Country 097 – Guatemala (Maya)

MayaLocation: 918 Wilson Avenue, North York
Website: http://www.themayarestaurant.com/

The Latin breakfast I just had at Maya, a Guatemalan restaurant in North York, is one of the simpler meals I’ve had in a while.  It features two eggs, ground pork, refried beans, fried plantain, sour cream, and four corn tortillas.

It’s a pretty basic breakfast, but man, it’s so good.  Everything on the plate was impeccably prepared, and it all worked so well together.

Maya

The eggs?  Perfectly cooked, with a really satisfying gooey yolk.  The pork?  Also great; it kinda reminded me of the meat you might find inside an empanada.

The plantains were fairly standard for this type of cuisine, but they were so well cooked that it felt like they were something special — perfectly creamy, with a mildly sweet flavour that has a remarkable depth.  They’re so good.

Maya

The refried beans are nice and creamy, and the warm, fresh corn tortillas are the perfect complement to everything on the plate.

It’s also a scant eight bucks (which includes a coffee), so it’s delicious and it’s a great deal.

Country 096 – Iceland (Taste of Iceland)

Taste of Iceland 2019Location: 350 King Street West, Toronto
Website: https://icelandnaturally.com/event/taste-iceland-toronto-2019/

There isn’t a single Icelandic restaurant in the GTA, so if you want a sampling of their cuisine, the annual Taste of Iceland — in which a chef from that European country is flown in to cook a five-course meal for the weekend — is your only option.

It’s not a bad option.  It’s certainly pricey — with tax and tip factored into the $76 per person price tag, I think it probably adds up to about the same as half a dozen typical meals I’ll eat for this blog.  But you get what you pay for, and aside from some surprisingly abysmal service at host restaurant Luma, it was a memorable meal.

Taste of Iceland 2019

My good friend Wikipedia notes that the most common foods in Iceland are lamb, dairy, and fish; all three were represented in this meal, with the courses consisting of cured leg of lamb, charred Arctic char, Atlantic cod, skyr mousse, and doughnuts.

The thinly-sliced cured lamb was really unique, with a mild funky flavour and nice pops of texture from the crispy little chips made from salsify, a parsnip-esque root vegetable.  The crumbles of smoked cheese were also a nice touch.

Taste of Iceland 2019

The two fish dishes were easily the highlight; both were amazingly well prepared and featured some seriously tasty accompaniments.  In particular, the Arctic char was almost ridiculously moist and tender, and featured a rich butter sauce that I wanted to fill a pool with and swim in.  The fermented radishes did a great job of cutting through the indulgent sauce.

Taste of Iceland 2019

As for the dessert, the skyr — an Icelandic yogurt — was incredibly creamy, and was complimented perfectly by the slightly tart wild blueberry puree and the fragrant, licorice-infused meringue crisps.  The doughnuts were a bit too dense, but came with an intensely delicious caramel sauce that was so good it really didn’t matter.

Country 095 – Oman (Jordan’s Shawarma)

Jordan's ShawarmaLocation: 2300 John Street, Thornhill
Website: https://www.facebook.com/JorShawarma/

Standard disclaimer: no, Jordan’s Shawarma is not an Omani restaurant.  Oman isn’t the tiniest country ever (with a population of just over four million, it’s the 125th most populous country in the world), but Omani restaurants in the GTA don’t exist.  A Google search for Omani cuisine in Toronto comes up with several results about Tim Hortons opening in that country, but zero restaurants in the city.

Jordan's Shawarma

Jordan’s Shawarma does, however, have lamb kebabs on their menu (which you can get in a rice bowl, a salad, or on fries).  According to my old friend Wikipedia, the kebab is a staple in Oman, so close enough.

Jordan's Shawarma

I got it in a rice bowl, and it was surprisingly good.  It was actually extremely similar to the last thing I tried for this blog, another kebab rice plate from Royal Mezgouf.  I quite enjoyed that one, but this was tastier in every regard.

Jordan's Shawarma

The kebab itself was absolutely fantastic, with a nice lamby flavour, delicious spicing, and a good amount of exterior texture from the grill.  It’s topped with the usual assortment of sauces — garlic, tahini, and hot sauce — and all three are on point.  It also has a healthy dollop of some kind of tzatziki-esque yogurt sauce, which was seriously delicious.

The rice is top notch as well, as is the zesty salad.

Jordan's Shawarma

I also tried the chicken shawarma; it wasn’t quite on the level of the kebab, but it was definitely above average, with tender, tasty meat and a decent amount of crispy bits.

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.

Country 093 – San Marino (Speducci Mercatto)

Speducci MercattoLocation: 46 Milford Avenue, North York
Website: https://speducci.com/

San Marino is kinda like Vatican City, in that it’s a tiny little country that’s entirely within Italy’s borders (it is, however, considerably larger than Vatican City).  Along with Vatican City and Lesotho in South Africa, it is one of only three countries in the world that’s entirely surrounded by another country.

So there you go, there’s your obscure bit of geographic trivia for the day.  You’re welcome.

Speducci Mercatto

Obviously, San Marino’s cuisine is basically Italian cuisine; between that and Vatican City, I’ve had an excuse to go to three different Italian restaurants for this blog.

Speducci Mercatto is a snazzy little deli / Italian restaurant in the middle of an industrial area of North York.  If I hadn’t specifically read about it, there’s no way I would have discovered it myself.

Speducci Mercatto

They’re mostly known for the various Italian cured meats that they make in-house; you can buy them to go from the deli counter, or in the restaurant in a sandwich or a pizza.

I went with the prosciutto sandwich, which comes on its own (i.e. just prosciutto in a roll), though you can add various toppings for a small upcharge.  The waitress recommended bocconcini cheese, arugula, and tomato; even with the toppings, it came up to $13.50 for a very hefty sandwich, so it’s a great deal.

Speducci Mercatto

They cram a serious amount of meat into the sandwich.  It might have felt like an overwhelming amount of prosciutto, but it’s so incredibly delicious that this is never an issue.  The meat is super tender, the fat is silky, and the flavour is delightfully complex.  It’s definitely some of the best prosciutto I’ve ever had.

And the waitress was absolutely spot-on with the topping suggestions; the creamy cheese, the peppery arugula, and the fresh tomatoes all complimented the meat perfectly.  The bread was a typical Italian roll and nothing to get too excited about, but the prosciutto was so tasty that it really didn’t matter.

Country 092 – Dominica (Chris Jerk)

Chris JerkLocation: 2570 Birchmount Road, Scarborough
Website: https://www.facebook.com/ChrisJerkCB/

I just talked about Brunei, a tiny country with a population of 400,000 that looks positively huge compared to Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic), an island nation in the Caribbean with a population of 71,000.  It measures at 750 km2, which is about a tenth of the size of the GTA.

As for Chris Jerk as a representative of Dominica, I’m cheating on several levels.  It obviously doesn’t serve Dominican food, because how could it?  The country is way too small to inspire restaurants outside of its borders.

Chris Jerk

Chris Jerk serves Caribbean/Jamaican food… kinda.  Their claim to fame is jerk chicken shawarma, which you can order in a wrap, on a plate, or in a poutine.  No, it’s not particularly authentic.

I tried the wrap, which is served in a tortilla.  So it’s part Jamaican, part Middle Eastern, part Mexican, and all delicious.

Seriously: it’s so damn good.  The restaurant was absolutely packed when I visited close to noon on a weekday, and it’s very, very easy to see why.

Chris Jerk

The wrap comes stuffed with the usual assortment of veggies, along with BBQ mayo, garlic mayo, and hot sauce.  Fried plantain is an optional upgrade for an additional fifty cents.

The shawarma itself is absolutely outstanding.  The chicken is perfectly cooked and tender, and the crispy bits?  Out of control.  The amount of texture and flavour you get from the dark brown bits is ridiculous.

It’s basically just really great shawarma — but then it’s got those jerk spices, which makes it delightfully unique.

Chris Jerk

The sauces and the veggies compliment it perfectly, and the ratio of meat to other stuff is perfect.  It’s a seriously meaty wrap, but with enough toppings to balance it out.  Plus, the plaintain adds a nice creamy sweetness that contrasts nicely with the crispy, savoury meat.

I know a lot of people are sticklers for authenticity; Chris Jerk is Exhibit A on why they’re wrong.  Deliciousness is all that matters, and the jerk chicken shawarma has that in spades.

Country 091 – Brunei (One2Snacks)

One2SnacksLocation: 8 Glen Watford Drive, Scarborough
Website: None

Brunei is a tiny little country that’s effectively right in the middle of Malaysia.  With a population of around 400,000, it’s not the smallest country in the world, but it’s still small enough that there are zero Bruneian restaurants in the GTA.

One2Snacks

Their proximity to Malaysia means that their cuisine bears a lot of similarity to Malaysian food, so this is actually an easy one.  There are a handful of Malaysian restaurants in the GTA, including One2Snacks, which is particularly well-regarded for having  a tasty bowl of curry laksa.

One2Snacks

Curry laksa is a seriously delicious curry-tinged noodle soup with a creamy richness thanks to coconut milk.  It’s kind of similar to khao soi, but with a zingier, more spice-packed flavour.

The version at One2Snacks is an amazing deal — it’s about eight bucks, and comes in an enormous bowl that’s absolutely crammed with noodles (thick and thin), shrimp, chicken, tofu, and fish balls.

One2Snacks

It doesn’t quite have the creamy vibrancy of the best bowls of laksa that I’ve had, but it’s quite satisfying nonetheless.  The broth has enough depth and spice to be eminently slurpable, the noodles have a great texture, and the mix-ins are all tasty (the chicken has a mildly leftovery flavour, but everything else is great, particularly the tender fish balls).