Country 072 – Kiribati (Spice Indian Bistro)

Spice Indian BistroLocation: 320 Richmond Street East, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.spice-indian-bistro.com/

Let’s face it, very few of us are familiar with all 196 countries.  I don’t care how into geography or world politics you are, some countries are going to fly under your radar.  Case in point: Kiribati.  If you claim to have heard of this place before a few seconds ago, then one of three things is likely true:

  1. You’re lying.
  2. You’re from Kiribati.
  3. There is no third option.

It’s safe to say that there are no restaurants in the GTA serving Kiribatian cuisine.  However, a quick googling reveals that both curry and fish are staples in their food culture.  Since I don’t exactly have too many choices, I figured any fish curry would fit the bill.

Spice Indian Bistro

Regardless of how close the curry at Spice Indian Bistro is to what they serve in Kiribati, I’m so glad I went there.  Because the fish curry was jaw-droppingly good.

The fish itself was so impeccably cooked that it’s honestly a little bit upsetting.  It was moist and tender and perfect; why can’t all fish be prepared this well??

Spice Indian Bistro

And the curry was absolutely delicious; it’s sweet and spicy, with a depth of flavour that’s downright impressive.  It was easily one of the better curries I’ve had in a while, and the fluffy, lightly-spiced rice was a perfect accompaniment.

Like a lot of the restaurants I visit for this blog, the place was mostly empty.  I’m going to have to insist that you go there ASAP, because Spice Indian Bistro needs to stick around forever.  It’s so good.

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Country 070 – Somalia (Istar Restaurant)

Istar RestaurantLocation: 235 Dixon Road, Etobicoke
Websitehttp://www.istarrestaurant.com/

One thing I’ve discovered over the course of doing this blog: African countries are pretty great at making spicy fried rice.  The restaurants that I’ve visited for Nigeria, Uganda, and now Somalia have all served delicious, spicy, and addictive fried rice.

Istar has a variety of Somalian specialties on their menu, though a Toronto Life article specifically referenced the goat and the rice, so that’s what I ordered.

Istar Restaurant

It’s good, though the aforementioned spicy rice is the clear highlight.  The plate comes with the rice, a generous portion of braised goat, potatoes, and salad.

Goat isn’t a meat you see on a whole lot of menus in this part of the world, which is a shame.  It basically tastes like a slightly stronger version of lamb.  It’s good.

Istar Restaurant

Some of the pieces here were a bit on the tough side, but for the most part they were tender and flavourful.  The spicing is surprisingly subtle (it tastes like it isn’t seasoned with much beyond salt and pepper, though I’m fairly certain that isn’t the case), but the goat itself is tasty enough that it’s barely an issue.

The potatoes were bland and the salad was pretty generic, but the goat and the rice were a winning combo.

Country 061 – Uzbekistan (Taj Restaurant)


Location
: 1698 Eglinton Avenue West, Toronto
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/TAJ-Restaurant-282739815479810/

When we told the waiter (and, I suspect, owner) at Taj that this was our first visit to the restaurant, he pretty much ordered for us.  He gave us a handful of suggestions, then when we neglected to order immediately, he said okay, how about you order this, this, that, and this, and before we knew what was happening the menus were gone and he was in the kitchen (to be fair, we could have said no, but it all sounded good, so we went with it).

It was really bizarre; in pretty much any other setting I probably would have been peeved, but he did it in such an earnest and friendly way that it was hard to be too miffed about it.

Of course, it also helps that all of the food was delicious.

And thankfully it’s an inexpensive place, so despite the fact that we wound up spending (and eating) more than we wanted to, it still only amounted to about 25 bucks each for more food than we were able to eat.

We started with a salad and an enormous round loaf of freshly-baked bread.  The salad, which consisted mostly of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and red onions, was simply dressed and featured really fresh ingredients.  It was quite good.

The bread was warm and homey and satisfying.  It was slightly sweet, and while we weren’t quite sure what we were supposed to eat it with, it was certainly high-quality bread.

Next was the samsa, which was kind of like a Chinese-style bun, but encased in delightfully flaky pastry.  It was crammed with juicy, fennel-infused ground lamb (it was also about the size of my fist and surprisingly heavy, so between that, the salad and the bread we would have been all set for lunch, but I digress).

The final dish was plov (and we got a plate each of this rather than the shared plate we were assuming).  This actually reminded me a lot of qabuli palau, which is Afghanistan’s national dish, and which I sampled at Naan and Kabob.  They both had a pretty similar base — rice, carrots, raisins, and chunks of meat — but the spicing here was much more satisfying.  The raisins and the carrots added subtle pops of sweetness rather than the in-your-face sugar assault from the Naan and Kabob version.

The addition of chick peas gave the dish some added substance, and the chunks of lamb were fork-tender and intensely flavourful.  I love lamb, so maybe I’m biased, but it takes a dish that was already delicious and cranks it right up to eleven.

Taj Restaurant - the salad Taj Restaurant - bread Taj Restaurant - the samsa Taj Restaurant - the samsa Taj Restaurant - the plov

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 058 – Ireland (Fynn’s of Temple Bar)


Location
: 489 King Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://fynnstemplebar.com/

Add “boxty” to the list of things I hadn’t even heard of before starting this blog (and in case you’re a member of the “what the hell is boxty?” club, as I was until recently, it’s an Irish take on the potato pancake).

Fynn’s has a couple of boxtys (boxties?) on the menu; I went with the Dublin steak and mushroom boxty.

The boxty was actually much closer in consistency to bread than I was expecting — it had a chewy, bready texture that was more like naan than a traditional potato pancake.  It was unexpected, but it worked quite well with the stew inside.

As for the steak and mushroom stew, it was true to its name and crammed with mushrooms and chunks of beef.  The beef was slightly on the tough side, and there was one spice that I couldn’t quite put my finger on that was a bit overpowering, but for the most part it was tasty and satisfying.

Flynn's of Temple Bar - the outside Flynn's of Temple Bar - the boxty

Country 054 – Bangladesh (Premium Sweets)


Location
: 7025 Tomken Road, Mississauga
Websitehttp://www.premiumsweets.ca/

One of the few nice things about being in Mississauga is that it makes doing this blog pretty easy.  Ethnic food from all over the globe is readily available — including, of course, Bangladeshi cuisine.

I wanted to try the sorshe ilish — it’s one of Bangladesh’s national dishes, according to Wikipedia — but apparently Premium Sweets only have a small assortment of what’s on their menu available at any given time.  So I went with the mutton bhuna, which came with rice, naan bread, and a small cucumber salad.

Everything was tasty, but not much more; it was one of those inoffensively enjoyable meals that’s good, but not memorable in any particular way.

The mutton bhuna featured chunks of reasonably tender meat in a thick, mildly spicy curry base.  The mutton may or may not have actually been mutton, though; there was absolutely none of that mildly gamy, distinctive flavour that you get from lamb (a flavour that should only be intensified with mutton).  I suspect that they’re using beef instead.

The sauce was tasty; it’s nothing too mindblowing, but it’s a solid curry.

The naan came tightly wrapped in foil; I really wish they hadn’t done that.  The lightly crispy exterior that you get from freshly-baked naan had been completely steamed away inside the foil.  It was fine, but it had none of the textural contrast that distinguishes great naan from the merely good; it was just uniformly soft and chewy.

The cucumber salad was a really good compliment to the main meal, with its vinegary crunch providing a nice contrast to the rich curry.

And of course, you can’t go to a place called Premium Sweets without trying the dessert, so I got a selection of six of their Bangladeshi sweets.  I have no idea what any of them were or what they were called (quality food writing, right?), but they all had a similarly crumbly, fudgy texture and a nutty, vaguely exotic flavour.  A couple were more crumbly and a couple were creamier, but they all tasted about the same. I enjoyed them, but a bit more variety would have been nice.

Premium Sweets - the mutton bhuna Premium Sweets - the dessert

Country 039 – Turkey (Kabab 49)

kabab
Location
: 5308 Dundas Street West, Etobicoke
Websitehttp://kebab49.com/

So, here’s a fun fact (an actual fun fact, not E!’s version of a fun fact): Turkish doner was actually the first version of that particular type of vertically-rotisseried meat, preceding the similar shawarma and gyro by at least a few decades.  I always assumed that shawarma was the O.G. vertical rotating meat-stack, but nope, apparently it’s doner.

And the version they serve at Kabab 49?  It’s superb.  I ordered the mixed doner plate, which comes with a salad, a big pile of sliced onions, a generous portion of delightfully greasy rice, a few slices of freshly-baked bread, and of course, enough shaved meat to feed a small family.

Everything on the plate is quite good (well, except for the onions — raw onions are the worst thing in the world, and no one is ever going to convince me otherwise), but the highlight is that amazing doner.  The mixed plate features chicken and a mix of veal and lamb, and both were fantastic.  The veal and lamb was a bit better than the chicken, but both were moist, had plenty of the crispy bits you’re looking for in this type of thing, and were really well seasoned.

The meat works just as well with the rice as with the fluffy, fresh bread.  Eventually, you eat enough of the doner and discover a couple of bonus slices of bread at the bottom of the plate, suffused with tasty meat grease.   And then you walk out of the restaurant clutching your stomach and wondering how and why you finished the whole thing, because seriously: that plate is enormous.  But you kept eating it well past the point that common sense would dictate that you stop.  That’s how you know it’s something special.