Thursday, April 18, 2013

Samoon Sandwiches

Disclaimer: This is not a political opinion piece. I'm trying to stick to straight facts here. So please, let’s keep this discussion to the food.

Unless you've been living on Mars, in a cave and under a rock, you've probably heard that the United States invaded Iraq and deposed Saddam Hussein. Claiming victory several months later and leaving the country in a quagmire. While on the surface, ridding the country of a murderous tyrant seemed like a good idea, if you get a chance to talk to someone from Iraq, a different picture takes shape. One where a delicate balance, held together with Saddam's iron fist, has been upset. One where, clearly, they were better off with the devil they knew. In this case, instead of the many devils they didn't know. I've been lucky enough to converse with some Iraqi people who've left the country because it had simply become too dangerous. As one told me, "Used to be 1 Hussein. Now there's 100."
Al TanoorFor young Sahar and her extended family, the opportunity to leave the homeland and come to Canada has been life changing. Now here 7 years, they've opened a small restaurant serving some of the tastes that they brought with them. Popular Middle Eastern specialties such as Shawarma, Falafel and Baklava, (popular here too) are on the menu but what really makes Al Tanoor so much more than just another in a line of Shawarma places is the tandoor they have in their kitchen. Breads like Samoon, a bun like device and Tanoor, similar to Laffa and simply know as "bread" are baked daily on site and bring a taste of Iraqi to the GTA.

InteriorAl Tanoor sits in a strip mall in Toronto's Wexford neighbourhood. A growing Muslim community. Logically, it's in the best area in the city to secure yourself a Shawarma. Either of Iraqi, Lebanese or Turkish decent.
Inside there's a handful of tables with chairs and a counter at the back of the dining room. That's where the Shawarma does it's magical dance and things are grilled. There's a hot bar with rice and other dishes as well as the condiment station where sandwiches and the like are fitted out.
The main kitchen, where the tandoor resides, is in back. 

So let's get a look at these Iraqi delights.

SamoonBeing cooked in house (and their specialty), the Samoon bread was beautifully fresh and tasty. It makes me think of what the offspring of a pita and Italian roll would be. Quite conducive to stuffing as it seems the interior is a bit more airy. The house special (shawarma) comes on one of these buns instead of  a pita.

Kibbe (1)Kibbe (meaning Ball) is a bulger wheat croquette native to the Middle East. This version has highly seasoned ground beef stuffed into the dough and is then deep fried. This particular specimen is very tasty but, (I guess me being a sauce guy) I thought it could use some sort of dipping sauce. Traditionally they’re either eaten with or without a condiment. Your choice. Sahar suggested concocting a sauce for next time.

SamoonThe Chicken Shawarma special (here in a Samoon)  is some of the best in the city. Terrifically flavourful, I was able to get it cooked a little more well done. It may seem counter intuitive to cook the chicken to well done but there’s enough fat to keep it moist while the shaggy bits of meat get beautifully crispy. A terrific contrast in tastes and textures. All in all, this is a fantastic sandwich and a steal at $2.99.

The Ayran yogurt drink, in my mind, is kinda meh. It’s quite popular but I didn’t care for it. It tastes like salty yogurt. I sometimes think I need to try it again but bring some juice mix.
Shawarma (1)Also fantastic is the Beef Shawarma. Nicely seasoned and very tender. On a pita is my favourite way to have Shawarma and this is no exception. The condiments are fresh and they have one of the better hot sauces for these sandwiches there. Good flavour and plenty of kick for such a little amount. The condiments are pretty much your usual suspects. Toum (Garlic sauce), lettuce, tahini, onions, etc. One of the best Shawarma in the city. Ask for a beef and chicken mix for something a little different.

Shish Tawook SaladShish Tawook, meaning “skewered chicken” in English is just that. Marinated cubes of breast meat, skewered and grilled. AT's version is simply fantastic. Heavily season it came perfectly grilled. The meat was very tender, had a nice exterior while remaining very moist and flavourful inside. There was a pretty ample amount as well. The Tahini and hot sauce make it even better. Full marks here to Sahar as she absolutely nailed the cooking on this. Shown above with salad it made for a full and healthy lunch. I subbed out the rice for Tabbouleh.

BaklavaAl Tanoor make easily my favourtie Baklava as well. This traditional Iraqi style baklava uses simple sugar instead of honey. It’s used a bit more sparingly and allows the top layers of phyllo to puff up nicely and stay crispy. The whole thing is much more reserved in the sweetness department. As such, it’s much, much more appealing.

Well there you have it folks, a taste of Iraq without ever having to jump in an up armoured  Humvee and risk life and limb.

You can find Al Tanoor at 1993 Lawrence Ave E. in Toronto, On.

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You can also find them on facebook.

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Well that's all for now folks, see ya next time in the food court.

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