Country 097 – Guatemala (Maya)

MayaLocation: 918 Wilson Avenue, North York
Website: http://www.themayarestaurant.com/

The Latin breakfast I just had at Maya, a Guatemalan restaurant in North York, is one of the simpler meals I’ve had in a while.  It features two eggs, ground pork, refried beans, fried plantain, sour cream, and four corn tortillas.

It’s a pretty basic breakfast, but man, it’s so good.  Everything on the plate was impeccably prepared, and it all worked so well together.

Maya

The eggs?  Perfectly cooked, with a really satisfying gooey yolk.  The pork?  Also great; it kinda reminded me of the meat you might find inside an empanada.

The plantains were fairly standard for this type of cuisine, but they were so well cooked that it felt like they were something special — perfectly creamy, with a mildly sweet flavour that has a remarkable depth.  They’re so good.

Maya

The refried beans are nice and creamy, and the warm, fresh corn tortillas are the perfect complement to everything on the plate.

It’s also a scant eight bucks (which includes a coffee), so it’s delicious and it’s a great deal.

Country 088 – Turkmenistan (Harmony Restaurant)

Harmony RestaurantLocation: 478 Dundas Street West, Toronto
Website: None

No, technically Harmony Restaurant doesn’t serve Turkmen cuisine (it specializes in northern Chinese fare), but they do serve an interesting bowl of lamb soup.  Turkmenistan consumes the second most lamb per capita in the world.  Close enough, I guess?

(Hey, you try doing this blog.  Good luck finding a Turkmen restaurant in Toronto.)

Harmony Restaurant

Harmony Restaurant’s specialty is a bowl of lamb soup with bread, which features chunks of tender lamb and chewy cubes of bread in a very lamby broth.

Harmony Restaurant

The presence of bread is odd at first, but it basically plays the same role as noodles in a noodle soup.  It’s not mushy at all; it’s chewy and starchy, and soaks up the flavour from the soup.  It’s surprisingly tasty.

The chunks of lamb are great.  They’re super tender, a little bit fatty, and packed with a deep, meaty flavour.

Harmony Restaurant

The broth, too, is absolutely crammed with that unmistakable lamb flavour.  If you don’t like lamb, this isn’t the dish for you.  It’s not subtle.

It also has a nice zippiness and a mild kick that ensures it never feels one-note rich.  It’s a tasty bowl of soup, especially once you add a few spoonfuls of the smoky chili oil.

Harmony Restaurant

I also tried a pork bun, which wasn’t quite as good as the soup.  The pork was well-seasoned and tender, but the bun itself was dense and dry.  It was basically like a big saltine.  It wasn’t great.

Country 083 – Nicaragua (La Bella Managua)

La Bella ManaguaLocation: 872 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.labellamanagua.com/

It’s always a good sign when you go to a restaurant and hear almost no English from the proprietor or the surrounding tables.  There are so many reasons why living in a city as multicultural as Toronto is a great thing, but food is certainly at the top of that list.  I honestly don’t think there are too many other cities in the world where I could do a blog like this.

So I was fairly confident that I was in good hands at La Bella Managua.  Eating the food confirmed it.

La Bella Managua

I tried a couple of things.  First up was the Pollo a la Parrilla.  This featured a perfectly grilled piece of chicken, rice and beans (gallo pinto, which is Nicaragua’s national dish), salad, and fried plantains.

Everything was great.  The chicken was nicely grilled and seasoned, with some welcome crispiness on its exterior and a perfectly cooked interior.  White meat is very easy to overcook, turning it dry and unappealing, so kudos to them for preparing this so well.  And the sweetness of the fried plantains balanced nicely with the savoury chicken.

La Bella Managua

The gallo pinto was simple enough, but very satisfying, as was the salad (which consisted mostly of avocado, tomato, peppers, and red onion).  I’m normally not a big fan of raw onions in salad, but these were mild enough to be acceptable.

The other dish I tried was the Nacatamal, which is described as “typical Nicaraguan tamales stuffed with seasoned pork loin & vegetables.”

La Bella Managua

This might be the least photogenic thing I’ve ever eaten.  I mean, it looks horrifying.  But it’s the ultimate “don’t judge a book by its cover” dish, because it was absolutely delicious.

Unlike the tamales I recently had at Tacos El Asador, these were absolutely crammed with flavour, and the tender pork loin gave it a satisfying meatiness.  In case it wasn’t obvious enough from the chicken, this is a top-shelf restaurant doing top-shelf stuff.

Country 082 – Georgia (Suliko Restaurant)

Suliko RestaurantLocation: 1311 Alness Street, Concord
Websitehttp://suliko.ca/

One thing I’ve noticed while doing this blog is the culinary overlap in various parts of the world.  Similarities like steak and egg dishes in Latin America, spicy rice in Africa, or more obvious ones, like noodles in Asia.  It’s hard not to notice overlap once you start focusing on the breadth of world cuisine.

Suliko Restaurant

The latest (and oddest) connection I’ve noticed is serving bread with a spicy, salsa-like condiment in Eastern European countries — I first encountered this at Moldova Restaurant, and now at Suliko.

Suliko Restaurant

In fact, Suliko goes one step further, serving their bread basket with three different salsas of varying spice levels.  It’s a tasty — if somewhat odd — combination.

I tried a couple of other things on the menu.  First up: hachapuri imeretinsky, which is one of Georgia’s two national dishes (according to Wikipedia, at least).

Suliko Restaurant

It basically looks like a pizza, though it doesn’t particularly taste like that dish, with a softer and breadier texture, and a filling that consists solely of cheese.  It was quite tasty, particularly when it was hot and fresh, with a nice contrast between the soft bread and the gooey, salty cheese.

The next thing we tried was khinkali, Georgia’s take on the dumpling, and their other national dish.

Suliko Restaurant

We tried a couple of varieties: pork and beef, and lamb.  They were both really satisfying, with a soupy, meaty interior that features a very distinctive spicing that set it way apart from a typical Chinese dumpling.

The wrapper was also thicker than you’d expect, which actually worked quite well with the strongly-flavoured meat.  It probably wasn’t necessary to get two different types of meat dumplings, however — though the lamb dumplings had a mildly lamby flavour, both types basically tasted the same.

Country 080 – El Salvador (Tacos El Asador)

Tacos Al AsadorLocation: 689 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Website: None

My one sentence summary of Tacos El Asador: tasty, but bland.  I tried a couple of things, and they were both good, but neither really jumped out at me.  Which is fine.  Not everything can be a taste bonanza.  Some things are just good.

It’s probably at least partially my fault.  “Tacos” is right there in the name of the restaurant.  I did not order a taco.  I wanted to stick to El Salvadorian specialties, so I ordered a tamale and a papusa.

Tacos Al Asador

My dining companion, on the other hand, ordered a couple of tacos and thoroughly enjoyed his meal, so I think that’s the thing to get.

I started with a corn tamale (well, technically I ordered a chicken tamale, but they brought me a corn tamale.  Things have to be pretty dire for me to complain at a restaurant, so I just ate what was in front of me).

Tacos Al Asador

It’s a good quality tamale, though flavour-wise there wasn’t much going on.  It was basically just plain corn meal with pops of sweetness from the whole kernels of corn.  The two hot sauces on the table helped to bring it some flavour, as did the little cup of sour cream that comes on the side.

Tacos Al Asador

I also tried the pork chicharron papusa, which was kind of like an arepa, but with meat baked right in.  And again, it didn’t exactly explode with flavour, but the pork was nice and tender and the exterior was satisfyingly crispy.  It also came with a little cup of hot sauce that suited it quite well.

Country 075 – Bhutan (Lhasa Kitchen… or is it Potala Kitchen?)

Lhasa Kitchen (Potala Kitchen?)Location: 1422 Queen Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.lhasakitchentoronto.ca/

I’m not gonna lie: I’m kinda cheating with this one.  Lhasa Kitchen is a Tibetan restaurant — one of many on this particular stretch of Queen — but when I looked it up online, they had a whole section on their menu dedicated to Bhutanese cuisine.

Lhasa Kitchen (Potala Kitchen?)

When I showed up, however, the restaurant was actually called Potala Kitchen, and the dishes from Bhutan were MIA.  It was an odd turn of events (odder still: as I write this, there isn’t a single reference to Potala Kitchen online, even on the restaurant’s website).

Bhutan and Tibet are neighbours; their cuisine must be somewhat similar.  So… close enough, I guess?

Lhasa Kitchen (Potala Kitchen?)

I tried a couple of things.  I started with the beef momo — essentially a Tibetan version of steamed Chinese dumplings.  The skin was slightly dry and the minced beef inside was a bit tough, but these were still pretty tasty (not to mention a great deal at seven bucks for a very generous order of ten).

Lhasa Kitchen (Potala Kitchen?)

I also tried the pork shabtak, which was an unqualified home run.  This featured a whole bunch of thick slices of ultra-tender pork belly and slippery fried onions in an oily, intensely flavourful sauce.

Lhasa Kitchen (Potala Kitchen?)

It comes with something called tring-mo — a big, fluffy steamed bun.  You eat it kind of like you’d eat roti; you tear pieces off and dip it in the pork.  Rice is an option, but this was way more interesting.

Country 066 – Chile (Auténtica)

AutenticaLocation: 9 Milvan Drive, North York
Website: None

When I did Argentina for this blog about 30 countries ago, I tried a sandwich called a lomito, which I noted was served in Argentina and Chile.  Well, here I am doing Chile, and yep — I ordered another lomito.

Kinda boring, but I wasn’t crazy about the first lomito I had, so I thought I’d give it another shot.

Autentica

I tried this one at a restaurant called Auténtica in the Plaza Latina food court in North York.  That’s a really fascinating food court that specializes entirely in Latin American restaurants.

The lomito from Auténtica consisted of sliced pork, tomatoes, avocado, and mayo.  It’s served on a really interesting house-made bun that’s kind of like a cross between a traditional bun and a biscuit.

Autentica

It wasn’t bad — the pork was nice and tender, and the tomato and avocado were fresh and tasty.  But there wasn’t a ton of flavour here; the pork was barely seasoned, and I don’t think the avocado or tomato slices were seasoned at all.  It was a decent enough sandwich, but nothing about it particularly stood out.

Autentica

I also tried the completo, which is a hot dog topped with avocado, tomato, and mayo (they really love avocado, tomato, and mayo in Chile, I guess).  The hot dog was smoky and tasty, but again, the other components were a bit bland.  It really needed mustard or some other condiment to give it a bit more flavour.  Still, it was enjoyable enough.

Autentica

I finished with the tres leches cake, which was the highlight.  A tres leches cake gets its name (which translates to “three milks”) from condensed milk, evaporated milk, and cream.  This one also featured a layer of dulce de leche, which worked exceptionally well with the moist — but not soggy — cake.  The only issue here was that the whipped cream tasted like it was actually Cool Whip or something similar, which was unfortunate.