Based on the delectable samosas that we sampled on the Bakery Tour a group of us decided a full visit to Simba Grill was in order. Specializing in East African and Indian food, Sultan and Rashma Jessani opened their small restaurant in Toronto's East York neighbourhood in 2002.
Separated by the Indian Ocean sit India and East Africa. While these two regions may seem like they're an ocean away they do share cultural similarities. Not the least of which is found in the food.
Perhaps no better example of this is the Samosa. A pastry, most often fried with a savoury filling. Samosas can be pretty much broken down into two categories. One type is tetrahedral in shape and has a dough that is very similar to that of an egg roll. It's no surprise either. If you were to reconfigure an egg roll to the samosa shape and add potatoes, you could pass it off as vegetable filled.
The second style is flatter and more like a thick triangle. The dough is similar to phyllo and is probably comparable to a fried spring roll. This second style is more prevalent in the south of India and East Africa.
Another staple found on plates on both sides of the ocean is Daal (Lentils). Often found in curry dishes in India the EA version here is fried in a fritter which is more like the Indian Pakora or the Mediteranian Falafel but puck shaped.
You may start to realize that a lot of these foods are not just shared by these two regions but are variations of foods found in other countries all over Asia and Europe. This is all true and can be explained by two signifcant things. First and foremost, the old Spice Route. European traders would head east, following the Spice Route through East Africa, Central and South Asia. Indians and Asian alike were also making the journey south or west. Cooking techniques and style began to migrate all through the areas. Food cultures would collide in the earliest forms of "Fusion" which is all the rage today.
The second significant reason for this is conquest. I've heard Anthony Bourdain espouse the theory that while bad for the indigenous population, the conquest of one country by another is wonderful for developing a countries cuisine. The more countries you've been invaded by, the better your food. It tends to have a reciprocal affect as well.
Well enough of the history lesson, on to the food.
The first thing to come to our table was a tray with 4 different sauces or chutneys. A tamarind sauce that reminded me somewhat of plum sauce. I felt pretty much the same about it as I do plum sauce. It didn't do anything for me. It wasn't bad as a dressing for the salad that came on the grilled meat platter. As a sauce though, it seems I just don't "Get it."
There was a green chili and coriander sauce. It had a bit of a punch and a good coriander (aka cilantro) flavour.
My second favourite was a coconut sauce. The coconut had a nice fresh flavour and was good opposite the next sauce.
The red chili sauce was fantastic. Hot with a bit of a salty and garlic flavour it was great everywhere I used it. The great thing is it wasn't just hot. It was hot with lots of flavour.
First up in the food department were the samosas we so enjoyed before. No different this time either. These babies are the best I've had in the city and I've tried quite a few.
Cassava fries named mogo were also served. They were fine. Cassava doesn't have a lot of personality so these were good for dipping in the different sauces. I really liked the combination of coconut and red chili.
We were then served daal bhajia. A Zanzibar style lentil dumpling. It was really tasty. Especially with the red chili sauce.
Next up was a grilled meat platter. Beef cubes, beef short ribs, chicken cubes and grilled chicken. It had salad as well.
The beef and chicken cubes were quite good. They're kabobs that were taken off the skewers. Cooked well too. They weren't all dried out.
The beef ribs really didn't do a whole lot for me. They weren't bad but nothing special.
The grilled chicken was amazing. Marinaded like tandoori chicken but grilled instead. It had great flavour but without the smokiness of the tandoor. I missed that but have no complaints.
I didn't understand the spicy fries that were served with it but who cares.
Ugali is a cornmeal mush similar to grits or polenta. In this region of the world it's balled up and dipped in a curry or made into a bowl shape and used like a spoon to carry food from communal plate to mouth. It had all the taste of a spoon too. It was somewhere between terribly overcooked rice or cheap grits. I'd say the whole point though was to remain more as a role player rather than a star.
With the ugali came a grilled king fish and two curries. I'm not a big king fish fan and this one was a little over cooked for my taste. Paired with the coconut and spinach curry it was delicious. I think this was more a product of the curry being very flavourful though. I was less impressed by the black bean curry.
The pickled carrots that came with it were really good.
The best was certainly saved for last though. I love butter chicken. Granted it's probably the gateway drug to Indian food and done to death but hey, if you're gonna make it this good, you do it. My first reaction was it wasn't the best I'd had. I've had a slightly spicy version that enjoyed more. This was very buttery but pretty tame. The addition of that red chili sauce vaulted it into "Blown away" status. The chicken was marinaded tandoori style and cooked to an impossible tenderness. I can't imagine how it could melt in your mouth and not be spongy, how it was able to keep it's shape and not just fall apart in the sauce. This dish was worth the entire night.
The side of naan was rather forgettable though. It was spongy, it had none of the smokiness and wasn't slathered in ghee.
A rather bizarre "Mouth cleanser" was served after dinner. It was kinda like eating perfume. It was so strange to me that I couldn't even say I liked or disliked it. It was just weird.
Well anyway, that's my tale. Hope you liked it.
You can find Simba Grill on Donlands, just south of O'Connor in Toronto, Ontario.
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You can visit them on the web as well.
That's all for today. See ya soon