Country 061 – Uzbekistan (Taj Restaurant)


Location
: 1698 Eglinton Avenue West, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/TAJ-Restaurant-282739815479810/

When we told the waiter (and, I suspect, owner) at Taj that this was our first visit to the restaurant, he pretty much ordered for us.  He gave us a handful of suggestions, then when we neglected to order immediately, he said okay, how about you order this, this, that, and this, and before we knew what was happening the menus were gone and he was in the kitchen (to be fair, we could have said no, but it all sounded good, so we went with it).

It was really bizarre; in pretty much any other setting I probably would have been peeved, but he did it in such an earnest and friendly way that it was hard to be too miffed about it.

Of course, it also helps that all of the food was delicious.

And thankfully it’s an inexpensive place, so despite the fact that we wound up spending (and eating) more than we wanted to, it still only amounted to about 25 bucks each for more food than we were able to eat.

We started with a salad and an enormous round loaf of freshly-baked bread.  The salad, which consisted mostly of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and red onions, was simply dressed and featured really fresh ingredients.  It was quite good.

The bread was warm and homey and satisfying.  It was slightly sweet, and while we weren’t quite sure what we were supposed to eat it with, it was certainly high-quality bread.

Next was the samsa, which was kind of like a Chinese-style bun, but encased in delightfully flaky pastry.  It was crammed with juicy, fennel-infused ground lamb (it was also about the size of my fist and surprisingly heavy, so between that, the salad and the bread we would have been all set for lunch, but I digress).

The final dish was plov (and we got a plate each of this rather than the shared plate we were assuming).  This actually reminded me a lot of qabuli palau, which is Afghanistan’s national dish, and which I sampled at Naan and Kabob.  They both had a pretty similar base — rice, carrots, raisins, and chunks of meat — but the spicing here was much more satisfying.  The raisins and the carrots added subtle pops of sweetness rather than the in-your-face sugar assault from the Naan and Kabob version.

The addition of chick peas gave the dish some added substance, and the chunks of lamb were fork-tender and intensely flavourful.  I love lamb, so maybe I’m biased, but it takes a dish that was already delicious and cranks it right up to eleven.

Taj Restaurant - the salad Taj Restaurant - bread Taj Restaurant - the samsa Taj Restaurant - the samsa Taj Restaurant - the plov

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Country 029 – Hungary (The Goulash House)

goulash
Location
: 200 Main Street South, Newmarket
Websitehttp://thegoulashhouse.com/

I don’t think I’ve ever had an easier time figuring out what to order at a restaurant; I mean, it’s right there in the name.  The only question was which goulash to order — they have three different types, so I asked the waitress and was informed that the goulash of choice is beef.

It comes with a small bowl of soup to start, which in this case was a creamy, garlickly cauliflower soup that I quite enjoyed.

I also really enjoyed the goulash, which was absolutely crammed with fork-tender chunks of beef, not to mention the abundant cubes of potato and the pleasantly chewy dumplings, all in an intensely rich sauce.  It’s clearly designed to be shared; it even comes with a ladle to dole it out into the provided bowls.  I made the mistake of polishing it off by myself, and spent the rest of the evening clutching my stomach and questioning the way I live my life.

My only complaint (aside from the aforementioned stomach-clutching) is that it had one spice that I couldn’t quite put my finger on that gave the dish a vaguely medicinal twang.  I was mostly able to ignore it, but it was the one sour note in an otherwise stellar dish.

Goulash House - the soup Goulash House - the goulash

Country 028 – Poland (Cafe Polonez)

polonez
Location
: 195 Roncevalles Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://cafepolonez.ca/

Like Cho Dang Soon Tofu, this is a place that I’ve not only visited before, but actually written about on another blog.  But hey, if it’s good, it’s good.

A lot of the food here is actually Hungarian — given the restaurant’s name, I figured I’d order off the “Polish Classics” section of the menu.  I went with the Hunter’s Stew, which is described on the menu as “slow cooked sauerkraut with slices of sausage and pork, served with rye bread.”

We started, however, with the cheddar and potato pierogies; they were pretty much pierogi perfection, with a tender, perfectly chewy exterior encasing a deliciously creamy potato filling.  The little cup of golden caramelized onions easily puts them over-the-top.

The stew, on the other hand, was probably the weakest thing I’ve had at Cafe Polonez.  Not that it was particularly bad; it was actually quite tasty.  But even with the chunks of sausage and pork, it was essentially just a big plate of sauerkraut with some added richness from being cooked with the meat.  It would make for an amazing side dish, but as a main meal it gets a bit monotonous.

Cafe Polonez - pierogies Cafe Polonez - Hunter's Stew

Countries 008 and 009 – Malaysia and Pakistan (Carassauga 2015)

carassauga-a
Location
: Various locations in Mississauga
Websitehttp://www.carassauga.com/

I sort of figured that Carassauga — a weekend-long cultural festival held in Mississauga every year — would provide ample fodder for this blog.  Though food clearly isn’t the focus here, it’s fairly abundant.

And it’s a fun enough event, though you’re probably not going to learn anything particularly new about any of the cultures on offer (they were dancing to “Gangnam Style” in the Korea pavilion, if that tells you anything).

But yes, the food: the first (and best) item I tried was a veggie dumpling from the Malaysia pavilion.  Closer to a fritter than any kind of dumpling I’ve ever tried, it was delightfully greasy, with a crispy exterior and a soft, chewy interior.  It was filled with cabbage and carrots, and had a sprinkling of onions on the outside that were super crispy and tasty from the fryer.

It wasn’t hot at all (it was actually bordering on cold), but even still, it was surprisingly delicious.  I was very tempted to immediately order another one, but I figured I should probably save room for other stuff.

carassauga-b

We hit the Pakistan pavilion next, where I tried dali bhalle, a cold dish consisting of a cornbread-esque pastry doused in a fragrant yogurty sauce.  There were also chunks of potato, chickpeas, and little fried bits of pastry.

It was a unique dish, that’s for sure.  Typically, when you try a new food, there’s some point of reference to be had — but I really can’t think of anything else to compare this to.

I enjoyed it, even if it was a bit one-note.  There wasn’t a whole lot of depth of flavour to the sauce, and the pastry, potatoes, and chick-peas were all similarly soft and crumbly.  Some contrast in flavour or texture would have been welcome.  As it stood, I got about half-way through and then dumped the rest in the trash.  Not that it was bad; I was just getting a bit bored.

I tried a few other things — dumplings and rice cakes from Korea, a coconut-infused pastry from Jamaica, a Timbit-esque doughnut from Africa — but those two were probably the most noteworthy.

Carassauga 2015 Carassauga 2015 Carassauga 2015 Carassauga 2015 Carassauga 2015