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

Country 037 – Nigeria (Village Suya)

suya
Location
: 900 Rathburn Road West, Mississauga
Websitehttp://www.villagesuya.com/

I think I should preface this review by saying that Village Suya has only been up and running for a few weeks; I wasn’t too crazy about the meal I had here, but it’s quite possible that they still have some kinks to work out. So you might want to take this review with a grain of salt.

For the uninitiated, Suya is Nigerian-style grilled meat, typically sold by street vendors on skewers.  This particular restaurant serves beef and chicken; I went with beef, and got it with a side of fried rice.

The rice was easily the highlight.  Though it looks fairly similar to Chinese-style fried rice, it definitely has a personality of its own.  It’s a touch on the oily side (my mouth felt grease-slicked for at least an hour or two after eating), but it has a satisfying curry-tinged flavour, and just enough of a kick to put some sweat on your brow.

And whatever they’ve marinated the beef in is actually pretty tasty; it’s nicely seasoned, with another solid dose of spice.  But (and this is a fairly big but) the beef was excessively chewy and dry — it’s kind of unpleasant (of course, this didn’t stop me from eating almost all of it, but I digress).

The meat was either severely overcooked, or they’re using a cheaper cut of beef that’s meant to be stewed (or, more likely, a little from column A, a little from column B).  It’s too bad, because if the meat were a little bit more tender (or, more accurately, tender at all), it would probably be pretty good.  The elements, otherwise, are all there.  But when the beef is that jerky-like in its consistency, it’s kind of tough to enjoy — even if the flavour is pretty good.

Country 024 – Ethiopia (Ethiopian House)

ethiopian
Location
: 4 Irwin Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.ethiopianhouse.com/

See, this is one of the big reasons I started this blog: I have zero experience with Ethiopian cuisine.  And who knows when I would have tried it otherwise — the inspiration for this particular excursion was entirely blog-related.

The moral of this story?  If you want to try new things, start a blog. (and ignore the fact that you could easily try new things without the hassle and work of maintaining a food blog — where’s the fun in that??)

My dining companion and I shared both the meat and vegetarian Bayaaynatu, which the menu translates as “of each kind,” and is essentially a sampler plate.  It all came on one enormous platter bearing a kaleidoscopic assortment of tastes and textures.  I’m not even going to try to describe them all, but I will say that there wasn’t a weak selection in the bunch.  I was particularly impressed by the diversity of flavours here; I sort of figured that everything would taste similar, but with few exceptions, each selection in the assortment had a personality of its own.

I really enjoyed it, though the meat in the dish at the top of the header photo was a bit tough, and the whole spread felt like it could have used more spice (hot sauce was provided, however).

There’s no classy way to eat this.  There’s no cutlery to be seen; you just tear off a piece of injera — a wheaty Ethiopian flatbread that’s kind of like a thin, spongy pancake — and start scooping.  The whole thing is served on a piece of that same bread, so eventually you’ll start tearing pieces off and eating that too.  Only one napkin was provided (though I’m sure I could have — and should have — asked for more), and without getting into too much detail, I’ll say that by the end of the meal that napkin had seen better days.

It’s also an intimidating amount of food.  My dining companion and I were defeated by the enormous spread, and neither of us are exactly dainty eaters.  Still, we did our best; when the food is this good, how could you not?

Ethiopian House - the restaurant Ethiopian House - the Bayaaynatu Ethiopian House - the Bayaaynatu