Country 086 – Togo (Naija Jollof)

Naija JollofLocation: 7215 Goreway Drive, Mississauga (in the Westwood Square Mall food court)
Website: https://www.instagram.com/naijajolloftoronto/

The food court at the newly-renovated Westwood Square Mall has clearly not been a particularly big hit; huge swathes of the restaurant space has yet to be filled, and when I showed up at around noon on a weekday, the place was mostly empty.

Naija Jollof, a restaurant specializing in African eats, was the only place that seemed to be doing okay.  Which suited me just fine, since that’s what I came for.  Bonus: no issues finding a seat.

Naija Jollof

I tried to order the daily special, Togo, which is described as “plantain pottage with spinach & broken pieces of fish.”  I was told that they didn’t actually have this, but that they could substitute it with something similar.  When I asked what the substitute dish was called, the surly woman behind the counter gave a one word answer of “spinach” in a tone that implied follow-up questions wouldn’t be appreciated.

So I have no idea what the dish I ordered was called, or if it’s actually from Togo.  Based on some Googling I think it might be a dish called gboma dessi, but that looks considerably saucier than what I had, so I’m not sure.

Whatever it was, it kind of reminded me of collard greens, but with big chunks of beef instead of bacon.

Naija Jollof

It was pretty good — it’s salty, tangy, and a little bit spicy, with a texture that’s well cooked but still has a bit of bite to it, and a deep spinach flavour.  It contrasts quite nicely with the sweet, creamy plantain.  It’s a tasty combo.

The chunks of beef, on the other hand, weren’t great (they might have been goat, but the very mild flavour makes me think beef).  There was a huge chunk on top that I believe was tripe; it was inedible.  And when I say it was inedible, I mean that in the most fundamental sense of the word.  I couldn’t put a fork through it or bite into it.  It was like rubber.

Naija Jollof

There was, however, another piece that was much better.  It was still fairly tough, but I was able to eat it, so it had that going for it (there was also a third piece that appeared to be entirely sinew and veins.  It was just as bite-resistant and rubbery as the tripe.  The less said about that one, the better).

Thankfully, the spinach was tasty enough on its own that the shoddy beef didn’t feel like a huge issue.

Country 019 – Vietnam (Pho King Fabulous!)

pho
Location
: 2411 Yonge Street, Toronto
Websitehttp://www.phokingfabulous.com/

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: the name of this restaurant is probably going to make you cringe.  It’s an unfortunate bit of frat-boy humour that belies the legitimately tasty food that can be found inside.

You’d also expect an authentic Vietnamese joint to be a bit more bare-bones in its decor; the best Vietnamese restaurants in the city tend to have an endearingly run-down vibe that’s a bit at odds with the slickly appointed dining room you’ll find here.  Again: don’t judge this book by its cover.

I ordered the Fabulous Beef Noodle Soup, which the menu describes as being filled with a cornucopia of meats: “Rare eye round, well-done flank, soft tendon, tripe, and beef meatballs.”

You have the choice of a medium or large bowl; the medium is absolutely crammed with noodles and meat, so unless you have a particularly voracious appetite, it’ll do.

A bowl of pho like this lives and dies by its broth, and this one has one of the most richly flavourful broths that I’ve tried (but then I’ve had maybe ten bowls of pho in my entire life, so don’t get too impressed).  Kicked up with a couple of spoons of chili sauce and a squeeze of lime, and you’ve got a really satisfying bowl of soup.

The noodles are perfectly cooked and abundant, and the variety of meats gives the dish an appealing mix of flavours and textures: there’s the tender combination of rare and well done beef, the distinctively chewy/crunchy bite of the tripe, the unctuous richness of the almost melt-in-your-mouth tendon, and the hearty meatballs.  There wasn’t a weak link here, which was nice.

Pho King Fabulous - the restaurant Pho King Fabulous - the pho