Country 055 – Nepal (Hakka Khazana)


Location
: 735 Twain Avenue, Mississauga
Websitehttp://www.hakkakhazana.ca/

Hakka Khazana is a Nepali/Chinese/Indian restaurant.  That feels like they might be spreading themselves a bit too thin, but hey, sometimes you have to take what you can get.

The first dish — and the clear highlight — was the palungo ko saag.  Though a cursory Googling shows this to be something akin to creamed spinach (but without the cream), the version served here was very, very different.  Maybe this is a regional variation, like how American barbecue differs depending on where in the South you are.  Or maybe it’s just inauthentic — it’s impossible to know for sure (okay fine, it’s actually very possible to know for sure, but that would require way more work than I’m willing to put in for this blog).

The version of the dish served here was basically just some kind of stir-fried baby bok choy.  Authentic or not, with a nice hit of garlic and a strong dose of curry-like spices, it was a very pleasant surprise.  It was one of those dishes that doesn’t seem particularly spicy at first, but then delivers a strong kick that lingers.  It was great.

The kasi ko masu — basically a fairly standard mutton curry — didn’t fare quite as well.  It was fine; the sauce had a nice flavour, even if it was a bit milder than I would have liked.  But nothing about it particularly stood out, and the mutton was rubbery and tough.

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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 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

Country 037 – Nigeria (Village Suya)

suya
Location
: 900 Rathburn Road West, Mississauga
Websitehttp://www.villagesuya.com/

I think I should preface this review by saying that Village Suya has only been up and running for a few weeks; I wasn’t too crazy about the meal I had here, but it’s quite possible that they still have some kinks to work out. So you might want to take this review with a grain of salt.

For the uninitiated, Suya is Nigerian-style grilled meat, typically sold by street vendors on skewers.  This particular restaurant serves beef and chicken; I went with beef, and got it with a side of fried rice.

The rice was easily the highlight.  Though it looks fairly similar to Chinese-style fried rice, it definitely has a personality of its own.  It’s a touch on the oily side (my mouth felt grease-slicked for at least an hour or two after eating), but it has a satisfying curry-tinged flavour, and just enough of a kick to put some sweat on your brow.

And whatever they’ve marinated the beef in is actually pretty tasty; it’s nicely seasoned, with another solid dose of spice.  But (and this is a fairly big but) the beef was excessively chewy and dry — it’s kind of unpleasant (of course, this didn’t stop me from eating almost all of it, but I digress).

The meat was either severely overcooked, or they’re using a cheaper cut of beef that’s meant to be stewed (or, more likely, a little from column A, a little from column B).  It’s too bad, because if the meat were a little bit more tender (or, more accurately, tender at all), it would probably be pretty good.  The elements, otherwise, are all there.  But when the beef is that jerky-like in its consistency, it’s kind of tough to enjoy — even if the flavour is pretty good.

Country 012 – Jamaica (Mr. Jerk)

jerk
Location
: 3417 Derry Road East, Mississauga
Websitehttp://www.mrjerk.com/

I realized recently that though I’ve had jerk chicken quite a few times, I’ve never tried jerk pork. One quick “best jerk pork” search later, and I was off to the races.

I was pretty sure I was going to like this. I like jerk chicken, and I like pork, so unless they messed it up somehow, this was probably about as close to a sure thing as I was going to get for this blog.

They didn’t mess it up.

Actually, what’s the absolute polar opposite of messing something up? Messing something down? Because that’s what they did here. They messed this pork the hell down.

You know that scene in a movie where they give food to someone who hasn’t eaten in days, and he immediately starts shoveling it into his mouth with a speed and vigour that seems unwise? That was me eating this pork.

I took one bite, paused, and thought to myself, “wait, is this really that good?” I took another bite to confirm: yes, it really is that good. Then I was like a hungry grizzly bear, or like Garfield eating lasagna, or like I was worried that I’d wake up at any moment and discover that it was all just a dream.

Man, it was good. Unctuously tender, seriously flavourful, and gloriously, richly porky in all the best ways, it’s ample proof that sometimes the simplest things are the best.

It’s served on rice, which is nicely seasoned and studded with creamy, flavourful beans.  It compliments the pork really well.

It wasn’t particularly spicy (I’d put it somewhere between mild and medium spice); I thought this was a fault at first. I like spicy food, and jerk and spice seemingly go hand-in-hand. But just like I wouldn’t tell Picasso what colours he should use in a painting, I’m not going to tell Mr. Jerk how spicy their pork should be. It was perfect the way it was; why mess with that?

And a lack of spiciness definitely doesn’t equate to a lack of flavour; the jerk spices are assertive enough to pack a punch, but they never overwhelm the pork’s natural flavours. The contrast between the lightly crispy, intensely flavourful exterior and the juicy, tender pork is crack-like in its addictiveness.

I should admit, however, that I think really well-prepared fatty pork is one of the best things on the planet (exhibit A: my over-the-top hyperbole about the pork hocks at Beast), so you might try this and think “what’s he going on about?”

It’s also very possible that this was a one-time-only deal — some kind of perfect storm of deliciousness that can’t be repeated — and that it’ll never be this good again. Because how could it be? I hope it is, but seriously: can this really be this good all the time?  

Mr. Jerk - the restaurant Mr. Jerk - the jerk pork

Country 011 – Sri Lanka (Anantha Bhavan)

anantha
Location
: 4646 Heritage Hills Boulevard, Mississauga
Website: None

Apparently a mega-popular Sri Lankan street food, I’ll admit that I wasn’t even particularly familiar with kottu roti before trying it at Anantha Bhavan.

Sometimes you try a new dish, and it’s strange and unfamiliar; it’s good, but you can see why it might be considered an acquired taste.  This was not one of those times.

I honestly think anyone would enjoy this — it’s essentially a South Asian version of hash.  Consisting of pieces of roti (a flatbread) griddled with eggs, veggies, meat, and spices, it’s got all the crispy, starchy, eggy textures you expect from a hash, but thoroughly infused with floral Sri Lankan spices.  It’s pure comfort food.

At Anantha Bhavan, you can get it vegetarian, with chicken, or with mutton.  A quick Google search revealed mutton to be traditional, so that’s what I got.  A couple of pieces of meat were a bit on the chewy side, but aside from that the morsels were tender and tasty.

It’s one of those dishes where once you start eating, you can’t stop.  I was on my lunch break and didn’t particularly want to go back to work stuffed, so I thought I’d eat about half and save the rest for later. Easier said than done.  And it’s a huge portion for seven bucks, so it’s a pretty good value, too.

How have I gone my whole life without having even heard of this, let alone tried it?  How is this dish not a bigger deal?  I don’t get it.  I can only bemoan all those years spent kottu roti-less, like a sucker.  Thanks a lot, society.

Anantha Bhavan - the restaurant Anantha Bhavan - the inside Anantha Bhavan - Kottu Roti

Country 007 – Mexico (Tenoch)

tenoch
Location
: 933 St. Clair Avenue West, Toronto
Websitehttp://tenochrestaurant.com/

I seem to be focusing disproportionately on Spanish-speaking countries so far.  This is completely unintentional; I’ll have to try to mix it up for the next few countries.  But first: Mexico.

I mostly wanted to try Tenoch to sample one of their tortas, a popular Mexican street food that basically entails cramming as much food as possible into a crusty roll.

We started, however, with the chorinachos, which finds delicious house-made tortilla chips layered with a crumbled, mild sausage (chorizo, I think), refried beans, sour cream, and enough melty cheese to feed a small family.  Though it was immediately apparent that we had over-ordered (this imposing pile of food is more than enough to feed two very hungry people on its own), these nachos were so good that we were happy to overindulge.

Two sauces were provided: the first was a bright green mix of seriously spicy hot peppers and avocado, and the second a creamy brown hot sauce that was one of the tastiest sauces I’ve had in quite a while.  It had a rich, smoky flavour and an addictively fiery spice-level.  It was amazing.

I asked the waitress what it was, because seriously: I want to eat this all the time on everything.  Sadly, the answer (the name of the pepper the sauce is made from) pretty much went in one ear and out the other. It was a lot of words, and it was Spanish, and I should have written it down but I didn’t, like an idiot.  Anyway, they make the sauce in the restaurant, so it’s not like I could have gone to the supermarket and picked up a bottle.

tenoch2a

Whatever that stuff was, it was profoundly delicious, and if you come here and they don’t give it to you, you need to ask for it.  That might be tough without knowing what it’s called, but trust me, make it happen.  You won’t regret it.

Next up was the main course: the Tenoch Torta, described on the menu as coming with “tomato, onion, beans, avocado, mayo, cheese, shredded roast chipotle pork, ham, milanesa, egg, pastrami, and wiener sausage.”

Yep, it’s all in there.  Everything.  Don’t even think about ordering this sandwich on your own.  My dining companion and I split one, and each half on its own was the size of one enormous sandwich.  When you first pick it up, the weight of it shocks you.  It’s gigantic.

It’s also delicious, if a bit overstuffed (shocking, right?).  There’s just so much food in there, and though it’s all tasty (the chipotle pulled pork stands out as a highlight), I think there’s probably a little bit too much stuff going on.

Just eating it was a challenge.  There’s only so wide that you can open your mouth, and even taking your biggest, most exaggerated Guy-Fieri-style bite, you’re not going to be able to cram it all in there.

Like the nachos, this would have been more than enough to feed two hungry people, and like with the nachos, I was very happy to overindulge.  This is top-shelf Mexican food.  I can’t wait to go back.

Tenoch - the nachos Tenoch - the Tenoch Torta