Country 079 – Bolivia (Emporio De Los Sandwiches)

Emporio De Los SandwichesLocation: 894 Wilson Avenue, North York
Website: None.

Emporio De Los Sandwiches is a delightful little bakery right around the corner from Yorkdale Mall that specializes in empanadas and seriously tasty-looking sweet pastries.  I went in intending to only get a couple of empanadas, but the desserts were transfixing.  I had a hard time narrowing it down to just a couple; they all looked so good.

Emporio De Los Sandwiches

Don’t ask me what those desserts are, however; nothing was labeled.  I asked the woman behind the counter what they were called — she told me and they were extremely Latin sounding.  I felt bad asking her to repeat herself or write it down, so that was that.

I’m not exactly Suresh Doss, in case you haven’t figured that out yet.

Emporio De Los Sandwiches

I know what the empanadas are, at least!  So I’m not completely useless.  One was beef, and the other was chorizo (even my feeble brain can recall words such as “beef” and “chorizo”).

They were both good, though the beef was clearly the better of the two.  The chorizo was a bit dry and underseasoned; it was fine, especially since the quality of the pastry itself was quite good, but it was pretty average.

Emporio De Los Sandwiches

The beef, on the other hand, had an assertive flavour and a satisfyingly saucy consistency, featuring chunks of eggs and veggies to spice things up (metaphorically — neither empanada was spicy at all).

The desserts were the same story: one great, one not so much.

Emporio De Los Sandwiches

The round one was seriously delicious; the pastry was fluffy and doughnut-like, and the creamy custard and sweet dulce de leche went perfectly together.

The square one was odd.  It basically tasted like a ridiculously fat square of dry, plain pie crust.  It was hard and crunchy and barely sweet at all (I think the sugar on top was the only source of sweetness).

Emporio De Los Sandwiches

It kinda went over my head.  I don’t get the appeal.  I’m pretty sure the woman behind the counter mentioned a caramel filling, so I’m going to assume that something was missing.

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Country 078 – Uruguay (La Pasiva)

La PasivaLocation: 896 Wilson Avenue, North York
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/pages/La-Pasiva/174822035894964

Apparently steak and eggs are a pretty big deal in Latin America; I’ve had a version of this meal for Colombia, Ecuador, and now Uruguay.

The one they’re serving at La Pasiva wound up being almost exactly the same as the one I had at Comedor Popular Ecuatoriano.  It’s a relatively simple dish: steak and eggs, a salad, and potatoes (you can choose between potato salad and fries — I went with potato salad).

La Pasiva

I liked it even better than the version at Comedor Popular Ecuatoriano.  The well done, thinly-cut steak was a little bit tough — but it was still much more tender than Comedor’s version, and the seasoning was nice and zingy.

It’s also a nice reminder of why steak and eggs is a classic dish; they go very well together.

La Pasiva

The salad, with its standard vinaigrette, didn’t particularly stand out, but the potato salad was quite delightful.  I’m generally not a fan of potato salad, mostly because it almost always features raw onion, and that’s not my favourite flavour (putting it mildly).  But La Pasiva’s version was refreshingly onion-free; it was a little bit sweeter than I’d like, but the potatoes were nice and creamy, and it had enough of a vinegary bite to cut the sweetness.

I also tried the pasiva (because you should never leave a restaurant without trying its namesake dish), which consists of two hot dogs wrapped in fatty ham and served with melty cheese on top.  It’s served on an enormous pile of fries.

La Pasiva

Was it good?  I mean, yeah, of course it was good.  Did you not read what I just wrote?  It’s a hot dog wrapped in ham and covered with gooey cheese.  The hot dog had a nice smokey flavour, and the whole thing was quite satisfying.

La Pasiva

The fries — which were thinly-cut and were very similar to what you’ll find at McDonald’s — were okay, but they had clearly been sitting out for a while, so they weren’t hot and they were somewhat dried out.

Country 077 – Bosnia and Herzegovina (Sarajevo Grill & Meat)

Sarajevo Grill & MeatLocation: 225 The East Mall, Etobicoke
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/pages/Sarajevo-Grill-and-Meat/1088266461319632

Sarajevo Grill & Meat is a bit odd; they have a few tables, but mainly, it’s a take-out joint and a little supermarket of sorts.  They have several shelves worth of Eastern European groceries, a butcher counter, some cakes and cookies, and a hot table with savoury pastries.

Sarajevo Grill & Meat

They also have a few meaty goodies you can eat in the restaurant, with their specialty being cevapi, an Eastern European sausage.

I ordered the large cevapi plate, which comes with a whole pile of little sausages on a plate-sized piece of flatbread called lepinja.

Sarajevo Grill & Meat

It’s not bad, but the cevapi at Royal Meats (which is about a five minute drive away) is better on pretty much every level.

The main issue here is that the sausages are over-salted and under-spiced, with a one-note salty flavour that gets a bit monotonous after a few mouthfuls.

Sarajevo Grill & Meat

They’re also extremely greasy.  This normally wouldn’t be an issue; there’s nothing sadder than a dried-out sausage.  But these go a little bit too far in the other direction.  It’s the type of dish where your mouth and lips immediately become slick with grease — a feeling that persists long after the meal is done.

It didn’t help that the lepinja (which was soft, fluffy, and a little bit chewy) was suffused with oil; some parts were downright mushy.

Sarajevo Grill & Meat

The dish came with a small container of a white substance that I’m pretty sure was just straight-up margarine or lard, just in case you want more grease to dip your greasy bread and your greasy sausages in.  It’s basically a heart attack waiting to happen.

Country 076 – Antigua and Barbuda (Chubby’s Jamaican Kitchen)

Chubby's Jamaican KitchenLocation: 104 Portland Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://chubbysjamaican.com/

No, technically Chubby’s doesn’t qualify as a restaurant from Antigua and Barbuda.  It’s Jamaican.  It’s right there in the name.

But there are a bunch of tiny Caribbean countries, and for the purposes of this blog, compromises are going to have to be made.  Jamaican cuisine is probably going to stand in for pretty much every country in that area, because Jamaican restaurants are everywhere.  The rest of the Caribbean?  Not so much.

Chubby's Jamaican Kitchen

Chubby’s is a bit of an odd one.  It’s a far cry from the typical hole-in-the-wall Jamaican place you’re expecting, with a twee, hipster-friendly dining room that looks like it’s been scientifically engineered for social media appeal (and indeed, if you look up the restaurant on Instagram, there are far more twenty-somethings taking selfies than pictures of the food).

I was worried that the food might be an afterthought, but I tried a couple of things and they were both great.

Chubby's Jamaican Kitchen

First up: the saltfish fritters, which are lightly crispy on the outside, with a chewy texture that’s reminiscent of glutinous rice.  True to its name it’s both salty and fishy, but not excessively so; it’s nicely balanced.  The strong flavours are complimented well by the mango-lime-papaya salsa, which is sweet and surprisingly spicy.

Chubby's Jamaican Kitchen

I also tried the curry goat, which features a generous amount of fall-off-the-bone tender meat in a fragrant curry sauce.  It comes with a side of rice and a small helping of sugary-sweet mango chutney.  The chutney seems way too sweet at first, but it kind of has the same appeal as eating cranberry sauce with turkey.  It grew on me.

Country 075 – Bhutan (Lhasa Kitchen… or is it Potala Kitchen?)

Lhasa Kitchen (Potala Kitchen?)Location: 1422 Queen Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.lhasakitchentoronto.ca/

I’m not gonna lie: I’m kinda cheating with this one.  Lhasa Kitchen is a Tibetan restaurant — one of many on this particular stretch of Queen — but when I looked it up online, they had a whole section on their menu dedicated to Bhutanese cuisine.

Lhasa Kitchen (Potala Kitchen?)

When I showed up, however, the restaurant was actually called Potala Kitchen, and the dishes from Bhutan were MIA.  It was an odd turn of events (odder still: as I write this, there isn’t a single reference to Potala Kitchen online, even on the restaurant’s website).

Bhutan and Tibet are neighbours; their cuisine must be somewhat similar.  So… close enough, I guess?

Lhasa Kitchen (Potala Kitchen?)

I tried a couple of things.  I started with the beef momo — essentially a Tibetan version of steamed Chinese dumplings.  The skin was slightly dry and the minced beef inside was a bit tough, but these were still pretty tasty (not to mention a great deal at seven bucks for a very generous order of ten).

Lhasa Kitchen (Potala Kitchen?)

I also tried the pork shabtak, which was an unqualified home run.  This featured a whole bunch of thick slices of ultra-tender pork belly and slippery fried onions in an oily, intensely flavourful sauce.

Lhasa Kitchen (Potala Kitchen?)

It comes with something called tring-mo — a big, fluffy steamed bun.  You eat it kind of like you’d eat roti; you tear pieces off and dip it in the pork.  Rice is an option, but this was way more interesting.

Country 074 – Palestine (Kunafa’s)

Kunafa'sLocation: 1801 Lawrence Avenue East, Scarborough
Websitehttp://kunafas.com/

Yes, I’ve actually written about kunafa before — they have it on their dessert menu at Tabule (which is hit-and-miss).  But hey, if I can write about multiple versions of doner or noodles, why not multiple versions of kunafa?

Kunafa's

Kunafa is great.  It’s a Middle Eastern dessert that consists of a layer of gooey white cheese topped with syrup-infused pastry.  I know that cheese in a dessert sounds odd, but the particular cheese they use — called nabulsi — has a neutral flavour and a pleasant gooeyness that makes it ideal for desserts.

Plus: everyone loves tiramisu and cannoli.  A cheese-based dessert really isn’t as strange as you might initially think.

Kunafa's

The problem with kunafa is the same problem with pizza; because of the melty cheese, it really has to be eaten when it’s relatively fresh out of the oven.  As it sits out, the cheese starts to congeal and the pastry loses its moisture.  You can reheat it (or leave it on a hot plate as they do here), but it really isn’t the same.

The version they’re serving at Kunafa’s was quite tasty, but this was clearly an issue.

Kunafa's

As you can see, the cheese was still very stretchy, but it was also a bit too tough.  If using a fork to cut through the cheese completely mangles the dessert, then your kunafa has probably been sitting out too long.  The pastry, too, was more dry and crumbly than it should have been.

But don’t get me wrong — I still really enjoyed this.  I’m not sure that there’s anywhere in the GTA that serves a really great kunafa, so this is about as good as it gets.  Nitpicks aside, it’s still delicious.

Country 073 – Armenia (Mamajoun)

MamajounLocation: 209 Ellesmere Road, Toronto
Websitehttps://mamajoun.com/

Mamajoun is an Armenian pizzeria that specializes in lahmajoun, a tasty flatbread that’s traditionally topped with a mixture of ground beef and minced veggies.  It’s mostly a take-out place, though they do have a few small tables and a counter where you can sit.

You can get your lahmajoun on its own, or you can choose from various fillings; they wrap the whole thing up and stick it in a panini press to give it a nice crispiness on its exterior.

Mamajoun

I’ve been eating the Middle Eastern version of these (called lahm bi ajin — basically the exact same thing, but with a different name) for pretty much my entire life, but for some reason it’s never occurred to me to cram more stuff in there and eat it like a wrap.  And I have no idea why; it’s kind of ingenious.

Mamajoun

I chose to have mine filled with soujouk, which is a really tasty sausage that basically combines the intense flavour of a cured sausage with the texture of a fresh one.  You can also fill it with the usual assortment of olives, pickled goodies, and hot peppers that you’d expect from a Mediterranean wrap.

Mamajoun

It was quite tasty.  The lahmajoun itself had a nicely spiced meaty flavour, with a good contrast of fluffiness and crispiness on the flatbread.  The soujouk and the other fillings worked really well; between the vibrant sausage and the various vinegary pickles, it’s an absolute face-punch of flavour.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.