UKRAINE: Varenyky and pyrizhky

I stopped by Ottawa Pierogies, a little gem of a Ukrainian deli, for some lunch to go. While I was there, I got a bit of a language lesson – while pierogies is the term used in Canada, that’s actually the Polish name. The Ukrainian name is varenyky. Likewise, when I ordered some pyrizhkhy to go, they were sold under the name perojki – possibly a Polish name as well (Canada has almost as big a Polish population as Ukrainian). So while this restaurant is Ukrainian, like many other places in Canada, it uses the Polish names for Ukrainian foods.

I picked up their “Baba’s Visit” platter – pierogies and cabbage roll of my choice, with sour cream and a vinegret salad (beet, potato, and sauerkraut). I went for the potato and cheddar pierogies, boiled and then lightly pan-fried, with a pork and meat cabbage roll. They were really really good, tender and hot pierogies, and the vinegret satisfied my beet cravings. (I made a related salad, rosolli, when I covered Finland).

I also took home two pyrizhky – hand rolls stuffed with fillings, eaten hot. I got a nice but not exciting pork and rice one, and a really good tangy potato and mushroom one. They also had frozen pierogies in less common fillings, plus other treats, so I took some home for later – but that’s for another day, I’m carb’d out!

UZBEKISTAN: Manti

I was down in Toronto this weekend, and got a chance to stop by an Uzbek restaurant. Toronto’s magic is having restaurants for almost every cuisine in the world: there’s three dedicated Uzbek spots….and they all happen to be in the same two blocks! I went for lunch at Samarkand Hall – they had fantastic decor and really friendly staff.

I went for a plate of manti – huge steamed dumplings, filled with spiced ground lamb and topped with caramelized onions and dill, with sour cream on the side. They were fantastic – I hoovered them down!

Manti are eaten throughout the Turkic-speaking world, and vary in size, filling, and topping, depending on location – Central Asian ones are usually these huge steamed dumplings, and are sometimes filled with pumpkin, cabbage, or beef, as well as lamb in Uzbekistan.

It’s likely the name manti comes from the same etymology as Chinese mantou, but mantou has shifted to mean steamed buns instead of dumplings in China. The manti I had reminded me of giant xiaolongbao in terms of shape and texture, but the flavour profile of the meat, dill, onion, and sour cream felt more Eurasian – not unlike how you serve pierogies.

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: Curry goat roti

Curry goat roti is originally from the Indo-Trinidadian community, but the pan-Caribbean nature of these dishes is really evident in how widespread they are, both in the Caribbean and among ex-pat communities.

I’ve noticed that here in Ottawa, there’s very few Caribbean restaurants that are dedicated to only one country’s cuisine – they usually focus either on the English or the French Caribbean, or even mix the two. I went to Island Flava, which was definitely English Caribbean – the menu is a mix of Jamaican and Trinidadian dishes, and the lady at the counter had a St. Lucian flag mask.

For the curry goat, I had the option of bone-in or boneless – definitely went bone-in, that’s where the flavour is. They also give the option of making it extra spicy, went for that too!

The roti is HUGE – this will definitely be both lunch and dinner. The goat is tender and falling apart, mixed with curried potatoes, and it’s lovely and spicy – made me break a sweat. This is DELICIOUS, I’m going back to try their other dishes.

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: Doubles with extra toppings and a Carib

Had a nice little takeout Trinidadian dinner – I ordered some doubles from BESS, a Caribbean restaurant near my house. Doubles are an amazing street food from Trinidad and Tobago – bara (fried dough) topped with curried chickpeas and lots of sauces. They can be served with a second bara on top, or open-faced.

The ones that I picked up had a nice tamarind sauce and cucumber chutney on them. Without any added sauces, they’re quite salty, a little bit spicy, and the flavours work together well.

I decided to boost them a little with some Trinidadian toppings from a Caribbean grocery. I added some kuchela to one of the doubles – kuchela is a pickled green mango relish with lots of spices and a bit of heat. It blended really nicely with the tamarind, adding some additional tartness.

The other double I hit with some hot sauce – Matouk’s Calypso Sauce. It’s a wonderfully spicy sauce – aged pickled Scotch Bonnet peppers are the first ingredient. It’s bright and flavourful and didn’t overpower the flavour of the double, but also was hot enough to make me break a sweat.

Washed it all down with a Carib Lager – Trinidad’s biggest beer. It’s a straightforward lager, and goes well with spicy food.

THAILAND: Keow krob and tod mun pla

Had to check out another Thai Select-awarded restaurant before the month ends! I ordered a couple appetizers from Talay Thai; keow krob and tod mun pla – I’ve never tried either before!

Keow krob is minced meat in a fried wonton skin. It seems most often to be pork, but this one is chicken. My guess is this dish has its roots in Thailand’s Chinese community, though I don’t know for sure. It’s tasty (I mean it’s a friend wonton!) and comes with a slightly sweet chili sauce.

Tod mun pla is fish cake, ground with curry paste, herbs and veggies, and then fried. They’re pretty mild in flavour and complement the sauce – a spicy and tangy fish sauce with lemongrass, peanut, and cucumber pieces. I want a big jar just of the sauce itself!

THAILAND: Som tum

I stopped by the great little Thai hole-in-the-wall (literally, you order in through a window) – Social Thai. It’s consistently rated as one of Ottawa’s best Thai restaurants. Got there just at golden hour, perfect for a little outdoors snack.

I tried the som tum – a salad of shredded green (unripe) papaya, with other veggies, cilantro, crushed peanuts, fish sauce, lime, and chilies. It’s lovely and refreshing – and wonderfully spicy. They don’t softball you here on heat, it was great – I broke a sweat. Glad I had a cold beer to go with the salad!

THAILAND: Par pia sod, satay, and grapow gai sup

After reading about the Thai Select award, I had to go try out one of the recipients – Khao Thai in Ottawa’s Byward Market. I went with a friend and oh wow, the food was great!

To start, we had the classic chicken satay and par pia sod – fresh salad rolls with marinated tofu, mint and basil, and mango. Both came with a really good peanut sauce – spicy and flavourful.

I then had the grapow gai sup (I see it elsewhere as pad grapow gai) – minced chicken and green beans with basil and chilies, with a soft egg on top of jasmine rice on the side and fish sauce with chilies. I demolished this dish, it was fantastic – spicier than it looks, and the beans adding really nice texture. I’m definitely going back, they’ve got a huge menu with the gamut of Thai dishes.

ALBANIA: Double byreks

I really like that every country on the Mediterranean has some type of pastry-and-filling dish in the burek family – and they’re all slightly different. Israeli bourekas were filled with potato, and shaped based on kosher laws, while Algerian boreks were more like spring rolls with spiced meat. And now I get to try Albania’s version – byrek!

I stopped by Hasi Bakery, a Balkan bakery here in Ottawa and scored both a ready-to-eat slice of feta and spinach byrek, as well as a whole freshly prepared meat byrek – ready for the oven! It was good timing to get in early, since they’re closed for the rest of the month.

Albanian byrek is made either as small pies or in a large pan that can be cut into pieces. It’s made of layers of phyllo pastry with a filling – cheese or meat are the classics. I first tried huge slice of feta and spinach byrek that was warm and crispy and filling and made plenty of crumbs in the car. Later, I heated up the oven for the meat byrek.

The meat byrek went in at 350F for an hour and cooked up great. I love that it’s ready-to-bake – I get all the satisfaction and lovely smell without having to wrangle with phyllo myself! There’s a nice spicing to the meat, reminds me a bit of tourtière.

I am so full.

CHILE: Empanada chilena

I decided to do a little day trip from Ottawa to Montreal this past weekend, and stopped for a snack at La Chilenita, a Chilean sandwich shop on the Plateau that specializes in empanadas. They had all sorts of flavours, but I went for the empanada chilena – the classic Chilean filling of ground beef, onions, hardboiled egg, and olives (most also include raisins, though not in this case).

The dough was great, crispy and handmade – adding olives into the filling gave it a salty punch that went with the generous amount of onion. It made a nice filling treat for what turned out to be a rainy day!

CHILE: Chacarero

I went back to Vancouver’s Puro Chile for dinner last night. Last week I tried a completo with a glass of jote, today I stopped back for a chacarero sandwich with a frosty pisco sour on the side.

A chacarero is steak sandwich topped with cooked green beans. I’ve never tried green beans before on a sandwich, but it was delicious! This one was warm shredded grilled steak, with al dente green beans, tomato, onions, jalapeno, and spicy mayo all on a focaccia-style loaf. Absolutely wonderful – sadly this specific sandwich is weekends-only but my god it was good.

I had it with a nice pisco sour – this was more Peruvian-style with egg whites (more details on Chilean vs. Peruvian pisco and my own attempt at one here) and was nicely tart with lots of lime.