World Cup of Dining in Toronto 31, 32 and Finale: Costa Rica, Brazil and Final Whistle

Before I get to the “Best of”….

Costa Rica: ok, so I cheated – again – but I can explain. After my earlier father’s b-day plantain failure, I am now a plantain master. I let ’em sit in the sun until they were IMG_20140706_183418black, then fried them up with honey drizzled on top. Yum – and Costa Rica (where plantain is a staple) can consider itself honourably crossed off the list. This being the case, I took the liberty of venturing with a friend into Little India on Gerrard East for a masala paper dosa – a kind of crepe with a savour filling. Different kind of yum, chased down with water flavoured with salt and lime.




Brazil: two Germans walk into a Brazilian bar filled with Argentinians…. The pre-World Cup final rendez-vous with my buddy was IMG_20140713_134503impromptu enough to put him offside with his better half. He went anyway but begged off the actual match. Rio 40 on St. Clair West was packed with albiceleste supporters and Brazilian servers whose stoic smiles said “sure we’ll take their money”. It wasn’t going to be a big meal, and we chose tasty codfish croquettes (bolinhos de bacalhau) and small, perfectly unctuous sausages (linguica). With these, we obligatorily drank caipirinhas (lime and pineapple, respectively), Brazil’s national cocktail of fruit juice and fermented and distilled cane sugar (cachaça). Our waitress expressed surprise that we were leaving before the match, but nodded understanding when I pointed to my friend’s Deutschland t-shirt and said “we’re cheering for the wrong team to be here”. May German victory prove some consolation to Brazilians waiters worldwide.

The actual match, I watched on the Danforth with authentic Greeks who declared the bar to be “just like in a Greek village”. Being Greek, they cheered for the Argentinians, but appreciated the skill of the game-winning goal nonetheless.

And now, 32 culinary experiences and six months after this adventure began…

Most authentic: Casablanca Cafe (Algeria) on Danforth. Arabs all around puffing away languidly on their shisha pipes, arabic-language melodrama on the widescreen t.v., and eyeball-rolling-into-the-back-of-head good chicken tagine and sweet mint tea. The casbah rocked.

Least authentic: There was nothing Cameroonian whatsoever about Wazema, an Ethiopian restaurant on Danforth. But it was quite authentically Ethiopian, with us being the only non east-Africans in the place.

Most remote: El Charrua, the Uruguayan sports bar in a rundown strip mall on Wilson at Dufferin. So remote in fact, it was torn down shortly after we went.

Most expensive: Mi Tierra (Colombia), but only because I bought for my work team after I made their attendance mandatory.

Noisiest: Biermarkt on King (representing Switzerland) beats Grand Electric (Mexico), because the noise was not due to electronic amplification but the party-heartying vocal cords of rowdy 20-somethings.

Spiciest: unquestionably the Nigerian beef with rice at Lola’s Catering on Jane St. I got eyes in my tears – and that’s not a typo.

Slow foodiest: One hour from order to table, but dios mio, hombre, the fish stew at La cocina de dona Julia (Ecuador, on Dupont) was made from scratch by Julia herself and worth the wait.

Meatiest: Sky Ranch (Argentina) at Dufferin/Eglinton. The only produce present was in the form of Malbec.

Most alcoholic: Rasputin Vodka Bar at Queen/Broadview (Russia) naturally, since it involved a vodka tasting and not much food to go with it.

Most culinary: A draw between neighbours Netherlands (Zee Grill on Mount Pleasant) and Belgium (Brussels Bistro on Queen St. E). The fine dining-est experiences even a non-foodie such as myself could appreciate.

That’s a Wrap! It’s been fun, although after six months I’ll be glad not to be organizing relentless weekly restaurant outings. This quest, shared with old friends and new, confirmed in a very real way that the world truly is here in Toronto, and that travel begins with discoveries at home. IMG_20140713_141329

World Cup of Dining in Toronto 30: Dad’s 75th Birthday Edition (featuring Ivory Coast)

As he chewed, he made a face that said “This could use some help”. Then he said “This could use some help.”

Celebrating my father’s 3/4 century mark took precedence over a “legit” Ivory Coast experience. So I bought plantains to fry up (these are a west African staple) and have as part of dessert in our family back yard.


The Okens men in Rio de Janeiro

Peter Okens was born and raised in Germany, came to Toronto merely to learn English but met and married mom, got a job in Brazil (where I was born), returned to Canada to raise a young family, and bought the small suburban bungalow where my parents still live. The back yard where we are having his birthday meal has featured a maple tree that my sister and I climbed, a small wading pool where we excitedly created whirlpools, rabbit hutches and a rhubarb patch, a wide array of festive gatherings and years of painstaking, endless (both my parents would agree) improvements and alterations.

“I think we made the right decisions”, is dad’s summary of his 75 years to date. As good and simple as anyone would want it to be.

The plantains are a dud. I bought them underripe, and the sweet flavour doesn’t come out, leaving them starchy and bland. We try drowning them in maple syrup, with limited improvement. My sister and I turn to the more entertaining spectacle of having mom take her first-ever family-at-the-dinner-table selfie (which ends up taking a long time – mom being more used to not having herself in such photos). Dad, still focused on plantain improvement, goes to the kitchen to get some fruit – disrupting the selfie process. He returns, the selfie process resumes. Soon, he also gives up on the doomed plantains. Discreetly, he feeds them to the dog. Five minutes of Okens family magic.

Mom's first selfie

Mom’s first selfie

Plaintain disposal by Flynn

Plaintain disposal by Flynn