Country 052 – Grenada (Shandra’s Roti Shop)

shandra
Location
: 5030 Maingate Drive #19, Mississauga
Websitehttps://www.shandrasrotishop.ca/

Roti is another one of those foods that’s eaten in any number of countries; I could have picked from quite a few for Shandra’s Roti Shop. Curry chicken roti is a popular choice in Grenada, so that’s what I went with.

Shandra’s is a popular place.  I came at around noon on a Thursday, and the restaurant was absolutely packed.  A place this crowded is usually a pretty good sign that your lunch choice was solid.

I ordered the aforementioned curry chicken roti, which was crammed with large, tender pieces of chicken in a creamy, flavourful curry sauce.  My only issue was the complete lack of spice; you kinda just assume a dish like this is going to singe your tastebuds and add a layer of sweat to your forehead, so the very thorough mildness of this curry was a bit of a disappointment.

The roti shell is actually two thin layers encasing a dry mix (consisting of ground yellow split peas and other spices, according to Wikipedia), which adds even more flavour and texture.

It was quite good.  Though the lack of mouth-burning spice (or any spice at all) was a bummer, it’s still something I’d happily eat again.

Shandra's Roti - Chicken Curry Roti Shandra's Roti - Chicken Curry Roti

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Country 048 – Singapore (Jackpot Chicken Rice)

jackpot
Location
: 318 Spadina Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.jackpotchickenrice.com/

This post is a bit different than usual.  The whole point of this blog is to travel without traveling; however, I actually just came back from a real, no-foolin’ trip to Singapore (where I had chicken rice a couple of times), so this is the rare case where I know what the real deal is supposed to taste like.

Chicken rice, for the initiated, is an exceptionally simple dish — tender boiled chicken on rice that’s been cooked in the stock, served with a couple of sauces on the side.  That’s it.

Man, it’s good though.

And the version they serve at Jackpot Chicken Rice is surprisingly close to what I had in Singapore.  The rice in particular, with its addictively rich flavour thanks to being cooked with the stock, was pretty much exactly as I remembered from my recent trip.

The chicken itself, however, couldn’t quite match up.  The version I had in Singapore had an intense chickeny flavour, and was almost absurdly tender.  It was silky and moist in a way that was downright remarkable.  The chicken at Jackpot, on the other hand, had a much more subdued flavour, and a texture that was more in line with any other well-prepared chicken I’ve had.  It was tender, but not even close to the awe-inspiring degree of the Singaporean version.

It comes with two sauces on the side — a ginger scallion sauce, and a spicy chili sauce.  The sauces, like the rice, were very comparable to the real deal.

You can also pay a couple of bucks and get some crispy chicken skins on the side.  These are amazing.  They’re pretty much like the best chips you’ve ever had.  I want a whole bag.

I decided to finish things off with the Kaya French Toast.  Kaya is a sweet, coconutty spread that’s typically served on toast for breakfast.  The version here is significantly sweeter and richer than the toast you’ll find in Singapore; it’s lightly crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, and intensely sweet. It’s really, really good.

Jackpot Chicken Rice - the restaurant Jackpot Chicken Rice - the chicken rice Jackpot Chicken Rice - the Kaya French Toast

Country 045 – Yemen (Almonasabah)

almon
Location
: 2340 Council Ring Road #107, Mississauga
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/Almonasabah/

I’ve been on quite a roll with Middle Eastern restaurants — so far I’ve checked out Syria, Turkey, and Lebanon, and they’ve all been seriously tasty.  And now here’s Yemen to continue that streak.

Alonasabah’s menu is laser-focused — they have a handful of appetizers and desserts, but for the most part there’s only one dish on the menu.  If you want something other than mandi?  Go somewhere else, that’s all they’ve got here.

Mandi is a deceptively simple dish: it’s just rice and meat (with the choice between chicken and lamb).  It’s topped with almonds, raisins, and fried onions.

It’s so good.

The rice is fragrant, richly spiced and deeply flavourful; it’s delicious enough that I’d happily eat a big bowl of it just on its own.

I tried both the chicken and lamb, and both types of meat were super tender and packed with flavour.  They’ve obviously been cooked for a very long time at a very low temperature; the chicken was so incredibly tender that the cartilage had completely broken down, essentially turning into cartilage butter.

The rice and the meat are both super tasty, but it’s the toppings that help put this dish over the top.  The almonds add some nuttiness and crunch, and even the raisins work surprisingly well.  I’m generally not a fan of raisins in any context, so I was shocked by how much I enjoyed them here.  Unlike qabuli palau, the somewhat similar dish I tried from Afghanistan, the raisins go really well with everything else.  They add subtle pops of sweetness that compliment the dish perfectly and never overwhelm.

As for the onions, they were dark and intense, with a flavour somewhere between caramelized and fried.  They were sweet, but with an edge — almost bordering on burnt but never crossing that line.

It seems kind of odd at first that this place only really serves the one dish, but if you do something this well?  Why the hell should you waste your time doing anything else?

Country 044 – Lebanon (Acacia Fine Foods)

acacia
Location
: 1170 Burnhamthorpe Road West, Mississauga
Websitehttp://www.acaciafinefoodsmississauga.com/

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 039 – Turkey (Kabab 49)

kabab
Location
: 5308 Dundas Street West, Etobicoke
Websitehttp://kebab49.com/

So, here’s a fun fact (an actual fun fact, not E!’s version of a fun fact): Turkish doner was actually the first version of that particular type of vertically-rotisseried meat, preceding the similar shawarma and gyro by at least a few decades.  I always assumed that shawarma was the O.G. vertical rotating meat-stack, but nope, apparently it’s doner.

And the version they serve at Kabab 49?  It’s superb.  I ordered the mixed doner plate, which comes with a salad, a big pile of sliced onions, a generous portion of delightfully greasy rice, a few slices of freshly-baked bread, and of course, enough shaved meat to feed a small family.

Everything on the plate is quite good (well, except for the onions — raw onions are the worst thing in the world, and no one is ever going to convince me otherwise), but the highlight is that amazing doner.  The mixed plate features chicken and a mix of veal and lamb, and both were fantastic.  The veal and lamb was a bit better than the chicken, but both were moist, had plenty of the crispy bits you’re looking for in this type of thing, and were really well seasoned.

The meat works just as well with the rice as with the fluffy, fresh bread.  Eventually, you eat enough of the doner and discover a couple of bonus slices of bread at the bottom of the plate, suffused with tasty meat grease.   And then you walk out of the restaurant clutching your stomach and wondering how and why you finished the whole thing, because seriously: that plate is enormous.  But you kept eating it well past the point that common sense would dictate that you stop.  That’s how you know it’s something special.

Country 022 – Thailand (Sukhothai)

sukho
Location
: 1442 Dundas Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.sukhothaifood.ca/

Pad Thai isn’t typically my go-to order at a Thai joint, but after reading this article about its intriguingly bizarre history (which involves a military coup and a governmental decree that everyone wear hats), I felt oddly compelled to order it.

Sukhothai’s version comes with your choice of chicken, beef, or tofu.  I went with chicken, which turned out to be a bad choice — the pieces were dry, tough, and thoroughly leftovery.

It was otherwise fine, I guess.  It had a slightly more complex flavour than average and wasn’t as cloyingly sweet as some versions of this dish tend to be, but Pad Thai is never going to be my favourite.  I think the story behind it is probably more interesting than the dish itself.

I had the cassava cake for dessert, which was the highlight.  Though the slightly gummy texture was a bit off-putting at first, its sweet, coconut-infused flavour and rich dulce-de-leche-esque topping thoroughly won me over.

Sukhothai - the restaurant Sukhothai - the Pad Thai Sukhothai - the Cassava Cake

Country 015 – Taiwan (Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine)

mama
Location
: 324 Highway 7 East, Richmond Hill
Website: http://www.mamabeartaiwanesecuisine.ca

Unlike most of the countries I’ve written about so far for this blog, I’ve actually been to Taiwan.  While I was there, one of the dishes I was looking forward to trying was minced pork rice.  But when I got to the restaurant, it was packed, there was a surly-looking man behind the counter and a total lack of any pictures for me to point to.  I wound up loitering for a couple of minutes before finally losing my nerve and leaving sad and pork-and-rice-less.   Yes, trying to order food when you don’t speak a word of the language can be a challenge.

And now I’m sad all over again, because the version of this dish at Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine was pretty damn good — so I can only imagine how good the real deal in Taiwan must have been.

It doesn’t look like much, but with a surfeit of tender, perfectly cooked fatty pork in a richly flavourful, sweet sauce (served on a heaping mound of rice), it’s easy enough to see why it’s such a treasured dish in Taiwan.

We also ordered the Taiwanese-style popcorn chicken, which was crispy, juicy and well seasoned, and easily on par with the fried chicken I had in that country.

The oyster omelette, sadly, was like it came from a different kitchen altogether.

This was another dish that I tried in Taiwan, and the one I had there was almost transcendentally good, with super fresh, perfectly cooked oysters melding with the eggs in a way that was downright magical.   Those eggs, which were lightly crispy on the outside (thanks to a judicious amount of starch mixed in) and soft and creamy on the inside, were among the best I’ve ever had. Served with some sweet sauce on the side to cut the briny richness of the oysters and the eggs, it was pretty much perfect.

I knew this omelette wasn’t going to be as good as that one, but man was it bad.

More starch than egg, the omelette was chewy, gummy, and crammed with overcooked oysters that tasted fishy and canned. And it was absolutely doused in a gloppy sauce — though in this case, the abundance of sauce was probably necessary to disguise the off taste of those oysters.

Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine - the restaurant Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine - minced pork rice Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine - popcorn chicken Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine - Oyster Omelette