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

Advertisements

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

Popcorn Gifts

This is a very random post, but I’ve noticed that my friends have been bringing me gifts/souvenirs from around the world and there has been a common theme – POPCORN! Not that there is anything wrong with popcorn, I just found the trend interesting. The first being popcorn flavoured candy from Taiwan.

These little square, yellow candies come in these tiny boxes. Oddly enough, it actually tastes like buttery popcorn – only in the form of soft, chewy candy like taffy. I guess you could say the flavour reminded me of those jellybeans that are used in that Beanboozled game or those Bernie Botts beans for those Harry Potter fans out there. It was interesting to eat.

Another friend of mine came back from Disney World, Florida, and she bought me a bag of kettle popcorn that was Sriracha flavor.

While the popcorn itself wasn’t shocking, it was the flavour. I was also happy to learn that it was GMO-free popcorn. While it didn’t exactly have “Sriracha” listed in the ingredients (more like sugar, sunflower oil, organic apple cider vinegar, salt, natural garlic flavor and chili pepper flavor, paprika powder, citric acid and lecithin), it was surprisingly good! It had a contrast of sweet and savory flavors with some spice to it. I might be the only person in the world that doesn’t really care about going to Disney World (more than once, anyway), but the popcorn may be worth a visit.

Although I never expect my awesome friends to buy me anything when they come back from a trip or for a visit, I wonder if I’ll be seeing another popcorn treat in the near future? Have you noticed any popcorn trends or received/given any popcorn related gifts?

Izakaya – A Loud but Delicious Experience

I love Japanese food. Although a majority of people may only be familiar with sushi and teppanyaki, there are many other delicious dishes too. Thus comes Izakaya – a type of Japanese bar styled restaurant that typically offers skewers and tapas. It’s a very informal setting where people come in for drinks and food.

I went with a friend and upon entering the restaurant, the staff shouted “irasshaimase!!!” at us, which means “welcome” in Japanese. Other than giving customers a mild heartattack upon entry, it’s normal at an Izakaya as a way to greet customers. When we sat down and looked at the menu, there were so many options to choose from. Instead of going Ă  la carte, we decided to go with an eight course set menu which had many of their most popular dishes.

First up, a blanched spinach dish called gomaae. The rolled up ball of greens were topped with sesame seeds and a black savory sauce filled with the aroma of sesame oil. To my shock, the dish was cold but it was an interesting starter.

Japanese-Food-Spinnach-Gomaae

Gomaae

Then came the deep fried brie cheese balls. It was packed full of gooey cheese, just the way I like it.

Japanese-Food-Cheese-Balls

Cheese balls

The crumb coating was quite chunky, but it came out super crispy. It was accompanied with a fusion of two fruit sauces underneath – the yellow being a mango sauce and the purple one being a berry sauce. It was definitely an interesting mix and tasted so good. Besides, cheese and fruits usually pair well together. 🙂

Japanese-Food-Cheese-Balls

Fruity sauces to go with the delicious cheese balls

We barely touched the second dish, but the plates were flying out of the kitchen so quickly we had to ask the waiters to slow down! Perhaps it’s because time is money and the restaurant was filling up fast. Despite this, the third fish was a typical Japanese style salad with lettuce, radish, noori and tofu cubes. It had a wafu (Japanese style) soy-based dressing. Refreshing!

Japanese-Food-Style-Salad

Japanese style salad

The forth dish was a hot stone pot rice dish. It came out sizzling hot piled up as a pretty display, but the server mixed it up in front of us so quickly I wasn’t able to get a shot of it. The bowl was so hot that the rice was still crackling well after the dish was mixed, but the purpose of the bowl is to make the rice burn a bit to give it a nice and crispy texture (similar to a bibimbap).

Hot-stone-pot-bowl-rice

Hot stone pot bowl rice

My friend didn’t enjoy this dish as much as I did. It was a sweeter rice dish filled with rice, mushrooms, cheese and seaweed. Perhaps the cheese threw her off, but I liked it! The following dish was karubi, which is similar to Korean kalbi. These delicious short ribs were flavoured in a soy sauce marinade and came with a side scallion-oil dipping sauce, lemon and lettuce leaves. Very tasty, I must say.

Japanense-Karubi-Ribs-Grilled

Karubi

Next, although they called it carpaccio, I’m going to assume it’s because a majority of people wouldn’t know what beef tataki is. Although similar, the former is completely raw whereas the latter is slightly seared. It is also topped with a ponzu sauce, wasabi mayo, daikun, green scallions and garlic crisps. Given that the garlic was dehydrated, it was quite potent but I love garlic so it worked with me!

Japanese-Beef-Tataki

Beef Tataki

The seventh dish was chicken kaarage, a Japanese style fried chicken that is marinated in soy sauce, battered and deep fried to a crispy golden brown. Of course, we had some sake (a Japanese rice wine) to go with this as well. 🙂

Japanse-Kaarage-chicken

Kaarage chicken

And no meal is complete without dessert, but can you believe I forgot to take a photo before I inhaled it? It was a simple black sesame ice cream. Usually I find restaurants tend to pre-scoop and leave it in the freezer until it is needed, but I found this restaurant had it freshly prepared – meaning no frozen icicle bits on my ice cream! An Izakaya restaurant is quite the experience. It’s a lovely place with plenty of food options, but it may not necessarily be great for those who want a nice and quiet dinner. Just be prepared for an evening with lots of yelling and delicious food 🙂

Kinka Izakaya
398 Church Street,
Toronto, ON, M5B 2A2
Canada
416-977-0999

Le Petit French Bistro

When it comes to French food, I think one of the most classic dishes is escargot (aka snails). I know many people get the heebie jeebies when it comes to things that look squirmy, but escargot is delicious! Often, you will find them in a special dish that is cooked in a simple garlic and butter concoction. However, when I went to a 2017 Winterlicious event, I got a bowl full of them. This particular version was sautĂ©ed with portobello mushrooms and cooked in a cognac cream sauce. And to remove the “creepy” factor, I guess it helps when the snails have been deshelled. It also came with some bread to help soak up the delicious sauce.

Escargot

Escargot

Although the classical bowl of “moules et frites” (mussels and fries) was tempting, I ended up having a seafood risotto. It had big and succulent tiger shrimp, bay scallops, mussels, red peppers and spinach and was cooked in a white wine rosĂ© sauce. Although it wasn’t the best risotto I’ve ever had (a fungi risotto is still at the top of my books), the beautiful pieces of seafood made up for it.

Seafood-risotto

Seafood risotto

And of course, save the best for last! Dessert! I had a crÚme brûlée. It had such a nice and thick burnt sugar top in contrast to the creamy custard underneath. It was a great way to end the meal and you can never go wrong with a crÚme brûlée!

crÚme-brûlée

CrÚme brûlée

Winterlicious is an annual event that occurs in Toronto. It’s fun and it’s a great way to try out new foods and discover new restaurants. Although Winterlicious is over for 2017, there’s another version called Summerlicious. Let’s see where I end up. 🙂

MIDI Bistro Restaurant
168 McCaul St
Toronto, Ontario M5T 1W4
Canada
416-977-2929

 

Bottle Shock and Wine

The holidays are coming, which means people are probably starting to wind down with food and drinks. More specifically, I’d like to say wine is probably appearing on many tables. It comes in a variety of price ranges and types – Malbec, Pinot Grigio, Merlot, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc…the list goes on! I have found good and bad wine for under $10, but mixed sentiments for pricier ones too. The taste of a wine is so subjective that even wine connoisseurs can’t even tell the difference. I’d like to hypothesize “good” wine is considered as so because it’s all in the branding and marketing and sometimes it really just boils down to personal preference. In fact, the movie Bottle Shock is based on a true story about a well-known wine connoisseur who was under the strong belief that French wine was the be-all and end-all in the world of wine.

bottle-shock-movie

[NOTE: SPOILER ALERT]

At the time, French wine was considered the most prestigious but this belief was eventually debunked as Californian wine made it’s appearance into the world. This connoisseur only changed his opinion when he did some blind taste tests and realized he was living in a bubble. In fact, Californian wine is still considered one of the best wines out there by many. However, I’ve had friends argue that Australian wine is the best and others enjoy Chilean wine. In the end, it doesn’t matter what type it is as long as everyone can peacefully clink their glasses together in merriment.

As for the movie itself, it’s a light-hearted comedy for adults. If you’re interested in the story of how California grew its reputation for wine, I’d highly recommend watching this movie. It’s not necessarily a festive holiday movie, but it’s something to watch. Cheers!

 

Bacon! Bacon! Bacon!

There is some insane love for bacon out there. One of my friends is so obsessed with bacon that he is quoted saying “Bacon is love. Bacon is life”. While I may not necessarily feel the same sentiments as he does about bacon, I do enjoy eating it periodically if it is cooked the right way – super thin and crispy! Recently, I was perusing around for some goodies and bumped into this.

Baconette strips? I could not imagine these tasting good at all, but my curiosity tends to get the best of me. There are a lot of interesting snacks out there, many which I have yet to discover, but this is the first time I have encountered a bag of “chips” that have crisps that look like bacon. I have seen bacon flavoured products, but perhaps I have been hiding under a rock.

Opening the bag, there is a strong aroma of bacon flavour. The texture of the chip is rough, but taking a bite of the white and red striped chip reveals a light crispiness. It has a nice smokey flavour to it and isn’t that salty, but it’s quite oily. In fact, it somewhat leaves an unsettling grease on your tongue. However, I think if I was a bacon lover I would enjoy this snack a lot more. Unfortunately, bacon is more of an acquaintance to me.

Interestingly enough, this product is made in the Philippines which was surprising to me. The brand “Oishi” is a Japanese word that translates as “delicious”. Also to note, there is no meat in it at all. Just some simple potatoes that have been seasoned to mimic the flavours of the bacon craze. Even though I can’t say I’m a huge fan of these Baconette Strips, I must say the design of this chip is too cute! It might be good to crumble some on top of a salad or soup too.

Sushi Go – It Leaves You Craving for More

 

Yesterday, I kicked off the holiday season by co-hosting the first party of the year. We had plenty of food and played a Stealing Santa/Reindeer Ripoff/White Elephant gift exchange where everybody brings a gift, draws a card to see who goes first, and then unwraps a gift or steals someone elses’. It’s all in good fun and there were a variety gifts – A silly air blowing canon, a beautiful decanter, a set of wine, a cute warm and fuzzy blanket, gift cards, and a few board games up for grabs. I ended up getting a can of Sapporo beer and a game called Sushi Go.

I loooove sushi. In fact, last time I went with a group of friends and we split a fancy Ă  la carte style boat full of fresh sushi! Sashimi, torched sushi, maki rolls, nigiri rolls…yum!

This is why the game was so appealing to me. In fact, it was appealing to several others because it was snatched several times throughout our Stealing Santa game. Thankfully I won it! 🙂

It’s a simple game with the cutest illustrations. In short, the game is about passing cards around and accumulating the most amount of points through a series of combinations. It’s fun to play and it’s even good to play with kids (they can learn about strategy and adding). It’s also really small, so it’s easy to bring to the cottage, road trip or friend’s place. I think the only danger to this game is it leaves you craving for sushi. Have you ever played Sushi Go?

Dusty Boots Hard Root Beer

I finally found it! The drink that flies off the shelves the minute it’s stocked and has been sold out all summer – Dusty Boots Hard Root Beer!

If you like root beer and you like alcohol, this is as good as they say. It tastes exactly like the soda pop with a hint of vanilla and minimal alcohol aftertaste. It’s bubbly, smooth and delicious and pours out as a beautiful rusty crimson colour. The best part is it’s not overly sweet or too carbonated. It sort of makes me wonder what a root beer float would taste like with this (root beer + ice cream = yum!). Funny enough, the side of the label says this:

And as we know, it’s similar to Yes! All Roads Lead to Food and it’s made in Canada, like me. 😉

Signs – An American Sign Language Themed Restaurant

For my birthday ago few years ago, I went to a themed restaurant in Toronto called O. Noir. They say when you have multiple senses running simultaneously, that they’re not as heightened. O. Noir is the type of restaurant where the hired staff are visually impaired (I believe this is the politically correct term now as opposed to blind) and they guide you to your seat in complete darkness. In short, you eat in pitch blackness so that your taste buds are heightened and you are at the mercy of your waiter when you walk around in a congo-like line. It’s an interesting concept and I just so happened to end up at another similarly themed restaurant called Signs. This restaurant uses American sign language to communicate with customers as the staff that are hired are hard of hearing (deaf). It was an interesting experience because I haven’t used sign language in so long, let alone remember any of it but thankfully there were some translators available.

To order your food, you have to use the menu and mini-flip chart they provide you which shows you the symbols for each item. They requested that dining patrons avoid taking pictures of those documents, so I didn’t take any. However, what I did get pictures was of the food we had! It was a three course meal, so for appetizers I got traditionally made escargot that came with a few pieces of garlic bread. The plating reminded me of an angel for some reason. The escargot was a bit bland (I should’ve added some salt), but the garlic bread was definitely packed full of flavour and it was toasted the way I like it: golden-brown.

The main entrée that I ordered (and my friend because it was too hard to say no to this) was the two lobster tails served with gnocchi and baby spinach in a tomato-based sauce. It was a bit salty, but being a salt-fiend I am I loved the dish. The lobster tails were cooked perfectly, the meat was succulent and they technically did all the work for you by pulling it out (nobody wants to fight with their food). The gnocchi had that gummy texture to it being the made of potatoes and flour, but the tomato sauce with spinach was delicious. It was a decent portion, but I wish the plate never ended.

Saving the best for last, dessert! Again, being so tempting my friend and I ordered the same thing – a chocolate avalanche cake. It was very moist because the cake was drenched in a sugary syrup and it was huge! It was sprinkled with powdered sugar with a side of fruit in chocolate syrup. Yum!

I think these restaurants are a bit gimmicky, but if it serves delicious food and helps people with disabilities get a job – I support it. It was a bit fun to use sign language to order our food and communicate with staff. Our waiter was super enthusiastic and happy and it was a great experience. All the menu items at Signs made it difficult to choose, but all the ones I had were very tasty so I would definitely go back. Next time, I’ll have to try their jerk gnocchi, mango sorbet and frog legs!

Update: Signs has officially closed due to lack of funding.