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!


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.

CHILE: Completo with jote

I’m in Vancouver right now, so I stopped by a new Chilean restaurant downtown – Puro Chile on Denman. They’ve got all kinds of Chilean fast food, including big meat sandwiches, hot dogs, and mixed drinks. It’s a great spot – the staff was really lovely and friendly. They’ve also got South American football going on a screen (Colombia vs Argentina, with many yellow cards!)

I ordered a completo – a big hot dog topped with sauerkraut, fresh tomato, and mayo. It was delightfully messy and hit the spot. Sauerkraut is a common topping in Chile, coming with the waves of German immigration in the 19th century.

I washed my completo down with a big glass of jote (“black vulture”) – a mixed drink that’s half red wine, half Coke. And it….was actually pretty good! The wine tones down the sweetness of the Coke, and it turns into it’s own unique brew, like a spicy sweet wine. It’s popular with students in different parts of the world – it’s called kalimotxo in Spain and motorină (“diesel fuel”) in Romania.

ALGERIA: Rechta and Boreks

There’s an Algerian restaurant not too far from my house here in Ottawa – Idriss Mediterranean – that makes all kinds of traditional Algerian dishes. There’s a lot to choose from, so I figured I’d go for gold with a big plate of rechta. Rechta is a pasta dish made with a specific type of noodle – kind of like a wider angel hair. It’s served with chicken, turnips, chickpeas, and lightly spiced with cinnamon or ras el hanout.

Wow, this is a gorgeous spread! Where do I begin? The chicken is BBQ’d to perfection, and the rechta pasta is just perfectly al dente and chewy – they’ve included an onion broth to pour over the noodles, which really makes it sing. I’m a big turnip fan, so I may have eaten all of those first. The whole dish has a light spicing of cinnamon, maybe allspice as well?

I also ordered on the side a couple boreks – these Algerian ones are more like meat-filled spring rolls than the puff pastry-based Israeli bourekas I tried a few months ago, but they’re both part of the same family of snacks from across the Mediterranean. These ones were hot out of the pan – I got two chicken and one beef (one of them may or may not have been eaten in the car). Lightly spiced meat with a tangy feta-like cheese.

Washed it down with a N’Gaous orange drink – it’s orange and apricot, and halfway between a pop and a juice – a lot like an Orangina (which I just learned also originated in Algeria!)

This is quite the spread, I’ll be picking at the leftovers for days. Between the good quality of the food and the really nice staff, I’m definitely going to go back to Idriss to try some more dishes!

ALGERIA: Pastries and dates

I feel really lucky that not only is my randomly-chosen country of the month a country renowned for its good food, but I also picked a Muslim country during Ramadan. It’s a beautiful time of celebration, and to a food-lover like me, that means there’s some really great holiday treats available right now! Here in Ottawa, you can order fast delivery of handmade pastries from Bahdja Market. They’ve got a huge variety – the downside for me is my pistachio allergy, which closes off a lot of good options, but I snagged some really special almond-based treats instead!

Qalb el Louz – This is the OG of Algerian sweets – a square of dense sweet almond and semolina cake with a strong orange blossom flavour and dripping with simple syrup. It’s sticky and chewy and doesn’t even pretend to be healthy – it’s fantastic. Comments online say it’s best served with mint tea, which seems like a lovely balance to the richness of the cake.

Dziriyat – A small but very dense pastry with also made from almonds and semolina, though it’s completely distinct from the qalb el louz. It’s sweet without being cloying and really delicious – there’s a lovely honey flavour with a bit of a lemony zip to it.

Oasis Algerian Deglet Nour datesDeglet Nour is a highly sought-after varietal of date that Algeria is famous for. These dates are lighter in colour and have a delicate honey taste – there’s something fruity and complex on the tongue as well, almost like quince. Even for someone who is not particularly a date connoisseur, I can tell these are a very nice treat.

EL SALVADOR: Sopa de pata, yuca frita con chicharron

I stopped by a Salvadoran restaurant here in Ottawa, La Cabaña, to pick up some good Salvadoran specialties. This restaurant has been open for about 25 years – the owners used to drive to Montreal to go to Salvadoran restaurants, and decided to fix the lack of access to Salvadoran food in Ottawa themselves.

While I’ve had pupusas from this restaurant before (and they’re really good!), I wanted to try some other dishes from El Salvador – sopa de pata and yuca frita con chicharron.

Sopa de pata is a traditional rustic soup that uses the meat from a cow’s foot. Everything in this soup is cut into big chunks (I kinda needed a fork) and simmered in a salty broth. There were big chunks of on-the-bone ankle meat, strips of tripe, and thick cut carrots, zucchini, and chayote. The broth is a bit citrusy, with some coriander and achiote. Very warm for a cold winter’s day here in Ottawa!

I also picked up yuca frita con chicharron – deep fried yuca (cassava) and pork belly. This is a dangerously good snack – enough for a whole meal on it’s own, especially since it comes with thick tortillas and curdito! The yuca is satisfyingly carby, a bit softer than fried potato. The chicharron is tender and deeply flavourful. They’re served mixed together, and topping them with the included lime absolutely knocks them out of the park.