Country 094 – Iraq (Royal Mezgouf)

Royal MezgoufLocation: 843 Kipling Avenue, Etobicoke
Website: https://mezgouf.com/

After having to get a bit creative with my last few restaurant choices, it’s nice to visit a place that’s actually serving the cuisine of the country I’m writing about.  Royal Mezgouf is an Iraqi restaurant.  I’m writing about Iraq.  How about that!

Royal Mezgouf

I didn’t, however, try the mezgouf (an Iraqi dish made with grilled carp) at Royal Mezgouf, which feels like a bizarre thing to do.  But it’s not on their take-out menu — you have to order a whole fish, which they charge by the pound, and it takes 60 to 90 minutes to prepare.

So I ordered the Iraqi kebab plate instead, which comes with a kebab, rice, and a salad for nine bucks.  If nothing else, it’s a great deal.

Royal Mezgouf

It’s also quite tasty.  The kebab is made with a beef/lamb blend, and it’s very nicely seasoned — the seasoning compliments the meaty flavour you get from the lamb and the beef, but doesn’t overwhelm it.  It’s also nice and juicy.  It’s topped with tahini sauce, garlic sauce, and hot sauce.  It’s very good.

Royal Mezgouf

The rice is surprisingly great.  It’s basically just the typical plain rice with vermicelli that you’ll find at a lot of Middle Eastern places, but it’s really well prepared, with a pleasant greasiness that enhances the flavour and texture.

The salad’s a bit bland, but the rice and the meat are both tasty enough that it really doesn’t matter.

Royal Mezgouf

I also tried the falafel, which were above average — they were a bit greasy, but were otherwise crispy, fluffy, and tasty.

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Country 087 – Albania (Mak European Delicatessens)

Mak European DelicatessenLocation: 1335 Lawrence Avenue East, North York
Website: https://makdeli.com/

The burek at Mak European Delicatessens is shockingly heavy.  Based on the photos I saw online, I assumed it was going to be roughly the size of a large bagel.  The delightfully affordable price (six bucks!) also made me think it would be on the smaller side.  Instead, it was as big as a dinner plate and surprisingly substantial.

Mak European Delicatessen

Burek is a dish served throughout Eastern Europe (and beyond) in which phyllo pastry is stuffed with meat, cheese, or spinach.

Mak European Delicatessen

Mak European Delicatessens — an Eastern European supermarket with a small restaurant in the back — serves one of the GTA’s more well-regarded versions of this dish.  You can either buy them frozen to take home, or you can eat in the restaurant.

Mak European Delicatessen

It was really good.  I wish it had been a bit fresher — the would-be crispy phyllo pastry was mostly somewhat soggy, though the bottom remained quite crisp.

Mak European Delicatessen

The filling was what made it stand out.  The meat, in particular, was fantastic — it was juicy, nicely spiced, and quite tender.  It reminded me of a slightly milder version of a cevapi sausage, and worked really well with the phyllo pastry.

Mak European Delicatessen

The spinach was a bit more subtle in its flavour, but it was rich, cheesy, and enjoyable.

It’s not kidding around, however.  I had half of the spinach and half of the meat, and it was a meal.  The amount of filling is surprisingly generous, and the pastry is laden with grease.

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 084 – Vatican City (Sugo)

SugoLocation: 1281 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.sugotoronto.com/

I might be cheating with this one.

Okay, I’m definitely cheating with this one.  The food they serve at Sugo isn’t Italian, per se; it’s Italian American.  That’s actually a pretty huge distinction, but let’s face it — Vatican City is barely even a real country anyway.  Certainly, there’s no such thing as Vatican City cuisine.  So why shouldn’t I cheat a little bit?

Sugo

Mostly, I was just looking for an excuse to check out Sugo, which I’ve been hearing nothing but good things about.

I’m glad I did — it’s as delicious as its reputation would lead you to believe.

Sugo

The menu is pretty basic: three pastas, a few different sandwiches, and a handful of appetizers.

I tried a couple of the pastas, which were both saucy as hell and exploding with flavour.  Certainly, “subtlety” is not a word in this restaurant’s vocabulary (that’s not a bad thing).

Sugo

My favourite of the two was the rigatoni, which features a creamy pink sauce (a mix of tomato and alfredo) with a satisfyingly zingy flavour.  I also tried the spaghetti with meat sauce, which has a meaty substance, but is lacking in the assertive flavour of the rigatoni.

Sugo

And of course, you can’t come here without trying the baseball-sized meatball, which has a slightly mushy texture, but is otherwise quite good.  It compliments both pastas quite nicely.

Country 082 – Georgia (Suliko Restaurant)

Suliko RestaurantLocation: 1311 Alness Street, Concord
Websitehttp://suliko.ca/

One thing I’ve noticed while doing this blog is the culinary overlap in various parts of the world.  Similarities like steak and egg dishes in Latin America, spicy rice in Africa, or more obvious ones, like noodles in Asia.  It’s hard not to notice overlap once you start focusing on the breadth of world cuisine.

Suliko Restaurant

The latest (and oddest) connection I’ve noticed is serving bread with a spicy, salsa-like condiment in Eastern European countries — I first encountered this at Moldova Restaurant, and now at Suliko.

Suliko Restaurant

In fact, Suliko goes one step further, serving their bread basket with three different salsas of varying spice levels.  It’s a tasty — if somewhat odd — combination.

I tried a couple of other things on the menu.  First up: hachapuri imeretinsky, which is one of Georgia’s two national dishes (according to Wikipedia, at least).

Suliko Restaurant

It basically looks like a pizza, though it doesn’t particularly taste like that dish, with a softer and breadier texture, and a filling that consists solely of cheese.  It was quite tasty, particularly when it was hot and fresh, with a nice contrast between the soft bread and the gooey, salty cheese.

The next thing we tried was khinkali, Georgia’s take on the dumpling, and their other national dish.

Suliko Restaurant

We tried a couple of varieties: pork and beef, and lamb.  They were both really satisfying, with a soupy, meaty interior that features a very distinctive spicing that set it way apart from a typical Chinese dumpling.

The wrapper was also thicker than you’d expect, which actually worked quite well with the strongly-flavoured meat.  It probably wasn’t necessary to get two different types of meat dumplings, however — though the lamb dumplings had a mildly lamby flavour, both types basically tasted the same.

Country 081 – Saint Kitts and Nevis (Michael’s West Indian Flavor)

Michael's West Indian FlavourLocation: 3067 Lake Shore Boulevard West, Etobicoke
Website: None

I’ve eaten a lot of seriously tasty stuff since starting this blog, but the meal I just had at Michael’s West Indian Flavor might just be the tastiest.  Certainly, it would be in the top five.  It was amazing.

Michael's West Indian Flavour

Michael’s is a tiny little take-out joint (they have a few stools, but most people get their food to go) with just a handful of things on the menu: oxtail, curried goat, and chicken (which you can get stewed, curried, or jerk).  Everything comes with a generous serving of rice and peas, and a side of coleslaw.

I got the oxtail, and it was an absolute taste bonanza.  The oxtail itself was fall-off-the-bone tender, and the curry sauce was meaty and spicy, with a wonderfully complex flavour that never gets old; it’s one of those meals where finishing it makes you profoundly sad.  And the zingy coleslaw does a great job of cutting the richness of the sauce.  It’s absolutely perfect.

Michael's West Indian Flavour

It’s a great deal, too.  I ordered the small, which is loaded with a very hefty amount of delicious food for an even ten bucks.  I challenge you to find another meal in the city with a better price-to-deliciousness ratio.  It’s impossible.  It can’t be done.