Country 026 – South Korea (Cho Dang Soon Tofu)

chodang
Location
: 5130 Dundas Street West, Etobicoke
Website: None

If the whole point of this blog is to try new things, then I’m failing pretty miserably with this entry; not only have I been to Cho Dang Soon Tofu several times before, I’ve even written about it for another blog.

Still, I haven’t written about the restaurant’s namesake dish: an intensely flavourful, bubbling hot stew that I can’t get enough of.

Like any Korean restaurant worth its salt, the meal starts with a generous selection of banchan — essentially a variety of small appetizers.  My favourite here are the crispy, addictively salty fried sardines, but the silky cubes of soft tofu (made in house) with a little bowl of sesame- and green-onion-infused soy sauce for dipping are also quite memorable, as is the obligatory (and delcious) kimchi.

But of course, the reason to come here is that delicious, piping-hot stew.  I got mine with pork, though several other options are available.  It’s spicy, flavourful, and seriously hearty — aside from the aforementioned pork, its absolutely suffused with the restaurant’s creamy house-made tofu, not to mention the egg that you crack into the bowl yourself, and the generous bowl of purple rice that accompanies the stew (made that distinctive colour by mixing black rice in with the white).

The best part?  All that food?  Eight bucks.  Yeah, it’s a deal.

Cho Dang Soon Tofu - the tofu Cho Dang Soon Tofu - the kimchi Cho Dang Soon Tofu - the sardines Cho Dang Soon Tofu - the soup

Country 015 – Taiwan (Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine)

mama
Location
: 324 Highway 7 East, Richmond Hill
Website: http://www.mamabeartaiwanesecuisine.ca

Unlike most of the countries I’ve written about so far for this blog, I’ve actually been to Taiwan.  While I was there, one of the dishes I was looking forward to trying was minced pork rice.  But when I got to the restaurant, it was packed, there was a surly-looking man behind the counter and a total lack of any pictures for me to point to.  I wound up loitering for a couple of minutes before finally losing my nerve and leaving sad and pork-and-rice-less.   Yes, trying to order food when you don’t speak a word of the language can be a challenge.

And now I’m sad all over again, because the version of this dish at Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine was pretty damn good — so I can only imagine how good the real deal in Taiwan must have been.

It doesn’t look like much, but with a surfeit of tender, perfectly cooked fatty pork in a richly flavourful, sweet sauce (served on a heaping mound of rice), it’s easy enough to see why it’s such a treasured dish in Taiwan.

We also ordered the Taiwanese-style popcorn chicken, which was crispy, juicy and well seasoned, and easily on par with the fried chicken I had in that country.

The oyster omelette, sadly, was like it came from a different kitchen altogether.

This was another dish that I tried in Taiwan, and the one I had there was almost transcendentally good, with super fresh, perfectly cooked oysters melding with the eggs in a way that was downright magical.   Those eggs, which were lightly crispy on the outside (thanks to a judicious amount of starch mixed in) and soft and creamy on the inside, were among the best I’ve ever had. Served with some sweet sauce on the side to cut the briny richness of the oysters and the eggs, it was pretty much perfect.

I knew this omelette wasn’t going to be as good as that one, but man was it bad.

More starch than egg, the omelette was chewy, gummy, and crammed with overcooked oysters that tasted fishy and canned. And it was absolutely doused in a gloppy sauce — though in this case, the abundance of sauce was probably necessary to disguise the off taste of those oysters.

Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine - the restaurant Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine - minced pork rice Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine - popcorn chicken Mama Bear Taiwanese Cuisine - Oyster Omelette

Country 012 – Jamaica (Mr. Jerk)

jerk
Location
: 3417 Derry Road East, Mississauga
Websitehttp://www.mrjerk.com/

I realized recently that though I’ve had jerk chicken quite a few times, I’ve never tried jerk pork. One quick “best jerk pork” search later, and I was off to the races.

I was pretty sure I was going to like this. I like jerk chicken, and I like pork, so unless they messed it up somehow, this was probably about as close to a sure thing as I was going to get for this blog.

They didn’t mess it up.

Actually, what’s the absolute polar opposite of messing something up? Messing something down? Because that’s what they did here. They messed this pork the hell down.

You know that scene in a movie where they give food to someone who hasn’t eaten in days, and he immediately starts shoveling it into his mouth with a speed and vigour that seems unwise? That was me eating this pork.

I took one bite, paused, and thought to myself, “wait, is this really that good?” I took another bite to confirm: yes, it really is that good. Then I was like a hungry grizzly bear, or like Garfield eating lasagna, or like I was worried that I’d wake up at any moment and discover that it was all just a dream.

Man, it was good. Unctuously tender, seriously flavourful, and gloriously, richly porky in all the best ways, it’s ample proof that sometimes the simplest things are the best.

It’s served on rice, which is nicely seasoned and studded with creamy, flavourful beans.  It compliments the pork really well.

It wasn’t particularly spicy (I’d put it somewhere between mild and medium spice); I thought this was a fault at first. I like spicy food, and jerk and spice seemingly go hand-in-hand. But just like I wouldn’t tell Picasso what colours he should use in a painting, I’m not going to tell Mr. Jerk how spicy their pork should be. It was perfect the way it was; why mess with that?

And a lack of spiciness definitely doesn’t equate to a lack of flavour; the jerk spices are assertive enough to pack a punch, but they never overwhelm the pork’s natural flavours. The contrast between the lightly crispy, intensely flavourful exterior and the juicy, tender pork is crack-like in its addictiveness.

I should admit, however, that I think really well-prepared fatty pork is one of the best things on the planet (exhibit A: my over-the-top hyperbole about the pork hocks at Beast), so you might try this and think “what’s he going on about?”

It’s also very possible that this was a one-time-only deal — some kind of perfect storm of deliciousness that can’t be repeated — and that it’ll never be this good again. Because how could it be? I hope it is, but seriously: can this really be this good all the time?  

Mr. Jerk - the restaurant Mr. Jerk - the jerk pork

Country 007 – Mexico (Tenoch)

tenoch
Location
: 933 St. Clair Avenue West, Toronto
Websitehttp://tenochrestaurant.com/

I seem to be focusing disproportionately on Spanish-speaking countries so far.  This is completely unintentional; I’ll have to try to mix it up for the next few countries.  But first: Mexico.

I mostly wanted to try Tenoch to sample one of their tortas, a popular Mexican street food that basically entails cramming as much food as possible into a crusty roll.

We started, however, with the chorinachos, which finds delicious house-made tortilla chips layered with a crumbled, mild sausage (chorizo, I think), refried beans, sour cream, and enough melty cheese to feed a small family.  Though it was immediately apparent that we had over-ordered (this imposing pile of food is more than enough to feed two very hungry people on its own), these nachos were so good that we were happy to overindulge.

Two sauces were provided: the first was a bright green mix of seriously spicy hot peppers and avocado, and the second a creamy brown hot sauce that was one of the tastiest sauces I’ve had in quite a while.  It had a rich, smoky flavour and an addictively fiery spice-level.  It was amazing.

I asked the waitress what it was, because seriously: I want to eat this all the time on everything.  Sadly, the answer (the name of the pepper the sauce is made from) pretty much went in one ear and out the other. It was a lot of words, and it was Spanish, and I should have written it down but I didn’t, like an idiot.  Anyway, they make the sauce in the restaurant, so it’s not like I could have gone to the supermarket and picked up a bottle.

tenoch2a

Whatever that stuff was, it was profoundly delicious, and if you come here and they don’t give it to you, you need to ask for it.  That might be tough without knowing what it’s called, but trust me, make it happen.  You won’t regret it.

Next up was the main course: the Tenoch Torta, described on the menu as coming with “tomato, onion, beans, avocado, mayo, cheese, shredded roast chipotle pork, ham, milanesa, egg, pastrami, and wiener sausage.”

Yep, it’s all in there.  Everything.  Don’t even think about ordering this sandwich on your own.  My dining companion and I split one, and each half on its own was the size of one enormous sandwich.  When you first pick it up, the weight of it shocks you.  It’s gigantic.

It’s also delicious, if a bit overstuffed (shocking, right?).  There’s just so much food in there, and though it’s all tasty (the chipotle pulled pork stands out as a highlight), I think there’s probably a little bit too much stuff going on.

Just eating it was a challenge.  There’s only so wide that you can open your mouth, and even taking your biggest, most exaggerated Guy-Fieri-style bite, you’re not going to be able to cram it all in there.

Like the nachos, this would have been more than enough to feed two hungry people, and like with the nachos, I was very happy to overindulge.  This is top-shelf Mexican food.  I can’t wait to go back.

Tenoch - the nachos Tenoch - the Tenoch Torta

Country 003 – Cuba (La Cubana)

cubana
Location392 Roncesvalles Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.lacubana.ca/

I wasn’t even sure if I was going to write about La Cubana — it feels more trendy than authentic, but I’ve got 196 countries to get through, so I’ve got to take ’em where I can get ’em.

I started with the Corn Frituras, which are kind of like hush puppies, only way lighter and fluffier.  Dipped in the perfectly tangy sauce that came on the side, they were addictive and amazing.  I could eat about a million of them.

One of the reasons I wanted to check this place out was the episode of You Gotta Eat Here that featured La Cubana.  In particular, the Medianoche, which comes with braised short rib, looked quite enticing.

Apparently the brunch Medianoche is completely different, because I got a ham and cheese sandwich with a fried egg on top.  I googled it, and it seems like this is a more authentic version of this dish (sans the fried egg).  I probably wouldn’t have ordered it if I had known, because I’m not a huge fan of ham and cheese, but yay for authenticity I guess?

Anyway, it was a fine ham and cheese sandwich; there just wasn’t anything particularly interesting about it.  My biggest issue was the bun, which was unpleasantly dense, and honestly just got in the way.  The sandwich was also a huge, greasy mess, so after a couple of bites I tossed the top half of the bun and ate the rest of the sandwich with a fork and knife.

The sandwich comes with rice and beans, red cabbage slaw, and tostones.  Rice and beans has a tendency to be a bit dry, but not this version. It’s definitely above average.  The slaw was kind of like a much more subtle sauerkraut — also tasty.  The tostones (essentially a mashed and fried plantain) had a pretty good flavour, but had the approximate texture of rubber cement that’s just about to harden. I’ve never had tostones before, but I’m going to assume something went wrong there.

La Cubana - Corn Frituras La Cubana - the brunch medianoche

Country 002 — Colombia (Las Delicias)

delicias
Location: 59 Dundas Street West, Mississauga
Website: None

Hidden away in a sketchy little plaza in Mississauga, Las Delicias is pretty much the very definition of a hole-in-the-wall restaurant.

The friendly proprietor quickly sussed out that it was my first time in the restaurant — and my first time eating Colombian food, period.  She recommended the Bandeja Paisa, a decadent smorgasbord that pretty much dares you to finish it (I did).

Clockwise on the picture above, starting at 12:00 – a fried egg, Colombian sausage, fried plantain, crispy pork belly, corn biscuit, and steak, all served atop white rice and beans, with an addictively spicy bowl of hot sauce served on the side.

Nothing here was particularly great — in fact, I suspect that almost all of it is probably better served elsewhere.  The pork belly was tough, and bordering on leathery.  The corn biscuit was almost rock hard. The steak was overcooked and chewy.  The plantain was soggy.

And yet I enjoyed it more than you’d think.  Everything taken together, and topped with that great hot sauce, added up to something surprisingly satisfying.

The sausage — which had an odd, yellow colour on the inside and a unique texture — was a highlight.  And it’s hard to mess up a fried egg.  The beans, too, were quite good — kind of like a less dense refried beans.

I was disappointed at first, but the dish slowly won me over.  It was a huge amount of food and I cleaned the plate.  Of course, that probably speaks to my gluttony just as much as it does to the quality of the food, but still.  I enjoyed it.

Las Delicias Las Delicias