Country 045 – Yemen (Almonasabah)

almon
Location
: 2340 Council Ring Road #107, Mississauga
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/Almonasabah/

I’ve been on quite a roll with Middle Eastern restaurants — so far I’ve checked out Syria, Turkey, and Lebanon, and they’ve all been seriously tasty.  And now here’s Yemen to continue that streak.

Alonasabah’s menu is laser-focused — they have a handful of appetizers and desserts, but for the most part there’s only one dish on the menu.  If you want something other than mandi?  Go somewhere else, that’s all they’ve got here.

Mandi is a deceptively simple dish: it’s just rice and meat (with the choice between chicken and lamb).  It’s topped with almonds, raisins, and fried onions.

It’s so good.

The rice is fragrant, richly spiced and deeply flavourful; it’s delicious enough that I’d happily eat a big bowl of it just on its own.

I tried both the chicken and lamb, and both types of meat were super tender and packed with flavour.  They’ve obviously been cooked for a very long time at a very low temperature; the chicken was so incredibly tender that the cartilage had completely broken down, essentially turning into cartilage butter.

The rice and the meat are both super tasty, but it’s the toppings that help put this dish over the top.  The almonds add some nuttiness and crunch, and even the raisins work surprisingly well.  I’m generally not a fan of raisins in any context, so I was shocked by how much I enjoyed them here.  Unlike qabuli palau, the somewhat similar dish I tried from Afghanistan, the raisins go really well with everything else.  They add subtle pops of sweetness that compliment the dish perfectly and never overwhelm.

As for the onions, they were dark and intense, with a flavour somewhere between caramelized and fried.  They were sweet, but with an edge — almost bordering on burnt but never crossing that line.

It seems kind of odd at first that this place only really serves the one dish, but if you do something this well?  Why the hell should you waste your time doing anything else?

Country 044 – Lebanon (Acacia Fine Foods)

acacia
Location
: 1170 Burnhamthorpe Road West, Mississauga
Websitehttp://www.acaciafinefoodsmississauga.com/

Thanks, Twitter — or more specifically, thanks, Suresh Doss (for the unaware, Doss has become the GTA’s go-to guy for recommendations on ethnic joints like this one).  I visited this place entirely thanks to this tweet, and I’m really glad that I did.

It’s a big place, and was almost completely empty when I showed up at around 12:30 on a Sunday (which, as will soon become clear, I think is a travesty).  I ordered the arayess, which I had never even heard of before, let alone tried.

It was amazing.  It’s ridiculously simple — it’s essentially just a fairly thin layer of spiced ground beef sandwiched inside a piece of pita bread.  It’s grilled over charcoal, which gives it a nice exterior char without making the bread overly crispy or crackly.

Whatever they’ve spiced the beef with tastes so good, and the juices soak into the bread so that the whole thing becomes an irresistible medley of beefy, perfectly spiced flavour.  It comes with two sauces for dipping — tahini and garlic — and while they’re both quite tasty, it was the garlic sauce that really got me all hot and bothered.  It was pretty much the standard thick white sauce that you get at most shawarma joints, but something about it made me want to grab a spoon and eat it straight-up from the container like pudding.

They gave us a couple of pieces of puffy, fresh-from-the-oven pita bread, and by the end of the meal I was tearing pieces off and dipping them straight into that amazing garlic sauce.

You can choose between fries, rice, or salad — since the tweet that brought me here specifically mentioned the rice, that’s what I got.

The rice, like everything else, was not kidding around.  Great flavour, and it complimented everything else perfectly.

I should also mention that my dining companion got the chicken and beef shawarma plate, and based only on the couple of mouthfuls I had, it seemed like some seriously top-shelf shawarma (I actually enjoyed it so much that I returned a few days later to try a chicken shawarma sandwich — it was quite good, though it was missing the crispy bits that made the shawarma on the first day so amazing).

I’m really not sure why the place was so empty — I’ve been doing this blog for almost a couple of years now, and this was easily one of the best meals I’ve had so far.  It was so good.

Acacia Fine Foods - the arayes Acacia Fine Foods - the chicken shawarma

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 027 – Jordan (Tabule)

tabule
Location
: 2009 Yonge Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://tabule.ca/

I recently tried the Winterlicious menu at Tabule; everything was quite tasty, particularly the perfectly cooked salmon kebab, but what I want to talk about is the Knaffa Ashta.

Knaffa (which has various spellings that I’ve found online, including kanafeh or kunafa) is one of those dishes that should really be bigger than it is; it’s seriously delicious.  I actually got to try the real deal while on a trip to Jordan, or at least one variation on it — it changes somewhat depending on where you get it and who’s making it.  The one that I had in Jordan consisted of a layer of soft, white cheese, sandwiched between two cakey layers made of semolina flour, soaked through with a sweet, rosewater-infused syrup.  It was amazing. I know cheese in a dessert sounds odd, but trust me, it was pretty much the best thing ever.

The version they serve at Tabule is a little bit different, with a more coarse, noodley pastry, and ashta — a Middle Eastern pasty cream — instead of the cheese.  It doesn’t quite hit the heights of the one I had in Jordan, but it’s probably one of the better versions of this dish I’ve had in Toronto.  The creamy ashta, in particular, really works well, and the amount of syrup is pretty much perfect — this is an easy dish to make cloying, but the amount of sweetness here was just right.

Tabule - the lemonade Tabule - the hallum salad Tabule - the salmon kebab Tabule - the knaffa ashta