Country 073 – Armenia (Mamajoun)

MamajounLocation: 209 Ellesmere Road, Toronto
Websitehttps://mamajoun.com/

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.

Mamajoun

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.

Mamajoun

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.

Mamajoun

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.

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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 that 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 067 – Uganda (Muchomo Grill House)

Muchomo Grill HouseLocation: 83 Kennedy Road South (Unit 8), Brampton
Websitehttps://www.facebook.com/Muchomo-GRILL-HOUSE-1369240303139681

Going to Muchomo Grill House was a bit of a strange experience.  When I visited on a recent weekday afternoon, the restaurant appeared to be in an unfinished state, with unconnected TVs, bare walls, and wires hanging all over the place.

You can sort of see what I’m talking about from the one photo I took from my table (I felt a bit awkward standing up to take more photos, as I was literally the only person inside the restaurant aside from the two people who worked there).

Muchomo Grill House

I figured the place must have just opened, but if their Facebook page is anything to go by, they’ve been around for well over a year.

I guess they must be in the middle of renovations?  It was quite odd.

Even odder: the complete lack of a menu.  There was nothing posted on the wall, no take-out menu, nothing online, and no laminated menus to look at in the restaurant.  Nothing.  At this point, I asked the person behind the counter if they were actually open, because are you even a restaurant if you don’t have a menu?  Isn’t that the first thing a functional restaurant should have??

She gave me a broad overview of what they serve, and the first thing she mentioned was spicy rice and grilled meat, so I figured, sure, why not?  Unfortunately, I have no idea what this was called, because again, there was no menu.

It was quite good, though!  So at least after all that strangeness, there is a happy ending.  It was very similar to a dish I had at Village Suya — only much, much better.

Muchomo Grill House

The spicy rice was as advertised: it had a good kick, and was nicely spiced and quite flavourful.  It looks fairly plain, but the flavour was rich and satisfying, with just enough greasiness to keep things interesting, but without feeling overly oily.

The meat was even better, with an intense pop of flavour and an even more pronounced kick than the rice.  This might have been my imagination, but it almost had that hot/numbing effect that you get from dishes with sichuan peppercorns.  Whatever it was, it was tasty, and it was just as tender as you’d hope it would be.

It comes topped with uncooked onions and peppers, which work better than you’d expect — in particular, the sweet, crunchy peppers contrast very nicely with the tender, flavourful beef.

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.

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