Country 090 – South Africa (Plan B Handmade Burgers, Boerewors and Braai)

Plan B Handmade Burgers, Boerewors and BraaiLocation: 2943 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Website: https://www.facebook.com/PlanBHandmadeburgers/

You wouldn’t necessarily think that South African cuisine would be all that difficult to find, but apparently it is.  Outside of a catering company that opens for brunch on Sundays, Plan B appears to be the only restaurant in Toronto that specializes in South African eats.

That’s a lot of weight on its shoulders.  They’re basically the ambassadors for South African cuisine for the entire GTA.

Plan B Handmade Burgers, Boerewors and Braai

Thankfully, it’s quite tasty.  Plan B specializes in braai, which is South African-style grilled meat.  They also sell a variety of hamburgers (so a second visit for another blog might be in order), but I ordered the mixed braai platter, which comes with boerewors (a South African sausage), chicken, lamb (steak is also an option), and two sides.

Plan B Handmade Burgers, Boerewors and Braai

Everything is very nicely grilled, with that great smoky flavour you only get from food that’s been cooked over a flame.  And the meats are all quite good — in particular, the boerewors was seriously delicious.  The texture was nice and tender while still being satisfyingly meaty, and the spicing was unique and tasty.

The chicken was fairly plain, but perfectly cooked.  The lamb, however, was overly tough and almost impossible to cut into with the knife provided.

Plan B Handmade Burgers, Boerewors and Braai

I ordered potato salad as well as pap and tomato chutney on the side.  The potato salad was run-of-the-mill, but the pap (which is a South African version of polenta) really stands out.  It’s a bit bland on its own, but once you pour some of the sweet tomato chutney on top, it comes alive.

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Country 086 – Togo (Naija Jollof)

Naija JollofLocation: 7215 Goreway Drive, Mississauga (in the Westwood Square Mall food court)
Website: https://www.instagram.com/naijajolloftoronto/

The food court at the newly-renovated Westwood Square Mall has clearly not been a particularly big hit; huge swathes of the restaurant space has yet to be filled, and when I showed up at around noon on a weekday, the place was mostly empty.

Naija Jollof, a restaurant specializing in African eats, was the only place that seemed to be doing okay.  Which suited me just fine, since that’s what I came for.  Bonus: no issues finding a seat.

Naija Jollof

I tried to order the daily special, Togo, which is described as “plantain pottage with spinach & broken pieces of fish.”  I was told that they didn’t actually have this, but that they could substitute it with something similar.  When I asked what the substitute dish was called, the surly woman behind the counter gave a one word answer of “spinach” in a tone that implied follow-up questions wouldn’t be appreciated.

So I have no idea what the dish I ordered was called, or if it’s actually from Togo.  Based on some Googling I think it might be a dish called gboma dessi, but that looks considerably saucier than what I had, so I’m not sure.

Whatever it was, it kind of reminded me of collard greens, but with big chunks of beef instead of bacon.

Naija Jollof

It was pretty good — it’s salty, tangy, and a little bit spicy, with a texture that’s well cooked but still has a bit of bite to it, and a deep spinach flavour.  It contrasts quite nicely with the sweet, creamy plantain.  It’s a tasty combo.

The chunks of beef, on the other hand, weren’t great (they might have been goat, but the very mild flavour makes me think beef).  There was a huge chunk on top that I believe was tripe; it was inedible.  And when I say it was inedible, I mean that in the most fundamental sense of the word.  I couldn’t put a fork through it or bite into it.  It was like rubber.

Naija Jollof

There was, however, another piece that was much better.  It was still fairly tough, but I was able to eat it, so it had that going for it (there was also a third piece that appeared to be entirely sinew and veins.  It was just as bite-resistant and rubbery as the tripe.  The less said about that one, the better).

Thankfully, the spinach was tasty enough on its own that the shoddy beef didn’t feel like a huge issue.

Country 085 – Ivory Coast (Golden Gate Restaurant)

Golden Gate RestaurantLocation: 2428 Islington Avenue, Etobicoke
Website: None

I’ve had a few dishes over the course of doing this blog that feel like acquired tastes that I haven’t yet acquired.  That was definitely the case with fufu, a very popular West African dish consisting of mashed cassava and plantain.

It’s… interesting.  It tastes a lot like a much starchier, gummier version of mashed potatoes.  It doesn’t have much flavour, but then I don’t think it’s meant to be eaten alone.

Golden Gate Restaurant

It’s traditionally served with soup (in the photos I’ve seen online, they’re served separately, but here it’s all in one bowl).  I got the peanut soup (something called “light soup” was also an option), which was rich, flavourful, and pleasantly spicy.

It’s an absolutely enormous portion, and I found myself getting sick of eating it long before it was done.  I actually quite liked the vibrant soup — the slightly elastic, gummy fufu, on the other hand, I wasn’t as sold on.

Golden Gate Restaurant

It comes with a few chunks of beef and fish, which weren’t great.  The beef was so incredibly tough that I could barely pierce it with a fork, and the fish was dry despite being submerged in soup.

Country 070 – Somalia (Istar Restaurant)

Istar RestaurantLocation: 235 Dixon Road, Etobicoke
Websitehttp://www.istarrestaurant.com/

One thing I’ve discovered over the course of doing this blog: African countries are pretty great at making spicy fried rice.  The restaurants that I’ve visited for Nigeria, Uganda, and now Somalia have all served delicious, spicy, and addictive fried rice.

Istar has a variety of Somalian specialties on their menu, though a Toronto Life article specifically referenced the goat and the rice, so that’s what I ordered.

Istar Restaurant

It’s good, though the aforementioned spicy rice is the clear highlight.  The plate comes with the rice, a generous portion of braised goat, potatoes, and salad.

Goat isn’t a meat you see on a whole lot of menus in this part of the world, which is a shame.  It basically tastes like a slightly stronger version of lamb.  It’s good.

Istar Restaurant

Some of the pieces here were a bit on the tough side, but for the most part they were tender and flavourful.  The spicing is surprisingly subtle (it tastes like it isn’t seasoned with much beyond salt and pepper, though I’m fairly certain that isn’t the case), but the goat itself is tasty enough that it’s barely an issue.

The potatoes were bland and the salad was pretty generic, but the goat and the rice were a winning combo.

Country 067 – Uganda (Muchomo Grill House)

Muchomo Grill HouseLocation: 83 Kennedy Road South (Unit 8), Brampton
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/Muchomo-GRILL-HOUSE-1369240303139681

Going to Muchomo Grill House was a bit of a strange experience.  When I visited on a recent weekday afternoon, the restaurant appeared to be in an unfinished state, with unconnected TVs, bare walls, and wires hanging all over the place.

You can sort of see what I’m talking about from the one photo I took from my table (I felt a bit awkward standing up to take more photos, as I was literally the only person inside the restaurant aside from the two people who worked there).

Muchomo Grill House

I figured the place must have just opened, but if their Facebook page is anything to go by, they’ve been around for well over a year.

I guess they must be in the middle of renovations?  It was quite odd.

Even odder: the complete lack of a menu.  There was nothing posted on the wall, no take-out menu, nothing online, and no laminated menus to look at in the restaurant.  Nothing.  At this point, I asked the person behind the counter if they were actually open, because are you even a restaurant if you don’t have a menu?  Isn’t that the first thing a functional restaurant should have??

She gave me a broad overview of what they serve, and the first thing she mentioned was spicy rice and grilled meat, so I figured, sure, why not?  Unfortunately, I have no idea what this was called, because again, there was no menu.

It was quite good, though!  So at least after all that strangeness, there is a happy ending.  It was very similar to a dish I had at Village Suya — only much, much better.

Muchomo Grill House

The spicy rice was as advertised: it had a good kick, and was nicely spiced and quite flavourful.  It looks fairly plain, but the flavour was rich and satisfying, with just enough greasiness to keep things interesting, but without feeling overly oily.

The meat was even better, with an intense pop of flavour and an even more pronounced kick than the rice.  This might have been my imagination, but it almost had that hot/numbing effect that you get from dishes with sichuan peppercorns.  Whatever it was, it was tasty, and it was just as tender as you’d hope it would be.

It comes topped with uncooked onions and peppers, which work better than you’d expect — in particular, the sweet, crunchy peppers contrast very nicely with the tender, flavourful beef.

Country 059 – Egypt (Maha’s)


Location
: 226 Greenwood Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.mahasbrunch.com/

Maha’s is fairly well known for having very long lines, and very leisurely service.  And indeed, the line was long, and service was leisurely (we spent forty minutes in line, and another half hour waiting for our food to arrive).

Maha’s is also fairly well known for having amazing food; again, it lives up to its reputation.  There’s clearly a reason people are willing to wait through the lines and the slow service.

It’s a brunch place, though if you’re looking for the old standards like eggs benedict and pancakes, you won’t find them here.  What you will find is a nice selection of Egyptian-inspired plates and sandwiches; we started with hummus with charred balady bread (an Egyptian version of pita bread made with whole wheat flour), and I ordered the Cairo Classic.

The hummus was so good.  It was super creamy, with an amazing depth of flavour and a nice lemony zing.  It was a definite contender for the best hummus I’ve ever had, and I’ve eaten quite a bit of hummus in my lifetime.

That’s not to mention the balady bread, still warm from the oven and just about as perfect as you can imagine pita bread to be.  It had just the right amount of char, with a subtly crispy exterior and an amazingly fluffy interior.  Combined with the silky hummus, I could have eaten it all day.

The Cairo classic consisted of a heaping portion of foole (a spread consisting mainly of fava beans), a sliced hard boiled egg, a falafel, a tomato and feta spread, more of that amazing balady bread, and a salad.

I mean, after that mind-blowing hummus, would it surprise you to hear that the main meal was quite good as well?  Because yeah, it was pretty amazing.

The combination of the creamy foole, the eggs, and the zippy tomato and feta spread was seriously addictive.

And holy crap, that falafel.  I really wish I had more than just the one; it was perfectly spiced and delightfully fluffy, with lightly crispy exterior.  Like the hummus, this was a best-ever contender.

Maha's - the line Maha's - the hummus Maha's - the Cairo Classic

Country 049 – Morocco (Nader’s Middle Eastern Grill & Bakery)

nader
Location
: 3900 Grand Park Drive, Mississauga
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/nadersgrill/

I’ve actually been to Nader’s once before, for my burger blog.  It probably wasn’t fair for me to judge this place based on their hamburger, so here I am, ordering something that’s much more in their wheelhouse: lamb shank tagine with couscous.

It’s a fairly hearty stew, with the aforementioned lamb shank submerged in a saucy mix of potatoes, chick peas, carrots, and some kind of zucchini-esque vegetable, among other things.

It was fine, I guess.  It was kind of watery and a bit one-note salty, but I basically enjoyed it.  I think I’ve mentioned how much I love lamb on this blog, and the lamb here — though a bit dry — was quite tasty, as usual.

It’s just…  the overall flavour of the dish never really pops.  You know that thing that happens when you’re eating a great meal, and every mouthful seems to reveal something new?  It was pretty much the opposite here.  The first bite told me everything I needed to know, and every bite after that was more or less exactly the same.

But again, it wasn’t bad.  It was just ho-hum.

Between this and the burger, I think it’s safe to say that Nader’s isn’t exactly my new favourite restaurant.

Nader's - lamb shank tagine Nader's - lamb shank tagine