Location: 2428 Islington Avenue, Etobicoke
I’ve had a few dishes over the course of doing this blog that feel like acquired tastes that I haven’t yet acquired. That was definitely the case with fufu, a very popular West African dish consisting of mashed cassava and plantain.
It’s… interesting. It tastes a lot like a much starchier, gummier version of mashed potatoes. It doesn’t have much flavour, but then I don’t think it’s meant to be eaten alone.
It’s traditionally served with soup (in the photos I’ve seen online, they’re served separately, but here it’s all in one bowl). I got the peanut soup (something called “light soup” was also an option), which was rich, flavourful, and pleasantly spicy.
It’s an absolutely enormous portion, and I found myself getting sick of eating it long before it was done. I actually quite liked the vibrant soup — the slightly elastic, gummy fufu, on the other hand, I wasn’t as sold on.
It comes with a few chunks of beef and fish, which weren’t great. The beef was so incredibly tough that I could barely pierce it with a fork, and the fish was dry despite being submerged in soup.
Location: 3067 Lake Shore Boulevard West, Etobicoke
I’ve eaten a lot of seriously tasty stuff since starting this blog, but the meal I just had at Michael’s West Indian Flavor might just be the tastiest. Certainly, it would be in the top five. It was amazing.
Michael’s is a tiny little take-out joint (they have a few stools, but most people get their food to go) with just a handful of things on the menu: oxtail, curried goat, and chicken (which you can get stewed, curried, or jerk). Everything comes with a generous serving of rice and peas, and a side of coleslaw.
I got the oxtail, and it was an absolute taste bonanza. The oxtail itself was fall-off-the-bone tender, and the curry sauce was meaty and spicy, with a wonderfully complex flavour that never gets old; it’s one of those meals where finishing it makes you profoundly sad. And the zingy coleslaw does a great job of cutting the richness of the sauce. It’s absolutely perfect.
It’s a great deal, too. I ordered the small, which is loaded with a very hefty amount of delicious food for an even ten bucks. I challenge you to find another meal in the city with a better price-to-deliciousness ratio. It’s impossible. It can’t be done.
Location: 225 The East Mall, Etobicoke
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Location: 235 Dixon Road, Etobicoke
One thing I’ve discovered over the course of doing this blog: African countries are pretty great at making spicy fried rice. The restaurants that I’ve visited for Nigeria, Uganda, and now Somalia have all served delicious, spicy, and addictive fried rice.
Istar has a variety of Somalian specialties on their menu, though a Toronto Life article specifically referenced the goat and the rice, so that’s what I ordered.
It’s good, though the aforementioned spicy rice is the clear highlight. The plate comes with the rice, a generous portion of braised goat, potatoes, and salad.
Goat isn’t a meat you see on a whole lot of menus in this part of the world, which is a shame. It basically tastes like a slightly stronger version of lamb. It’s good.
Some of the pieces here were a bit on the tough side, but for the most part they were tender and flavourful. The spicing is surprisingly subtle (it tastes like it isn’t seasoned with much beyond salt and pepper, though I’m fairly certain that isn’t the case), but the goat itself is tasty enough that it’s barely an issue.
The potatoes were bland and the salad was pretty generic, but the goat and the rice were a winning combo.
Location: 5308 Dundas Street West, Etobicoke
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.
Location: 872 The Queensway, Etobicoke
No, this technically isn’t a North Korean restaurant — I think it’s safe to say that all Korean restaurants in Toronto (or any city, really) are South Korean. But I painstakingly researched how the cuisines in North and South Korea have diverged since their split in 1945, and I tried to order a dish that’s closest to what North Koreans actually eat.
Actually no, I didn’t do that at all; I just went to a Korean restaurant and ordered what looked good. Because I’m lazy, you see.
I ordered the Chaban Dolsot Bibimbap (it’s always a safe bet to order a dish that features the restaurant’s name). For the uninitiated, bibimbap is a dish in which plain rice is topped with various vegetables and meat, an egg, and is usually served with a tasty Korean hot sauce called gochujang on the side.
This particularly version is served in a piping hot stone bowl (which is where “dolsot” in the name comes from), which makes the rice along the edges delightfully crispy.
I’m generally a pretty big fan of this dish, and this might just be the best version of it that I’ve had. It has a really nice balance of flavours, and just the right amount of kick from the hot sauce. It’s one of those dishes where every bite is a little bit different. It’s pretty great.
Location: 483 Horner Avenue, Etobicoke
Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what to order for this blog; how do you distill a nation’s cuisine into one dish? I mean, you can’t. But it’s always nice to get something that can at least give a partial view of what a country’s food has to offer.
In the case of Myanmar, there doesn’t seem to be much debate over their national dish: it’s mohinga, Myanmar’s take on Asia’s ubiquitous noodle soup.
So, that’s easy. Mohinga it is.
Though Royal Myanmar’s version of this dish features noodles that are overcooked and somewhat mushy, and flavours that are more muted than you’d expect (for something that is ostensibly a fish soup, there is an odd lack of anything even resembling a seafood flavour), I still quite enjoyed this. It’s subtle, but a squirt of lime and a sprinkling from the jar of fiery-hot crushed chilis helps to kick it up several notches. It also has a nice garlicky hum, an added richness thanks to the sliced hard-boiled egg, and a vibrancy from the abundant fresh cilantro.
The broth has been thickened, but subtly so — some thickened Asian soups can be a bit gelatinous for my tastes, but here it’s just thick enough to to give it substance without going overboard.
It’s topped with crunchy chickpea fritters; it’s kind of like topping a soup with crackers, only with a million times more personality.