Damascene Food

It’s interesting how different cultures can shape a society. Being in Canada, we are so diverse that I think it has made us more understanding about others. Most recently, we’ve had many Syrian refugees come to Canada. Other than all the tragedy that the media exposes about Syria, I’m not sure many people know much more than that. What was life like in Syria before the war? What did it look like? And without trying to be insensitive, what is Syrian food? I ponder this because despite the destruction and warfare happening, I would like to think food is a form of comfort for many. It can remind of us our childhood, be associated with happy events or even be a form of enjoyment. For those who have escaped Syria to be free from all the warfare, I can only hope that there is at least this one mutual comfort that they can have with them.

Thus, it is to no shock that many Syrian restaurants have started appearing. I found one recently that identified themselves as Damascene. If I didn’t look this up, I wouldn’t have even known it was Syrian. It is based on the name of the Syrian capital, Damascus, which is argued to be one of the oldest cities in the world.

This particular restaurant was beautiful, with colourful walls embellished with tiles and pictures and a lovely fountain in the middle. We sat beside the window where the baker made the bread. It was such an interesting sight. He would flatten the dough and put it into this huge fire oven, in which the dough would suddenly pouf up into a ball. When we got our bread, it was steaming hot (literally fresh out of the oven). Unlike your typical Indian style naan or pita bread, the Syrian bread was quite thick and had a nice, chewy texture. It could have been used as a pocket to stuff food into (like a wrap), but it was really good on its own too.

Like many Middle Eastern restaurants, they served shawarma which is meat that has been marinated and cooked on a vertical spit and grilled. We specifically tried the chicken shawarma and all I can say it was juicy and delicious! It came with a pita, side of pickles, pickled beets, green chiles (which I stayed faaaaaar away from) and a side of delicious rice adorned with cashews.

If there’s one thing I love, it’s flavoured rice. The nuts gave it a crunchy texture and the rice tasted so buttery. Yum! And no visit is complete to a Middle Eastern restaurant without some kebabs. We got a combo that came with one beef kebab and one shish tawook skewer. It also came with a side of rice, pita, and chiles, but interestingly enough they served it with a grilled half of an onion and a grilled half of a tomato. It was topped with a piece of pita that slightly resembled a pizza as well, with tomato sauce, onion and parsley (no cheese…though that’s probably a good thing in this case).

Unfortunately, the meal was so filling that we didn’t have any space for dessert. However, I did spot some visitors having tea and other beautiful dishes. Perhaps next time. I don’t know if it will ever be safe in my lifetime to visit a country such as Syria, but if this restaurant was a glimpse of what it would have been like before all the warfare, I can only imagine how much more beautiful it would’ve been in person. I absolutely hate politics, but if there’s one thing that I know, it’s that war doesn’t resolve anything.

Roman Zaman

325 Central Pkwy W #8
Mississauga, Ontario L5B 3X9
Canada
Telephone: 905-276-0101

A Kamayan Feast – Not Your Average Dining Experience

They always say never play with your food, but I beg to differ because what they also say is food tastes better when you use your hands. In the Philippines, they have something called kamayan. “Kamay” means hands in Tagalog, so kamayan roughly translates as “eating with hands”. However, some also know this style of eating as a “boodle fight” (sometimes spelled “budol”) though this concept is a bit different. From what I gather, a boodle fight is where you literally fight to eat as much food as you can before it runs out (or perhaps a fight to stop yourself from eating so much…the struggle is real). Ironically, this term is apparently derived from the military but the feast is a form of camaraderie as opposed to just a battle.

The concept of a kamayan style meal is pretty simple. Tables are lined with sheets of banana leaves and various types of dishes are spread across on top for everyone to share. An authentic kamayan meal traditionally has lots of seafood and rice, which is no shock seeing as the Philippines is a country that loves rice and is surrounded by water (read: seafood :)). The restaurant offered the following set menu:

  • Inihaw skewer BBQ pork: Inihaw means grilled. The pork we ate had a sweet marinade that was full of smokey flavours. This was absolutely delicious and probably one of my favourites on the table.
  • Inihaw na liempo with atchara: This dish is grilled pork belly (liempo). It was accompanied with pickled papaya (atchara), which is meant to cleanse your palate and was quite refreshing to eat. It also came with cane vinegar, which is used to cut out the oiliness/greasiness.
  • Longanisa: They originally had mussels on the menu, but I asked to swap for these delicious little sausages because I love them so much. We couldn’t do a Filipino meal without longanisa!
  • Grilled shrimp: Naturally sweet and succulent crustaceans with shell and all!
  • Grilled squid: Although we are typically more familiar with larger sized calamari in the western world, Filipinos like to eat the smaller kind. It was a bit strange for us non-Filipinos because the insides weren’t cleaned out, so there was a gooey substance that popped out. However, I was told that this is the typical way of preparing squid in the Philippines.
  • Grilled tilapia: This fish was cooked in a banana leaf, so it came out very moist.
  • Grilled bangus: This is also known as milk fish and it is the national fish of the Philippines. The version we had was topped with tomatoes and onions. Just be careful because it tends to have a lot of bones.
  • Okra: Usually the sliminess of okra is a turnoff for many, but these were cooked perfectly – plain and simple.
  • Talong: This is eggplant in Tagalog. It was grilled, which made it super mushy and stringy. It was a bit strange for me to eat it plain like that and it was also slimy.
  • Lumpia: You can’t go wrong with these rolls. They are pork egg rolls that were deep fried into a crispy, golden-brown and stuffed with veggies. Yum!
  • A fruit mixture of mango and tomato cubes: Who doesn’t like something fresh to go along with their meal? The mangoes and tomatoes were a welcome addition to the meal.
  • Steamed rice: No Filipino meal is complete without some plain white rice to accompany it!
  • Bagoong: This is a shrimp paste condiment. I was blown away by the strong, salty flavours and amazed at how it made everything it touched super tasty. It definitely kicks your plain rice up several notches and it can be easily found in the Asian section of a grocery store.

I remember having a Filipino classmate back in high school that taught me a few phrases of Tagalog and the only one that stuck with me was this: “busog na ako”, which translates as “I am full”. All I can say was after this kamayan feast, busog na ako!!! I really enjoyed the experience. It was unique and different from your typical fine dining restaurant outing. Based on some of my Filipino friends, they said the table should have been overflowing with food to the point where you basically don’t see the table. However, being in a western country the restaurant owner informed me that they spaced out the meal like this for “sanitary” purposes since we use our hands to eat as opposed to the traditional Filipino way of kutsara’t tinidor (fork and spoon). I personally think it’s an economical decision as well because there would be a lot of leftovers and it would be ridiculously costly and wasteful for a restaurant to fill a table to the brim. However, preparing a feast like this at home with friends and family might be another story.

As a side note, to the shock of the restaurant staff we were a big diverse group. They cooked the meal believing that they were catering to a homogeneous group of Filipinos, so it was a more authentic experience. I’m glad because I would rather have that than some westernized version.

Although I know many cultures use banana leaves as platters for their food, I only recently found out about something called sadhya. I guess I’ll have to try and find a place that does this now. 🙂

Medovik – Honey Cake

There are only a handful of things I know about Russia – those fuzzy hats, Russian dolls, the capital is Moscow, Saint Basil’s Cathedral (I’m not going to lie, I had to Google the name of that colourful masterpiece) and the word “dah”. Suffice it to say, I was shocked when I went to a flea market and randomly stumbled upon something called Medovik in the food court, which is also known as “honey cake”. Sounds good already, right?

In addition to classifying medovik as a delicious Russian dessert, it is also a layered cake. The number of layers differ from recipe to recipe, but I’m going to assume more layers are added to make it appear more grand. It’s not your typical spongy cake, but rather layered with soft, flaky pastry/biscuit-like discs and in between those is a sweet, whipped cream filling. To give it texture, it is coated with roasted and chopped walnuts.

While the lady that made it was actually from Kazakhstan, I would like to think the one I had was pretty authentic given that the two countries are neighbours. She said that it’s a simple cake made with honey, eggs, walnuts, condensed milk, sugar, whipping cream and butter. However, given all the layers I would think she was being modest. There is also another Russian layered cake called smetannik, but it uses sour cream instead of condensed milk (also conveniently known as a sour cream cake). That might be a better option for those who want to reduce the sweetness in their desserts, not that medovic is sickningly sweet in any way! It’s just perfect.

If you have never tried medovik, I highly encourage you to look out for it. Wikipedia claims that the origins of this cake stems from a chef trying to impress an empress, so you know some thought was put into this. Whether it worked or not, I can’t confirm but I was personally seduced by the delicious, creamy layers of this cake. I think I can honestly say it’s one of the best cakes I have ever had. Have you ever tried a slice of medovik?

Dau Fu Fa Syrup (Recipe)

Fresh soybean custard, also known as dau fu fa, is always better than those prepackaged ones. It’s hot, it’s healthy and it’s light.

Although I have yet to venture into the world of tofu making myself, I am fortunate enough to know a place that sells fresh batches for cheap. When you buy it to consume as a dessert, many add a sweet syrup to it. You could buy the syrup from the vendor, but it’s so easy to make at home. Although I mentioned the ingredients in my last post about this, here is an actual recipe for those who may be interested.

Ingredients:

  • 3 1/2 sticks of cane sugar (sometimes the package says brown sugar)
  • 1 inch ginger, cut into thin slices
  • 2 cups of water

Directions:

In a pot, bring the water to a boil. Add the sugar cane sticks and ginger. Simmer for 20 minutes until the sugar completely dissolves or until you get enough of the ginger flavour out. The longer it simmers, the more pungent the ginger.

After that, all you need to do is add it to a bowl with some dau fu fa and you’re good to go. You can also let it cool down and put it in the fridge for later use. It’s great to eat cold with dau fu fa.

Easy peasy, no? Have you ever tried eating this delicious soybean custard?

Mysore Masala Dosa

I know how it sounds, but “mysore” isn’t really “my sore” at all. It’s more like “my joy”, as a delicious chutney filling in a dosa.

A dosa is a South Indian dish that is a paper thin crepe. It is traditionally made of lentil and rice flour batter, but these days it can be made with other ingredients. Similar to a crepe, it is poured onto a hot, flat iron surface and is spread out into a round shape. It is cooked until it has a nice sandy golden colour and has a soft, yet crispy texture to it. Although many doses are frequently rolled into circular tubes, the one above was folded into a triangle like your typical French crepe.

I always choose a mysore masala dosa, which is made with spices, onions and potatoes. It’s so good that I’m convinced it’s one of the most popular types, but dosas can also be filled with paneer (cheese) or be simply spread with a little ghee (clarified butter).

As delicious as it is on its own, it is accompanied with several sauces to add a variety of flavours to your tongue. The first sauce is called sambar, which is the soupy one. You can dip the dosa into it or drink it with a spoon. My friend said some even drink sambar when they have colds or eat it with rice (It reminds me of a vegetable soup, so I can see why). The other two sauces are chutneys, where the white one is coconut and the orangey-red one has some spice to it. I actually haven’t had a dosa in so long that this little outing reminded me how good they were. I’ll have to add it back into my rotation. 🙂


In other news, remember when I went to look for cherry blossoms and it didn’t go so well? I tried again a few days later and unlike my second attempt, I found some fully bloomed trees.

I think I can finally deem this a success?!?!?!

NĂŁo Falo Bem PortuguĂȘs (Updates)

Back in February on my blogiversary, I made an announcement that I would stop blogging on a daily basis to focus on my plans to take time away from work to study abroad and travel the world. I had full intention to leave by fall (papers were approved and everything), but a new opportunity came up that I couldn’t refuse. Despite this little setback, I still plan on going but will be delaying my leave until early 2018. I’m disappointed about this, but it will at least give me more time to figure things out. Planning is a looooooooong and tedious process! So, you might be wondering what is the relation between this announcement and the picture of delicious pastries and tarts below?

I am an avid traveller. I have been going stir-crazy and need to get away. The last time I took a trip was in the fall. Suffice it to say, even though my leave will be a littler further away than I had originally planned, I am filling the void by going to Portugal for a few weeks. Flights and accommodation are already booked, but if you have any recommendations on what to see, do or eat (of course), I am more than happy to hear your suggestions!

Another update – it took me a R-E-AL-L-Y long time to go through all 365+ postings but I did it! I re-tagged and re-categorized all of them. You will now notice that I have more menu options on my front page to make it easier to navigate and find things. And if there’s one thing I learned from doing this exercise, it’s that I’m lacking in many areas so I’m going to try and focus more on those. Any constructive feedback on my blog is also appreciated. Happy blogging! 🙂

Red Bean Tea (Adzuki Bean Tea)

These days, it seems like you can make a tea out of anything. Dandelions, fruit and now red beans. However, I guarantee it isn’t a new product. Red beans have been used for centuries in various desserts, snacks and dishes, especially in Asia.

This little red bean is also known as an adzuki bean. It’s not to be confused with kidney beans, which also goes by the same name as “red bean”. Perhaps I have been ignorant about it’s existence, but my friend introduced me to this non-caffeinated tea. It’s supposed to help make your skin beautiful and who doesn’t want that? I’m also always on the search for non-caffeinated teas and this just so happens to fit the criteria. 🙂

Taking a sip of this lightly flavoured tea, it tasted very much like drinking the liquid form of an unsweetened red bean. It had this roasted, deep aromatic red bean flavour and a golden-brown hue. It’s definitely not your typical orange pekoe or herbal tea!

It’s an interesting tea to have, though I’m sure it’s an acquired taste. I found with this particular brand, it takes a while for all the flavours to come out so I just kept refilling the cup with hot water. However, you can also steep the bag in a thermos too and drink to your heart’s content. There’s also the option of making it into a cold drink with the simple help of a few ice cubes. 

What interesting tea flavours have you had recently? 🙂

 

A New Foodie Concept – Popups

It’s that time of the year where the buds start blooming and new life begins. I went cherry blossom viewing this past weekend, only to find out they weren’t in full bloom yet. However, what I saw this year was definitely better than my first attempt a few years ago when only I only saw one tree with blossoms! Perhaps next year? They say third time’s a charm!

As beautiful as they were, cherry blossom viewing was just a detour towards my real goal that day, which was to check out the new pop-up concept at Yorkdale Mall. It’s called *ahem* “Concept”, where a handful of vendors showcase their products. The first batch were food-related and included:

  • Uncle Tetsu
  • Eva’s Original Chimney
  • Pie Squared
  • Caplansky’s Deli
  • Nadia’s Chocolates
  • Nugateau

The two big ones were Uncle Tetsu and Eva’s Original Chimney. There were huge lineups for these two vendors, but definitely worth the wait. Eva’s Original Chimney are Hungarian style ice cream cones. I first wrote about them back when I first tried them at the Canadian National Exhibit (CNE) last summer. Seeing as I enjoyed them the first time, you can imagine how excited I was to see them again (normally, it’s only sold in a floating food truck that travels around different parts of Toronto). This time, I got their Matcha Crunch, which contained a graham cracker cone that was filled with vanilla soft serve ice cream laced in a matcha Kit Kat crumble. It was also topped with matcha sauce and they added a Kit Kat bar for good measure.Yum!

Uncle Tetsu is a place well known in Asia for for their decadent Japanese cheesecakes. Although they do have a store in the heart of Toronto, it was great to see them uptown. Like the downtown store, it was no shock that the lineups were around the bend.

If you have never tried a Japanese cheesecake, it’s definitely a must. It’s soft, it’s fluffy and moist. Uncle Tetsu just so happens to be one of the best ones around. Even though we had to wait a bit for this scrumptious cheesecake, I ordered a pie from Pie Squared while waiting.

They had five types: Guinness beef and potato, steak and cheese, chicken pot pie, jerk chicken and a vegetarian pie. They’re cute little square-shaped pockets that are easy, grab n’ go snacks. I tried jerk chicken, but was a little disappointed when I realized there were more green peppers than chicken and the spices didn’t taste like authentic jerk spice. However, the crust was crispy and it was hot!

Then there’s Nugateau, a vendor that sold the fanciest Ă©clairs I’ve ever seen. I didn’t get to sample one, but they were very pretty to look at.

Although I have heard lots of great things about Caplansky’s Deli (also a food truck in Toronto), I tend to avoid sandwiches when I can so needless to say I didn’t get anything from there. As for Nadia’s chocolate, they sold beautiful chocolate sculptures and treats but they were a bit pricey. A $65 chocolate sculpture, though nice, isn’t really my cup of tea.

Every four weeks, there’s a rotation and new vendors come in. This is also what I think makes this an exciting new retail experience for foodie lovers out there. I don’t think it will always be food-related, so enjoy this lineup of vendors until April 30. After that, who knows what surprises will come. Hopefully more foodie options!

Yorkdale – Concept:

3401 Dufferin Street
North York, Ontario
M6A 2T9
Canada

Tong Sum Fun – Macaroni Pasta Soup (Recipe) & Turkey Leftovers

After having turkey this past weekend for our Easter dinner, we had plenty of leftovers. And with leftovers, comes an endless list of crafty ideas on what to do with those leftovers to ensure nothing gets wasted. Thus, comes Tong Sum Fun – also known as Macaroni Pasta Soup! With a hodgepodge of ingredients, this is simple to make and a great way to clear out the fridge. It’s similar to a chicken noodle soup, only this time it has a bunch of ingredients from our dinner (and then some). Tong sum fun is also what my mom made frequently for us growing up when we were sick. You know how it is, when one kid gets sick, the other gets sick and repeat.

Although you can honestly add almost anything into this type of dish, our standard was always a good soup broth and macaroni pasta with some sort of veggies and meat. Here’s the one we made with our leftovers from Easter dinner.

Ingredients:

Directions:

In a pot, bring water to a boil and cook pasta according to the directions of the package and strain. Set aside. In a second pot, add chicken stock and bring it to a boil. Add all the remaining ingredients in and cook until they’re thoroughly heated. Add cooked and strained macaroni into a bowl and add the hot soup mix on top. Easy!

Of course, you could just make a salad with the leftovers as well. Here, I have a salad made with turkey, nuts, cucumber, tomato, peppers, egg, spinach, mixed greens, wakame salad and a few blocks of cheddar cheese for good measure. I personally hate adding salad dressing, but you could use something like Italian or a nice balsamic vinaigrette.

And then there’s an udon noodle stir fry with some onion, shrimp, cabbage, pepper and turkey.

There’s not much turkey left for this, but it’s there! Enjoy!

Mongolian Style Hot Pot

Have you ever tried eating a Mongolian hot pot? It’s something simple you can do at home or at a restaurant.

All you need is a mobile electric or propane gas stove, a pot, broth and a variety of food. For this particular occasion, we went to a restaurant that had a stove that was built into the table. The broths for hot pot can be spicy or sweet. We got the “yin yang” version, which has a divider in the middle of the pot so that you can have two broths simultaneously. However, when we do this at home, we like to have a satay flavoured broth and a simple chicken broth.

From there, you have a bunch of dishes that are raw/uncooked. When the broth boils, you can start adding a few items into the pot to cook. Items range from all sorts of thinly sliced meats, vegetables and seafood. The world is your oyster….and you can add oysters too. 😉 You can also cook noodles, Asian meatballs, dumplings, tofu and fungi. I wish I got a better photo of the variety of food that we had, but this was the best I could do. You can also have multiple dipping sauces on the side, like soy sauce, sesame oil, chili, etc. to enhance our cooked items.

When the food is done, you use a strainer to scoop the food out and then add more food into the pot. This restaurant only gave two communal strainers, but at home we like to have enough so that everyone has their own. Just remember which utensils you used to touch the raw foods. You don’t want to use those for eating! And if you find your broth is starting to get low, just add some water or chicken stock to it and continue cooking.

To me, the purpose of hot pot is to have an intimate social or family gathering. While you can technically just dump everything into one pot, boil and serve, hot pot is a meal that takes time because you gradually plop several items in periodically. The whole process is meant to be very gradual and relaxing. It’s also good for those who get a little fidgety just sitting around a dinner table. For me, the best part about hot pot is saving the noodles for last. By then, the broth is so rich in flavour that adding soup to it makes it so tasty! Have you ever tried a hot pot?

Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot

Various locations in the U.S.A, Canada, China and Japan