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 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 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 064 – Libya (Parallel)

ParallelLocation: 217 Geary Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttps://parallelbrothers.com/

I wasn’t sure which country this would fall under.  Parallel’s website describes itself as “Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean,” which doesn’t exactly narrow things down.  I ordered shakshuka, and Wikipedia lists Libya first in the list of countries where this dish is served.  So sure, Libya it is.

Parallel

Parallel is a new restaurant from the people behind Ozery Bakery (which sells some good stuff, FYI).  They also make and sell their own tahini, which features heavily in most of the dishes on their menu.  You can see the very impressive looking machine they use to crush the sesame seeds at the back of the restaurant.

Parallel

I ordered the hammshuka, which is shakshuka that’s served on a bed of freshly-made hummus.

It was very, very good.  The hummus was odd; not surprisingly, the tahini flavour was front-and-centre.  The lemon was almost imperceptible, and if there was any garlic at all, I couldn’t taste it.  It was subtle and unlike any hummus I’ve ever had, but it grew on me.

Parallel

Better was the shakshuka (which, for the initiated, is a dish in which eggs are baked in a thick tomato sauce).  It had a rich, garlicky flavour, and the eggs were cooked perfectly.  It was topped with a very liberal amount of good-quality extra virgin olive oil — enough to give the dish EVOO’s distinctive nutty flavour.

I ordered it with roasted eggplant (other add-ons include goat cheese and roasted peppers), which turned out to be a wise choice.  The eggplant was smoky and amazing, and complimented the shakshuka perfectly.

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