Country 057 – Kyrgyzstan (Chaihana)


Location
: 1000 Finch Avenue West, North York
Websitehttp://chaihana.ca/

Chaihana is tucked away in a fairly anonymous office building; though there’s a small sign outside, it’s very easy to miss.  My dining companion and I had the entire restaurant to ourselves — outside of the staff, the place was deserted.  It’s pretty much the definition of a hidden gem.

A lot of hole-in-the-wall joints like this can be dingy and unwelcoming, but Chaihana is clean and colourful; they’re definitely trying to attract more than just the grizzled regulars you’d expect in a place like this.

They specialize in the ‘stans: the website mentions Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan.  The dish I ordered is actually the national dish of Kyrgyzstan, so that’s a fourth ‘stan to add to the roster.

I ordered beshbarmak, which a pretty simple dish — boiled beef (which is sliced), topped with sauteed onions and served on a bed of very broad noodles.   There’s really not much more going on than that — there’s some green onions, dill, cracked pepper… and that’s about it.  It’s basic, hearty comfort food.

The pasta was a bit mushy and it was incredibly greasy (you know when you’re eating something really greasy, and your lips get grease-slicked with every bite?  Yeah), but it was pretty satisfying.  The tender beef, the noodles and the onions all go quite well together.

It’s served with an equally simple bowl of soup — basically just broth (mutton, according to Google) with a little bit of dill and some green onions for colour.

Chaihana - the beshbarmak Chaihana - the soup

Country 055 – Nepal (Hakka Khazana)


Location
: 735 Twain Avenue, Mississauga
Websitehttp://www.hakkakhazana.ca/

Hakka Khazana is a Nepali/Chinese/Indian restaurant.  That feels like they might be spreading themselves a bit too thin, but hey, sometimes you have to take what you can get.

The first dish — and the clear highlight — was the palungo ko saag.  Though a cursory Googling shows this to be something akin to creamed spinach (but without the cream), the version served here was very, very different.  Maybe this is a regional variation, like how American barbecue differs depending on where in the South you are.  Or maybe it’s just inauthentic — it’s impossible to know for sure (okay fine, it’s actually very possible to know for sure, but that would require way more work than I’m willing to put in for this blog).

The version of the dish served here was basically just some kind of stir-fried baby bok choy.  Authentic or not, with a nice hit of garlic and a strong dose of curry-like spices, it was a very pleasant surprise.  It was one of those dishes that doesn’t seem particularly spicy at first, but then delivers a strong kick that lingers.  It was great.

The kasi ko masu — basically a fairly standard mutton curry — didn’t fare quite as well.  It was fine; the sauce had a nice flavour, even if it was a bit milder than I would have liked.  But nothing about it particularly stood out, and the mutton was rubbery and tough.

Country 054 – Bangladesh (Premium Sweets)


Location
: 7025 Tomken Road, Mississauga
Websitehttp://www.premiumsweets.ca/

One of the few nice things about being in Mississauga is that it makes doing this blog pretty easy.  Ethnic food from all over the globe is readily available — including, of course, Bangladeshi cuisine.

I wanted to try the sorshe ilish — it’s one of Bangladesh’s national dishes, according to Wikipedia — but apparently Premium Sweets only have a small assortment of what’s on their menu available at any given time.  So I went with the mutton bhuna, which came with rice, naan bread, and a small cucumber salad.

Everything was tasty, but not much more; it was one of those inoffensively enjoyable meals that’s good, but not memorable in any particular way.

The mutton bhuna featured chunks of reasonably tender meat in a thick, mildly spicy curry base.  The mutton may or may not have actually been mutton, though; there was absolutely none of that mildly gamy, distinctive flavour that you get from lamb (a flavour that should only be intensified with mutton).  I suspect that they’re using beef instead.

The sauce was tasty; it’s nothing too mindblowing, but it’s a solid curry.

The naan came tightly wrapped in foil; I really wish they hadn’t done that.  The lightly crispy exterior that you get from freshly-baked naan had been completely steamed away inside the foil.  It was fine, but it had none of the textural contrast that distinguishes great naan from the merely good; it was just uniformly soft and chewy.

The cucumber salad was a really good compliment to the main meal, with its vinegary crunch providing a nice contrast to the rich curry.

And of course, you can’t go to a place called Premium Sweets without trying the dessert, so I got a selection of six of their Bangladeshi sweets.  I have no idea what any of them were or what they were called (quality food writing, right?), but they all had a similarly crumbly, fudgy texture and a nutty, vaguely exotic flavour.  A couple were more crumbly and a couple were creamier, but they all tasted about the same. I enjoyed them, but a bit more variety would have been nice.

Premium Sweets - the mutton bhuna Premium Sweets - the dessert

Country 048 – Singapore (Jackpot Chicken Rice)

jackpot
Location
: 318 Spadina Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.jackpotchickenrice.com/

This post is a bit different than usual.  The whole point of this blog is to travel without traveling; however, I actually just came back from a real, no-foolin’ trip to Singapore (where I had chicken rice a couple of times), so this is the rare case where I know what the real deal is supposed to taste like.

Chicken rice, for the initiated, is an exceptionally simple dish — tender boiled chicken on rice that’s been cooked in the stock, served with a couple of sauces on the side.  That’s it.

Man, it’s good though.

And the version they serve at Jackpot Chicken Rice is surprisingly close to what I had in Singapore.  The rice in particular, with its addictively rich flavour thanks to being cooked with the stock, was pretty much exactly as I remembered from my recent trip.

The chicken itself, however, couldn’t quite match up.  The version I had in Singapore had an intense chickeny flavour, and was almost absurdly tender.  It was silky and moist in a way that was downright remarkable.  The chicken at Jackpot, on the other hand, had a much more subdued flavour, and a texture that was more in line with any other well-prepared chicken I’ve had.  It was tender, but not even close to the awe-inspiring degree of the Singaporean version.

It comes with two sauces on the side — a ginger scallion sauce, and a spicy chili sauce.  The sauces, like the rice, were very comparable to the real deal.

You can also pay a couple of bucks and get some crispy chicken skins on the side.  These are amazing.  They’re pretty much like the best chips you’ve ever had.  I want a whole bag.

I decided to finish things off with the Kaya French Toast.  Kaya is a sweet, coconutty spread that’s typically served on toast for breakfast.  The version here is significantly sweeter and richer than the toast you’ll find in Singapore; it’s lightly crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, and intensely sweet. It’s really, really good.

Jackpot Chicken Rice - the restaurant Jackpot Chicken Rice - the chicken rice Jackpot Chicken Rice - the Kaya French Toast

Country 046 – Indonesia (Lion City Restaurant)

lion
Location
: 1177 Central Parkway West, Mississauga
Websitehttp://lioncityrestaurant.ca/

I seem to be on a pretty good roll with this blog; I’ve liked the majority of the dishes I’ve tried recently.  This is in stark contrast to my burger blog, where I seem to either be a lot pickier, or just have lousy luck with the restaurants I’m choosing (okay fine, I’m probably just a picky jerk).

I’m happy to say that the streak continues for at least one more country; the Indonesian food I tried at Lion City Restaurant was seriously delicious.

I tried the nasi goreng, an Indonesian take on fried rice and that country’s national dish. I also tried beef rendang, a hearty dish of braised beef in a rich sauce.

The nasi goreng was greasy in the best way possible, and flavourful enough to eat on its own (though it was also really satisfying with the beef rendang).  The flavour actually reminded me somewhat of Singapore noodles (a dish which, confusingly enough, is Chinese and not Singaporean).

The beef rendang was just as good — the beef was incredibly tender, and the rich, curry-tinged sauce was amazingly satisfying.

Lion City Restaurant - the nasi goreng Lion City Restaurant - the beef rendang

Country 026 – South Korea (Cho Dang Soon Tofu)

chodang
Location
: 5130 Dundas Street West, Etobicoke
Website: None

If the whole point of this blog is to try new things, then I’m failing pretty miserably with this entry; not only have I been to Cho Dang Soon Tofu several times before, I’ve even written about it for another blog.

Still, I haven’t written about the restaurant’s namesake dish: an intensely flavourful, bubbling hot stew that I can’t get enough of.

Like any Korean restaurant worth its salt, the meal starts with a generous selection of banchan — essentially a variety of small appetizers.  My favourite here are the crispy, addictively salty fried sardines, but the silky cubes of soft tofu (made in house) with a little bowl of sesame- and green-onion-infused soy sauce for dipping are also quite memorable, as is the obligatory (and delcious) kimchi.

But of course, the reason to come here is that delicious, piping-hot stew.  I got mine with pork, though several other options are available.  It’s spicy, flavourful, and seriously hearty — aside from the aforementioned pork, its absolutely suffused with the restaurant’s creamy house-made tofu, not to mention the egg that you crack into the bowl yourself, and the generous bowl of purple rice that accompanies the stew (made that distinctive colour by mixing black rice in with the white).

The best part?  All that food?  Eight bucks.  Yeah, it’s a deal.

Cho Dang Soon Tofu - the tofu Cho Dang Soon Tofu - the kimchi Cho Dang Soon Tofu - the sardines Cho Dang Soon Tofu - the soup

Country 022 – Thailand (Sukhothai)

sukho
Location
: 1442 Dundas Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.sukhothaifood.ca/

Pad Thai isn’t typically my go-to order at a Thai joint, but after reading this article about its intriguingly bizarre history (which involves a military coup and a governmental decree that everyone wear hats), I felt oddly compelled to order it.

Sukhothai’s version comes with your choice of chicken, beef, or tofu.  I went with chicken, which turned out to be a bad choice — the pieces were dry, tough, and thoroughly leftovery.

It was otherwise fine, I guess.  It had a slightly more complex flavour than average and wasn’t as cloyingly sweet as some versions of this dish tend to be, but Pad Thai is never going to be my favourite.  I think the story behind it is probably more interesting than the dish itself.

I had the cassava cake for dessert, which was the highlight.  Though the slightly gummy texture was a bit off-putting at first, its sweet, coconut-infused flavour and rich dulce-de-leche-esque topping thoroughly won me over.

Sukhothai - the restaurant Sukhothai - the Pad Thai Sukhothai - the Cassava Cake