Great food inspired by other cultures can help ease the loss of a cross-border vacation. Here, menu highlights from four new casual eateries.
Open your takeout container, close your eyes, and breathe deeply. Afghanistan, which lies between India and Iran, boasts a cuisine all its own but influenced by both its neighbours. From India come chilies, cardamom, saffron, cinnamon, and cumin, while Iran supplies the freshness of coriander and mint. Mezbaan Restaurant has been open only a year or so but is already a popular stopping spot for locals who drop by for expertly marinated kebabs served up with rice, salad, and freshly made Afghan-style naan. Their takeout options are affordable (and generous), with mains and salad packaged separately so that the latter doesn’t get soggy during the takeout journey.
Family fare: The family pack for two ($38) is a fantastic deal, with enough meat (two skewers of marinated chicken, two of minced beef), rice, and naan to feed four.
Taste adventure: Check out the menu items listed under “Authentic Dishes.” The mantu (everyone loves a dumpling!) and the Qabuli Uzbeki are highly recommended.
Sweet tooth: Firnee is a sweet milk pudding scented with rosewater and dusted with pistachios. Don’t miss it if the cook’s made a batch that day. Heavenly!
Mezbaan, 3098 Carling Ave., Unit 8
That Caribbean beach holiday may no longer be in the cards, but you can still throw together a pitcher of rum punch and get your groove on with a platter of smoky jerk chicken and a big helping of rice and beans. When the pandemic hit, Resa Solomon-St. Lewis, chef/owner of the tiny eastend Caribbean restaurant known as Capital Fare Café, did a quick pivot. So though her café kitchen isn’t new, it is being used for a new purpose — to prepare takeout for the eat-at-home crowd and spice mixes for home barbecuers under the brand name Baccanalle. This is food that is juicy, spicy, homey — jerk chicken, curries, and Jamaican-style patties with all the fixings. Lots of vegan options too.
Family fare: A shifting menu includes two or three family-style meals ($40–$50). Perfect for sharing, the whole roast jerk chicken comes with coconut rice and peas and a selection of mix-and-match sides and drinks.
Freezer fillers: Stay-at-home culture is more palatable when dinner is taken care of. The Baccanalle website boasts a “Stock the Freezer” list filled with pre-made curries, jerk chicken, and lentil soups.
Barbecue fans: The website’s “Chill & Grill Essentials” section showcases the chef’s signature spice blend, marinades, and barbecue sauce. Pretend you made them yourself.
Neighbourhood: Vanier / Viscount Alexander Park
Baccanalle, 595 Montreal Rd.
Are you craving Japanese, but have a couple of picky eaters in the family? Do we have the mashup for you! There’s a subset of cuisine in Japan known as yoshoku, a crossover that sees Japanese takes on Western classics and gives them their own spin. Hey Kitchen, a new kid on the Chinatown scene, is a master of this fusion, with menu items that will appeal to both adventurous and non-adventurous palates. Our top pick? Omurice (the Japanese word combines omelette and rice) sees a paperthin omelette wrapped around fried rice.
Cuisine: Japanese Fusion
Travel time: The rice dishes travel well, so check out menu options under the categories omurice and teppan pepper rice. Chicken cutlet omurice topped with slices of breaded chicken breast is a great option.
Snack attack: Taiwanese-style chicken wings are light and crispy.
Hey Kitchen, 710 Somerset St. W.
Mojo’s Chinese Food
Chinese-Canadian food gets a 2020 makeover at Mojo’s, which launched this past summer. A lengthy menu boasts all the favourites — General Tao chicken, Singapore noodles, chop suey, and ding — but everything’s halal! Veggie and gluten-free options too. Intriguing takes on the classic Chinese takeaway dishes, including cheese-fried rice (with St. Albert’s curds) and Shanghai noodles with soy chunks.
Cuisine: Halal Chinese
Neighbourhood: Findlay Creek / Gloucester
Mojo’s, 3-105 Shuttleworth Dr.