Country 073 – Armenia (Mamajoun)

MamajounLocation: 209 Ellesmere Road, Toronto
Websitehttps://mamajoun.com/

Mamajoun is an Armenian pizzeria that specializes in lahmajoun, a tasty flatbread that’s traditionally topped with a mixture of ground beef and minced veggies.  It’s mostly a take-out place, though they do have a few small tables and a counter where you can sit.

You can get your lahmajoun on its own, or you can choose from various fillings; they wrap the whole thing up and stick it in a panini press to give it a nice crispiness on its exterior.

Mamajoun

I’ve been eating the Middle Eastern version of these (called lahm bi ajin — basically the exact same thing, but with a different name) for pretty much my entire life, but for some reason it’s never occurred to me to cram more stuff in there and eat it like a wrap.  And I have no idea why; it’s kind of ingenious.

Mamajoun

I chose to have mine filled with soujouk, which is a really tasty sausage that basically combines the intense flavour of a cured sausage with the texture of a fresh one.  You can also fill it with the usual assortment of olives, pickled goodies, and hot peppers that you’d expect from a Mediterranean wrap.

Mamajoun

It was quite tasty.  The lahmajoun itself had a nicely spiced meaty flavour, with a good contrast of fluffiness and crispiness on the flatbread.  The soujouk and the other fillings worked really well; between the vibrant sausage and the various vinegary pickles, it’s an absolute face-punch of flavour.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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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.

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 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