Country 095 – Oman (Jordan’s Shawarma)

Jordan's ShawarmaLocation: 2300 John Street, Thornhill
Website: https://www.facebook.com/JorShawarma/

Standard disclaimer: no, Jordan’s Shawarma is not an Omani restaurant.  Oman isn’t the tiniest country ever (with a population of just over four million, it’s the 125th most populous country in the world), but Omani restaurants in the GTA don’t exist.  A Google search for Omani cuisine in Toronto comes up with several results about Tim Hortons opening in that country, but zero restaurants in the city.

Jordan's Shawarma

Jordan’s Shawarma does, however, have lamb kebabs on their menu (which you can get in a rice bowl, a salad, or on fries).  According to my old friend Wikipedia, the kebab is a staple in Oman, so close enough.

Jordan's Shawarma

I got it in a rice bowl, and it was surprisingly good.  It was actually extremely similar to the last thing I tried for this blog, another kebab rice plate from Royal Mezgouf.  I quite enjoyed that one, but this was tastier in every regard.

Jordan's Shawarma

The kebab itself was absolutely fantastic, with a nice lamby flavour, delicious spicing, and a good amount of exterior texture from the grill.  It’s topped with the usual assortment of sauces — garlic, tahini, and hot sauce — and all three are on point.  It also has a healthy dollop of some kind of tzatziki-esque yogurt sauce, which was seriously delicious.

The rice is top notch as well, as is the zesty salad.

Jordan's Shawarma

I also tried the chicken shawarma; it wasn’t quite on the level of the kebab, but it was definitely above average, with tender, tasty meat and a decent amount of crispy bits.

Country 094 – Iraq (Royal Mezgouf)

Royal MezgoufLocation: 843 Kipling Avenue, Etobicoke
Website: https://mezgouf.com/

After having to get a bit creative with my last few restaurant choices, it’s nice to visit a place that’s actually serving the cuisine of the country I’m writing about.  Royal Mezgouf is an Iraqi restaurant.  I’m writing about Iraq.  How about that!

Royal Mezgouf

I didn’t, however, try the mezgouf (an Iraqi dish made with grilled carp) at Royal Mezgouf, which feels like a bizarre thing to do.  But it’s not on their take-out menu — you have to order a whole fish, which they charge by the pound, and it takes 60 to 90 minutes to prepare.

So I ordered the Iraqi kebab plate instead, which comes with a kebab, rice, and a salad for nine bucks.  If nothing else, it’s a great deal.

Royal Mezgouf

It’s also quite tasty.  The kebab is made with a beef/lamb blend, and it’s very nicely seasoned — the seasoning compliments the meaty flavour you get from the lamb and the beef, but doesn’t overwhelm it.  It’s also nice and juicy.  It’s topped with tahini sauce, garlic sauce, and hot sauce.  It’s very good.

Royal Mezgouf

The rice is surprisingly great.  It’s basically just the typical plain rice with vermicelli that you’ll find at a lot of Middle Eastern places, but it’s really well prepared, with a pleasant greasiness that enhances the flavour and texture.

The salad’s a bit bland, but the rice and the meat are both tasty enough that it really doesn’t matter.

Royal Mezgouf

I also tried the falafel, which were above average — they were a bit greasy, but were otherwise crispy, fluffy, and tasty.

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 078 – Uruguay (La Pasiva)

La PasivaLocation: 896 Wilson Avenue, North York
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/pages/La-Pasiva/174822035894964

Apparently steak and eggs are a pretty big deal in Latin America; I’ve had a version of this meal for Colombia, Ecuador, and now Uruguay.

The one they’re serving at La Pasiva wound up being almost exactly the same as the one I had at Comedor Popular Ecuatoriano.  It’s a relatively simple dish: steak and eggs, a salad, and potatoes (you can choose between potato salad and fries — I went with potato salad).

La Pasiva

I liked it even better than the version at Comedor Popular Ecuatoriano.  The well done, thinly-cut steak was a little bit tough — but it was still much more tender than Comedor’s version, and the seasoning was nice and zingy.

It’s also a nice reminder of why steak and eggs is a classic dish; they go very well together.

La Pasiva

The salad, with its standard vinaigrette, didn’t particularly stand out, but the potato salad was quite delightful.  I’m generally not a fan of potato salad, mostly because it almost always features raw onion, and that’s not my favourite flavour (putting it mildly).  But La Pasiva’s version was refreshingly onion-free; it was a little bit sweeter than I’d like, but the potatoes were nice and creamy, and it had enough of a vinegary bite to cut the sweetness.

I also tried the pasiva (because you should never leave a restaurant without trying its namesake dish), which consists of two hot dogs wrapped in fatty ham and served with melty cheese on top.  It’s served on an enormous pile of fries.

La Pasiva

Was it good?  I mean, yeah, of course it was good.  Did you not read what I just wrote?  It’s a hot dog wrapped in ham and covered with gooey cheese.  The hot dog had a nice smokey flavour, and the whole thing was quite satisfying.

La Pasiva

The fries — which were thinly-cut and were very similar to what you’ll find at McDonald’s — were okay, but they had clearly been sitting out for a while, so they weren’t hot and they were somewhat dried out.

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.

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