Country 043 – Venezuela (El Arepazo)

arepa
Location
: 181 Augusta Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://arepazo.ca/

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 041 – Serbia (Mississauga Serbian Food Festival)

serbia
Location
: 2520 Dixie Road, Mississauga
Websitehttp://www.msff.ca/

Well, they can’t all be winners.

It’s probably my own fault.  Impressed by the notion of roasting an entire bull on a spit, I decided to check this festival out.  I showed up at around 7:00, which was an hour before they were due to close. This is probably where I went wrong.

The bull on a spit was nowhere to be seen (it had clearly been carved up and disposed of by then) — a warming tray full of meat was all that remained.

I ordered a roast bull sandwich and went on my way.

There were a couple of fairly big issues here.  For one thing, I’m pretty sure the aforementioned warming tray wasn’t actually being warmed by anything, so the very fatty beef was lukewarm and congealed.  That wasn’t the best.

The other, more pressing issue was that the bun — which tasted like a variation on an Eastern European flatbread called lepinja — was cold, stale, and unyielding.  I’m sure it was okay at some point much earlier in its life, but by the time it got to me it was better suited to be a doorstop, or to weigh down documents on a very windy day, or as a chew toy for an overactive dog.

I took a couple of bites, then brought the remainder of the sandwich home, tossed the bun, warmed up the beef, and ate the rest in bread that was actually suitable for human consumption.

It was a fine sandwich, I guess.  It was a bit on the tough side, and there didn’t seem to be much to the spicing of the meat other than it being vaguely salty, but it was alright.

Mississauga Serbian Food Festival - the tent Mississauga Serbian Food Festival - the roast bull sandwich

Country 039 – Turkey (Kabab 49)

kabab
Location
: 5308 Dundas Street West, Etobicoke
Websitehttp://kebab49.com/

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.

Country 033 – Syria (Reyan)

reyan
Location
: 75 Dundas Street West, Mississauga
Websitehttp://reyan.ca/

I think I could make the argument that lamb is the most underrated food out there.  Yes, not just most underrated meat, but most underrated food (here in North America at least.  Many other countries quite sensibly eat a lot of lamb, because it’s delicious).  Prepared well, it’s super tender, and jam-packed with enough flavour to put even a really good-quality piece of beef to shame.  What’s not to love?

I guess Syria is one of those sensible, lamb-loving countries, and if this dish is anything to go by, they’re eating pretty well.  They’re also going through some not-so-great times right now, but that falls way outside of the purview of this blog, so… lamb.

I actually discovered this place thanks to an article in the Toronto Star, which described the Lamb and Rice as follows: “The fat is so soft you could spread it on toast for breakfast. The meat and rice are perfumed with the spices, none of them competing with the intensity of the flesh.”

It’s really good.  The article nails it; it’s perfectly spiced, but the star of the show is clearly that tender, immensely flavourful lamb.  A knife is provided, but the meat is so perfectly tender that it’s barely even necessary.

The rice is cooked with the lamb stock, which infuses it with so much great flavour.  The slivered almonds on top add crunch, and the small plate of very rich plain yogurt helps to cut through the richness.  It’s a fairly no-frills dish, but man, it’s so good.  In the case that the simplest dishes are often the best, this would be exhibit A.

Reyan - the restaurant Reyan - the restaurant Reyan - the rice and lamb

Country 031 – Austria (The Musket)

musket
Location
: 40 Advance Road, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.musketrestaurant.com/

I can’t say I know too much about Austria, though they did give the world the gift of Arnold Schwarzenegger — so clearly, it’s a country worth knowing about.

The obvious order at The Musket is probably the schnitzel, but I decided to go a bit off the beaten path, and ordered the leberkase (without particularly knowing what it even was).

This turned out not be a particularly adventurous choice — leberkase is a mix of corned beef, pork, bacon and onions, which is ground into a fine paste and baked in a pan.  It resembled, more than anything else, a really big, flattened Vienna Sausage patty.  Served with a perfectly cooked fried egg on top and with a side of home fries, it was more classic comfort food than adventurous eating.

I quite enjoyed it, but then Vienna Sausage and eggs was a staple when I was growing up, so it definitely brought back some warm, fuzzy childhood memories.  The fried egg compliments the salty leberkase quite well, and the home fries help round things out (I question their Austrian authenticity, but hey, if it works it works).

Country 030 – New Zealand (Hemingway’s)

newzealand
Location
: 142 Cumberland Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://hemingways.to/

Quick: name three dishes that come to mind when you think of food from New Zealand.

Yeah, me neither.

Suffice it to say, whatever New Zealand is known for, it’s probably not food (other than, of course, the ubiquitous New Zealand lamb).

Hemingway’s seems to be one of the only restaurants in the city representing Kiwi cuisine, with that representation being loose at best — its menu is dedicated almost entirely to generic pub staples like nachos, chicken wings, and burgers.  The brunch menu, however, does have one dish of interest: the New Zealand Bacon and Egg Pie, which is described as “a New Zealand favourite.”

The pie is filled with bacon, eggs, onion, and peas, and wrapped in a flaky puff pastry crust.  It reminded me a lot of the pies from the Pie Commission — but those pies are always delicious, so it’s like a bizzaro-world version of the Pie Commission, where the Pie Commission is lousy.

Yeah, it’s not great, unfortunately.  The pie has two separate layers — a bottom layer of meat, and a top layer of egg.  The egg is disastrously overcooked, with a rubbery white and a chalky, desiccated yolk.  That alone is enough to sink the pie, but even the meat layer is underwhelming.  Despite being crammed with bacon, the flavour is muddled, underseasoned and bland.  It also had an underlying funkiness that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.  It’s kind of unpleasant.

The crust was quite nice, though, with a good balance between substance and flakiness.  It made an amiable attempt to save the pie, but alas, it was DOA.

Hemingway's - the New Zealand Bacon and Egg Pie Hemingway's - the New Zealand Bacon and Egg Pie

Country 025 – United Kingdom (House on Parliament)

house
Location
: 454 Parliament Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.houseonparliament.com/

I remember, as a kid, scotch eggs were a special treat that I always looked forward to.  But I haven’t had one in many, many years, and I’m not sure why.  It’s one of those dishes where it’s pretty much impossible to go wrong.  Take an egg, ensconce it in delicious sausage, cover it in breading and then deep fry it?  You’d have to work pretty hard to mess that up.

House on Parliament does not mess it up.

First, there’s the perfect egg, hard boiled but not overcooked, with a creamy — not crumbly — yolk.  It’s surrounded by a really tasty sausage (wild boar, pheasant and cognac) that has an almost pate-like richness of flavour that suits the dish perfectly.  The fried breadcrumb layer is light and crispy, and just in case it’s not quite indulgent enough for you yet, they top the whole thing with a generous helping of rich, creamy hollandaise sauce.

It comes with a side of delightfully crispy homefries that were a touch underdone in the middle, but otherwise very close to perfect.

The restaurant was absolutely packed — we were able to get seated right away at just after 11:30 on a Sunday, but by the time we left the entrance was crammed with hungry diners waiting to get their brunch on.  Eating the food, it’s easy enough to see why.