Country 100 – Peru (King’s BBQ Chicken Restaurant)

King's BBQ Chicken RestaurantLocation: 572 Rogers Road, Toronto
Website: None

Despite the name, King’s BBQ Chicken Restaurant serves quite a bit more than just roasted bird — specifically, they specialize in chifa, a subset of Peruvian cuisine that gives Chinese food a South American twist.  Apparently it’s been a big deal in Peru since the 1920s, courtesy of a large influx of Chinese immigration in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The most beloved example of chifa is probably lomo saltado, a stir-fried beef dish with the bizarre (and delightful) addition of french fries.

King's BBQ Chicken Restaurant

It’s odd.  It mostly tastes like any number of stir-fries; it’s sweet, savoury, and a little bit smoky from the blazing hot wok.  But then there’s the very generous amount of fries mixed in, which work surprisingly well.

King's BBQ Chicken Restaurant

It’s not something I would have guessed would be as delicious as it is, but it tastes kind of like the tasty love child between Chinese food and a plate of loaded fries.  It doesn’t need rice, because the starch is built right in.  It’s ingenious.

King's BBQ Chicken Restaurant

They don’t just serve chifu at King’s BBQ Chicken; it wouldn’t be a Peruvian restaurant without ceviche, Peru’s national dish and culinary claim to fame (it’s served in several countries, but it was invented in Peru).  The version here is quite tasty, with a nice acidic bite that doesn’t overwhelm, pops of spice from finely diced hot pepper, and a nice contrast in textures between the meaty fish and the crunchy onion.

King's BBQ Chicken Restaurant

And of course, you can’t go to a place with “BBQ Chicken” right in the name without trying the BBQ chicken.  It’s very good — it’s not as distinctive as the lomo saltado or the ceviche, but it’s a quality piece of chicken.  It’s nice and tender, and the seasoning is tasty.  It’s good stuff.

Country 088 – Turkmenistan (Harmony Restaurant)

Harmony RestaurantLocation: 478 Dundas Street West, Toronto
Website: None

No, technically Harmony Restaurant doesn’t serve Turkmen cuisine (it specializes in northern Chinese fare), but they do serve an interesting bowl of lamb soup.  Turkmenistan consumes the second most lamb per capita in the world.  Close enough, I guess?

(Hey, you try doing this blog.  Good luck finding a Turkmen restaurant in Toronto.)

Harmony Restaurant

Harmony Restaurant’s specialty is a bowl of lamb soup with bread, which features chunks of tender lamb and chewy cubes of bread in a very lamby broth.

Harmony Restaurant

The presence of bread is odd at first, but it basically plays the same role as noodles in a noodle soup.  It’s not mushy at all; it’s chewy and starchy, and soaks up the flavour from the soup.  It’s surprisingly tasty.

The chunks of lamb are great.  They’re super tender, a little bit fatty, and packed with a deep, meaty flavour.

Harmony Restaurant

The broth, too, is absolutely crammed with that unmistakable lamb flavour.  If you don’t like lamb, this isn’t the dish for you.  It’s not subtle.

It also has a nice zippiness and a mild kick that ensures it never feels one-note rich.  It’s a tasty bowl of soup, especially once you add a few spoonfuls of the smoky chili oil.

Harmony Restaurant

I also tried a pork bun, which wasn’t quite as good as the soup.  The pork was well-seasoned and tender, but the bun itself was dense and dry.  It was basically like a big saltine.  It wasn’t great.

Country 010 – China (Magic Noodle)

magic
Location
1383 16th Ave, Unit 4, Richmond Hill
Websitehttp://www.magicnoodle.ca/

I’m going to paraphrase a quote from The Social Network here: you know what’s better than noodles?  Hand-pulled noodles.

There’s something about the addictively chewy texture of freshly-made noodles that really can’t be beat.

That’s not to mention the novelty of seeing them get made, which is on full display at Magic Noodle: stretching the dough, slamming it on the table, more stretching, more slamming, and the final, impressive act of noodlification.   The dough is pulled, folded over, and then pulled again and again, until a fat lump of dough has been turned into one long noodle strand, seemingly by magic.

This makes hand-pulled noodles impossible to eat daintily; because you’re essentially dealing with one absurdly long noodle bunched up in a bowl, the only thing you can do is bring a bunch of noodles to your face, cram as much as you can into your mouth, and then bite down to allow the rest to fall back into the bowl.  It’s a mess, but a delicious mess.

I ordered the House Special Hand Pulled Noodles, which featured a tasty, not overly salty broth (which was made even better when kicked up with the provided chili oil), a really generous amount of meat (a couple of different cuts of beef — both quite tender — as well as some tripe), cilantro and green onion, and a fried egg (which was way overcooked and easily the weak spot of the bowl).

And of course, those amazingly chewy noodles.  You can tell they’re made by hand because they’re not quite uniformly thick throughout, which only adds to their unique texture and intensifies their appeal.

Expect to wait, too; I came on a Friday night, and the wait was long enough to necessitate one of those pagers that buzzes and lights up when your table is ready, like at a chain restaurant.  I think it was about a twenty minute wait, which seems like a long time until you get your first taste of those noodles.

Magic Noodle - House Special Noodles Magic Noodle - Lamb Kebab