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.

Country 017 – Philippines (Lamesa Filipino Kitchen)

lamesa1
Location
: 669 Queen Street West, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.lamesafilipinokitchen.com/

I was really looking forward to trying Lamesa — specifically, I was looking forward to trying their take on sisig, a dish that looked especially compelling on the Philippines episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show.

I came at brunch, and sadly, despite its presence on their website’s menu, the sisig was M.I.A. — apparently there’s a new chef in the kitchen, so I’m guessing what’s on their website and what’s in the restaurant might not match up for the next little while.

I ordered the Silog breakfast instead, which comes with your choice of boneless bangus (also known as milkfish), pork belly tocino (which the waiter described as their take on back bacon), or pork longanisa (a sausage), along with cassava hash, fried eggs, garlic rice, and salad.

I went with the fish, which had been fried, giving it a nice crispy exterior — but either this type of fish just naturally lacks any type of moisture, or it was way overcooked.  I’m going to guess the latter.

It had an overt (though not at all unpleasant) fishy flavour, but was puckeringly salty and unpleasantly dry.  Without the runny yolk to lubricate things it would have been nigh-inedible, but combined with the perfectly-cooked eggs, it wasn’t bad.

The cassava hash (which was also fried, and which lacked anything even remotely resembling any hash-like properties) was fine — nice and crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside — but I wish they had taken some of the salt out of the fish and put it here instead.  If it had been seasoned at all, you couldn’t taste it.  It was exceptionally bland, though the tangy house-made ketchup certainly helped.

The salad was the standard boxed mixed greens with a basic vinaigrette that you can find at so many restaurants; fine, but nothing to see here.  Move along.

I feel like I’m being overly negative; nothing here was particularly great, but nothing was outright bad, either.  Certainly, I had no problem cleaning my plate.  So I’ll end on a high note.  The garlic rice — fragrant with garlic that’s right on the verge of being burnt — was an intense flavour-bomb, and easily the highlight of the meal.  The garlicky taste from that rice lingered on my palate for the rest of the day, but it was totally worth it.  I’d be tempted to come back just for that.

Lamesa - the outside Lamesa - the restaurant Lamesa - the Silog breakfast

Country 005 – Dominican Republic (Mi Tierra)

tierra
Location
: 828 Saint Clair Avenue West, Toronto
Website: None

I was watching the Dominican Republic-centric episode of No Reservations, and a hearty soup called sancocho was highlighted as that country’s quintessential dish.  After a quick consultation with my good friend Google,  I found myself at Mi Tierra — though it’s technically a Colombian restaurant, they’ve got the ‘cocho on the menu (what’s that?  No one calls it ‘cocho?  Okay fine.  Your loss).

It’s alright, I guess.  It’s perfectly tasty, but I have a hard time imagining anyone getting too hot and bothered over it (but again, like with my recent experience with doubles, it’s possible that I got a mediocre version of an otherwise great dish).

The base is a pretty basic chicken stock; it’s a nice clean broth, but there isn’t a whole lot of flavour there.  It’s filled with some fairly sizable chunks of potato, plantain, cassava (which is like a starchier potato), oxtail, and roast-beef-esque chunks of meat.

It’ll certainly fill you up, though I wish there was a little bit more meat in there; there was only one piece of oxtail, which was really tender and probably the best thing in the bowl.  There were maybe three or four chunks of beef, which were a bit dryer than I’d like, but otherwise pretty good.  The rest was all potato and cassava and plantain.  It was hearty and very filling, no doubt about it, but a little bit ho-hum.  The dish primarily consists of starchy vegetables that all taste like starchy vegetables; there’s not much here that elevates them.

It came with a coleslaw-esque salad on the side, which had a bright, citrusy flavour, but which was a little bit too strong on the onion for my tastes (but I’m admittedly not a huge fan of raw onion).

Mi Tierra - the restaurant Mi Tierra - the empanadas Mi Tierra - the sancocho