Country 097 – Guatemala (Maya)

MayaLocation: 918 Wilson Avenue, North York
Website: http://www.themayarestaurant.com/

The Latin breakfast I just had at Maya, a Guatemalan restaurant in North York, is one of the simpler meals I’ve had in a while.  It features two eggs, ground pork, refried beans, fried plantain, sour cream, and four corn tortillas.

It’s a pretty basic breakfast, but man, it’s so good.  Everything on the plate was impeccably prepared, and it all worked so well together.

Maya

The eggs?  Perfectly cooked, with a really satisfying gooey yolk.  The pork?  Also great; it kinda reminded me of the meat you might find inside an empanada.

The plantains were fairly standard for this type of cuisine, but they were so well cooked that it felt like they were something special — perfectly creamy, with a mildly sweet flavour that has a remarkable depth.  They’re so good.

Maya

The refried beans are nice and creamy, and the warm, fresh corn tortillas are the perfect complement to everything on the plate.

It’s also a scant eight bucks (which includes a coffee), so it’s delicious and it’s a great deal.

Country 096 – Iceland (Taste of Iceland)

Taste of Iceland 2019Location: 350 King Street West, Toronto
Website: https://icelandnaturally.com/event/taste-iceland-toronto-2019/

There isn’t a single Icelandic restaurant in the GTA, so if you want a sampling of their cuisine, the annual Taste of Iceland — in which a chef from that European country is flown in to cook a five-course meal for the weekend — is your only option.

It’s not a bad option.  It’s certainly pricey — with tax and tip factored into the $76 per person price tag, I think it probably adds up to about the same as half a dozen typical meals I’ll eat for this blog.  But you get what you pay for, and aside from some surprisingly abysmal service at host restaurant Luma, it was a memorable meal.

Taste of Iceland 2019

My good friend Wikipedia notes that the most common foods in Iceland are lamb, dairy, and fish; all three were represented in this meal, with the courses consisting of cured leg of lamb, charred Arctic char, Atlantic cod, skyr mousse, and doughnuts.

The thinly-sliced cured lamb was really unique, with a mild funky flavour and nice pops of texture from the crispy little chips made from salsify, a parsnip-esque root vegetable.  The crumbles of smoked cheese were also a nice touch.

Taste of Iceland 2019

The two fish dishes were easily the highlight; both were amazingly well prepared and featured some seriously tasty accompaniments.  In particular, the Arctic char was almost ridiculously moist and tender, and featured a rich butter sauce that I wanted to fill a pool with and swim in.  The fermented radishes did a great job of cutting through the indulgent sauce.

Taste of Iceland 2019

As for the dessert, the skyr — an Icelandic yogurt — was incredibly creamy, and was complimented perfectly by the slightly tart wild blueberry puree and the fragrant, licorice-infused meringue crisps.  The doughnuts were a bit too dense, but came with an intensely delicious caramel sauce that was so good it really didn’t matter.

Country 094 – Iraq (Royal Mezgouf)

Royal MezgoufLocation: 843 Kipling Avenue, Etobicoke
Website: https://mezgouf.com/

After having to get a bit creative with my last few restaurant choices, it’s nice to visit a place that’s actually serving the cuisine of the country I’m writing about.  Royal Mezgouf is an Iraqi restaurant.  I’m writing about Iraq.  How about that!

Royal Mezgouf

I didn’t, however, try the mezgouf (an Iraqi dish made with grilled carp) at Royal Mezgouf, which feels like a bizarre thing to do.  But it’s not on their take-out menu — you have to order a whole fish, which they charge by the pound, and it takes 60 to 90 minutes to prepare.

So I ordered the Iraqi kebab plate instead, which comes with a kebab, rice, and a salad for nine bucks.  If nothing else, it’s a great deal.

Royal Mezgouf

It’s also quite tasty.  The kebab is made with a beef/lamb blend, and it’s very nicely seasoned — the seasoning compliments the meaty flavour you get from the lamb and the beef, but doesn’t overwhelm it.  It’s also nice and juicy.  It’s topped with tahini sauce, garlic sauce, and hot sauce.  It’s very good.

Royal Mezgouf

The rice is surprisingly great.  It’s basically just the typical plain rice with vermicelli that you’ll find at a lot of Middle Eastern places, but it’s really well prepared, with a pleasant greasiness that enhances the flavour and texture.

The salad’s a bit bland, but the rice and the meat are both tasty enough that it really doesn’t matter.

Royal Mezgouf

I also tried the falafel, which were above average — they were a bit greasy, but were otherwise crispy, fluffy, and tasty.

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.

Country 092 – Dominica (Chris Jerk)

Chris JerkLocation: 2570 Birchmount Road, Scarborough
Website: https://www.facebook.com/ChrisJerkCB/

I just talked about Brunei, a tiny country with a population of 400,000 that looks positively huge compared to Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic), an island nation in the Caribbean with a population of 71,000.  It measures at 750 km2, which is about a tenth of the size of the GTA.

As for Chris Jerk as a representative of Dominica, I’m cheating on several levels.  It obviously doesn’t serve Dominican food, because how could it?  The country is way too small to inspire restaurants outside of its borders.

Chris Jerk

Chris Jerk serves Caribbean/Jamaican food… kinda.  Their claim to fame is jerk chicken shawarma, which you can order in a wrap, on a plate, or in a poutine.  No, it’s not particularly authentic.

I tried the wrap, which is served in a tortilla.  So it’s part Jamaican, part Middle Eastern, part Mexican, and all delicious.

Seriously: it’s so damn good.  The restaurant was absolutely packed when I visited close to noon on a weekday, and it’s very, very easy to see why.

Chris Jerk

The wrap comes stuffed with the usual assortment of veggies, along with BBQ mayo, garlic mayo, and hot sauce.  Fried plantain is an optional upgrade for an additional fifty cents.

The shawarma itself is absolutely outstanding.  The chicken is perfectly cooked and tender, and the crispy bits?  Out of control.  The amount of texture and flavour you get from the dark brown bits is ridiculous.

It’s basically just really great shawarma — but then it’s got those jerk spices, which makes it delightfully unique.

Chris Jerk

The sauces and the veggies compliment it perfectly, and the ratio of meat to other stuff is perfect.  It’s a seriously meaty wrap, but with enough toppings to balance it out.  Plus, the plaintain adds a nice creamy sweetness that contrasts nicely with the crispy, savoury meat.

I know a lot of people are sticklers for authenticity; Chris Jerk is Exhibit A on why they’re wrong.  Deliciousness is all that matters, and the jerk chicken shawarma has that in spades.

Country 090 – South Africa (Plan B Handmade Burgers, Boerewors and Braai)

Plan B Handmade Burgers, Boerewors and BraaiLocation: 2943 Bloor Street West, Toronto
Website: https://www.facebook.com/PlanBHandmadeburgers/

You wouldn’t necessarily think that South African cuisine would be all that difficult to find, but apparently it is.  Outside of a catering company that opens for brunch on Sundays, Plan B appears to be the only restaurant in Toronto that specializes in South African eats.

That’s a lot of weight on its shoulders.  They’re basically the ambassadors for South African cuisine for the entire GTA.

Plan B Handmade Burgers, Boerewors and Braai

Thankfully, it’s quite tasty.  Plan B specializes in braai, which is South African-style grilled meat.  They also sell a variety of hamburgers (so a second visit for another blog might be in order), but I ordered the mixed braai platter, which comes with boerewors (a South African sausage), chicken, lamb (steak is also an option), and two sides.

Plan B Handmade Burgers, Boerewors and Braai

Everything is very nicely grilled, with that great smoky flavour you only get from food that’s been cooked over a flame.  And the meats are all quite good — in particular, the boerewors was seriously delicious.  The texture was nice and tender while still being satisfyingly meaty, and the spicing was unique and tasty.

The chicken was fairly plain, but perfectly cooked.  The lamb, however, was overly tough and almost impossible to cut into with the knife provided.

Plan B Handmade Burgers, Boerewors and Braai

I ordered potato salad as well as pap and tomato chutney on the side.  The potato salad was run-of-the-mill, but the pap (which is a South African version of polenta) really stands out.  It’s a bit bland on its own, but once you pour some of the sweet tomato chutney on top, it comes alive.

Country 089 – Nauru (Kub Khao)

Kub KhaoLocation: 3561 Sheppard Avenue East, Scarborough
Website: https://kubkhao.ca/

Ever heard of Nauru?  No?  It’s a tiny island nation of about 13,000 people in the Pacific Ocean.  It goes without saying that there are no Nauruan restaurants in the GTA (or anywhere in the world outside of Nauru, I’m guessing).

Kub Khao

Apparently both seafood and coconuts are a big part of the local cuisine, so I figured a Thai coconut curry with fish would fit the bill.  Enter Kub Khao, a new-ish (it opened in 2016) Thai restaurant from one of the chefs behind Khao San Road.

I ordered the Choo Chee Pla, which the menu describes as “basa fish, curry paste, coconut milk.”

Kub Khao

The dish features a very generous amount of fish in a rich, coconut-infused curry sauce, with rice on the side.  It’s pretty amazing, with an impressive depth of flavour, a nice creaminess from the coconut milk, and super tender chunks of fish that are perfectly cooked.  It’s easily one of the better curries I’ve had in a while.