You learn a lot, cooking for an international crew in the galley of a cargo ship, riding high on the seven seas for fourteen years—that’s where Mariano Salalila gained his unique skills for fusion and diverse culinary creations. New ports on all different continents, Asia, Africa, Europe, feeding hungry sailors from across the world, it’s a demanding job, but he thrived in it. And now he and wife of 44 years, Maria, present the results of that eclectic and global experience at Cosmic Charlie’s, a fusion institution in the heart of downtown Peterborough.
This is a family story, Maria tells me. Growing up in Pampanga, a province in the Philippines just northwest of the capital, Manila, she explains that the region was well-known for its excellent cuisine. And Mariano’s relatives knew how to cook up a storm. “His parents and grandmother were good cooks, and the kitchen has always been his passion,” she observes. Raising a growing family, they looked for opportunities outside their homeland, and moved to Canada in 1995, taking over ownership of Cosmic Charlie’s in 2003.
With a menu grounded in Thai cuisine, Salalila says they’ve cultivated a faithful following with both their variety, and consistency, with dishes ranging from across Southeast Asia to Canada, including everything spring rolls to satay and stir fries, to ribs and steaks. “The regulars always come back,” she says, observing that many come on a weekly basis. “We cater to the regular people in the city, we know what they want.” The restaurant also offers a nice cocktail menu (think: red lotus martini, or red sangria, which always goes well with a spicy dish), as well as a half-dozen craft beers on tap (including Publican House, which brews just down the road).
And while, early on, people shied away from the more exotic dishes, Salalila notes that’s not the case now. “They’re able to explore what out there, they’re not scared anymore,” she explains, noting that while some diners order the same thing, over and over again, she pushes them to try different menu items. Noodles are always a bestseller (Pad Thai is a particular favourite), and they can cook the noodles vegan, and even gluten-free. “We modify the regular menu to the taste of the customer,” she says, adding that they buy and serve local, whenever possible.
As for the family story, that’s been a success, as well. From the tropical bustle of the Philippines to their cool space (exposed brick, Buddha statues) near Charlotte and George, they’ve worked hard, raised their three kids, all of which have married and gotten good jobs. The couple even has two grandkids, now. “Me and Mariano, it’s mission accomplished,” Salalila says. A delicious story, with a happy ending.
Cosmic Charlie’s: 170 Charlotte St., Peterborough