Country 090 – South Africa (Plan B Handmade Burgers, Boerewors and Braai)

Plan B Handmade Burgers, Boerewors and BraaiLocation: 2943 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Website: https://www.facebook.com/PlanBHandmadeburgers/

You wouldn’t necessarily think that South African cuisine would be all that difficult to find, but apparently it is.  Outside of a catering company that opens for brunch on Sundays, Plan B appears to be the only restaurant in Toronto that specializes in South African eats.

That’s a lot of weight on its shoulders.  They’re basically the ambassadors for South African cuisine for the entire GTA.

Plan B Handmade Burgers, Boerewors and Braai

Thankfully, it’s quite tasty.  Plan B specializes in braai, which is South African-style grilled meat.  They also sell a variety of hamburgers (so a second visit for another blog might be in order), but I ordered the mixed braai platter, which comes with boerewors (a South African sausage), chicken, lamb (steak is also an option), and two sides.

Plan B Handmade Burgers, Boerewors and Braai

Everything is very nicely grilled, with that great smoky flavour you only get from food that’s been cooked over a flame.  And the meats are all quite good — in particular, the boerewors was seriously delicious.  The texture was nice and tender while still being satisfyingly meaty, and the spicing was unique and tasty.

The chicken was fairly plain, but perfectly cooked.  The lamb, however, was overly tough and almost impossible to cut into with the knife provided.

Plan B Handmade Burgers, Boerewors and Braai

I ordered potato salad as well as pap and tomato chutney on the side.  The potato salad was run-of-the-mill, but the pap (which is a South African version of polenta) really stands out.  It’s a bit bland on its own, but once you pour some of the sweet tomato chutney on top, it comes alive.

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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 085 – Ivory Coast (Golden Gate Restaurant)

Golden Gate RestaurantLocation: 2428 Islington Avenue, Etobicoke
Website: None

I’ve had a few dishes over the course of doing this blog that feel like acquired tastes that I haven’t yet acquired.  That was definitely the case with fufu, a very popular West African dish consisting of mashed cassava and plantain.

It’s… interesting.  It tastes a lot like a much starchier, gummier version of mashed potatoes.  It doesn’t have much flavour, but then I don’t think it’s meant to be eaten alone.

Golden Gate Restaurant

It’s traditionally served with soup (in the photos I’ve seen online, they’re served separately, but here it’s all in one bowl).  I got the peanut soup (something called “light soup” was also an option), which was rich, flavourful, and pleasantly spicy.

It’s an absolutely enormous portion, and I found myself getting sick of eating it long before it was done.  I actually quite liked the vibrant soup — the slightly elastic, gummy fufu, on the other hand, I wasn’t as sold on.

Golden Gate Restaurant

It comes with a few chunks of beef and fish, which weren’t great.  The beef was so incredibly tough that I could barely pierce it with a fork, and the fish was dry despite being submerged in soup.

Country 084 – Vatican City (Sugo)

SugoLocation: 1281 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.sugotoronto.com/

I might be cheating with this one.

Okay, I’m definitely cheating with this one.  The food they serve at Sugo isn’t Italian, per se; it’s Italian American.  That’s actually a pretty huge distinction, but let’s face it — Vatican City is barely even a real country anyway.  Certainly, there’s no such thing as Vatican City cuisine.  So why shouldn’t I cheat a little bit?

Sugo

Mostly, I was just looking for an excuse to check out Sugo, which I’ve been hearing nothing but good things about.

I’m glad I did — it’s as delicious as its reputation would lead you to believe.

Sugo

The menu is pretty basic: three pastas, a few different sandwiches, and a handful of appetizers.

I tried a couple of the pastas, which were both saucy as hell and exploding with flavour.  Certainly, “subtlety” is not a word in this restaurant’s vocabulary (that’s not a bad thing).

Sugo

My favourite of the two was the rigatoni, which features a creamy pink sauce (a mix between tomato and alfredo) with a satisfyingly zingy flavour.  I also tried the spaghetti with meat sauce, which has a meaty substance, but is lacking in the assertive flavour of the rigatoni.

Sugo

And of course, you can’t come here without trying the baseball-sized meatball, which has a slightly mushy texture, but is otherwise quite good.  It compliments both pastas quite nicely.

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.