Country 043 – Venezuela (El Arepazo)

: 181 Augusta Avenue, Toronto

A good way of figuring out what to order for this blog is Googling “[Insert country here] national dish.”  In the case of Venezuela, their national dish is pabellón criollo, which consists of braised beef, rice and beans, and is typically served with fried plantain.

The version at El Arepazo is a bit untraditional– for one thing, it’s served on an arepa, which is essentially like a corn tortilla and a pita had a baby.  Steak is substituted for shredded beef, and given that it’s served in bread, rice has been taken out of the equation entirely.

I quite enjoyed it, though any notion that it could be eaten like a sandwich went out the window almost immediately.  The arepa itself isn’t exactly substantial, and they’ve filled it with a lot of stuff.  I took one bite and the whole thing collapsed into bits like a meat-and-bean-filled pinata.

Still, however you eat it, it’s good.  The steak is a bit on the tough side and all the flavours are probably more muted than they should be (though the two sauces that come on the side — a red and a green salsa — add some needed zip), but it’s otherwise pretty tasty.  The beans, the beef, and the creamy plantains are a good combo, and the gooey cheese helps to bring it all together.


Country 042 – Sweden (Fika Cafe)

: 28 Kensington Avenue, Toronto

This is one of those things I saw on Instagram and pretty much instantly had to try. I mean, if you can look at that and tell me that you don’t immediately want to eat it, that’s good for you, but you and me are clearly two very different people.

I guess the obvious choice for Sweden would have been meatballs, but I think the Swedish cream puff is probably a bit more interesting.

It’s called a semla (or semlor in the plural — thanks, Wikipedia), and Fika Cafe’s menu describes it like this: “our take on the swedish classic – cardamom bun, seasonal jam, almond paste topped with honey sweetened whipped cream.”

It’s good (of course it’s good, look at it).  The bun itself is sort of like a doughnut, but with a denser, breadier texture.  The cardamom gives it a distinct, floral pop that stays in the background without overwhelming the other flavours.

It’s not as sweet as you’d expect — the bun isn’t particularly sweet, nor is the cream.  Most of the sweetness comes from the jam (some kind of berry when I went, though I guess it changes).  It’s a bit odd at first, though the more subtle sweetness definitely wins you over after a couple of bites.

My only real complaint is that if there was almond paste in there, I couldn’t taste it.  It’s a shame, because I could definitely see it matching well with the bun’s other flavours.

Country 014 – Belgium (Moo Frites)

: 178 Baldwin Street, Toronto

I know, I know — fries aren’t exactly exciting international fare. It seems kinda like a cop out for a blog dedicated to trying new things from every country in the world.

But French fries are generally thought to have been invented in Belgium, and Belgian fries are probably the first dish that springs to mind when you think of that country.  So when I realized I was right near Moo Frites — a small storefront in Kensington Market devoted exclusively to the deep fried spuds — I figured I may as well give it a shot.

The simple menu consists of fries, a ridiculous amount of dipping sauces, and a handful of more elaborately topped fry concoctions.  I went with a small order of fries (a pretty generous amount for $4.25) with frite sauce for dipping.

The fries were quite good; they were tasty, though if I were to rank them against all the French fries I’ve had in my life, they probably wouldn’t even make the top hundred.

Maybe hoping for best-of-all-time fries is an unreasonable expectation, but given that this is all they serve — and that they take their inspiration from what is reportedly the best place for fries on Earth — I was expecting the them to knock my socks off.

They were generally above average, though the exterior probably should have been a bit more crisp, and the interior a bit more fluffy.  I definitely enjoyed them, but my socks remained firmly on my feet.

Maybe this is my fault.  I didn’t notice until it was too late that, for a one dollar surcharge, they’ll cook your fries in beef fat.  This would be the more authentically Belgian way of preparing them, so perhaps this would have pushed them over the edge from good to great.

As for the frite sauce, it’s a mayo-based sauce that’s described on the menu as containing capers, anchovies, and parsley.  None of those flavours particularly punch through; it basically just tastes like tangy mayo.  But it’s a good tangy mayo.  I know dipping your fries in mayo is an alien concept to many, but it’s the bee’s knees, trust me.

Moo Frites - the menu Moo Frites - the fries

Country 013 – Germany (Otto’s Berlin Doner)

: 256 Augusta Avenue, Toronto

I don’t know if doner is the first dish that springs to mind when you think of German cuisine (it’s definitely a thing, though), but I was in Kensington Market, stumbled across this place, and thought: Yeah. Why not?

As it turns out, it was only the restaurant’s second day in existence, which is much sooner than I’d typically write about a place — but since the food and service were both quite good, I’m going to assume (or hope) that they’ve managed to avoid the kinks that can gum up a brand new restaurant.

The menu is fairly simple, with a few different types of German doner, along with currywurst (Bratwurst topped with a sweet curry sauce) and a handful of sides.  I went with the veal and lamb doner, because whenever I see lamb on a menu, I have a hard time saying no.

Packed with a generous amount of tasty, well seasoned meat that’s topped with a salad’s worth of fresh veggies (tomato, cucumber, lettuce, cabbage, and onions) and your choice of sauces (the man behind the register suggested yogurt and hot sauce), it’s probably not anything that anyone is going to get too excited over, but it’s a very good sandwich.

The bread is a highlight, and probably the most distinctive thing about it — it’s perfectly toasted,  with a great, crispy exterior, and a fresh, fluffy interior.  It’s much more substantial than the typical pita you’d get in a shawarma sandwich or a gyro, but it suits the doner perfectly.

The sauces probably should have been a bit more abundant (I got plenty of sauce-less mouthfuls), but aside from that it was a fine sandwich.  Mighty fine.

My dining companions tried the halloumi doner — which featured breaded and fried pieces of halloumi cheese in place of the of meat — and were both quite impressed.  I’ll have to try that one next time.

Otto's Berlin Doner - the restaurant Otto's Berlin Doner - the doner Otto's Berlin Doner - the doner