Country 059 – Egypt (Maha’s)


Location
: 226 Greenwood Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.mahasbrunch.com/

Maha’s is fairly well known for having very long lines, and very leisurely service.  And indeed, the line was long, and service was leisurely (we spent forty minutes in line, and another half hour waiting for our food to arrive).

Maha’s is also fairly well known for having amazing food; again, it lives up to its reputation.  There’s clearly a reason people are willing to wait through the lines and the slow service.

It’s a brunch place, though if you’re looking for the old standards like eggs benedict and pancakes, you won’t find them here.  What you will find is a nice selection of Egyptian-inspired plates and sandwiches; we started with hummus with charred balady bread (an Egyptian version of pita bread made with whole wheat flour), and I ordered the Cairo Classic.

The hummus was so good.  It was super creamy, with an amazing depth of flavour and a nice lemony zing.  It was a definite contender for the best hummus I’ve ever had, and I’ve eaten quite a bit of hummus in my lifetime.

That’s not to mention the balady bread, still warm from the oven and just about as perfect as you can imagine pita bread to be.  It had just the right amount of char, with a subtly crispy exterior and an amazingly fluffy interior.  Combined with the silky hummus, I could have eaten it all day.

The Cairo classic consisted of a heaping portion of foole (a spread consisting mainly of fava beans), a sliced hard boiled egg, a falafel, a tomato and feta spread, more of that amazing balady bread, and a salad.

I mean, after that mind-blowing hummus, would it surprise you to hear that the main meal was quite good as well?  Because yeah, it was pretty amazing.

The combination of the creamy foole, the eggs, and the zippy tomato and feta spread was seriously addictive.

And holy crap, that falafel.  I really wish I had more than just the one; it was perfectly spiced and delightfully fluffy, with lightly crispy exterior.  Like the hummus, this was a best-ever contender.

Maha's - the line Maha's - the hummus Maha's - the Cairo Classic

Country 050 – Canada (Halifax Donair)

donair
Location
: 295 Main Street East, Milton
Websitehttp://www.halifaxoriginaldonair.com/

It seems odd to be writing about Canada for this blog, but it is indeed one of the 196 countries on the list — so here we are.  Poutine probably would have been the obvious choice, but I figured this might be a bit more interesting.

After Germany and Turkey, this is actually my third time trying a version of donair (or doner) for this blog.  I really liked both of those, but this one might just be the best.

It’s pretty simple: spiced beef, cooked on a spit and thinly shaved, topped with tomato, onion, and a healthy dollop of sweet donair sauce.  It’s served in a pita that can just barely contain the almost comically large pile of meat.

There’s no classy way to eat this; it’s a delicious mess of contrasting textures, an absolute barrage of sweet and savoury flavours, and pretty much the purest example of comfort food that I can think of. There’s nothing delicate here; aside from the sheer mess factor (which is intense), the flavours are the opposite of subtle.  They’re a full-out assault; they’re grabbing you by the collar and screaming in your face.

It’s so good.

The beef itself is really nicely spiced — this particular style of donair was originally created by a Greek immigrant in Halifax, and tastes a lot like what you’d find in a gyro.  It’s tender and packed with flavour, and has an abundance of the crispy bits that you’re looking for in this sort of thing.  Combined with the chewy pita, it’s a delightful contrast of textures.

Then there’s the garlicky, sugary-sweet sauce — it seems insanely sweet at first.  And on most things, it would probably be overwhelmingly cloying. But here?  It totally works.  The sweet sauce and the very savoury meat mingle together and turn into something magical.  I don’t even know that I can explain why it works so well; it probably shouldn’t.  But it does.

The tomatoes and onions bring some freshness to the very heavy dish.  I’m normally not a fan of raw onions, but here they’re so thoroughly backgrounded by the wrap’s other assertive flavours that they pretty much just add a bit of crunch.

What a bummer this place is so far, though — Milton’s a bit of a drive.  But it’s totally worth it.

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