at 03:33 pm
Been looking for a good Mishkaki place for over 15 years. FOUND IT! The Mogo, spicy peanut brittle and samosa were also awesome!
sabaha replying to a comment from Brandon / September 15, 2014 at 10:43 pm
No,the name didn't come from the Filipino person speaking at a Portuguese restaurant.the name is a Tanzanian word the means "spicy"
sabaha replying to a comment from puddlz / September 15, 2014 at 10:45 pm
thank you for answering him cause he really need to hear that one
sabaha replying to a comment from puddlz / September 15, 2014 at 10:51 pm
i wanted to ask do they do delivering?
Zander / July 4, 2015 at 06:46 pm
Their mishkaki is the best BBQ chicken and beef that I have ever had! Highly recommend giving them a try! You will not regret it.

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