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.

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Country 048 – Singapore (Jackpot Chicken Rice)

jackpot
Location
: 318 Spadina Avenue, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.jackpotchickenrice.com/

This post is a bit different than usual.  The whole point of this blog is to travel without traveling; however, I actually just came back from a real, no-foolin’ trip to Singapore (where I had chicken rice a couple of times), so this is the rare case where I know what the real deal is supposed to taste like.

Chicken rice, for the initiated, is an exceptionally simple dish — tender boiled chicken on rice that’s been cooked in the stock, served with a couple of sauces on the side.  That’s it.

Man, it’s good though.

And the version they serve at Jackpot Chicken Rice is surprisingly close to what I had in Singapore.  The rice in particular, with its addictively rich flavour thanks to being cooked with the stock, was pretty much exactly as I remembered from my recent trip.

The chicken itself, however, couldn’t quite match up.  The version I had in Singapore had an intense chickeny flavour, and was almost absurdly tender.  It was silky and moist in a way that was downright remarkable.  The chicken at Jackpot, on the other hand, had a much more subdued flavour, and a texture that was more in line with any other well-prepared chicken I’ve had.  It was tender, but not even close to the awe-inspiring degree of the Singaporean version.

It comes with two sauces on the side — a ginger scallion sauce, and a spicy chili sauce.  The sauces, like the rice, were very comparable to the real deal.

You can also pay a couple of bucks and get some crispy chicken skins on the side.  These are amazing.  They’re pretty much like the best chips you’ve ever had.  I want a whole bag.

I decided to finish things off with the Kaya French Toast.  Kaya is a sweet, coconutty spread that’s typically served on toast for breakfast.  The version here is significantly sweeter and richer than the toast you’ll find in Singapore; it’s lightly crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, and intensely sweet. It’s really, really good.

Jackpot Chicken Rice - the restaurant Jackpot Chicken Rice - the chicken rice Jackpot Chicken Rice - the Kaya French Toast

Countries 008 and 009 – Malaysia and Pakistan (Carassauga 2015)

carassauga-a
Location
: Various locations in Mississauga
Websitehttp://www.carassauga.com/

I sort of figured that Carassauga — a weekend-long cultural festival held in Mississauga every year — would provide ample fodder for this blog.  Though food clearly isn’t the focus here, it’s fairly abundant.

And it’s a fun enough event, though you’re probably not going to learn anything particularly new about any of the cultures on offer (they were dancing to “Gangnam Style” in the Korea pavilion, if that tells you anything).

But yes, the food: the first (and best) item I tried was a veggie dumpling from the Malaysia pavilion.  Closer to a fritter than any kind of dumpling I’ve ever tried, it was delightfully greasy, with a crispy exterior and a soft, chewy interior.  It was filled with cabbage and carrots, and had a sprinkling of onions on the outside that were super crispy and tasty from the fryer.

It wasn’t hot at all (it was actually bordering on cold), but even still, it was surprisingly delicious.  I was very tempted to immediately order another one, but I figured I should probably save room for other stuff.

carassauga-b

We hit the Pakistan pavilion next, where I tried dali bhalle, a cold dish consisting of a cornbread-esque pastry doused in a fragrant yogurty sauce.  There were also chunks of potato, chickpeas, and little fried bits of pastry.

It was a unique dish, that’s for sure.  Typically, when you try a new food, there’s some point of reference to be had — but I really can’t think of anything else to compare this to.

I enjoyed it, even if it was a bit one-note.  There wasn’t a whole lot of depth of flavour to the sauce, and the pastry, potatoes, and chick-peas were all similarly soft and crumbly.  Some contrast in flavour or texture would have been welcome.  As it stood, I got about half-way through and then dumped the rest in the trash.  Not that it was bad; I was just getting a bit bored.

I tried a few other things — dumplings and rice cakes from Korea, a coconut-infused pastry from Jamaica, a Timbit-esque doughnut from Africa — but those two were probably the most noteworthy.

Carassauga 2015 Carassauga 2015 Carassauga 2015 Carassauga 2015 Carassauga 2015