Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Let's eat!

I spent most of my time in the Philippines with a sore stomach, but the Filipinos are not the kind to let you shy away from your eating duties. Filipino food has not made it into the mainstream the way other southeast Asian cuisines have, and the locals are more than happy to share (or force down your throats) their culinary secrets.

When I say share, I mean literally, because ordering a number of dishes and sharing is common practice in the Philippines (it is much less exciting to eat out alone). My family had taken me out to their favourite Filipino restaurants, and began ordering mysterious Filipino dishes. After a long wait, the dishes finally began coming out. There were some nice fish curries, lots of rice and noodles, and the main attraction affectionately called, 'the standing fish'.

The entire fish is overlooked so that even the bones are edible. From what I can gather this is a Filipino favourite, and didn't seem to upset my stomach! "Do you like it? Eat more!Eat the bones, dont forget" My host demanded in a burly voice without waiting for my response, and what was into do but obey? When we finally finished all the dishes on the table desert was ordered, and despite many groans about being full we managed to finish off the fruit and ice cream.

We even ordered some sashimi as a special treat, and from my experiences around town the Filipinos can almost rival the Japanese on their sushi making skills, providing a delicious gluten and dairy free option!

Filipino food may not be the easiest on the stomach, but the experience of dining out with locals is not to be missed!



Monday, 14 January 2013

Japanese Foodie Adventures in a (non-allergenic) nutshell

I know what you're thinking: it's been 3 months since you were in Japan! Why are you only sharing your pearls of wisdom with me now? I do apologize for running behind with updates, but do not fear I am back to share with you everything you need to know about eating in Japan!

Let us begin at the beginning, the first meal of the day: breakfast. The Japanese do not eat a breakfast like you or I (unless you are Korean or Chinese and then I am told it is quite similar), though they do begin with an egg. Not scrambled, or poached, or sunny side up but served to you as it came out of the womb. You also get a bowl of steamed rice (as with most meals in Japan), a miso soup, some seaweed and a delicious little bowl of some mysterious sticky beans (azuki).


Japanese breakfast

First things first, don't panic! When in doubt slyly look to those next to you and mirror as best you can. My strategy was to mix the egg and seaweed in with the rice and dig in. I really can't help you with the beans, it gets everywhere and is impossible to separate. I later asked a local how to eat it and they just chuckled at my question, still giving no real answer. I think the best system is to pretend like the gooey bits are not getting all over your chopstix and face and eat it as casually as possible. You can find this traditional breakfast (as well as other varieties with meats) for under 400 yen, mostly from fast food restaurants where you order by vending machine, so if your Japanese is not up to snuff look for a place with pictures. To us western folk this can be a strange breakfast combination, and it is more of an acquired taste than most Japanese food, but I have grown to find it refreshing and fueling and it is certainly worth a try!

On to the later meals! The obvious choice for us gluten freebies in Japan is sushi. You need to skip the soy sauce or bring your own, but it is still hard to comprehend how such a simple combination can be so delicious. Sushi can get a bit pricey for the budget traveler, but even the to go packs you will find in any 7/11 or grocery store is on par with what you would get in a restaurant in the western world and considerably cheaper. You will find good sushi scattered all over the country but the best place to eat it is the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo. The market opens and closes sporadically, and the website is not english friendly so you must find a local or tourist info office to find the right day to attend!

If you are an early bird you can visit the 'inner' or wholesale market where you can watch the fish auction and see many real live fishermen and fish guts from up close.


Once the excitement is over and you venture to the outer market, you can sample a variety of the fresh fish in raw or cooked form. You will also find a variety of other goods like plenty of great fish cutting knives.

There are an overwhelming amount of options and many English menus which is a pleasant change, but it seems hard to go wrong at this place. I first sampled a roll of minced tuna, from one of the first stalls you will see if you are walking from the subway station, right on the corner of the market. Minced tuna is not a thing I knew existed until I arrived in Japan, and I highly recommend you to try it (unless you are noble enough to cut out tuna from your diet). After walking around for an hour or so and trying to decide where to get my sashimi from, I decided on the cheapest place I could find and walked in. I was the only one there and it was a standing sushi bar. For 650 yen I got ten pieces of sushi. As I ordered another man, who was a local, walked in making me feel a little better about my choice. I stood awkwardly, trying to make small talk with the chef in very limited english until my fish had been prepared. Luckily it took only a few minutes and from the first bite I knew my choice had been true. I did not know the names of all the fish that I bit into, but the assortment of colours, textures and flavours was enough to make even the least observant sushi eater swoon. I generally don't like to think of any sort of meat melting in my mouth because it seems unnatural, but this fish was so fresh and tender that only the faintest chews and a sip of green tea could give it a pleasant ride through my digestive system.

Sadly I didn't take a picture of my meal at the market but sushi train is good too


Sadly, many Japanese noodles are made from wheat, making trying one of the many cheap noodle eateries rather difficult. If you are keen to try noodles your best bet is soba (buckwheat) noodles, but many of these can also contain wheat. If you have a gluten free translated card, or are feeling daring, I would recommend trying these. Many varieties exist including those in a warm broth, a cold broth (my favourite), or a broth served on the side that you dip the noodles into. They are served with a variety of toppings and rank only second to ramen in the hearts of the Japanese.

Okonamayaki made with Soba and egg


The Japanese are often portrayed as reserved, but a venture to one of the many Izakaya around the country will show you a different side of their culture. Part tapas bar, part pub, part restaurant and part unique Japanese eatery, the Izakaya is a great place to sample local cuisines and sake amongst friends. Most menus have pictures but no English explanations, so it is best to befriend a local and get them to order you their favourites. Sake or beer is the drink of choice, but you can also order an assortment of wine and cocktails. Menu items are often grouped by price, sometimes entire Izakaya have a one price menu. The menus usually have budget prices, and while the food is better than western 'pub grub' people are mostly there to drink and socialize, so don't expect many fine dining options.

My Japanese hosts cooking the meat


The best part of any gal's day is usually desert, and we are spoiled with gluten free choices in Japan. There are a range of options of deserts that include a chewy rice pastry stuffed with red bean paste or other flavoured jam like fillings. I know it doesn't sound the most appetizing but it is probably the food I miss most from Japan. For those not eating with diet allergies, there are also great looking cakes and cookies and French inspired deserts for you to choose from.

In Japan it is pretty hard to go wrong when it comes to food. However, English is very limited and many people will not understand what gluten intolerance is (luckily there is not much dairy or nuts in Japanese cooking) so be sure to get a gluten free card translated into Japanese that you can carry around with you. There are so many options when it comes to Japanese food, and all are good, so if you have limited time in the country choose the safest option, as having an upset stomach when surrounded by so much deliciousness will be like torture to a foodie!



Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The Dining Car

Train car restaurants are somewhat of a staple novelty across Canada, so you can imagine my delight when I realized I was going to get to eat 4 meals in a real live dining car on my way from Toronto to Winnipeg.

Everyone knows trains are more fun and comfortable than their more convenient brother, the airplane, but one key factor that may sway more and more long distance traveller's to the train is the food. Forget small plastic trays filled with small portions of flavoured cardboard, those who are willing to stick it out on the train are rewarded with an array of fine dining options, and superb service.

I did not call in advance to advise of my dietary restrictions (not recommended, always try to call, especially if your allergies are more severe) but there was always at least one option that was both gluten and dairy free, and sauce could easily be put on the side (fresh made food! Gasp!)

Breakfast: Day One

I chose the transcontinental, eggs with sausage and hashbrowns. The sausages were amazing, perfect blend of salty with a bit if sweet, the eggs were poached nicely though they could only do medium, and the hashbrowns were a great addition.


The salmon flower, which was mostly just a round piece of salmon covered in butter and garlic (or no butter for you strict lactose folks) was only a sign of what was to come for dinner. Unfortunately I had to opt out of desert as ice cream was the only option.


The highlight of a great dining experience! Lightly fried Halibut accompanied with grilled vegetables and scalloped mashed potatoes. I didn't care about the cream in the potatoes because it was one hundred percent worth it. How they were able to get good fish and keep it so fresh on the train I do not know, but thank god they did! Again I had to opt out if desert with 2 cake choices, but I did not care at this point.

Breakfast Day 2

We arrived in Winnipeg early Thursday morning, and I had agreed to meet my friend for breakfast, but the train got in early so I figured 2 breakfasts never hurt anyone. I just got the continental breakfast (oatmeal or cold cereal, a muffin and fruit) in anticipation of my second breakfast close at hand. The oatmeal was a small bowl, but came with brown sugar and real maple syrup, and I wrapped the muffin up to bring to my friend. Not the most glorious end to my dining experience but an easy option for the sensitive or light eater.

While the food was amazing, It's the overall experience that really makes the dining car worth it. Whether it was hearing about 2 German ladies traveling across Canada, an Australian tracing his roots, business travelers taking their time, or an unexpected meeting with a friend of a friend, the dining car is about meeting your fellow travelers.

Unless you are really counting your pennies, spend the extra few dollars on the dining car. The food from the snack bar may not be as bad as airplane food but isn't anything you couldn't find in the freezer section of your grocery store.


Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The Fish House

I had heard rumors of the fish house for weeks before I went there. It had been mentioned a few times in casual conversation to me by those who know I love fish, but I had not yet experienced the joys of this place first hand. Last week I was saying good bye to Toronto so I knew I only had one last chance. I requested for my family good bye dinner to be at The Fish House.

Looking at the menu is overwhelming, to say the least. There is a full page of specials in adition to the regular menu, and the regular menu includes some signature dishes as well as every kind of fuish they currently have which you can order cooked however you like.

I first wanted to try the fish tacos, but the tortillas had wheat in them, so I ended up getting one of the specials- sweet potato crusted Halibut with a greek salad.

Our food was slow coming out, but the fish was cooked well, and the sweet potato crust was delicious. Surprisingly, it was also one of the best Greek salads I've had (and I've had a lot of Greek salads), something I did not expect from a Canadian fish house.

Our waitress was very friendly and great at checking on on allergies for me. My only regret is not checking this place sooner so I could have visited multiple times!

Both gluten and dairy free options available 

Fish House on Urbanspoon

Monday, 30 July 2012

All You Can Eat $9.99

All you can eat sushi has become a staple of the GTA, and why not? Sushi is somewhat light, healthy, and easy to prepare- everyone wins with the high customer turnover and great value. But something that is often overlooked on the Toronto foodie scene is the increasing number of high quality Indian food buffets. I understand why they are overlooked, because I was not always a believer. It took one very hungry (and slightly hungover) morning to get me to the lunch buffet at Everest, and have no regrets.

Indian cuisine usually prices in around the mid-high range, and the menus rarely change between lunch and dinner, so not only was I skeptical about the amount of food I could eat at an Indian buffet, but also of the quality and variety of the food.

My friend and I arrived at the restaurant 10 minutes before it opened, but they still allowed us in and seated us, the buffet was already open so we greedily began. There was a very good variety of both meat and vegetarian dishes. They had jasmine rice, chickpea curry, mutter paneer (chunks of cheese and peas in a curry sauce), two mixed vegetable dishes; One based with potatoes and cauliflower, the other based with zucchini and cabbage. They had both Tandoori and butter chicken, and a goat curry. They also laid out a variety of sauces including raita and mango chutney.

Impressed with the variety, I tried a little bit of everything except for the paneer. I usually try to stay away from the delicious butter chicken because it is full of cream and fat, but after putting just a but of the sauce on my rice I had to go back for more. It was rich with flavor and even had a little spice to it. The chicken both in the curry and tandoori were juicy and tender, and the goat flaked right off the bone and into my mouth.

For those of you who are not gluten free, just the naan bread is worth the trip to Everest. I tried a little nibble and it took more self control than I knew I had not to eat the entire piece. Maybe it's because I haven't had a piece of naan bread (or any bread) for a long time, but I would be willing to make the claim that this is the best naan in Toronto.

The weakest part of the meal was the desert. They had small dough-y looking balls covered in a syrupy substance. I didn't have one, but my friend gave them less than stellar reviews. They did have oranges and melon, and I'm sure we didn't need any more than that after the amount of food we had just eaten.

India is one of the best places to travel for vegetarians, but I've found that a lot of Indian restaurants in Canada lack in variety and creativity in their vegetarian menu items. It was really refreshing to see four different and skillfully done vegetarian dishes in one amazing buffet.

For the price of $9.99 for the lunch buffet, Everest is more than worth it, even if you can't make it back for seconds.

Mt Everest Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, 20 July 2012

Summerlicious Part 2: Creme Brasserie

"We're going to be late"
"Why is there so much traffic"
"I'm so hungry"
"Why is there so much traffic"

Rachel and I wove in and out of traffic trying to make our reservation at Creme Brasserie in Yorkville. Neither of us had eaten breakfast and were absolutely starving, so it was to our utter relief that we arrived 20 minutes late with no problems getting a table. Thank God for lunchtime sittings. We had both reviewed the menu pretty extensively online and had a pretty good idea of what we wanted but...

Game Changer: They actually outlined the gluten free options on the menu! Foolishly, I stuck with my original choice, not sure what was going to be glutinous in a cold tomato and lump crab soup. This was a choice for which I alone paid the price. The watermelon and feta was gluten free and looked like a fab choice for any future diners wondering.

Before our appetizers arrived they brought some bread and hummus over to the table. Rachel is allergic to sesame seeds and I cannot eat wheat, so we made perfect dining companions; Rachel eating all of the bread, and me shoveling spoonfuls of hummus into my face. I think this may be the best hummus I have had on this continent (sorry, Me Va Me) It had texture to it, and wasn't just a creamy spread like the hummus you get in the grocery store, and it had a hearty helping of garlic and lemon.

For the main I had the Striped Bass which was covered in a garlicy butter sauce and served with asparagus. This choice was Gluten Free, though unfortunately not dairy free adding to the pain already mentioned. I'm not going to go ahead and say it was worth it, but it was some of the best fish I've ever had, and I came from the east coast!

There were no options for gluten free deserts so I just had the berries without the sauce. This was a very small cup of berries, and a pretty boring desert, but probably for the best considering all the butter I had just consumed.

Overall I was impressed with the healthy choices at this restaurant. All of the deserts were fruit based, and most of the appetizers were vegetable based, the mains were chicken, fish and vegetarian options and the portion sizes were representative of healthy serving sizes. The staff were also very concerned with our food allergies, so this is definitely a safe place for the food sensitive diner!

Chilled tomato, lump crab and avocado soup

Crème Brasserie on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Summerlicious Begins

Well, it began 11 days ago but today was my first summerlicious meal! We went to Wildfire Wine Bar and Steakhouse at Yonge and Lawrence. I have heard mixed reviews of Wildfire, but my parents are known to never pass up a good steak, so we gave it a go. The greeter happily opened the door for us and was wearing a lovely full length dress as she showed us to our table.

I had peaked at the menu online a few times already, so I knew what decisions lay before me, but I still had a tough time. I finally decided on the escargot, the salmon (in a steak house, I know) and the flourless chocolate torte cake (gluten free diners rejoice!). One of the hard things about summerlicious is most restaurants are not willing to make substitutions for dishes so it can be hard for the allergic/sensitive diner. However, Wildfire asked about allergies on the phone when I called to make the reservation, and while some of their dishes aren't guaranteed to be uncontaminated (with gluten) they checked all of the ingredients for me. I am lucky to be not as sensitive as others, so a bit of gluten in a sauce or on a utensil will not upset me too much, so those with more sensitivity make sure to let them know ahead of time!

I have only had escargot once before, so I am no expert, but this was by far my favourite part of the meal. Covered in garlic butter, they were nice, warm, chewy and flavourful. I love sauteed mushrooms and I kind of think of escargot as super mushrooms (perhaps giving offense to the culinary world), I would go back here just for another round of this dish...and maybe a glass of wine during one of their happy hours.

For some reason the main dish is never as exciting as the appetizer or desert, but the salmon was cooked superbly, and the bean and corn salsa was nice (though I'm not sure what qualifies it as salsa as it was just beans and corn on top of the fish). The grilled vegetables had a nice smokey flavour to them. My only complaint was the rice pilaf that was a little dry and bland.

The desert was my easiest course to choose, because there was only one flourless option. Even before going gluten free I was a lover of a good torte cake. This one was drizzled with chocolate and raspberry sauce, and tasted like light and silky goodness. They also used dark chocolate which means much less dairy and much more deliciousness.

I love going to summerlicious at lunchtime, because it is always a treat to have a nice long relaxing lunch in the middle of the day, and as another bonus the food is just as good but $10-$15 cheaper! Enjoy, and let me know what some of your summerlicious favs are!

Gluten Free: With Some Difficulty
Dairy Free: With more difficulty and only if you are willing to skip desert
Nut Free: Yes!

Wildfire Steakhouse & Wine Bar on Urbanspoon