Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ematei Japanese Cuisine - extended lunch in the Entertainment District

Lunch Special Bento Box - Ematei
I've eaten Ematei's food twice but only eaten in once.  My lovely cousin H brought over Sushi all the way to the westend so she could keep me company with lil T one night.  The other time, I popped over during a slow day for some lunch.  It's a bit of a hike from the office for lunch but I'm always willing to try to find some good sushi.  It was my goal anyhoo today, but in the end, I had Udon.

H is always up for lunch so it's nice if I have a bit of extra time around noon to give her a call to meet up.  She's eaten at Emi Tei a few times and recommended it because they have a lunch special.  I'm always griping about the price of sushi in Toronto which is exacerbated by the dearth of Lunch combo specials.  Who wants to pay 30 bucks on a few rolls at lunch?

Emi Tei is tucked away just north of Queen Street on St. Patrick.  I got lost coming over so after much pain in heels I found it.  I rushed to sit down to a waiting cousin in the back so I missed the Lunch display at the front.  That is critical, apparently.  The menu is very cryptic and terse.  The Japanese side seemed to have more words but for us, we had to ask the waitress what was in the Specials.  Note on authenticity, most of the staff here are exchange students so their English is poor to not so poor.  Trying to have our server try to describe what an Oshinki Roll is was a bit... awkward.  Thing is I know what an Oshinki Roll is but she was so soft spoken, I couldn't catch it.  All of this could have been avoided if I hadn't gotten lost and gotten blisters on my feet and had to rush to sit down, and had taken the time to look a the sample plates of the Specials of the day at the front door.  :^D.

Tempura Udon - Ematei
They actually didn't have too many Sushi Specials per se.  They had some combos that were on the pricey side for Lunch.  Not that I can't afford it, so I'm clear.  But on principle, try not to spend more than pre tax of 15 bucks on the main dish for lunch.  You're looking at a final bill after tip of nearly 30 bucks if you do;  15 bucks for 10-12 pieces of sushi is too much for lunch.  The few combos they did have that were in the 12-15 range all had what I call, filler rolls: Kappa (Cucumber), Oshinki (Pickle) or small Tekka (Tuna).  That said, I'll give them some kudo on authenticity.  They did not have alot of the trendier or themed rolls.  They could and I like some and some not, but they chose to keep it 'simple'.  The Sushi that H brought over a few weeks ago, mainly Nigiri and a couple of Maki, were yummo.  Nice sized pieces and the rice had decent flavour.  Mmmm Unagi (eel), I love Unagi.  Theirs was not drowned in terrible congealed sauce like I've seen in others.

They had a Bento Box that was well priced but the protein was a Chicken Katsu and they wouldn't sub the Ebi which was the same price.  Oh well.  H got the Bento special.  It came with a small Salad, nice sized Tempura plate, Miso, Steamed Rice and a small Oshinki Roll. Great deal.  They even gave her the sauce on the side.  The amount of Tempura for the box was surprising too.

In the end I ordered the Udon because their Tempura looked so good and their Sushi was not Lunch friendly prices.  This is the first time I've had this.  I've always been curious about putting wonderful crispy Tempura in a Soup.  I mean, do you eat the Tempura really fast?  There's nothing in the soup other than the broth and the noodles.  I decided to eat as I went.  Some Tempura was still crispy and some got soggy but in a comforting way like dumplings.  The thing that was a stand out for me was the Tempura Shitaki Mushroom.  This was the first time EVER that I've had a cooked Shitake Mushroom that wasn't rubbery.  I gingerly bit into it worried that I'd have to pull away carefully so as not to splatter myself with broth.  I needn't have worried.  It was very tender.  The broth was okay.  It had good flavour but I thought it tasted like one component was instant.  It had a slight after taste I can't pinpoint.  But, in general, it was a nice lunch.

Service: mostly ESL exchange students.  Be patient and check out the display
Ambiance: cozy Japanese bistro
Cost: $$$

Ematei Japanese Restaurant
Entertainment District
30 St Patrick St
Toronto, ON
(416) 340-0472

 Ematei Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Coffee Tree Roastery - Inconsistent and Pricey

D needs his coffee.  It's not a morning shot for him, it's a ritual.  We have a coffee machine that occupies a good portion of our kitchen counter.  It took me weeks to figure it out.  He's moved it all over the world with him.  So when we moved in to our new place and we were stocking up on our pantry items, and I suggested grocery store beans, he looked at me like I had suggested he go Vegetarian.

Good coffee beans needn't be expensive.  Don't assume that the high price tag is any indication.  On average, some of the best coffee beans we've bought cost around 14-15$/lb.  So it was a bit surprising that this little place on Bloor West would average 18-20 / lb for their standards and more for their specialty beans!  We've tried two types so far, their Espresso Beans and a Costa Rican drip Bean.  The Espresso Beans were VERY bitter and a tad burnt.  The Costa Rican has been pretty good for drip but at 20$/lb, too expensive for my goto drip.

A customer side note, for a place where the beans are so chaching, it was very annoying to have creditcards requiring a minimum 20$ purchase and a debit minimum  of 5$.  Come one.  I'd sooner go to Starbucks, yeah I said it.  D on a mission to get me off the supermarket stuff when he's out of town went in and bought it on his debit since I walked out on principle :D cost of doing business as far as I'm concerned!

Service: aloof and annoying to be told I could go down the block to an ATM if I didn't want to use my debit.
Ambiance: cozy coffee shop
Cost: $$$$

Coffee Tree Roastery 
Bloor West Village
2412 Bloor St W
Toronto, ON
(416) 767-1077
Coffee Tree Roastery on Urbanspoon


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ninki - Disappointing Overpriced Lunch Sushi - Toronto Financial District

Leather Chewy Cold Handroll Combo -  Ninki Sushi
When my cousin asked me if I were up for Sushi for lunch, my answer was swift, concise and completely true: "Always".  You can always ask me if you need someone to eat Sushi with and I am there.  I may have just eaten Sushi and you could ask me and I will say 'I am there'.

I had a busy day at work and it was OPPRESSIVELY hot out so I asked H to pick a place on the 'Path'.  The underground network connecting most of Toronto's downtown core.  She picked Ninki but then retracted after reading some of the bad reviews.  She sent a couple more suggestions over but they were either too far for this busy day and or 'off the Path'.  We caved in under the circumstances and my stubbornness about not wanting to sweat in my work clothes and chose Ninki.

Unfortunately, H mapped the destination whilst walking down instead of reading our email thread and went to the other Ninki kiddie corner from the one on King Street.  Since I get lost in the Path very easily, H came down to me.  Too bad.  I really should have gone to her.  She had already had time to sit and read the menu and we discovered that even though they are the SAME chain, SAME menu, ACROSS the street from one another, the one I was waiting at had prices 20-30% higher.  H had already picked the Hand Roll Combo and was shocked to see the price differential.  If we hadn't already ordered our drinks, we would have walked out.  Grrrrrrr.

Bland Pinenut Roll - Ninki Japanese Cuisine
This is the shopping level of the Scotia Plaza so it is incredibly loud. Not only is the concourse noisy but since the restaurant doesn't have proper walls and is crowded for lunch, it is extra loud.  That is exacerbated by the tight seating.  I'm fine with having to share tables if that's the concept but what is the point of having separate TEENY TINY bistro tables that you practically have to balance your Tea on your lap to have one plate, if you're going to be 1 inch away from your neighbour?  Seriously.  We were in each others laps and conversations.

Salmon Sushi Pizza on a old cold Rice patty - Ninki Japanese Cuisine
After grumbling about the sky high prices for lunch Sushi, we ordered.  H had her Hand Roll Combo and I had the Pine Nut Roll and Salmon Sushi Pizza.  You would think that since they are so busy, that it would be good for the customer.  That the high turnover that the food would be fresh and made to order.  Nope.  They went the other way with it.  They over prepare ahead.  Booo.  The Handrolls were wrapped in soggy, leather chewy Nori, which happens when the Nori sits next to moist Rice too long and the Rice was dried out. The Pine Nut roll sounded like a good idea but the Nori was equally chewy, the Rice was bland and the sauce was unnecessary.  The Salmon Sushi Pizza was the biggest disappointment.  It seemed like a great idea at first.  Vancouver's idea of a Sushi Pizza is basically a deconstructed or 'unravelled' Maki Roll, laid flat.  Ninki uses a crispy Rice puck as the crust.  Sounds yummo right?  Well not when it's STONE COLD and old.  It had clearly been made early in the morning or even the night before.  The tempura coating was not crispy at all and the rice was 'hard'.

I may always be up for Sushi but I will never be up for Ninki again.

Service:  indifferent and slow
Price: $$$-$$$$
Ambiance: as loud as a train station
Kid friendly: NO WAY, barely enough room for my purse which sat in my lap.

Ninki Japanese Cuisine
40 King Street West
Scotia Plaza Concourse Level
Toronto, ON M5H3Y2
(416) 368-7333
Ninki Japanese Cuisine on Urbanspoon


Monday, July 23, 2012

Finally Found Fresh Pasta in Toronto - Queen's Pasta

Antipasti Pesto Wholewheat BBQ Pizza
Who would have thought that finding fresh pasta in Toronto would be so difficult.  I posted on Twitter and asked around.  Apparently, little Italy on College isn't really the Italian culinary centre anymore.  Well, not for the really authentic stuff.  I dragged D last week to an Italian market way out in Mississauga just so we could try and find Truffle Oil and other goodies.  We didn't find Truffle Oil nor Fresh Pasta, weird.

I finally asked a co-worker who lives in the Junction for a recommendation.  She quickly recommended Queens Pasta Cafe on Bloor.  I called them and asked if they also sell their Pasta alone and they sent me to their Factory store in south Etobicoke off Royal York south of the Gardener.  Seriously, this is where I have to get fresh Pasta?  Well, may as well load up then.

We bought a couple of stuffed Pasta's and a Pizza dough.  Their pasta is made on sight as well as their sauces and doughs.  With the exception of a few pastas in their chiller cabinet like noodles and Lasagna sheets, the rest of their vast menu is frozen, fresh.  I'm not fussed as long as they made it on site.  There was at least 10 varieties of just the stuffed to choose from and in addition, another dozen other pasta.  Most of the fresh Pasta places in Vancouver were frozen as well except they were defrosted for daily sales.  I know because we often got there early enough to still buy it frozen.  And more often then not, it wasn't made on sight so runs the risk of being frost bit.  Still, odd, that Vancouver would have more outlets for fresh Pasta then Toronto.  sigh.

The staff here is courteous and informed.  Funny note, their portion size is 25% larger than Vancouver.  That doesn't mean a deal per se since you pay by the weight.  But we used to order two portions and we knew we  were buying 400g (~1lb) of fresh pasta.  At Queens, they consider that default order to be 500g.  I've ordered 450g in the past when D isn't there to rein me in and I end up being stuffed.  400 g is perfect really with the sauce and salad you may have.

They also supply the Queen's Pasta Cafe which my friend raves about as well.  I'll post the eaten reviews shortly.  I'm just so pleased to have found an outlet for my Stuffed Pasta needs. We've only tried the Pizza Dough so far.  For 3$, there was enough dough for two very large thin crust pizzas.  We had the choice of Plain, Whole Wheat or Sundried Tomato.  The dough had a good flavour, not like the typical bland storebought.  It rolled thin, nicely and it wasn't crispy but it wasn't bready so it worked really well.  Frankly, according to D, at $3, we would be hard pressed not to use their dough over our making ourselves anymore.  If only I could get D to roll it outside so I'm not cleaning up the flourstorm inside the kitchen tool.  We made 1 with Pesto and jarred Eggplant, Artichoke, Anchovie and lots of fresh Basil.  The second was a classic red with Mushrooms, Peppers, Onions with segregated proteins.  Since the dough cooks really fast (2-3 minutes a side) before topping, D likes to grill the fresh Veg in a BBQ wok before putting them on the pizza.  See my BBQ Pizza post.  We haven't tried the pasta yet.  Stay tuned.

Half Pepperoni and half Fake-on (soy Bacon)

Queen's Pasta (Factory Outlet)
66 Newcastle St
Toronto, ON
(416) 259-2902
Queen's Pasta on Urbanspoon
It's a shop: so rating price and selection


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Eggplant (Aubergine) Heaven - Portable Vegetarian Food Finally - Falafel World

I find it very difficult as a vegetarian to find tasty portable food that doesn't need refrigeration. I'm so tired of Cheese Sandwiches, Cold Vegetable Sandwiches, Falafel Wraps, muffins or buns.. I mean there obviously options in the world but not easily accessible wherever I go.

One day out with our new amazing realtor, (I love our realtor. After so many lazy Vancouver realtors who do nothing but send me automated listings, it's wonderful to have one who hustles, works hard and listens to us!!!), she realised we'd been out since the morning and we needed lunch. In my mind, I was sighing. I really hate, hate eating something I don't want to eat. It's why I have to read menus before we go out for dinner because I will walk out. It saves D alot of aggravation. So here we were, hungry and on the road. She raved about her local Falafel place. Sigh, I used to love Falafel and still like it but don't like bad Falafel. Plus, I wasn't in the mood. She remembered I mentioned very briefly while talking about something else, that I was a vegetarian (see, listens) and told me they have a great Eggplant Sandwich. Excuse me? Eggplant? *insert appropriate over used Jerry McGuire quote here*. I love love love Eggplant. What is better than Nicely roasted Eggplant in a sandwich? Well, lots of Yummo roasted Eggplant in a sandwich. I'll admit it is a touch oily but the Eggplant is so well cooked and nutty, it is a welcome treat. Heaped with Tabbouleh and Hummous, I always pass on filler lettuce, it was an amazing, satisfying Vegetarian lunch on the go.

D had the Chicken Shwarma which he said was also very Yummo. We got one for our realtor and were ready to hit the road for the rest of the day. The one tip I would give you is to not get it 'Spicy' unless you are eating in or taking home. You know I love spicy but they use chili oil and not chili sauce so it drips and was quite messy. Luckily we grabbed lots of napkins and our realtor had a box of tissues in her car.

We have been back a few times together and I have gone back several times for lunch when I work from home. I discovered my new favourite menu item that is not on the menu. I was behind a cop in line once and he ordered the 'Jenina' sandwich. I watched with intrigue as she spread hummous, heaped in Eggplant, topped it with Lentils and Fried Onions.....oh yeah, that's for me! I have had the Jenina a few times now and put my own chili sauce on at home. I alternate with the all Eggplant when I need my Aubergine fix.

Oh did I forget the best part? Sandwiches are $5 even just the sandwich. Well, in the summer of 2012, it was. We've eaten in with Lil T while grocery shopping. They have high chairs and booster seats. It is tight for strollers but no one minds. The loo is in the basement which always creeps me out but we don't stay long enough to use it. I go regularly and have seen them make the Falafel to order using a traditional scooper (looked like a copper ice cream cone). No pre-made balls you throw in the fryer. I recommend this family joint that knows my realtor by name because she's in there so often, over others along Bloor West.

Ambiance: aged diner
Service: welcoming and friendly
Cost: $
Baby friendly: yes for attitude but no for toilets

Falafel World 
Bloor West Village
2396 Bloor St W
Toronto, ON M6S1P5
(416) 769-9336
Falafel World on Urbanspoon


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Best Canadian Croissant - Patisserie 27

Almond Croissant - Patisserie 27
I remember the first time I had a 'real' croissant.  I was in university and we drove down to Boston from Montréal to visit my French (France) friend's folks.  She bought a box of Croissants for her parents from a Belgian bakery near Park Avenue.  Being French, she explained, she and her family are super particular about their Croissants.  That bakery is the only place she's found that had truly authentic Croissants and her family agreed enough to have her bring them down whenever she visits.  That, I assume, tells me that there was a similar dearth of REAL Croissants in Boston.  Don't be so surprised.  It's not easy.  I mean even I'd only been exposed to supermarket or local generalist bakery Croissants.  Think about good Bagels.  I would still argue that you will not find a REAL bagel anywhere in Vancouver or Toronto.  Solly's comes close but really Montreal and New York are where I stock up and freeze.  Thus, I rarely buy Croissants or eat them in continental breakfast buffets.  It's just disappointing.  Occasionally if a bakery or patisserie smells right, I'll give it a go but have not found one blog-worthy, until now.

When I moved to Bloor West recently, my cousin H came to help on moving day.  There was little to do in the morning while the guys unloaded the furniture first.  She decided to go for a coffee run for everyone.   She came back with coffee for everyone, including the movers, how nice!  For us, she brought back some savoury Croissant/Danish.  One Spinach and Cheese and a Mushroom.  I recognised the skill of a wonderfully flaky, buttery and flavourful pastry right away.  The big fluffy ones from the supermarkets usually look great but lack that depth of flavour.   The ones from Patisserie 27 on Jane were just gorgeous.

On Sundays lil T wakes me up bright and early on the weekend despite my explaining to him that he should sleep in, his being a one year old, he refuses to cooperate.  So rather than staying cooped up with him bored until the world wakes up, I take him for a stroll after his breakfast.   I normally just have toast or cereal for breakfast except on weekends. This Sunday, all on my own, I decided to walk him down to Patisserie 27 and  I arrived a tad early and found a couple of folks waiting outside the closed door.  7am and there's a line up.  Wow.  Just  a couple of dudes looking for their Coffee and Pain au Chocolate fix.  Understandable.  Shortly after I ordered a mom popped in with her three kids for their breakfast.  This was all before 8am.  Glad I got there early.

Patisserie 27
I ordered a Plain Croissant and an Almond.  I loved their savoury but decided the best way to assess a good Patisserie is by their Plain Croissant and their Baguette.  I get the Almond because, well actually I wanted their Chocolate Almond but they weren't ready.  But I often get the Almond because my sister O is on a mission of her own.  When she was studying Architecture in Montréal, a women ran a small coffee counter in their student lounge.  She used to bring in baked goods from her neighbourhood patisserie.  O was addicted to the Almond Croissants.  She has been on a search for a comparable for over 10 years.  I'll have to take her to Patisserie 27 when she visits next.  I also ordered a coffee since I decided to keep walking while we were out anyway.  Happily, they were brewing a new pot, I guess they brew themselves some while setting up for the day.  She offered me fresh coffee without my having to ask.

I sat in their modest dining area of two tables and munched on my Plain while I waited for my Coffee. I gave lil T a few bites which he ate with zeal.  It was incredibly flaky and buttery.  Baked on site, it was very fresh and reminded me of the dozen Croissant me and a friend devoured one morning while backpacking in the Loire Valley.  We had popped out from our B&B for 1 quick pastry before setting off for the day.  We ate 1 and immediately ordered 12 more.  I could easily have done that today too.  It was wonderful.

The Almond I saved for later because I didn't want to lose any of the crunchy Almond's decorating the top to the sidewalk.  It was equally flaky and buttery.  It had a light, light glaze which adhered the chopped Almonds to the top.  The only thing I wasn't a fan of was that instead of baking the Marzipan filling inside, they slice them open and spread the filling inside.  I only noticed when I started to pull it part.  There's something to baking the filling with the Croissant.  Yeah it makes the inside a bit more soggy but I love  the aroma the Almond gives the pastry.  Still, I will have to let my sister be the judge.  The Macaron called to me as I took the photos but maybe nextime.

I can honestly say this might be one of the best Croissant I have had in Canada.  I'll have to reserve the best croissant I've ever had rating to the ones I had in Tours, Loire Valley. Aaaaaaa

Ambiance: Clean yet cozy patisserie
Service: very friendly and courteous
Kid Friendly: yes for a pop in but no facilities
Cost: $-$$

Patisserie 27 
Bloor West Village
401 Jane St
Toronto, ON
(416) 762-2103
 Patisserie 27 on Urbanspoon
(One of my highest ratings)

Macarons - Patisserie 27

Friday, July 13, 2012

Baby's First Kalbi - Korean Baby Food

Baby's First Kalbi
Lil T will eat just about everything.  Oddly enough though, I've definitely noticed a pattern in his disinterest in 'leftovers'.  I work so I tend to prepare his food for a few days.  I steam a bunch of Broccoli or other veg for a few meals ahead of time.  The day of, he will eat his green veg like it's candy.  By day 3, he's throwing it at me saying what I believe is 'bat' or bad.  Sigh.  I don't have the same issue with fruit though.  He'll eat anything sweet with gusto.  Proteins? Well, it's similar to the Veg situation.  He doesn't really like it on day 3.  Man! Who's kid is he anyway?  I love leftovers.  Since vegetarian food can be a bit labour intensive, I used to make big batches and eat it for a few days; soups, salads, stews, sauces.  D on the other hand regards leftovers differently.  He doesn't like to eat something two days in a row but he'll keep leftovers longer than I would.  So what's up with lil T and his aversion to the refridgerated treasure trove.  I reckon he picked it up while we were living with my folks for a few weeks when we moved to #Toronto.  Mom is a zealot about fresh food.  My dad has never had a leftover in his married life.  Lil T better get over it tout suite!

I've been easing the lil dude into 'real' food though.  What I mean is that I'll give him steamed veg or grilled meats or Tofu but I've been very careful about Asian sauces since they tend to have alot of additives.  He's had our Tomato sauce which he adores but Asian food is difficult.  He can't have anything too spicy nor too Salty.  I searched for a while for Organic Soy Sauce with no success.  D said I should use mom's soy sauce.  She makes it from scratch.  I said, well, while I know she's not adding any preservatives, I think she used too much Salt and since she buys her soybeans at the market in bulk, I'm fairly certain they're not Organic or nonGMO.

I have since conceded on the organic bit and at least insisted he get Low Sodium Soy.  I started by sprinkling a bit on his Organic Brown Rice and he just shovelled it in with both hands.  I then asked mom to make some Kalbi for him with Low Sodium Soy.  She also went the extra mile and reduced the amount of sugar.  She's been using Raw or Brown Sugar instead of White for a while but she started to cut that back and replace it with Apple or Pear purée.  That made me particularly happy.  I cooked one bone's worth in the toaster oven on a sheet pan at 375 for 11 minutes.  It's fairly thin so it cooks quickly. 

Success!  Lil dude devoured it with two hands full at all times.  I cut it up into tiny bits.  He only has two teeth for the moment.  You can feel his molars just under the surface so he's never had an issue with chewing.  D reckons he liked the sweetness of the Kalbi marinade.  In anycase, after having him throw some grilled simple Organic Flank Steak at my face last week, I was thrilled. 

 Now I know the food in the photo looks like alot but I cooked extra vegetables in case he didn't like the Kalbi.  I needn't have worried.  He was double fisting while still chewing.  He didn't touch the Sweet Potato.

Side note.  I'm having mom and dad talk to him in Korean but they've both been here for so long that they speak a brutal Korglish.  I have to keep reminding them to say Guk-soo instead of Noodle or Bego-pa-yeo? instead of Hungry-ya-yeo? The one thing I've had to ask my mom to avoid in Korean is Baby Talk for food.  Food in Korean is 'Bap' which also means Rice, probably because we have Rice at every meal.  I still feel funny if I don't get a starch.  Anyhoo, Baby Talk for Food is not 'Bap' which is easy for lil T to say since he only says B words right now, it's 'Mamah'.  My mom insists up and down that Mamah and Mama are different.  Brutal.  But it's confusing for me and T when my mom asks him if he wants 'Mamah'. 

Next up will be some #Korean BBQ Chicken... (similar to Teriyaki).

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Trinidadian Breakfast - Saltfish Buljol and Smoked Herring with Bake

Saltfish Buljol with Bake and Poached Eggs - Speyside, Tobago
I love the diverse melting pot that is Caribbean cuisine, particularly in Trinidad.  The strong East Indian influence and European influences mixed with the abundant tropical foods is pure awesomeness for me.  What was a shame was that at our hotel on Tobago, the Blue Waters Inn I mentioned is struggling to find it's stride as a tourist destination makes the common annoying mistake of offering more international choices than local.  Really? Mexican buffet dinner? Really? In Tobabo?

Anyhoo, at least at breakfast, we could count on some local fare, well almost.  For some odd reason, though we were a mere few feet from the ocean, they were totally out of seafood that wasn't preserved.  No flying fish or Shark Bacon.  Booo!  They did thankfully have Saltfish Buljol and Smoked Herring.  It is typically served in a heaping serving fried with Onions and Bell Peppers with a side of fried Bake.  We ordered Eggs on the side.  I asked about the Potatoes that were on the menu but ... ? they were out... of Potatoes.  Really? 

Smoked Herring with Bake and Sunny Eggs - Speyside, Tobago
The Smoked Herring was yummo!  A tad oily as was the Saltfish but it was aromatic and flavourful.  The Saltfish however, was a bit over soaked the first time I had it wish leaves very bland.  Salting cooked Saltfish is a totally different thing that leaving the Salt it was preserved in.  The second time I had it, they soaked it just right.  Not too salty, like it was at the Hilton in Port of Spain.  It is tricky. You can taste the soaking water or you can try floating an Egg in it.  If an Egg sinks directly to the bottom, there is virtually no Salt in the Water.  It'll take some practice to get to know how much you want your Egg to float so it's just easier if you taste the water.  When they go the Salt right on the second time, it was soo good.  Very comforting!  Since I have a predilection for Jamaican cuisine, I thought it went really well with Eggs which I could pretend were Ackee :^D. 

Bake, oh the Bake.  It is wonderful, if I didn't loathe deep frying at home, because of the mess and smell, I would make this everyday.  It's a local TT bread that comes in small rounds the size of a small Pancake.  If cooked properly, the middle is hollow but the outside is still bready but crispy.  I had one in POS that was too oily and bready with no hollow.  The Bakes at Blue Waters Inn were all done really well, to order.  mmmmmm  I will have to try to do Bakes when it gets a little cooler.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Charlotteville Fisherman's Fête - Tobago - Crab and Dumplin

Charlotteville Tobago - Crab and Dumplings
We went diving for the weekend in Tobago.  D's working in Trinidad for a couple months and so we elected to have me fly down for the weekend instead of him coming home so we could visit.  Luckily for all, mom and dad were eager to babysit. I'll have a few posts about how I ate my way through the weekend.  The food was awesome! (except on the plane and at the Hilton)

The first thing that struck me about TT, as they affectionately call it, is how distinct the two islands are.  Tobago is very underdeveloped in contrast to Trinidad.  Scarborough is the capital due to it's strategic location as the deep water port.  Prior, it was Roxborough.  We drove through Roxborough and through almost every village on our way across the island to our destination in Speyside.  The villages are small and rural.  I say this because beyond your hotel, there is not a lot to visit.  We visited Speyside village and Charlotteville during our short say and spent an evening in Scarborough.  Scarborough was really the only town with any real area for a visitor to spend anytime.  The others were well and truly only for the few residents with a main street about 100 m long.  So we largely spent our time at our hotel which, though it was lovely, wasn't well equipped or staffed appropriately as a place to house visitors (beach bums to adventurers alike), full time.  I'll write a bit more later about our mediocre to poor experience at the Blue Waters Inn. 

Of course, having been raised in Toronto, I may have a very polarised vision of what a Fête in the Caribbean should be.  Toronto has one of the largest Carribean Festivals.  It brings in over a million people above and beyond the feting Torontonians.  I should have had an inkling of what we were getting into when we mentioned to any of the hotel staff or other locals we met, that we were going to the Fisherman's, had an unrestrained look of shock mixed with comedy.   I had expected the field, where most of these Fêtes take place, even in Port of Spain, would be circled with food stalls and vendors.  I had skipped lunch in anticipation for a feast at the Fête.  Fortunately, I had mentioned this to the friendly, younger receptionist on duty in the morning.  "I'm going for the food." I mentioned when she chuckled that we needed a cab to the Fête.  "You goin to dance?"  Nope, just to eat.  I asked her what we had to try that was local.  I mentioned a few things I had hoped to have and she responded rather skeptically, "maybe, you'll find that".  That was my second subtle cue that I may be off the mark.

"My favourite around here is, Crab and Dumplings.  I'm going home after my shift to have that."  Well, I was sold.  Dumplings.  She had me at Dumplings.  There's just something wondrous and comforting about that word.  Dumplings.  Mmmmmm, I had already started to salivate.  Okay, done.  I'm going on a Crab and Dumpling hunt.  We sat in the lobby to wait for our cab when she came over to say, that she's going to have the driver to take us to her parents house and from there we can walk to the Fishermans'.  You can have Crab and Dumplin at mine first.  Umm okay, that's super nice but we felt a bit odd about it but she was so excited that we couldn't say no.  As well, I've learned over the years of traveling, you don't turn down local hospitality. 

Our older rasta driver, Kenneth, pontificated on our 15 minute drive to Charlotteville on how the youth don't know how to party anymore.  They drink overproofed Rum called Puncheon mixed with energy drink and then fight.  Hmmm, I have friends London who would call that a night out in Manchester :^P.  Anyhoo, when we arrived into town and saw the empty bottles of Jonnie Walker Black and Puncheon strewn all over the street from the day's Juvee, I got the idea.  Juvee? I'll get to that.  So we turned off the 'main' street and up to the residential street.  Every few houses were raucous with loud dance music at 2pm with people walking about.  We were very unsure what we were getting ourselves into.  We arrived a a nice house with dozens of people milling about.  Kenneth yelled to a young women in the window and said, I got the people your sista sent over.  Happily, she was expecting us because we surely didn't know what we were expecting.  She welcomed us into the living room and offered us to sit down.  The house was filled with people drinking, eating, talking and granddad watching the pre-uefa final show.  The oddest thing about the whole thing was how non-plussed people were that we were there.  We were VERY obviously not locals.  I mean really, D's SPF'd 60 face glowed in the dark.  The only ones that actually spoke to us were the sista and a little girl of 6.

The Sister never introduced herself to us as she rushed about and we were so disoriented that I'm ashamed to say, we didn't introduce ourselves.  So Sister, as I mentally refer to her now, asked us what we wanted to eat.  Every kitchen counter was covered in large chafing trays filled with food.  I thought, from the look of it, that they had prepped all this food to bring down to the Fishermans' to sell.  It wasn't.  I told her that her sister told us we needed to have the Crab and Dumpling.  She let out a nice loud laugh and she went to prepare us some plates.  She then asked us what we'd like to drink.  D had a Carib beer and I had a shandy.  She cleared the kitchen table and the people who had been chatting there got up and let us sit to eat.  She brought us these luscious plates of Curried Crab with Boiled Dumplins with sides of Cassava and Potato with some plastic cutlery pre-bundled in a napkin.  I had assumed this also meant that they were planning on taking food down.  As we sat and ate, people came by the kitchen door and took food away in styrofoam containers. 

The Dumplings were dense, chewy and wonderfully homey.  The Crab... ahhh the Crab.  We sucked every bit of sauce off the crab and sopped up every bit of the rest up with the Dumplings and Cassava.  It was amazing.  Well balanced spice.  I reminded me a bit of Jerk and Curry.  There is a VERY strong influence of East India in the TT Cuisine.  Virtually, all the most popular dishes in TT, are curry based.  Perfect for me.  Chickpeas everwhere! 

We chatted with sister for a while.  As we'd been in the house now for at least half an hour, we were all to embarrassed to ask our names.  She offered us more to drink and we declined.  We offered to pay so we could go down to the Fishermans.  She gave us directions, which was just a block down the road back to the beach.  She then refused money laughing.  "This is what we do.  We cook for people who come by."  I asked "So you're not selling this food at the fete?" 

She laughed again "Oh no, people just come by for food. Everyone does it.  It would be strange if you tried to pay me."  I offered her a token of a Canadian Flag pin I had on my sun hat and thanked her profusely.  What a wonderful tradition.  It certainly not the case at the Carribbean festivals back home.  The food is at the fete site and VERY expensive.  :D  When we walked down to the main street to the Fisherman's, there was NOTHING going on.  There were no food stalls nor even many people.  Most that were there looked hung over from the Juvee.  There was only one table of food sales over by the play field off the main strip.  The town was just people going about their business apart from the stage set up with speakers twice the size of most the buildings in the area, blaring dance music.  As it turns out, the Fisherman's really only starts up after people are done resting and eating at home and is just a dance party.  We had been told 2pm is a good time to go but it did not look like it would get going until evening.  We had a flight to catch to Port of Spain so we couldn't stay.  Kenneth the cabbie turned down our request to drive us later because he wanted to 'Lime', hang out and have fun.  AT least we had Crab and Dumplin.  The other folks from our hotel, who wandered into town after reading the websites or hearing about the fete, had nothing to eat and returned quickly to the hotel.

Crab and Dumplings

I've looked up the recipes on line for the Crab to check on proportions of ingredients but I've not found 1 recipe that I was satisfied with because they each seemed to be missing something.  I will have to experiment but if you choose to experiment too with the ones on line, PLEASE be sure to have the following ingredients included:

1. Fresh Coconut grated right into the pot,...(1 tin of Coconut Milk could do)
2. Shaddon Bene, a local version of Cilantro but much stronger so use Chinese Cilantro in a pinch
3. Fresh Thyme
4. Curry Powder/Garam Masala
5. Scallions
6. Blue Crab
7. Scotch Bonnet (heat to taste, no more than 1 per big pot, use rubber gloves, please)

The other ingredients will vary with other fresh Herbs and Aromatics.  Fresh herbs are essential in Carribbean cooking.  I still remember my Jamaican roommate who never cooked except to make homey dishes once in a while and always insisted on buying fresh Thyme.  When I asked about the recipe though, they insist on the Coconut and the Shaddon Bene.  The Shaddon Bene looked sort of like Arugula leaves without the 'fingers' on the leaves.  It is elogated and VERY pungent.  I bought a bottle of TT Hot Sauce at a local shop and among the four ingredients Shaddon Bene is listed.  mmmm TT Hot Sauce, fire!  Finally a Hot Sauce that is a worth opponent for me. :^D.

Oh... Juvee, is the party the morning after, the morning after what, no one seemed to say.  It is a huge street party usually with copious amounts of alcohol and dancing.  In Charlotteville, it started at  4AM and ran to 11AM.  As Kenneth the cabbie said, TT love to party.