Tickling Our Tastebuds at Banjara

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Indian cuisine is probably my favourite, but I rarely have people that are adventurous enough to eat it with me. I’ve walked past Banjara‘s Bloor West location regularly and the aromas are always so enticing so finally I stopped by with my friend Karol for lunch.
20130403-101957.jpgWe really wanted to try as much as we could so we had three main dishes. The waiter was very helpful in recommending new things to try so that we wouldn’t just order Tandoori or butter chicken. His personal favourite was the Shahi Shrimp ($13.99). The shrimp was cooked in coconut milk, cream and green spices. It reminded me of Thai green curry, except with more complicated flavour notes.

20130403-102012.jpgI chose the Goat Rogan Josh ($11.95), mostly because of the weird sounding name and the mention of Kashmiri-style curry which I have never tried. Kashmiri style usually contains combine paprika, fennel, ginger, salt, cumin, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric, and cayenne pepper. It was very fragrant and the goat was tender.

20130403-102019.jpgLastly, Karol wanted to try a paneer so we got the Paneer Makhani ($9.99) which is a sort of cottage cheese cooked in tomato sauce with herbs.

20130403-102032.jpgAccompanying all the curry we had saffron rice which was cooked just perfect (not too hard).

20130403-102026.jpgOh, and you can’t forget the Naan, so we got garlic naan that tasted like fancy garlic bread.

20130403-102005.jpgTo drink I had a Mango Lassi, a kind of mango shake made out of yogurt. It was great for cleansing the palette and cutting the heat in between the different dishes.
20130403-102039.jpg We couldn’t leave without also trying dessert so we shared an order of Rasmalai, described as curdled Milk balls cooked in sweet milk with saffron and pistachio flavor. Curdled milk might sound gross, but it was very light and a sweet way to end a meal. Plus, I am alive so curdled milk did not kill me.

If you’re ever looking to try out Indian cuisine for the first time, I highly recommend going to Banjara first. They have a great selection and you definitely won’t be disappointed! Don’t go to a buffet because often the spice level may not be to your tastes. When you order at Banjara, you can choose those levels. Go tickle your tastebuds now!
Banjara Indian Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Ethiopian Food and Coffee @ Pero Restaurant and Lounge

For my 25th birthday me and a few friends celebrated by venturing into some Ethiopian dining. I had walked passed Pero hundreds of times but had yet to venture in. They had pretty rave reviews on Blogto and Yelp, so it was worth a venture in.

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A few of us shared the signature Pero Platter which had lamb, chicken in red sauce, three vegetarian dishes and a green salad in the middle. In Ethiopian culture food is not eaten with forks and knives. Instead, Injera a spongey type of flat bread is used to pick up food. It was really interesting because it soaked up the aromatic sauces of all the food. Everything was pretty delicious. The Timitimo Tsebhi, a yellow lentil stew thing had a nice creamy texture, the chickpeas were eaten up right away and the chicken and lamb were delectable. Plus, who wouldn’t like a plate or utensil that could be eaten?

 
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The other thing I tried was the Special Kitfo which was a minced beef with a spice called mimita. Mimita is a blend of bird’s eye red pepper, cardamom seeds, cloves and salt. They had a little thing of it at the side that we could spice to our own liking. The dish itself was already a tiny bit spicy and very flavorful.
 
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Since we had all eaten with our hands, we were given warm water with lotus flowers to wash them in when we were finished with our meal.
 
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I had heard about the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony before and I thought since we were at a restaurant it would only be appropriate. The ceremony took couple of stages. First the beans were roasted and the host teased us (and the entire restaurant) with the fumes. While we waited for the beans to be crushed and turned into coffee, we had popcorn. I asked the host if he knew the origin of why Ethiopian’s use popcorn and he did not know. However he explained that when it is someone’s birthday they often put a type of bread on it. So, I pointed out that we were celebrating my birthday….
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… and he lit the bar on fire and gave us free lemoncello shots, which was probably more awesome than bread on popcorn.

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Then the coffee came and was served in little tiny cups. I drank it black and it wasn’t as bitter and strong as I expected it to be. Apparently it had quite a bit of caffeine because I drank two little cups and now I’m still up at 1:33am writing this post (after some alcohol and a long ride home). Anyways, for the price, the amazing service and exciting but tasty food, I am totally coming back.

Pero Restaurant & Lounge on Urbanspoon

I’m Never Buying You A Watch

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Mom told me never to buy a clock for a Chinese person. In Chinese culture, the words for “giving a clock” also sound like the ones for a funeral ritual. It also symbolizes that your time is running out and considered an offensive gesture.

When I was in high school I dated this guy for a couple of months. I saved up money for what would be our first Christmas to buy him this shiny GUESS watch. When I finally bought it, I’d take it out of the box occasionally to bask in the glory of its shininess. I gave it to him for Christmas and he was delighted. However, it stopped working after a week and a little while later we broke up. 14 year old me was devastated.

In college, I found the perfect gift for the vest-wearing guy I was with at the time. It was a pocket watch. The back had a hole that displayed the inner-workings of the ticking clock. The outside was a shiny silver with interesting carvings and the innards were gold. It was wind-up power so it never needed battery. I’m 88% I got it engraved. Anyways, I gave it to him, the spring broke and a week later he broke up with me for another girl. In hindsight, he was probably an asshole.

Now fast-forward and I am with somebody who appreciates me for me and I am the happiest I have been for years. Nash, you are stuck with me forever because I’m never buying you a watch.

Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu

The place may sound like a caucasian’s attempt to speak Chinese but it is a pretty decent Korean restaurant at the heart of Koreatown in Toronto. The restaurant is known for its tofu soup and there are only 9 items on the menu with most of them just being variations of the soup. None of the items are over $9.

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I ordered the Seafood Soon Tofu + Dolsotbab in medium heat. It had chunks of oyster, mussels, shrimp and of course tofu. There was a raw egg for me to crack into the soup while it was hot. The tofu was pretty melt in your mouth and even my tofu-hating boyfriend liked it. It was served with purple rice which was scooped out of a stone pot for me. The stone pot was then filled with water. I originally thought this was a way for the restaurant to keep the pots clean but I discovered its actually Koreans call Noo roong ji, where dried rice is purposely mixed with water to become some kind of “burnt rice snack”. I guess I’ll have to try that next time.

Nash dug into it before I took a picture
Nash dug into it before I took a picture

Nash ordered Stone Pot Bibimbop which was the standard beef stone pot with veggies and an egg on top.

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We had four sides on the table to go along with the dishes. Kimchi, pickled vegetables, beans and beans sprouts. For meals under $10 a person this was flavourful and definitely filling!

Buk Chang Dong Soon Tofu on Urbanspoon

More Than Sandwiches At Banh Mi Boys

Banh Mi Boys have been quite the hype around Toronto for the past little while. We were in the area for a concert recently and finally decided to try it. The menu was pretty extensive for Banh Mi sandwiches. I didn’t know you could put more than just ham in them! I ordered the Five Spice Pork Belly Bahn Mi.

The sandwich was was way bigger than I thought for a price of $5.99. Delicious sweet pork belly was sandwiched into the traditional Vietnamese sandwich ingredients of pickled carrots, radishm cilantro and cucumber.

Nash ordered the Braised Beef Cheek Bahn Mi. The baguette was filled with meat! Even with just the sandwiches we would have been stuffed.

However, not knowing what the portions was like before we ordered (remember we’re big eaters), I also had the Kimchi Fries. Yes you heard right. Kimchi on fries. Oh, and pulled pork. These 3 ingredients don’t normally sound like things that go together, but it did. And it was pretty damn addictive. I gobbled most of it up. The fries and 2 sandwiches was way too much food for the both of us though.

For a fad restaurant, I expected the prices to be way higher than they were. I’m glad it isn’t because they offer a nice selection of sandwiches as well as tacos and steamed baos. My only concern about the place is that you have to prey like a hawk for seating in their small squishy location.

Banh Mi Boys on Urbanspoon

Delicious Things at Tacos El Asador

One day the Exclaim! office all ordered tacos, and they looked delicious so I asked them where they were from and immediately went right after. Tacos El Asador fit in perfectly for my continuous journey of eating all things adventurous and ethnic.

The atmosphere was friendly and the staff helped me interpret what some of the things on the menu were. An interesting thing to note about the Annex establishment is that it’s not entirely Mexican food, but a Salvadorian interpretation of Mexican food as the name of the place suggests. This is why there are all those silly reviews on yelp or urbanspoon complain about it being different! I first walked into this place a month ago, and I’ve already been back 4 or 5 times.

Jalapenos and Salsa

If you eat in, your table automatically gets a giant bowl of jalapeno, coriander, onion and yellow pepper mix as well as a spicy salsa. It’s really hard not to pick at the mix when waiting for food, even if the seeds can get you heated!

Burrito and Enchilada

Nash likes to get the $10 combo that includes a burrito and an enchillada or quesadilla and a drink. The burrito by itself, is already enough to fill a person!

Fish Tacos

My favourite are the fish tacos. The fish combined with avocado, salsa and carmelized onions have a lovely creamy texture that melts in the mouth.

Crunchy Taco

Tacos come in crunchy or soft and in a variety of meats including chicken, pork, beef and chorizo. I tried chorizo which is like a spicy pork sausage, but I wasn’t completely a fan. It was a little dry. They tasted better with chicken (or fish!). I love that they double wrap both kinds of tacos to prevent any sauce leakage or have back up for accidental breakage.

Enchilada

Their take on the enchiladas was interesting. They were done in a kind of Honduran style with the black bean almost like a spread on the tacos which were served open face, instead of wrapped in rolls with sauce on top.
Pupusa

Pupusas were one thing I learned about for the first time when coming here. They are a truly Salvadorian dish and was almost like their take on a fried crepe of some sort! I had one filled with pork and it was served with sauce that reminded me of marinara.

Tamale

Lastly, I also tried the chicken tamales. They reminded me of sticky rice wrapped in a banana leaf that my grandmother used to make, except this was with corn and chicken. It may appear small, but one of these things definitely fills you up.

What I love most about this place is the price. All menu items are around $3, so you can mix it up and have multiple items. For the price, the food is fresh and delicious. When I have time (and the budget) I’ll hit up Grand Electric to compare, but I think I may end up favouring Tacos El Asador. I don’t care about pretension, only how things fare on the taste meter and if it doesn’t hurt the wallet, it’s a double win.

Tacos El Asador on Urbanspoon

Soups @ Owl of Minerva

I always wanted to try Korean pork bone soup and there was probably no where better to try it than Korea Town’s Owl of Minerva which I have previously read about on BlogTO.

Pork bone soup known as “Gamjatang” was listed on the menu for only $6.20. Since the price was so low, I assumed it would be a small portion so I included the $3 add on of dumplings and noodles.

Not only was the portion pretty large and comparable to that of Pho, but it also came with a bowl of rice and a few sides. The soup was chocked full of pork. I expected a single pork bone, but there were many and the meat was fall off the bone tender. The red colour meant it was spicy, however it was a manageable heat. I totally did not need the add-ons though, there was plenty to eat for $6.20.

We never order the same thing (because that is silly), so Nash got the “Kalbitang” also known as Short-Rib Soup.


It came in a white broth that had a black pepper and garlic aroma. Ingredients included green onions, short ribs, onions, egg and glass noodles, which were very tricky to pick up! I have to admit I like my soup a bit better.

For under $20 the meal was filling and tasteful. We will definitely go back to try the non-soup dishes of which there are plenty!

Owl of Minerva on Urbanspoon

Soupstock 2012


Yesterday I attended Soupstock at Woodbine Park. There were over 40,000 people in attendance trying out soups from 85 different booths. Bands also played in support of their land. The festival existed to raise funds to stop and raise awareness for the high-land mega-quarry. To put it shortly, the Highland companies want to blast a pit deeper than the Niagara falls in more than 2300 acres of farm land in Ontario. It would also require tons of water to be removed from the pit every day, water that people who live downstream from it need. All this just for some limestone. Though many people (including myself) originally came just for the soup, most learnt about and supported the cause.

Nash signing a giant petition.

Soup tickets were $10 for 3 and me and Nash bought 6 altogether. I brought my own bowls from home. I brought these old ugly ones because we chucked them away before heading off to a concert for the night. The first soup we had was a Pumpkin, squash and pear soup.

Pumpkin, squash and pear soup

The booth was in a corner, and lines were non-existent, but it was actually one of my favourites. I generally love butternut squash soup but this was perfect in texture. It was bursting with flavour and the hint of pear was lovely. It wasn’t something we immediately tasted, but when thought about, it was definitely there.

Next we braved a line at the Rock Lobster soup tent.

disappointing lobster soup

We both unanimously decided that it was definitely not worth the wait. The broth was too thin, and almost water-like. It was also pretty flavourless, or rather had a strange after taste that felt like spicy, but was definitely not spicy. There were a handful of mini lobster pieces, but not enough for it to have been worth the long line.

Chili
Chilli

After that thin soup, I wanted something with more substance so we tried the chili. It wasn’t spicy, but they had plenty of hot sauce at their station to add whatever amount of heat was desired. We dabbed quite a bit and enjoyed the filling beans, meat and cheese combo.

Susur Lee serving me soup

Up until this point we were just wandering about looking at the stands without a map, but while in line for chili, I heard one of my favourite food network chefs Susur Lee was serving soup! I haven’t been to his restaurant yet (not in my budget) but I have tried a couple of his items at various other food festivals. Sunday he was serving hot and sour soup!

Hot and sour soup

To be honest, I’m not regularly a fan of hot and sour soup. I always thought it was one of those fake Asian foods made for white folk. However Susur’s was delicious! There were a ton of flavours going on including a mouthful of flowery coriander. The ingredients in his soup reminded me of shark fin soup (which I have had plenty as a kid), without the shark fin.

Since the lobster soup was a fail, we decided not to judge a soup by its line. Instead for the last two, we went to booths with virtually no line at all. The first was the Fraser Cafe which had a lemongrass noodle soup.

Lemongrass noodle soup

There was a strong flavour of lemongrass, and pieces of it were visible in the soup. The noodles were thin and soaked up the flavour. Strangely, it almost kind of reminded me of the pumpkin soup in aftertaste.
Lastly, we got a potato leek soup with sweet breads in it.
Potato leek w/ sweetbreads

Sweetbreads, just as a reminder is weird organ meat. We’ve tried it once before at last year’s Food and Wine festival. The potato leek soup was perfectly thick. The sweetbreads were thick and this time, we didn’t mind the texture at all. In this soup it was a soft meaty delicacy.

Though I hope the mega-quarry doesn’t happen, I hope another Soupstock does, even if to raise support for another cause. It was a lovely Sunday, with a lovely mixture of happy people, food and music.

Pho Hung- The Junction

I’ve been to other Pho Hung locations including the one in Chinatown and the other in the Annex, although I’m not sure if the latter exists any more due to redevelopment projects in the area.

The one in the Junction may not be of the same owners as I have yet to see the location listed on their website. It was much nicer renovated than the other places I’ve been to and they had fancier shaped plates. The prices are very similar to other Pho locations with most meals being between $6-9.

Hue-style noodle

My favourite so far has been their Hue-style noodle soup. It has a bit of a kick to it (as indicated by the red broth), some thicker noodles. It’s also packed full of meat. I ignored the fact there was a pig foot in my soup though. That thing is too hard to eat. Otherwise, its so nice to have as the weather gets colder.

shredded pork vermicelli

We’ve also tried the vermicelli dishes. The portions here are a bit smaller than normal, but the meat is always flavourful and there is plenty of little shredded peanuts. They don’t skimp on the bowls of fish sauce either (or any of the sauces for that matter).

Sugar cane shrimp, sausage and chicken vermicelli

Me and Nash are used to places with way bigger portions, so sometimes we wander around for desert after. I have yet to try just regular Pho here, but I am sure I will soon. The food is cheap and good here, but don’t expect the normal sized portions!

Mexican Food at La Revolucion

Last week we dropped by La Revolucion at the corner of Keele and Dundas in the Junction. The place is very modestly decorated and I didn’t know at the time, but there is also a back room that holds live shows sometimes.

I ordered the Chicken mole enchiladas. Usually I’d be turned off by brown mush on my food (and I was totally hesitant), but when I tasted it, it was quite the experience in my mouth. Traditionally mole has around 20 different spices and I definitely tasted a variety in these enchiladas. I gobbled it all up.

Nash had the taquitos which were brighter in colour (more appetizing looking). They were crunchy and delicious.

Maybe we’re just giant eaters but I kind of wish there were bigger portions. I guess we were supposed to order more than just one dish each. The food is fresh and delicious but a tiny bit pricey if you’re on a budget!

La Revolucion on Urbanspoon