Malaysian food is hard to come by in Canada, but now you can find it (or try it for the first time) right in Hamilton at Fisticuffs on Barton Street. This night-market inspired snack bar is serving up Chinese Malaysian eats and craft beer in a cool, atmospheric setting. If you haven’t check it out already, make sure Fisticuffs is on your list of places to eat in Hamilton.

Tell us about yourself and your business.
Fisticuffs is really a labour of love for John and I, we’ve been talking and dreaming about opening up our own space for years, ever since we first met working together at a restaurant in Toronto. I think that these shared conversations and dreams were a huge part of our relationship growing and solidifying. We moved to Hamilton during the pandemic and decided that it was finally time to make our dream a reality, and we started looking at commercial spaces. We’ve really worked on every part of this restaurant, from the original renovations of the space, to the curation of the beer menu, the creation of the cocktails, and of course the food that we create for people.

Your menu is inspired by your grandmother, tell us more about that.
Malaysian food isn’t easy to find, and it’s something that I’m always craving. When I first started dreaming up the ways that we could bring in the Chinese Malaysian food that I grew up eating, the idea started to evolve into the restaurant that we have right now. As Fisticuffs continued to grow I drew from the food that my grandma made for inspiration, and John started researching and recipe testing. My grandmother passed away fairly early into the pandemic and the huge loss that that had on myself and my whole family made me think about how much she brought people together through food, and I knew that I wanted the restaurant to truly be a dedication to her and her kitchen.

Your name really stands out, what’s the story behind it?
John thought of the name, and it just kind of stuck! Originally the idea for Fisticuffs was a dive bar, which it obviously evolved a lot from. The name and logo were conceived of before Fisticuffs became what it is today.

What do you want people to feel when they eat and drink at Fisticuffs?
When guests come to Fisticuffs we want to create a unique and memorable dining experience where the history of the flavours and traditions of the food can be felt. This is truly DIY and I want the personal touches to be felt just like they would at a hawker stall run by the same family for generations. Fisticuffs is a part of building new traditions for our family, and we want to bring guests and Hamilton into that experience, and make sure that it is always approachable, casual, and accessible.

What’s your favourite menu item and craft beer on the menu right now?
My favourite is definitely the Hokkien Mee, I could eat it every day. Right now I’m crushing the Fairweather Garden Grave, its a pale ale with peaches and black tea, made by a great local brewery.

You’re located on Barton Street, what do you love about your neighbourhood?
I love that Barton still feels like a hidden gem to explore. There’s so many cool little nooks plus new places opening up.

Besides your own place, where else do you like to eat or shop in the city?
Hamilton has so much to explore, and I definitely don’t get out as much as I would like. For drinks I love to go to Endless, Bar Sazerac, or The Argyle. I love to stop into the Hamilton Farmer’s Market to get a bagel from Joshy’s Good Eats, pizza from MaiPai of course, onigiri from Hanma, and date night at Berkley North.

Any advice to other small businesses wanting to open up shop in the city?
Patience and perseverance! We spent almost a year looking at venues across Hamilton with the help of our very patient realtor. We are working with a small budget, with the financial backing of our savings and some investment from our friends and families, and the Barton location honestly just fit our budget and had some of the expensive necessary equipment pieces (like a hood vent) already in place. We did as many of the renovations ourselves as we possibly could, with help from friends and family who came in to clean and paint.