Country 073 – Armenia (Mamajoun)

MamajounLocation: 209 Ellesmere Road, Toronto
Websitehttps://mamajoun.com/

Mamajoun is an Armenian pizzeria that specializes in lahmajoun, a tasty flatbread that’s traditionally topped with a mixture of ground beef and minced veggies.  It’s mostly a take-out place, though they do have a few small tables and a counter where you can sit.

You can get your lahmajoun on its own, or you can choose from various fillings; they wrap the whole thing up and stick it in a panini press to give it a nice crispiness on its exterior.

Mamajoun

I’ve been eating the Middle Eastern version of these (called lahm bi ajin — basically the exact same thing, but with a different name) for pretty much my entire life, but for some reason it’s never occurred to me to cram more stuff in there and eat it like a wrap.  And I have no idea why; it’s kind of ingenious.

Mamajoun

I chose to have mine filled with soujouk, which is a really tasty sausage that basically combines the intense flavour of a cured sausage with the texture of a fresh one.  You can also fill it with the usual assortment of olives, pickled goodies, and hot peppers that you’d expect from a Mediterranean wrap.

Mamajoun

It was quite tasty.  The lahmajoun itself had a nicely spiced meaty flavour, with a good contrast of fluffiness and crispiness on the flatbread.  The soujouk and the other fillings worked really well; between the vibrant sausage and the various vinegary pickles, it’s an absolute face-punch of flavour.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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Country 072 – Kiribati (Spice Indian Bistro)

Spice Indian BistroLocation: 320 Richmond Street East, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.spice-indian-bistro.com/

Let’s face it, very few of us are familiar with all 196 countries.  I don’t care how into geography or world politics you are, some countries that are going to fly under your radar.  Case in point: Kiribati.  If you claim to have heard of this place before a few seconds ago, then one of three things is likely true:

  1. You’re lying.
  2. You’re from Kiribati.
  3. There is no third option.

It’s safe to say that there are no restaurants in the GTA serving Kiribatian cuisine.  However, a quick googling reveals that both curry and fish are staples in their food culture.  Since I don’t exactly have too many choices, I figured any fish curry would fit the bill.

Spice Indian Bistro

Regardless of how close the curry at Spice Indian Bistro is to what they serve in Kiribati, I’m so glad I went there.  Because the fish curry was jaw-droppingly good.

The fish itself was so impeccably cooked that it’s honestly a little bit upsetting.  It was moist and tender and perfect; why can’t all fish be prepared this well??

Spice Indian Bistro

And the curry was absolutely delicious; it’s sweet and spicy, with a depth of flavour that’s downright impressive.  It was easily one of the better curries I’ve had in a while, and the fluffy, lightly-spiced rice was a perfect accompaniment.

Like a lot of the restaurants I visit for this blog, the place was mostly empty.  I’m going to have to insist that you go there ASAP, because Spice Indian Bistro needs to stick around forever.  It’s so good.

Country 071 – Ecuador (Comedor Popular Ecuatoriano)

Comedor Popular EcuatorianoLocation9 Milvan Drive, North York
Website: None

Though I’ve already written about a restaurant in the Plaza Latina food court, another visit was probably inevitable.  That place is an absolute treasure trove of Latin American food.

This time, I visited an Ecuadorian restaurant called Comedor Popular Ecuatoriano.  I wasn’t sure what to order; the woman behind the counter recommended a dish that came with a hearty soup and churrasco, an Ecuadorian take on steak and eggs.

Comedor Popular Ecuatoriano

The soup came out first, and it was really, really good.  I didn’t see it on the menu, but I’m pretty sure this was sancocho.  I had this particular soup at a restaurant called Mi Tierra, but this one was clearly the superior version.  The broth had a really satisfying chicken-infused flavour, with a nice hit of cilantro and a zestiness that kept me coming back for more.

Comedor Popular Ecuatoriano

It was also seriously hearty, with huge chunks of cassava, carrots, plantains, beef, and corn.  This alone would have been a satisfying lunch.

But of course, there was still the main meal: a huge plate piled high with steak, rice, fries, two fried eggs, and a salad.  If you’ve got a big appetite, this is your place.

Comedor Popular Ecuatoriano

Oddly, I really enjoyed this even though most of the individual components weren’t all that great.  The steak was tough, the fries were run-of-the-mill, and the rice was fairly bland.  But once I started eating it all together, it coalesced into something surprisingly tasty.  The perfectly runny yolks on the two eggs essentially becomes a sauce that improves everything; if you get a little bit of multiple elements in each mouthful, it’s delicious.

Country 070 – Somalia (Istar Restaurant)

Istar RestaurantLocation: 235 Dixon Road, Etobicoke
Websitehttp://www.istarrestaurant.com/

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.

Istar Restaurant

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.

Istar Restaurant

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.

Country 067 – Uganda (Muchomo Grill House)

Muchomo Grill HouseLocation: 83 Kennedy Road South (Unit 8), Brampton
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/Muchomo-GRILL-HOUSE-1369240303139681

Going to Muchomo Grill House was a bit of a strange experience.  When I visited on a recent weekday afternoon, the restaurant appeared to be in an unfinished state, with unconnected TVs, bare walls, and wires hanging all over the place.

You can sort of see what I’m talking about from the one photo I took from my table (I felt a bit awkward standing up to take more photos, as I was literally the only person inside the restaurant aside from the two people who worked there).

Muchomo Grill House

I figured the place must have just opened, but if their Facebook page is anything to go by, they’ve been around for well over a year.

I guess they must be in the middle of renovations?  It was quite odd.

Even odder: the complete lack of a menu.  There was nothing posted on the wall, no take-out menu, nothing online, and no laminated menus to look at in the restaurant.  Nothing.  At this point, I asked the person behind the counter if they were actually open, because are you even a restaurant if you don’t have a menu?  Isn’t that the first thing a functional restaurant should have??

She gave me a broad overview of what they serve, and the first thing she mentioned was spicy rice and grilled meat, so I figured, sure, why not?  Unfortunately, I have no idea what this was called, because again, there was no menu.

It was quite good, though!  So at least after all that strangeness, there is a happy ending.  It was very similar to a dish I had at Village Suya — only much, much better.

Muchomo Grill House

The spicy rice was as advertised: it had a good kick, and was nicely spiced and quite flavourful.  It looks fairly plain, but the flavour was rich and satisfying, with just enough greasiness to keep things interesting, but without feeling overly oily.

The meat was even better, with an intense pop of flavour and an even more pronounced kick than the rice.  This might have been my imagination, but it almost had that hot/numbing effect that you get from dishes with sichuan peppercorns.  Whatever it was, it was tasty, and it was just as tender as you’d hope it would be.

It comes topped with uncooked onions and peppers, which work better than you’d expect — in particular, the sweet, crunchy peppers contrast very nicely with the tender, flavourful beef.

Country 066 – Chile (Auténtica)

AutenticaLocation: 9 Milvan Drive, North York
Website: None

When I did Argentina for this blog about 30 countries ago, I tried a sandwich called a lomito, which I noted was served in Argentina and Chile.  Well, here I am doing Chile, and yep — I ordered another lomito.

Kinda boring, but I wasn’t crazy about the first lomito I had, so I thought I’d give it another shot.

Autentica

I tried this one at a restaurant called Auténtica in the Plaza Latina food court in North York.  That’s a really fascinating food court that specializes entirely in Latin American restaurants.

The lomito from Auténtica consisted of sliced pork, tomatoes, avocado, and mayo.  It’s served on a really interesting house-made bun that’s kind of like a cross between a traditional bun and a biscuit.

Autentica

It wasn’t bad — the pork was nice and tender, and the tomato and avocado were fresh and tasty.  But there wasn’t a ton of flavour here; the pork was barely seasoned, and I don’t think the avocado or tomato slices were seasoned at all.  It was a decent enough sandwich, but nothing about it particularly stood out.

Autentica

I also tried the completo, which is a hot dog topped with avocado, tomato, and mayo (they really love avocado, tomato, and mayo in Chile, I guess).  The hot dog was smoky and tasty, but again, the other components were a bit bland.  It really needed mustard or some other condiment to give it a bit more flavour.  Still, it was enjoyable enough.

Autentica

I finished with the tres leches cake, which was the highlight.  A tres leches cake gets its name (which translates to “three milks”) from condensed milk, evaporated milk, and cream.  This one also featured a layer of dulce de leche, which worked exceptionally well with the moist — but not soggy — cake.  The only issue here was that the whipped cream tasted like it was actually Cool Whip or something similar, which was unfortunate.

Country 065 – Laos (Sabai Sabai)

Sabai Sabai
Location: 81 Bloor Street East, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.sabaisabaito.ca/

I’m gonna admit that pretty much the only thing I know about Laos is that it’s where Hank Hill’s neighbour is from on King of the Hill.  I sort of figured that I’d be learning about all kinds of countries while doing this blog, but to be honest, not really (unless you consider eating a dish or two without context to be learning about a place, in which case, sure!  I’m learning a lot!).

But now I can tell you about a couple of Laotian dishes I had at Sabai Sabai, so I guess I know a tiny bit more than I did before.

Sabai Sabai

I started with the laap lao, which the menu describes as a minced pork salad, and the “most popular dish of Laos.”  Well, okay.  Sold.

I can see why it’s so popular in Laos (and elsewhere) — it’s delicious.  It’s a simple dish, with a bowl of ground pork accompanied by a plate of iceberg lettuce leaves for wrapping.  The pork absolutely pops with flavour — it’s addictively tangy and herby, and it’s almost impossible to stop eating.  The fresh crunchiness of the lettuce is a perfect accompaniment to the flavourful pork.  It’s great.

Sabai Sabai

My main was the mee kati (coconut noodles).  This was really tasty, though it was exceptionally awkward to eat.  It essentially comes deconstructed, with the plate consisting of a pile of dry noodles topped with crispy onions, a small bowl of sauce and chicken chunks, and an even smaller bowl of crushed hot peppers.

I wasn’t sure how to approach this.  Was I supposed to pour the sauce over the noodles?  The way the plate was arranged, it didn’t seem like it.  A bowl would have been more appropriate if this were the intention, plus there was a banana leaf on the plate, and if I poured sauce over the noodles, some of it would inevitably wind up under the leaf.  So… no pouring, I guess?

Sabai Sabai

But because the noodles were completely un-sauced, they all stuck together in one stubborn clump.   I eventually sprinkled the hot peppers onto the noodle clump, and then tore off chunks and dipped them into the sauce.  But I clearly over-dipped my first few clumps, because by the time I was about halfway finished with the noodles, the sauce was almost entirely depleted.  It wasn’t the best.

It tasted really good, though!  For all the awkwardness of actually eating it, that’s what really counts — the sauce was creamy, coconutty, rich, and delicious.  The crushed peppers gave it a mild kick, and the fried onions added some crispiness and a decent amount of flavour.  The chicken pieces tasted a bit leftovery, but all in all it was a tasty dish.  I just wish they’d drop the unwelcome pretension and serve it assembled in a bowl like normal people.