Location: 2428 Islington Avenue, Etobicoke
I’ve had a few dishes over the course of doing this blog that feel like acquired tastes that I haven’t yet acquired. That was definitely the case with fufu, a very popular West African dish consisting of mashed cassava and plantain.
It’s… interesting. It tastes a lot like a much starchier, gummier version of mashed potatoes. It doesn’t have much flavour, but then I don’t think it’s meant to be eaten alone.
It’s traditionally served with soup (in the photos I’ve seen online, they’re served separately, but here it’s all in one bowl). I got the peanut soup (something called “light soup” was also an option), which was rich, flavourful, and pleasantly spicy.
It’s an absolutely enormous portion, and I found myself getting sick of eating it long before it was done. I actually quite liked the vibrant soup — the slightly elastic, gummy fufu, on the other hand, I wasn’t as sold on.
It comes with a few chunks of beef and fish, which weren’t great. The beef was so incredibly tough that I could barely pierce it with a fork, and the fish was dry despite being submerged in soup.
Location: 3067 Lake Shore Boulevard West, Etobicoke
I’ve eaten a lot of seriously tasty stuff since starting this blog, but the meal I just had at Michael’s West Indian Flavor might just be the tastiest. Certainly, it would be in the top five. It was amazing.
Michael’s is a tiny little take-out joint (they have a few stools, but most people get their food to go) with just a handful of things on the menu: oxtail, curried goat, and chicken (which you can get stewed, curried, or jerk). Everything comes with a generous serving of rice and peas, and a side of coleslaw.
I got the oxtail, and it was an absolute taste bonanza. The oxtail itself was fall-off-the-bone tender, and the curry sauce was meaty and spicy, with a wonderfully complex flavour that never gets old; it’s one of those meals where finishing it makes you profoundly sad. And the zingy coleslaw does a great job of cutting the richness of the sauce. It’s absolutely perfect.
It’s a great deal, too. I ordered the small, which is loaded with a very hefty amount of delicious food for an even ten bucks. I challenge you to find another meal in the city with a better price-to-deliciousness ratio. It’s impossible. It can’t be done.
Location: 104 Portland Street, Toronto
No, technically Chubby’s doesn’t qualify as a restaurant from Antigua and Barbuda. It’s Jamaican. It’s right there in the name.
But there are a bunch of tiny Caribbean countries, and for the purposes of this blog, compromises are going to have to be made. Jamaican cuisine is probably going to stand in for pretty much every country in that area, because Jamaican restaurants are everywhere. The rest of the Caribbean? Not so much.
Chubby’s is a bit of an odd one. It’s a far cry from the typical hole-in-the-wall Jamaican place you’re expecting, with a twee, hipster-friendly dining room that looks like it’s been scientifically engineered for social media appeal (and indeed, if you look up the restaurant on Instagram, there are far more twenty-somethings taking selfies than pictures of the food).
I was worried that the food might be an afterthought, but I tried a couple of things and they were both great.
First up: the saltfish fritters, which are lightly crispy on the outside, with a chewy texture that’s reminiscent of glutinous rice. True to its name it’s both salty and fishy, but not excessively so; it’s nicely balanced. The strong flavours are complimented well by the mango-lime-papaya salsa, which is sweet and surprisingly spicy.
I also tried the curry goat, which features a generous amount of fall-off-the-bone tender meat in a fragrant curry sauce. It comes with a side of rice and a small helping of sugary-sweet mango chutney. The chutney seems way too sweet at first, but it kind of has the same appeal as eating cranberry sauce with turkey. It grew on me.
Location: 1422 Queen Street West, Toronto
I’m not gonna lie: I’m kinda cheating with this one. Lhasa Kitchen is a Tibetan restaurant — one of many on this particular stretch of Queen — but when I looked it up online, they had a whole section on their menu dedicated to Bhutanese cuisine.
When I showed up, however, the restaurant was actually called Potala Kitchen, and the dishes from Bhutan were MIA. It was an odd turn of events (odder still: as I write this, there isn’t a single reference to Potala Kitchen online, even on the restaurant’s website).
Bhutan and Tibet are neighbours; their cuisine must be somewhat similar. So… close enough, I guess?
I tried a couple of things. I started with the beef momo — essentially a Tibetan version of steamed Chinese dumplings. The skin was slightly dry and the minced beef inside was a bit tough, but these were still pretty tasty (not to mention a great deal at seven bucks for a very generous order of ten).
I also tried the pork shabtak, which was an unqualified home run. This featured a whole bunch of thick slices of ultra-tender pork belly and slippery fried onions in an oily, intensely flavourful sauce.
It comes with something called tring-mo — a big, fluffy steamed bun. You eat it kind of like you’d eat roti; you tear pieces off and dip it in the pork. Rice is an option, but this was way more interesting.
Location: 209 Ellesmere Road, Toronto
Mamajoun is an Armenian pizzeria that specializes in lahmajoun, a tasty flatbread that’s traditionally topped with a mixture of ground beef and minced veggies. It’s mostly a take-out place, though they do have a few small tables and a counter where you can sit.
You can get your lahmajoun on its own, or you can choose from various fillings; they wrap the whole thing up and stick it in a panini press to give it a nice crispiness on its exterior.
I’ve been eating the Middle Eastern version of these (called lahm bi ajin — basically the exact same thing, but with a different name) for pretty much my entire life, but for some reason it’s never occurred to me to cram more stuff in there and eat it like a wrap. And I have no idea why; it’s kind of ingenious.
I chose to have mine filled with soujouk, which is a really tasty sausage that basically combines the intense flavour of a cured sausage with the texture of a fresh one. You can also fill it with the usual assortment of olives, pickled goodies, and hot peppers that you’d expect from a Mediterranean wrap.
It was quite tasty. The lahmajoun itself had a nicely spiced meaty flavour, with a good contrast of fluffiness and crispiness on the flatbread. The soujouk and the other fillings worked really well; between the vibrant sausage and the various vinegary pickles, it’s an absolute face-punch of flavour. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Location: 320 Richmond Street East, Toronto
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:
- You’re lying.
- You’re from Kiribati.
- 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.
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??
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.
Location: 235 Dixon Road, Etobicoke
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.
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.
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.