My parents moved to Montreal from Singapore, a small city-state just south of Malaysia, in 1989.
Though they loved building their new lives in this winter wonderland — a stark difference from the above 30 C weather in Asia — they did feel a little homesick from time to time.
“In the beginning, when we arrived, there was nothing at all. You couldn’t even buy bok choy,” my mother, Aileen Lau, remembers.
Wandering through the Atwater Market a few years ago, my father, Kenneth Lau, smelled a familiar aroma and followed it … all the way to the Satay Brothers.
“Kenneth actually smelled laksa and he said to me, ‘I smell laksa,’ and I said, ‘No way.'”
Laksa is a traditional Singaporean dish, a spicy noodle soup popular in the Peranakan cuisine — a type of cuisine created by the early descendants of Chinese migrants who settled in Penang, Malacca, Singapore and Indonesia, mixing the cultures together.
WATCH BELOW: Satay Brothers bring up nostalgia
“It’s a really rich broth,” explained Alex Winnicki, one of the two brothers who founded the Satay Brothers almost a decade ago.
“There’s lots of flavour — from lemongrass to turmeric, shallots, chilli, and there’s coconut milk, so it kind of tones it down.”
Nasi lemak — a popular breakfast dish of rice cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf, served with anchovies, peanuts, boiled egg, lamb curry, cucumber and chilli paste — is one of my mother’s favourites.
How Satay Brothers got their start
“It’s just funny how certain food, when you haven’t had it in a long time and suddenly you have a taste of it, it brings you back to a certain moment in time,” my mother said.
Winnicki brings her a plate, before sitting down to chat.
“Once, a customer told me, ‘You forgot to take off the heads on the fish,'” he says with a smirk.
“No,” my mother responds.
WATCH BELOW: Just Like Home, a new food series
“That’s the best part,” my father quips and Winnicki laughs in agreement.
Winnicki admits that seeing Singaporeans and Malaysians flock to his restaurant is the biggest of compliments.
“That’s why we started the business — it’s to make people happy through food. It’s a very Montreal thing,” he told Global News.
“It’s always nice to hear when we bring back memories through food.”
Having left Singapore over 30 years ago, the Laus have found a new home in Montreal.
Much has changed since they were kids, running down to the market with their own plates to get breakfast.
“The flavour reminds me a lot of being back in Singapore,” said my father, who’s actually planning a trip home this summer.
“That’s why I’m here all the time. It reminds me of home.”
WATCH BELOW: Just Like Home brings people together
Just Like Home is a series that discovers the restaurants and places Montrealers from all walks of life go to have a little, nostalgic taste of their home countries.