Country 039 – Turkey (Kabab 49)

: 5308 Dundas Street West, Etobicoke

So, here’s a fun fact (an actual fun fact, not E!’s version of a fun fact): Turkish doner was actually the first version of that particular type of vertically-rotisseried meat, preceding the similar shawarma and gyro by at least a few decades.  I always assumed that shawarma was the O.G. vertical rotating meat-stack, but nope, apparently it’s doner.

And the version they serve at Kabab 49?  It’s superb.  I ordered the mixed doner plate, which comes with a salad, a big pile of sliced onions, a generous portion of delightfully greasy rice, a few slices of freshly-baked bread, and of course, enough shaved meat to feed a small family.

Everything on the plate is quite good (well, except for the onions — raw onions are the worst thing in the world, and no one is ever going to convince me otherwise), but the highlight is that amazing doner.  The mixed plate features chicken and a mix of veal and lamb, and both were fantastic.  The veal and lamb was a bit better than the chicken, but both were moist, had plenty of the crispy bits you’re looking for in this type of thing, and were really well seasoned.

The meat works just as well with the rice as with the fluffy, fresh bread.  Eventually, you eat enough of the doner and discover a couple of bonus slices of bread at the bottom of the plate, suffused with tasty meat grease.   And then you walk out of the restaurant clutching your stomach and wondering how and why you finished the whole thing, because seriously: that plate is enormous.  But you kept eating it well past the point that common sense would dictate that you stop.  That’s how you know it’s something special.


Country 036 – Afghanistan (Naan and Kabob)

: 30 Bristol Road East, Mississauga

This is a probably a bit of a generalization, but there are a couple of pretty dependable rules of thumb for judging if an ethnic place is worth your time:

  1. A nicer looking restaurant probably doesn’t mean you’re going to get better food.  Don’t ask me why, but when it comes to non-Western eats, the tastiest stuff tends to come from sketchy little hole-in-the-wall joints.
  2. This one is super obvious — a place filled with people who come from the country of the restaurant’s cuisine is always a good sign.  If people who know what the real deal tastes like think the food is good, then the food is probably good.

Now, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but Naan and Kabob fails both tests.

For number one in particular, this seems like a particularly unfair complaint to make. What?  Your restaurant is bright, clean, and stylishly designed?  Ugh, no thanks.  Kind of an insane critique, isn’t it?

Of course, arbitrary rules aside, the easiest way to determine if a restaurant is worth your time is to eat the food.  Which I did, obviously.

I ordered the Qabuli Palau, Afghanistan’s national dish (according to Wikipedia, at least).

It’s pretty simple: spiced rice, topped with shredded carrots and raisins, and served with meat (in this case, braised veal, though you can upgrade to lamb for a couple of bucks). They also serve it with a bowl of chicken curry on the side.

It’s not bad.  The rice is a little bit bland, and the sweet carrots combined with the even sweeter raisins makes for a dish that’s a bit more cloying than it probably should be, though the savoury chunks of braised veal help to offset some of the sweetness.  However, while about half of the meat was unctuous and fork-tender, the other half was stringy and dry.

There’s the curry, too — and it’s not bad — though to be honest, I’m not sure why it was even there.  It felt a bit out of place with the other flavours in this dish.

The whole thing is decent enough, but I can’t imagine anyone walking out of the restaurant raving about it.

Maybe there is something to those generalizations after all…

Naan and Kabob - the restaurant Naan and Kabob - the Qabuli Palau

Country 013 – Germany (Otto’s Berlin Doner)

: 256 Augusta Avenue, Toronto

I don’t know if doner is the first dish that springs to mind when you think of German cuisine (it’s definitely a thing, though), but I was in Kensington Market, stumbled across this place, and thought: Yeah. Why not?

As it turns out, it was only the restaurant’s second day in existence, which is much sooner than I’d typically write about a place — but since the food and service were both quite good, I’m going to assume (or hope) that they’ve managed to avoid the kinks that can gum up a brand new restaurant.

The menu is fairly simple, with a few different types of German doner, along with currywurst (Bratwurst topped with a sweet curry sauce) and a handful of sides.  I went with the veal and lamb doner, because whenever I see lamb on a menu, I have a hard time saying no.

Packed with a generous amount of tasty, well seasoned meat that’s topped with a salad’s worth of fresh veggies (tomato, cucumber, lettuce, cabbage, and onions) and your choice of sauces (the man behind the register suggested yogurt and hot sauce), it’s probably not anything that anyone is going to get too excited over, but it’s a very good sandwich.

The bread is a highlight, and probably the most distinctive thing about it — it’s perfectly toasted,  with a great, crispy exterior, and a fresh, fluffy interior.  It’s much more substantial than the typical pita you’d get in a shawarma sandwich or a gyro, but it suits the doner perfectly.

The sauces probably should have been a bit more abundant (I got plenty of sauce-less mouthfuls), but aside from that it was a fine sandwich.  Mighty fine.

My dining companions tried the halloumi doner — which featured breaded and fried pieces of halloumi cheese in place of the of meat — and were both quite impressed.  I’ll have to try that one next time.

Otto's Berlin Doner - the restaurant Otto's Berlin Doner - the doner Otto's Berlin Doner - the doner