Country 064 – Libya (Parallel)

ParallelLocation: 217 Geary Avenue, Toronto

I wasn’t sure which country this would fall under.  Parallel’s website describes itself as “Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean,” which doesn’t exactly narrow things down.  I ordered shakshuka, and Wikipedia lists Libya first in the list of countries where this dish is served.  So sure, Libya it is.


Parallel is a new restaurant from the people behind Ozery Bakery (which sells some good stuff, FYI).  They also make and sell their own tahini, which features heavily in most of the dishes on their menu.  You can see the very impressive looking machine they use to crush the sesame seeds at the back of the restaurant.


I ordered the hammshuka, which is shakshuka that’s served on a bed of freshly-made hummus.

It was very, very good.  The hummus was odd; not surprisingly, the tahini flavour was front-and-centre.  The lemon was almost imperceptible, and if there was any garlic at all, I couldn’t taste it.  It was subtle and unlike any hummus I’ve ever had, but it grew on me.


Better was the shakshuka (which, for the initiated, is a dish in which eggs are baked in a thick tomato sauce).  It had a rich, garlicky flavour, and the eggs were cooked perfectly.  It was topped with a very liberal amount of good-quality extra virgin olive oil — enough to give the dish EVOO’s distinctive nutty flavour.

I ordered it with roasted eggplant (other add-ons include goat cheese and roasted peppers), which turned out to be a wise choice.  The eggplant was smoky and amazing, and complimented the shakshuka perfectly.


Country 063 – Moldova (Moldova Restaurant)

Moldova RestaurantIt would have been nice if my first post-hiatus restaurant had been a little bit better than this, but then my pre-hiatus restaurant wasn’t great either.  So I guess there’s a symmetry there.

And I won’t say that Moldova Restaurant was flat-out bad.  The meal had its moments.

Moldova Restaurant

It started out uniquely enough — the bread basket came with a side of some kind of sweet, intensely garlicky salsa.  It was interesting.

Moldova Restaurant

I started with the zamma — a Moldovan take on chicken noodle soup.  Aside from the pronounced dill flavour, this tasted like it could have come out of a can.  The hearty chunks of chicken and potato added some substance, but the flavour was just generic saltiness.

Moldova Restaurant

Next up was the chebureki, which the menu describes as a “fried meat pie.”  This was fine.  The thin pie shell was nice and crispy, and the sausagey filling was mild, but satisfying.  I feel like it was missing something, but it was enjoyable enough.

Moldova Restaurant

Finally there was the mamaliga, which is essentially a Moldovan polenta.  I like polenta, but I wasn’t crazy about this version.  It was pretty tasteless (hence the sour cream and the feta cheese), and the texture was overly thick and gluey.

Country 061 – Uzbekistan (Taj Restaurant)

: 1698 Eglinton Avenue West, Toronto

When we told the waiter (and, I suspect, owner) at Taj that this was our first visit to the restaurant, he pretty much ordered for us.  He gave us a handful of suggestions, then when we neglected to order immediately, he said okay, how about you order this, this, that, and this, and before we knew what was happening the menus were gone and he was in the kitchen (to be fair, we could have said no, but it all sounded good, so we went with it).

It was really bizarre; in pretty much any other setting I probably would have been peeved, but he did it in such an earnest and friendly way that it was hard to be too miffed about it.

Of course, it also helps that all of the food was delicious.

And thankfully it’s an inexpensive place, so despite the fact that we wound up spending (and eating) more than we wanted to, it still only amounted to about 25 bucks each for more food than we were able to eat.

We started with a salad and an enormous round loaf of freshly-baked bread.  The salad, which consisted mostly of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and red onions, was simply dressed and featured really fresh ingredients.  It was quite good.

The bread was warm and homey and satisfying.  It was slightly sweet, and while we weren’t quite sure what we were supposed to eat it with, it was certainly high-quality bread.

Next was the samsa, which was kind of like a Chinese-style bun, but encased in delightfully flaky pastry.  It was crammed with juicy, fennel-infused ground lamb (it was also about the size of my fist and surprisingly heavy, so between that, the salad and the bread we would have been all set for lunch, but I digress).

The final dish was plov (and we got a plate each of this rather than the shared plate we were assuming).  This actually reminded me a lot of qabuli palau, which is Afghanistan’s national dish, and which I sampled at Naan and Kabob.  They both had a pretty similar base — rice, carrots, raisins, and chunks of meat — but the spicing here was much more satisfying.  The raisins and the carrots added subtle pops of sweetness rather than the in-your-face sugar assault from the Naan and Kabob version.

The addition of chick peas gave the dish some added substance, and the chunks of lamb were fork-tender and intensely flavourful.  I love lamb, so maybe I’m biased, but it takes a dish that was already delicious and cranks it right up to eleven.

Taj Restaurant - the salad Taj Restaurant - bread Taj Restaurant - the samsa Taj Restaurant - the samsa Taj Restaurant - the plov

Country 059 – Egypt (Maha’s)

: 226 Greenwood Avenue, Toronto

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 054 – Bangladesh (Premium Sweets)

: 7025 Tomken Road, Mississauga

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 044 – Lebanon (Acacia Fine Foods)

: 1170 Burnhamthorpe Road West, Mississauga

Thanks, Twitter — or more specifically, thanks, Suresh Doss (for the unaware, Doss has become the GTA’s go-to guy for recommendations on ethnic joints like this one).  I visited this place entirely thanks to this tweet, and I’m really glad that I did.

It’s a big place, and was almost completely empty when I showed up at around 12:30 on a Sunday (which, as will soon become clear, I think is a travesty).  I ordered the arayess, which I had never even heard of before, let alone tried.

It was amazing.  It’s ridiculously simple — it’s essentially just a fairly thin layer of spiced ground beef sandwiched inside a piece of pita bread.  It’s grilled over charcoal, which gives it a nice exterior char without making the bread overly crispy or crackly.

Whatever they’ve spiced the beef with tastes so good, and the juices soak into the bread so that the whole thing becomes an irresistible medley of beefy, perfectly spiced flavour.  It comes with two sauces for dipping — tahini and garlic — and while they’re both quite tasty, it was the garlic sauce that really got me all hot and bothered.  It was pretty much the standard thick white sauce that you get at most shawarma joints, but something about it made me want to grab a spoon and eat it straight-up from the container like pudding.

They gave us a couple of pieces of puffy, fresh-from-the-oven pita bread, and by the end of the meal I was tearing pieces off and dipping them straight into that amazing garlic sauce.

You can choose between fries, rice, or salad — since the tweet that brought me here specifically mentioned the rice, that’s what I got.

The rice, like everything else, was not kidding around.  Great flavour, and it complimented everything else perfectly.

I should also mention that my dining companion got the chicken and beef shawarma plate, and based only on the couple of mouthfuls I had, it seemed like some seriously top-shelf shawarma (I actually enjoyed it so much that I returned a few days later to try a chicken shawarma sandwich — it was quite good, though it was missing the crispy bits that made the shawarma on the first day so amazing).

I’m really not sure why the place was so empty — I’ve been doing this blog for almost a couple of years now, and this was easily one of the best meals I’ve had so far.  It was so good.

Acacia Fine Foods - the arayes Acacia Fine Foods - the chicken shawarma

Country 043 – Venezuela (El Arepazo)

: 181 Augusta Avenue, Toronto

A good way of figuring out what to order for this blog is Googling “[Insert country here] national dish.”  In the case of Venezuela, their national dish is pabellón criollo, which consists of braised beef, rice and beans, and is typically served with fried plantain.

The version at El Arepazo is a bit untraditional– for one thing, it’s served on an arepa, which is essentially like a corn tortilla and a pita had a baby.  Steak is substituted for shredded beef, and given that it’s served in bread, rice has been taken out of the equation entirely.

I quite enjoyed it, though any notion that it could be eaten like a sandwich went out the window almost immediately.  The arepa itself isn’t exactly substantial, and they’ve filled it with a lot of stuff.  I took one bite and the whole thing collapsed into bits like a meat-and-bean-filled pinata.

Still, however you eat it, it’s good.  The steak is a bit on the tough side and all the flavours are probably more muted than they should be (though the two sauces that come on the side — a red and a green salsa — add some needed zip), but it’s otherwise pretty tasty.  The beans, the beef, and the creamy plantains are a good combo, and the gooey cheese helps to bring it all together.