Country 059 – Egypt (Maha’s)

: 226 Greenwood Avenue, Toronto

Maha’s is fairly well known for having very long lines, and very leisurely service.  And indeed, the line was long, and service was leisurely (we spent forty minutes in line, and another half hour waiting for our food to arrive).

Maha’s is also fairly well known for having amazing food; again, it lives up to its reputation.  There’s clearly a reason people are willing to wait through the lines and the slow service.

It’s a brunch place, though if you’re looking for the old standards like eggs benedict and pancakes, you won’t find them here.  What you will find is a nice selection of Egyptian-inspired plates and sandwiches; we started with hummus with charred balady bread (an Egyptian version of pita bread made with whole wheat flour), and I ordered the Cairo Classic.

The hummus was so good.  It was super creamy, with an amazing depth of flavour and a nice lemony zing.  It was a definite contender for the best hummus I’ve ever had, and I’ve eaten quite a bit of hummus in my lifetime.

That’s not to mention the balady bread, still warm from the oven and just about as perfect as you can imagine pita bread to be.  It had just the right amount of char, with a subtly crispy exterior and an amazingly fluffy interior.  Combined with the silky hummus, I could have eaten it all day.

The Cairo classic consisted of a heaping portion of foole (a spread consisting mainly of fava beans), a sliced hard boiled egg, a falafel, a tomato and feta spread, more of that amazing balady bread, and a salad.

I mean, after that mind-blowing hummus, would it surprise you to hear that the main meal was quite good as well?  Because yeah, it was pretty amazing.

The combination of the creamy foole, the eggs, and the zippy tomato and feta spread was seriously addictive.

And holy crap, that falafel.  I really wish I had more than just the one; it was perfectly spiced and delightfully fluffy, with lightly crispy exterior.  Like the hummus, this was a best-ever contender.

Maha's - the line Maha's - the hummus Maha's - the Cairo Classic


Country 024 – Ethiopia (Ethiopian House)

: 4 Irwin Avenue, Toronto

See, this is one of the big reasons I started this blog: I have zero experience with Ethiopian cuisine.  And who knows when I would have tried it otherwise — the inspiration for this particular excursion was entirely blog-related.

The moral of this story?  If you want to try new things, start a blog. (and ignore the fact that you could easily try new things without the hassle and work of maintaining a food blog — where’s the fun in that??)

My dining companion and I shared both the meat and vegetarian Bayaaynatu, which the menu translates as “of each kind,” and is essentially a sampler plate.  It all came on one enormous platter bearing a kaleidoscopic assortment of tastes and textures.  I’m not even going to try to describe them all, but I will say that there wasn’t a weak selection in the bunch.  I was particularly impressed by the diversity of flavours here; I sort of figured that everything would taste similar, but with few exceptions, each selection in the assortment had a personality of its own.

I really enjoyed it, though the meat in the dish at the top of the header photo was a bit tough, and the whole spread felt like it could have used more spice (hot sauce was provided, however).

There’s no classy way to eat this.  There’s no cutlery to be seen; you just tear off a piece of injera — a wheaty Ethiopian flatbread that’s kind of like a thin, spongy pancake — and start scooping.  The whole thing is served on a piece of that same bread, so eventually you’ll start tearing pieces off and eating that too.  Only one napkin was provided (though I’m sure I could have — and should have — asked for more), and without getting into too much detail, I’ll say that by the end of the meal that napkin had seen better days.

It’s also an intimidating amount of food.  My dining companion and I were defeated by the enormous spread, and neither of us are exactly dainty eaters.  Still, we did our best; when the food is this good, how could you not?

Ethiopian House - the restaurant Ethiopian House - the Bayaaynatu Ethiopian House - the Bayaaynatu

Country 004 – Trinidad and Tobago (Leela’s Roti & Doubles)

Location: 900 Rathburn Road West, Unit 1, Mississauga

Well, that was disappointing.

I’ve never tried a double before (a doubles?  Does it have to have the S?), and I’d certainly heard good things about Leela’s.  Trying something new?  At a reasonably acclaimed restaurant?  Yeah, I was excited.

And the place was packed — so packed that I couldn’t even eat in the restaurant (I ate in the car, which is always fun).

If nothing else, it’s crazy cheap.  I got a double ($1.25), an aloo pie ($1.50), and a bottle of Trinidadian soda ($2.00), and the whole thing came up to just over five bucks.  And it was a fairly substantial amount of food, I should note.

I tried the double first.  A double, for the uninitiated, is essentially a chickpea curry sandwich made with a special type of fried bread.

It was actually pretty bad.  It probably didn’t help that it had obviously been sitting around for quite a while, giving the bread a mushy, unpleasantly sodden texture that was really unappealing.

The filling is essentially bland curry mush. It’s just kind of there, without any real personality: a gentle, ineffectual poke to your tastebuds.  Nothing about it pops.

It also had an unpleasant undertone that I can’t quite put my finger on. The closest thing I can compare it to is particularly ripe boiled cabbage. That flavour wasn’t too strong, fortunately, but it was definitely there, and it was definitely off-putting — to me, at least. I think it’s safe to assume that, in the process of updating this blog, I’ll be eating dishes that would be classified as acquired tastes. So I don’t know if this was just a bad version of a double, or a taste I simply haven’t acquired.

The aloo pie was clearly the superior of the two items. Featuring a spiced potato filling surrounded by a crispy fried pastry shell, it was nothing particularly mind-blowing, but it was tasty at least.

The filling is essentially like a smoother, less dense version of what’s in a samosa.  It tasted okay, but again, it was kind of bland.  It was spicy, at least, which helped give it some personality.

The fried pastry shell had a crispy exterior and a pleasantly chewy bite, but it also tasted very strongly of stale oil.

So no… not a fan.  But if you’re looking to get full on very little money, then sure, come here with a few bucks in your pocket and go nuts.  Just don’t expect anything that great.

Leela's Roti and Doubles - the menu board Leela's Roti and Doubles - double and aloo pie