Country 095 – Oman (Jordan’s Shawarma)

Jordan's ShawarmaLocation: 2300 John Street, Thornhill
Website: https://www.facebook.com/JorShawarma/

Standard disclaimer: no, Jordan’s Shawarma is not an Omani restaurant.  Oman isn’t the tiniest country ever (with a population of just over four million, it’s the 125th most populous country in the world), but Omani restaurants in the GTA don’t exist.  A Google search for Omani cuisine in Toronto comes up with several results about Tim Hortons opening in that country, but zero restaurants in the city.

Jordan's Shawarma

Jordan’s Shawarma does, however, have lamb kebabs on their menu (which you can get in a rice bowl, a salad, or on fries).  According to my old friend Wikipedia, the kebab is a staple in Oman, so close enough.

Jordan's Shawarma

I got it in a rice bowl, and it was surprisingly good.  It was actually extremely similar to the last thing I tried for this blog, another kebab rice plate from Royal Mezgouf.  I quite enjoyed that one, but this was tastier in every regard.

Jordan's Shawarma

The kebab itself was absolutely fantastic, with a nice lamby flavour, delicious spicing, and a good amount of exterior texture from the grill.  It’s topped with the usual assortment of sauces — garlic, tahini, and hot sauce — and all three are on point.  It also has a healthy dollop of some kind of tzatziki-esque yogurt sauce, which was seriously delicious.

The rice is top notch as well, as is the zesty salad.

Jordan's Shawarma

I also tried the chicken shawarma; it wasn’t quite on the level of the kebab, but it was definitely above average, with tender, tasty meat and a decent amount of crispy bits.

Country 094 – Iraq (Royal Mezgouf)

Royal MezgoufLocation: 843 Kipling Avenue, Etobicoke
Website: https://mezgouf.com/

After having to get a bit creative with my last few restaurant choices, it’s nice to visit a place that’s actually serving the cuisine of the country I’m writing about.  Royal Mezgouf is an Iraqi restaurant.  I’m writing about Iraq.  How about that!

Royal Mezgouf

I didn’t, however, try the mezgouf (an Iraqi dish made with grilled carp) at Royal Mezgouf, which feels like a bizarre thing to do.  But it’s not on their take-out menu — you have to order a whole fish, which they charge by the pound, and it takes 60 to 90 minutes to prepare.

So I ordered the Iraqi kebab plate instead, which comes with a kebab, rice, and a salad for nine bucks.  If nothing else, it’s a great deal.

Royal Mezgouf

It’s also quite tasty.  The kebab is made with a beef/lamb blend, and it’s very nicely seasoned — the seasoning compliments the meaty flavour you get from the lamb and the beef, but doesn’t overwhelm it.  It’s also nice and juicy.  It’s topped with tahini sauce, garlic sauce, and hot sauce.  It’s very good.

Royal Mezgouf

The rice is surprisingly great.  It’s basically just the typical plain rice with vermicelli that you’ll find at a lot of Middle Eastern places, but it’s really well prepared, with a pleasant greasiness that enhances the flavour and texture.

The salad’s a bit bland, but the rice and the meat are both tasty enough that it really doesn’t matter.

Royal Mezgouf

I also tried the falafel, which were above average — they were a bit greasy, but were otherwise crispy, fluffy, and tasty.

Country 090 – South Africa (Plan B Handmade Burgers, Boerewors and Braai)

Plan B Handmade Burgers, Boerewors and BraaiLocation: 2943 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Website: https://www.facebook.com/PlanBHandmadeburgers/

You wouldn’t necessarily think that South African cuisine would be all that difficult to find, but apparently it is.  Outside of a catering company that opens for brunch on Sundays, Plan B appears to be the only restaurant in Toronto that specializes in South African eats.

That’s a lot of weight on its shoulders.  They’re basically the ambassadors for South African cuisine for the entire GTA.

Plan B Handmade Burgers, Boerewors and Braai

Thankfully, it’s quite tasty.  Plan B specializes in braai, which is South African-style grilled meat.  They also sell a variety of hamburgers (so a second visit for another blog might be in order), but I ordered the mixed braai platter, which comes with boerewors (a South African sausage), chicken, lamb (steak is also an option), and two sides.

Plan B Handmade Burgers, Boerewors and Braai

Everything is very nicely grilled, with that great smoky flavour you only get from food that’s been cooked over a flame.  And the meats are all quite good — in particular, the boerewors was seriously delicious.  The texture was nice and tender while still being satisfyingly meaty, and the spicing was unique and tasty.

The chicken was fairly plain, but perfectly cooked.  The lamb, however, was overly tough and almost impossible to cut into with the knife provided.

Plan B Handmade Burgers, Boerewors and Braai

I ordered potato salad as well as pap and tomato chutney on the side.  The potato salad was run-of-the-mill, but the pap (which is a South African version of polenta) really stands out.  It’s a bit bland on its own, but once you pour some of the sweet tomato chutney on top, it comes alive.

Country 088 – Turkmenistan (Harmony Restaurant)

Harmony RestaurantLocation: 478 Dundas Street West, Toronto
Website: None

No, technically Harmony Restaurant doesn’t serve Turkmen cuisine (it specializes in northern Chinese fare), but they do serve an interesting bowl of lamb soup.  Turkmenistan consumes the second most lamb per capita in the world.  Close enough, I guess?

(Hey, you try doing this blog.  Good luck finding a Turkmen restaurant in Toronto.)

Harmony Restaurant

Harmony Restaurant’s specialty is a bowl of lamb soup with bread, which features chunks of tender lamb and chewy cubes of bread in a very lamby broth.

Harmony Restaurant

The presence of bread is odd at first, but it basically plays the same role as noodles in a noodle soup.  It’s not mushy at all; it’s chewy and starchy, and soaks up the flavour from the soup.  It’s surprisingly tasty.

The chunks of lamb are great.  They’re super tender, a little bit fatty, and packed with a deep, meaty flavour.

Harmony Restaurant

The broth, too, is absolutely crammed with that unmistakable lamb flavour.  If you don’t like lamb, this isn’t the dish for you.  It’s not subtle.

It also has a nice zippiness and a mild kick that ensures it never feels one-note rich.  It’s a tasty bowl of soup, especially once you add a few spoonfuls of the smoky chili oil.

Harmony Restaurant

I also tried a pork bun, which wasn’t quite as good as the soup.  The pork was well-seasoned and tender, but the bun itself was dense and dry.  It was basically like a big saltine.  It wasn’t great.

Country 082 – Georgia (Suliko Restaurant)

Suliko RestaurantLocation: 1311 Alness Street, Concord
Websitehttp://suliko.ca/

One thing I’ve noticed while doing this blog is the culinary overlap in various parts of the world.  Similarities like steak and egg dishes in Latin America, spicy rice in Africa, or more obvious ones, like noodles in Asia.  It’s hard not to notice overlap once you start focusing on the breadth of world cuisine.

Suliko Restaurant

The latest (and oddest) connection I’ve noticed is serving bread with a spicy, salsa-like condiment in Eastern European countries — I first encountered this at Moldova Restaurant, and now at Suliko.

Suliko Restaurant

In fact, Suliko goes one step further, serving their bread basket with three different salsas of varying spice levels.  It’s a tasty — if somewhat odd — combination.

I tried a couple of other things on the menu.  First up: hachapuri imeretinsky, which is one of Georgia’s two national dishes (according to Wikipedia, at least).

Suliko Restaurant

It basically looks like a pizza, though it doesn’t particularly taste like that dish, with a softer and breadier texture, and a filling that consists solely of cheese.  It was quite tasty, particularly when it was hot and fresh, with a nice contrast between the soft bread and the gooey, salty cheese.

The next thing we tried was khinkali, Georgia’s take on the dumpling, and their other national dish.

Suliko Restaurant

We tried a couple of varieties: pork and beef, and lamb.  They were both really satisfying, with a soupy, meaty interior that features a very distinctive spicing that set it way apart from a typical Chinese dumpling.

The wrapper was also thicker than you’d expect, which actually worked quite well with the strongly-flavoured meat.  It probably wasn’t necessary to get two different types of meat dumplings, however — though the lamb dumplings had a mildly lamby flavour, both types basically tasted the same.

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.

Country 068 – Azerbaijan (Kavkaz)

KavkazLocation: 1881 Steeles Avenue West, North York
Website: None

My dining companion and I visited Kavkaz at lunch, and like a lot of the obscure restaurants I’ve been visiting for this blog, the place was almost entirely deserted (a couple of people eventually showed up, but it was mostly a big, empty restaurant).

I’m glad places like this can survive, even if I’m not sure how.  And I’m especially glad in the case of Kavkaz, because the food was great.

Kavkaz

Almost immediately after sitting down, we were brought a bread basket with warm flatbread, and a bowl with sauerkraut and sliced pickles.  I’m not sure how these three things were meant to be combined (if at all), but they were tasty.

Kavkaz

Up next was bughlama, a stew with fork-tender pieces of lamb, a very pronounced lemony zing, and fresh pops of herbiness from the abundant cilantro (or maybe not cilantro?  It tasted like cilantro, but had a heartier texture and appearance.  I don’t know; I’m pretty terrible at identifying herbs).  The quality of the lamb was great, and the tartness from the lemon really made it stand out.

Kavkaz

Our last dish was the lulya kabab, which I liked even better.  Featuring a mix of ground lamb and beef, this tasted very similar to the kababs you can get from Afghan joints all around the city.  It was tender and perfectly cooked, and was nicely complimented by the sweet and spicy sauce that came on the side.

Kavkaz

It came with a side of potatoes that almost looked like thickly-cut chips.  The slices were creamy and perfectly cooked, with a nice hit of flavour from garlic and dill.  I wish they had been a little bit crispy, but they were otherwise pretty great.