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.

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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 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 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 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 053 – Malta (Malta Bake Shop)


Location
: 3256 Dundas Street West, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/maltabakeshopltd/

Though Malta Bake Shop has a pretty decent selection of Maltese pastries, I think it’s safe to say that pastizzi is their claim to fame (they even sell frozen versions of them to a few dozen supermarkets across the GTA).

They have a few different varieties, but when I went they had two: beef and peas, and cheese.

There’s really not a lot to pastizzi; it’s a diamond-shaped pastry, with the aforementioned fillings wrapped in a delightfully flaky dough.

It’s really the pastry itself that makes this so amazing: it’s crispy, flaky, buttery and perfect.  It’s similar to Greek-style phyllo pastry, but it’s done perfectly.  It’s the type of pastry perfection that can only be done by people who have been making the same thing for many, many years, and have clearly mastered their craft.

The fillings were tasty as well, though the beef and peas was the superior of the two.  The cheese (ricotta) wasn’t bad, but it was a bit underseasoned, and a little eggy for my tastes.

I should also note that these things are ninety cents each, which is insanely cheap for something so delicious.

Country 043 – Venezuela (El Arepazo)

arepa
Location
: 181 Augusta Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://arepazo.ca/

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.