Country 093 – San Marino (Speducci Mercatto)

Speducci MercattoLocation: 46 Milford Avenue, North York
Website: https://speducci.com/

San Marino is kinda like Vatican City, in that it’s a tiny little country that’s entirely within Italy’s borders (it is, however, considerably larger than Vatican City).  Along with Vatican City and Lesotho in South Africa, it is one of only three countries in the world that’s entirely surrounded by another country.

So there you go, there’s your obscure bit of geographic trivia for the day.  You’re welcome.

Speducci Mercatto

Obviously, San Marino’s cuisine is basically Italian cuisine; between that and Vatican City, I’ve had an excuse to go to three different Italian restaurants for this blog.

Speducci Mercatto is a snazzy little deli / Italian restaurant in the middle of an industrial area of North York.  If I hadn’t specifically read about it, there’s no way I would have discovered it myself.

Speducci Mercatto

They’re mostly known for the various Italian cured meats that they make in-house; you can buy them to go from the deli counter, or in the restaurant in a sandwich or a pizza.

I went with the prosciutto sandwich, which comes on its own (i.e. just prosciutto in a roll), though you can add various toppings for a small upcharge.  The waitress recommended bocconcini cheese, arugula, and tomato; even with the toppings, it came up to $13.50 for a very hefty sandwich, so it’s a great deal.

Speducci Mercatto

They cram a serious amount of meat into the sandwich.  It might have felt like an overwhelming amount of prosciutto, but it’s so incredibly delicious that this is never an issue.  The meat is super tender, the fat is silky, and the flavour is delightfully complex.  It’s definitely some of the best prosciutto I’ve ever had.

And the waitress was absolutely spot-on with the topping suggestions; the creamy cheese, the peppery arugula, and the fresh tomatoes all complimented the meat perfectly.  The bread was a typical Italian roll and nothing to get too excited about, but the prosciutto was so tasty that it really didn’t matter.

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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 077 – Bosnia and Herzegovina (Sarajevo Grill & Meat)

Sarajevo Grill & MeatLocation: 225 The East Mall, Etobicoke
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/pages/Sarajevo-Grill-and-Meat/1088266461319632

Sarajevo Grill & Meat is a bit odd; they have a few tables, but mainly, it’s a take-out joint and a little supermarket of sorts.  They have several shelves worth of Eastern European groceries, a butcher counter, some cakes and cookies, and a hot table with savoury pastries.

Sarajevo Grill & Meat

They also have a few meaty goodies you can eat in the restaurant, with their specialty being cevapi, an Eastern European sausage.

I ordered the large cevapi plate, which comes with a whole pile of little sausages on a plate-sized piece of flatbread called lepinja.

Sarajevo Grill & Meat

It’s not bad, but the cevapi at Royal Meats (which is about a five minute drive away) is better on pretty much every level.

The main issue here is that the sausages are over-salted and under-spiced, with a one-note salty flavour that gets a bit monotonous after a few mouthfuls.

Sarajevo Grill & Meat

They’re also extremely greasy.  This normally wouldn’t be an issue; there’s nothing sadder than a dried-out sausage.  But these go a little bit too far in the other direction.  It’s the type of dish where your mouth and lips immediately become slick with grease — a feeling that persists long after the meal is done.

It didn’t help that the lepinja (which was soft, fluffy, and a little bit chewy) was suffused with oil; some parts were downright mushy.

Sarajevo Grill & Meat

The dish came with a small container of a white substance that I’m pretty sure was just straight-up margarine or lard, just in case you want more grease to dip your greasy bread and your greasy sausages in.  It’s basically a heart attack waiting to happen.

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.

Country 062 – Greece (Colossus Greek Taverna)


Location
: 280 Lakeshore Road East, Mississauga
Websitehttp://www.colossusgreektaverna.com/

This will likely be my last post on this blog for a year or so, which is a shame, because yikes.  Yikes, this was an awful meal.  It’s sad to leave on a sour note, but what are you going to do?

We came at lunch, and my dining companion and I both ordered the “Authentic Gyros.”  Sadly, this dish isn’t on their online menu, so I can’t tell you exactly what it was supposed to come with, but if I recall correctly it was pork belly, tomato, greens, grilled haloumi cheese,  and honey mustard.  The presence of honey mustard on what is purportedly an “authentic” gyro probably should have been a tip-off that something was amiss.

And actually, my dining companion ordered his without honey mustard, and I guess they decided “well then, no one gets honey mustard!” because mine was sauce-less as well.

The sandwich came on a bun instead of pita bread.  That was bizarre, but who knows, maybe that’s the way they do it in Greece?  I doubt it, but hey, I haven’t been there.

Either way, it tasted like a stale Dempster’s hamburger bun.  It was not good.  It crumbled apart almost immediately after I picked it up, so I wound up eating the sandwich with a fork and knife.

The next oddity about this sandwich: it was supposed to come with pork belly, but the dried-out pieces of meat were clearly some other cut of pork.  If it was pork belly, it was trimmed in an exceptionally bizarre way — it was dry as heck and there wasn’t a speck of fat on it.  It was also uniformly gray, like it had been boiled.  It was so weird I actually brought it up with the waitress, and I’m usually a “eat whatever the hell is in front of me without doing anything that might even vaguely be construed as making a scene” type of guy.

I asked her if the sandwich was supposed to have pork belly on it.  Yep, she said, that’s pork belly.  I pointed at one of the pieces of meat to clarify.  “This is pork belly?  Are you sure?”  Yes, she said.  She was sure.  I didn’t begrudge the point, as I didn’t see any benefit to arguing over what was or was not pork belly, but no, I’m pretty positive that wasn’t belly.

Either way, it wasn’t particularly good.  The meat was fine, but it was dry and kind of tasteless.  The missing honey mustard probably would have helped, as it really needed some kind of sauce, both to lubricate things and to add some flavour.

Aside from that there were some sodden, mushy onions that, like the pork, tasted like they had been boiled.  Then there was the haloumi, which was actually pretty good, and the veggies.

For a place that is actually very well regarded online, the whole thing was shockingly bad.  I think it might be the worst thing I’ve ever eaten for this blog.

It came with a side of lemon potatoes.  They were nice and tender, I’ll give them that, but the lemony flavour was way too overbearing.  Normally these types of potatoes have a nice zingy brightness from the lemon that works well with the creamy potato; these were flat-out sour.

Country 050 – Canada (Halifax Donair)

donair
Location
: 295 Main Street East, Milton
Websitehttp://www.halifaxoriginaldonair.com/

It seems odd to be writing about Canada for this blog, but it is indeed one of the 196 countries on the list — so here we are.  Poutine probably would have been the obvious choice, but I figured this might be a bit more interesting.

After Germany and Turkey, this is actually my third time trying a version of donair (or doner) for this blog.  I really liked both of those, but this one might just be the best.

It’s pretty simple: spiced beef, cooked on a spit and thinly shaved, topped with tomato, onion, and a healthy dollop of sweet donair sauce.  It’s served in a pita that can just barely contain the almost comically large pile of meat.

There’s no classy way to eat this; it’s a delicious mess of contrasting textures, an absolute barrage of sweet and savoury flavours, and pretty much the purest example of comfort food that I can think of. There’s nothing delicate here; aside from the sheer mess factor (which is intense), the flavours are the opposite of subtle.  They’re a full-out assault; they’re grabbing you by the collar and screaming in your face.

It’s so good.

The beef itself is really nicely spiced — this particular style of donair was originally created by a Greek immigrant in Halifax, and tastes a lot like what you’d find in a gyro.  It’s tender and packed with flavour, and has an abundance of the crispy bits that you’re looking for in this sort of thing.  Combined with the chewy pita, it’s a delightful contrast of textures.

Then there’s the garlicky, sugary-sweet sauce — it seems insanely sweet at first.  And on most things, it would probably be overwhelmingly cloying. But here?  It totally works.  The sweet sauce and the very savoury meat mingle together and turn into something magical.  I don’t even know that I can explain why it works so well; it probably shouldn’t.  But it does.

The tomatoes and onions bring some freshness to the very heavy dish.  I’m normally not a fan of raw onions, but here they’re so thoroughly backgrounded by the wrap’s other assertive flavours that they pretty much just add a bit of crunch.

What a bummer this place is so far, though — Milton’s a bit of a drive.  But it’s totally worth it.

Country 041 – Serbia (Mississauga Serbian Food Festival)

serbia
Location
: 2520 Dixie Road, Mississauga
Websitehttp://www.msff.ca/

Well, they can’t all be winners.

It’s probably my own fault.  Impressed by the notion of roasting an entire bull on a spit, I decided to check this festival out.  I showed up at around 7:00, which was an hour before they were due to close. This is probably where I went wrong.

The bull on a spit was nowhere to be seen (it had clearly been carved up and disposed of by then) — a warming tray full of meat was all that remained.

I ordered a roast bull sandwich and went on my way.

There were a couple of fairly big issues here.  For one thing, I’m pretty sure the aforementioned warming tray wasn’t actually being warmed by anything, so the very fatty beef was lukewarm and congealed.  That wasn’t the best.

The other, more pressing issue was that the bun — which tasted like a variation on an Eastern European flatbread called lepinja — was cold, stale, and unyielding.  I’m sure it was okay at some point much earlier in its life, but by the time it got to me it was better suited to be a doorstop, or to weigh down documents on a very windy day, or as a chew toy for an overactive dog.

I took a couple of bites, then brought the remainder of the sandwich home, tossed the bun, warmed up the beef, and ate the rest in bread that was actually suitable for human consumption.

It was a fine sandwich, I guess.  It was a bit on the tough side, and there didn’t seem to be much to the spicing of the meat other than it being vaguely salty, but it was alright.

Mississauga Serbian Food Festival - the tent Mississauga Serbian Food Festival - the roast bull sandwich