jamils toronto

Toronto couple is changing the face of Toronto's South Asian food scene with new pop-up

A Toronto couple is changing the way people in the city experience South Asian cuisine with a new pop-up that's already making waves.

Alongside his partner, Emma Tanaka, Toronto resident and food entrepreneur Jalil Bokhari is bringing Pakistani street food to the city with his pop-up, Jamil's Chaat House.

A veteran in Toronto's hospitality industry with over ten years of Front of House experience, Jalil began experimenting with cooking the food he grew up eating in Lahore, Pakistan during pandemic closures, sowing the seeds for what has now blossomed into Jamil's.

"We started doing pop-ups a few years ago, in a very DIY fashion, focusing on a Pakistani street food dish, dahi puri," Jalil tells blogTO.

Over time, he says, he and Emma began to introduce a broader range of South Asian foods, and hone in on their mission.

"We continued pop-ups intermittently over the years [...] and really started to define the concept in response to what we see as a lack of casual-fine dining establishments focused on South Asian food," he tells blogTO.

"The cuisine is often associated with very casual takeout [or] hole in the wall spots and now an emerging market with fine dining and tasting menu style restaurants, but our hope for Jamil's to is to find a nice spot in between the two," he says.

While Jalil is the self-described "'let's throw some kooky ideas out there' guy," Emma, who just recently left her six-year position in user research at Deloitte to pursue hospitality full-time, is the "'let's figure out a practical way to execute it' guy."

Jamil's, which officially launched in the last week of March 2024, with a pop-up at Hamers Coffee, is doing exactly that — offering nostalgic, "generational" recipes alongside great wine and cocktails.

Much like the dishes on offer, the name Jamil is, itself, generational.

"Jamil is Jalil's grandfather's last name, who this whole thing is inspired by," Emma tells blogTO. Farooq Jamil is, according to Emma and Jalil, "known for his love [of] culture and food."

"He always has a knack for knowing exactly where to go to get the very best: if you want kebabs, he can direct you to precisely which stall in what part of town has the best ones, but he'll tell you to skip their naan because the ones across the street are better," says Jalil.

Jalil's own family recipes served as a starting point for the dishes served at Jamil's — and some of Emma's have crept in over time, too.

"We've intentionally steered away from overtly fusion concepts - we want the traditional flavour profiles to be a basis for everything - but that's not to say we're not finding new interpretations," Jalil says.

"Our shrimp pakoras for example came from Emma's family tradition of making shrimp tempura for New Year's Day and Jalil's love for pakoras growing up."

Having only just gotten started, Emma and Jalil have experienced an unprecedented level of support on their pop-up endeavour, and are already preparing for the next one.

"We have been really grateful and inspired by the response - we sold out both days and noticed people coming back for seconds or returning the next day," Jalil tells blogTO, noting that the instant popularity has validated the need for this type of concept in the city.

"Having a chance to share with the community and listening to feedback from people from the diaspora as well as the restaurant industry is incredibly important to us at this stage."

The next Jamil's pop-up is coming up on April 18 at Low Bar on Bloor, starting at 5 p.m., where Emma and Jalil will be serving a menu of bar snacks like tandoori wings with a tamarind glaze, but there are plenty more pop-ups coming down the pipes, too.

"We will be continuing our series of pop-ups throughout the summer - you can find us somewhere in the city at least once a month through August," Emma and Jalil say, at spots like Lake Inez and Happy Coffee & Wine.

In spite of the pop-up's success, though, the ultimate dream is to find a permanent location for Jamil's in Toronto — "a cute and fun hub that South Asian people can be proud of as a reflection of themselves," they tell blogTO.

"We want it to feel like the first time you listened to MIA."

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