Country 075 – Bhutan (Lhasa Kitchen… or is it Potala Kitchen?)

Lhasa Kitchen (Potala Kitchen?)Location: 1422 Queen Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.lhasakitchentoronto.ca/

I’m not gonna lie: I’m kinda cheating with this one.  Lhasa Kitchen is a Tibetan restaurant — one of many on this particular stretch of Queen — but when I looked it up online, they had a whole section on their menu dedicated to Bhutanese cuisine.

Lhasa Kitchen (Potala Kitchen?)

When I showed up, however, the restaurant was actually called Potala Kitchen, and the dishes from Bhutan were MIA.  It was an odd turn of events (odder still: as I write this, there isn’t a single reference to Potala Kitchen online, even on the restaurant’s website).

Bhutan and Tibet are neighbours; their cuisine must be somewhat similar.  So… close enough, I guess?

Lhasa Kitchen (Potala Kitchen?)

I tried a couple of things.  I started with the beef momo — essentially a Tibetan version of steamed Chinese dumplings.  The skin was slightly dry and the minced beef inside was a bit tough, but these were still pretty tasty (not to mention a great deal at seven bucks for a very generous order of ten).

Lhasa Kitchen (Potala Kitchen?)

I also tried the pork shabtak, which was an unqualified home run.  This featured a whole bunch of thick slices of ultra-tender pork belly and slippery fried onions in an oily, intensely flavourful sauce.

Lhasa Kitchen (Potala Kitchen?)

It comes with something called tring-mo — a big, fluffy steamed bun.  You eat it kind of like you’d eat roti; you tear pieces off and dip it in the pork.  Rice is an option, but this was way more interesting.

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Country 074 – Palestine (Kunafa’s)

Kunafa'sLocation: 1801 Lawrence Avenue East, Scarborough
Websitehttp://kunafas.com/

Yes, I’ve actually written about kunafa before — they have it on their dessert menu at Tabule (which is hit-and-miss).  But hey, if I can write about multiple versions of doner or noodles, why not multiple versions of kunafa?

Kunafa's

Kunafa is great.  It’s a Middle Eastern dessert that consists of a layer of gooey white cheese topped with syrup-infused pastry.  I know that cheese in a dessert sounds odd, but the particular cheese they use — called nabulsi — has a neutral flavour and a pleasant gooeyness that makes it ideal for desserts.

Plus: everyone loves tiramisu and cannoli.  A cheese-based dessert really isn’t as strange as you might initially think.

Kunafa's

The problem with kunafa is the same problem with pizza; because of the melty cheese, it really has to be eaten when it’s relatively fresh out of the oven.  As it sits out, the cheese starts to congeal and the pastry loses its moisture.  You can reheat it (or leave it on a hot plate as they do here), but it really isn’t the same.

The version they’re serving at Kunafa’s was quite tasty, but this was clearly an issue.

Kunafa's

As you can see, the cheese was still very stretchy, but it was also a bit too tough.  If using a fork to cut through the cheese completely mangles the dessert, then your kunafa has probably been sitting out too long.  The pastry, too, was more dry and crumbly than it should have been.

But don’t get me wrong — I still really enjoyed this.  I’m not sure that there’s anywhere in the GTA that serves a really great kunafa, so this is about as good as it gets.  Nitpicks aside, it’s still delicious.

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.

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 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 069 – Iran (Takht-e Tavoos)

Takht-e TavoosLocation: 1120 College Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://pomegranaterestaurant.ca/tavoos/

I think I’ve mentioned before that I love lamb.  Beef is great, obviously, but there’s something about the intense flavour of a good piece of lamb that I find irresistible.

Takht-e Tavoos’s version of kalleh pacheh — an Iranian soup made with chunks of lamb hoof, tongue, and cheek — is almost certainly the lambiest dish that I’ve ever had.  The flavour was intense.  I loved it.

Takht-e Tavoos

The broth is thick and rich, with a really pronounced meaty flavour.  There’s a Middle Eastern dish that consists of rice and lamb (I had a version of this at Reyan in Mississauga), and this was almost like a soup version of that; there’s no rice here, but the spices are very similar.  It’s almost too rich, but a spritz of lime adds some brightness and helps to round things out.

And the chunks of lamb (which were generous) were so good.  Certainly, with its hodge-podge of face and feet, it might be a bit of a tough sell.  But, for the most part, the meat here was amazingly well prepared.

The cheek, which was unctuous and luxurious, was the best of the bunch.  It was melt-in-your-mouth tender, with a face-punch of amazingly lamby flavour.

Takht-e Tavoos

The tongue was almost as good.  It certainly looks a bit off-putting (it’s a full tongue, so there’s no mistaking what it is), but the meat was amazing.  It doesn’t have the intense fattiness of the cheek, so if you’re fat-averse, this might be more your speed.

The hoof was easily my least favourite of the three.  This is a harder cut of meat to get right — it’s mostly just a lot of really thick skin and collagen, without a whole lot of actual meat.  The skin here was a bit too rubbery, and the meat almost non-existent.

Takht-e Tavoos

Still, given how good the other two cuts of meat were, it’s hard to complain too much.  Plus, the dish comes with some fresh, tasty flatbread on the side.  It tastes just as good on its own as it does dipped into the soup.

Honestly, my biggest complaint about this dish?  It’s an absurd amount of food.  Between the heaping bowl of rich soup, the substantial pile of meat, and the two sizable slices of flatbread, it feels more like something that The Rock should be eating during a training regimen than a meal for a normal person. I (mostly) finished it, and I felt obscenely full for the rest of the day.