Stepping into Maeli Market, we're stopped in our tracks. The cold, grey city melts away, and we're instantly transported to a sunny paradise. The gorgeous Taiwanese market is bright and airy, full of light wood shelves lined with colourful products. Bamboo lighting shaped like pineapples — a prosperous fruit for good fortune — hang from the ceiling.
The focal point is the kitchen, where chef Jacques Fan and his team whip up authentic Taiwanese dishes available for takeout, delivery and dine-in. Behind the glass, we watch them prep and cook in the open concept kitchen, which we learn is shaped like Taiwan. Incredible thought and attention to detail has gone into the creation of Maeli Market, a collaboration with Toronto-based Suulin Architects, from the mountainous backdrop to the sustainable, eco-friendly design.
Maeli Market: Lunar New Year
At the front of the store, a full display of Lunar New Year gift boxes are filled with traditional Taiwanese pineapple cakes, mochi and more sweet treats for prosperity and longevity. We can't help but get a box for our friends who are celebrating Lunar New Year on Saturday February 10.
From the kitchen, we try tasty homemade pineapple candies and ang ku kueh, or red tortoise cake. Made with sticky rice, the small pastries are shaped like turtles for longevity and filled with a sweet red bean paste. We gobble them up on the spot (while hoping for a long and prosperous life) and take more home.
Maeli Market: Taiwanese products
Walking around Maeli Market, we're overwhelmed with all of the enticing products. The company has been importing Taiwanese goods for over 20 years, and now has expanded into sister brand, Maeli Market to sell directly to shoppers. Their years of expertise show in the quality and wide selection.
Lychee and other fruit jellies, mochi and candies seduce our sweet tooths, while shelves of chips and crackers promise an epic weekend of snacking. In the refrigerator section, drinks lean on the healthier side. All-natural juices like guava and passionfruit don't contain any preservatives and come packed with nutrients and vitamins. Beautifying and detoxifying beverages come in delicious flavours and with ingredients like collagen and folic acid. It's a playground for the senses.
Noodles come in all shapes, sizes and colours. A wide range of premium spices promises to make your cooking more flavourful. We could spend all day perusing the tea section that ranges from everyday teas and milk tea to fancy gift boxes. Grab the instant tapioca pearls and large straws, and you can easily make your own bubble tea at home.
If the store is too far of a trek, Maeli Market delivers their Taiwanese grocery goods through Uber Eats.
Maeli Market: Dine-in and take-out
We would go back to Maeli Market just for the authentic Taiwanese cuisine that chef Jacques Fan slings from the kitchen. The restaurant-quality food is far better than anything you would expect to find in a grocery store. Eco-friendly boxes are available for takeout, and a small seating area inside the comfortable space, along with a large patio outside in warmer months, offers guests a place to dine-in.
After studying in Paris, France, chef Fan went back to his native Taiwan and has had a storied career cooking both Taiwanese and French cuisine. He came to Canada to be the chef at Maeli Market, where he makes what he describes as a unique blend of "Taiwanese cuisine with a French touch."
"I wanted to add a French twist to my items," he says. "For example, French macarons with Taiwanese flavours." In his bubble tea macarons, complete with tapioca pearls inside, worlds collide in the sweetest way possible.
Other Taiwanese dishes on the menu are more traditional, like the soul-soothing beef noodle soup — chewy noodles and large chunks of beef in a white broth. "I make the stock for over five hours. I use ox bones, chicken bones and some vegetables, including onion, carrots, celery and apples," says Fan. "I cook the beef separately, and then mix it together." For those looking to dip their toes into the world of Taiwanese cuisine, the beef noodle soup is an easy, comforting way to start. But the bento boxes, like the crispy and juicy teriyaki chicken are also irresistible.
"The braised pork bento box is a very traditional Taiwanese dish called lu rou fan. It's braised for a long time, and cooked with soya sauce and dried shallots. It's very aromatic," he says. Much of the cuisine that chef Fan makes with Taiwanese ingredients is very aromatic — and sweet. "One unique thing about Taiwanese cuisine is that it's sweet and savoury," he says, especially when compared with some other Asian cuisines.
Visit Maeli Market to try chef Jacques Fan's authentic Taiwanese dishes; shop for specialty treats, traditional snacks and ingredients; and pick up everything you need to make your own bubble tea at home with the recipe below. Or simply order on Uber Eats.
Maeli Market, 18 William Sylvester Dr., maelimarket.com