Bosnian Comfort Food

Skela Bosnian Deli, at 956 Merivale road, is one of Ottawa’s great hidden gems. Tucked in a little plaza next to a Shell station it doesn’t look like much from the outside.

The front of the shop is a traditional European deli. Two large meat counters offer a host of sausages and traditional meats (I recommend trying the pljeskavica). The shelves are packed with pickles and preserves with names like zacuscă, đuvečand ajvar blagi. If you are looking for something sweeter, you might pick up a jar of kozackie (plum butter) or kompot truskawkowy (strawberry compote). A pair of large freezers, packed with traditional pastries, meat pies, and complete meals ready to take home, sit across from the deli counter.

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Nestled in the back is a tiny eating area: more of a family kitchen than a restaurant. The walls are covered with traditional Bosnian artwork, tools and farming implements creating a warm and charming atmosphere. There are copper kettles, irons, flasks, fishing nets and several wooden engravings depicting cities like Zenica, Srebrenik and Travnik. There is an open kitchen  and about six tables, so you can watch your meal being prepared or chat with the cook. Skela is a place for community, conversation and food.

The Jakupovič family opened Skela 10 years ago when they immigrated to Canada from Bosnia. Fudo Jakupovič was a butcher back home, but during the war he spent eight months in a concentration camp and decided he had to move his family away. It was his idea to open a deli with a place to sit so that the community in Ottawa could have somewhere to gather. Their clientele includes many expats from all over Europe as well as Canadian troops who served in Bosnia that are looking for the food they fell in love with there.

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Fudo is a big, friendly man. He sat and chatted with me, showing me pictures of lamb he had roasted in his backyard roastery while his daughter, Alija, prepared my meal. I ordered the čevapi: a traditional spiced beef kabob served between slices of somun (a fried pita-like flat bread). My meal came with kajmak (spiced creamed cheese); ajvar (a vegetable spread made from roasted peppers and eggplant; pickled peppers and fresh onions). It was all delicious, true comfort food. The meat was flavourful and moist and the ajvar offers a nice smoky accompaniment.

The feeling you get while eating at Skela is that you are one of the family. The setting is charming and cozy. People from the community are constantly coming and going, sitting down to chat with Fudo or his wife Mirveta or simply picking up a prepared meal to go. The menu is small and simple but the food is great and very affordable. It’s one of my new favourites and I highly recommend you check it out.

 

Skela Bosnian Deli    Bosnian recipes     Local Tourist Ottawa

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Bryan Dowkes

Bryan has taught English in Spain, the Dominican Republic, Toronto and Ottawa. In his travels, Bryan has eaten: bull’s tail, sheep’s brains, horse, kangaroo, black bear, alligator and numerous spicy dishes ranging from the mild to the  volcanic. He has sampled dishes from every continent except Antarctica (although he recently discovered a recipe for penguin ragout). Bryan is not a picky eater.

Links:    Ottawa FoodiesStreet Food Ottawa Chow Hound   

Ceylonta Offers Flavours from Sri Lanka

 Photo by Patrick Persaud

Photo by Patrick Persaud

Ceylonta, on Somerset was the first Sri Lankan restaurant in Ottawa. As a big curry fan, I have been wanting to try this place for a while, but I kept my expectations low to see if it would live up to the hype. Ceylonta is tucked in a little plaza near the corner of Bank and Somerset just down the street from Hartman’s. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it has developed a following, mostly through word of mouth.

 Photo by Patrick Persaud

Photo by Patrick Persaud

We visited for dinner on a Monday night. The atmosphere was relaxed, and our server was excellent, very knowledgeable and friendly. This small restaurant has enough space for about 50 customers and was relatively busy with an assortment of families and small groups. A steady stream of customers popped in for takeout while we ate.

Ceylonta specializes in Sri Lankan cuisine, mostly curries, inspired by Sri Lanka’s proximity to southern India and its large Muslim population. Sri Lankan curries use a lot of coconut and seafood; vegetarian and vegan dishes are especially prominent, and all meat dishes are halal.

 Photo by Patrick Persaud

Photo by Patrick Persaud

We opened our meal with a couple of starters: Ulunthu Vada (donut shaped black gram dhal) and Kadali Vadi (spicy fried patties made from lentil, urid dhal and chickpeas) served with a side of coconut chutney. Both were delicious. The Ulunthu Vada is packed with flavour and the Kadali Vadi is a little more mild, but wonderfully crunchy. The coconut chutney was tamer than I expected and more of a puree than the jam like chutney’s I am used to, but it works as a dipping sauce.

For our main course, we went with the vegetable thali: an assortment of six curries (lentil, spinach, eggplant, green bean, potato and butternut squash) served with basmati rice and papadam. Papadam is a type of crispy flatbread perfect for scooping up rice and curry. The variety of flavours you get with an order of thali makes it an excellent dish to share with a group, and for the less adventurous, several of the dishes are quite mild with slight undertones of coconut. A heated and ultimately unsettled debate started in our group over which was better the eggplant or green bean curry (both are rich and savory).

We also ordered several sides: deviled chicken (cooked in a tomato based chilly sauce), chicken palandi (roasted chicken marinated with Sri Lankan chilies and ginger-garlic sauce) and fried, crispy nan. Both of these meat dishes were tasty and the palandi had a nice bit of heat, though not overpowering. We finished the meal with Ceylon Tea, chai tea made with fresh cardamom, ginger and condensed milk. It’s a slightly sweet beverage and the perfect way to wrap up a big meal.

Ceylonta may not serve the best curries I have had in my life, but it is certainly among the best available in Ottawa and will be one of my new go-to places when looking for somewhere fun to go with a large group.

 Sri Lankan Recipes            Ceylonta Restaurant            Urbanspoon

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Bryan Dowkes

Bryan has taught English in Spain, the Dominican Republic, Toronto and Ottawa. In his travels, Bryan has eaten: bull’s tail, sheep’s brains, horse, kangaroo, black bear, alligator and numerous spicy dishes ranging from mild to volcanic. He has sampled dishes from every continent except Antarctica (although he recently discovered a recipe for penguin ragout). Bryan is not a picky eater.

Links:    Ottawa FoodiesStreet Food Ottawa Chow Hound   

A Taste of Afghanistan

 Photo by Hamdi Ahmed

Photo by Hamdi Ahmed

I recently asked one of my students from Iraq about her favourite restaurant in Ottawa. Without hesitation, she told me about the Salang Kabob House. All right, I thought. I have to go.

If you are familiar with Ottawa’s profusion of fast-food kabob dealers, you might be forgiven for having overlooked Salang. It seems every street corner has its own dealer pushing sticks of grilled meat. On the surface Salang looks much like the rest; it is in a little plaza next to a Pharma Plus. What’s special about this place is what is going on behind the counter.

Nisar Abbasi, the general manager, opened Salang almost four years ago.

“Look,” he confides. “To be honest, the recipes aren’t all that complicated. It’s meat or vegetables grilled over a flame with a few spices.”

What makes the difference is the attention he gives to those simple ingredients. There are no microwaves or freezers on the premises. Everything is prepared that day, so if he runs out, you will just have to come back.

The restaurant is popular with families and ex-pats from the Mid-East. The cuisine is a mixture of Afghani, Pakistani and Iranian.

We ordered the Combo Platter: A shami kabob, chicken kabob and beef tika kabob served over a bed of basmati rice and accompanied by a side salad, spicy dipping sauce, Afghani naan and a bowl of qorma (soup).

The meat was moist and delicately seasoned, each with its own unique flavour. Nothing flashy going on here, just simple, quality meat; grilled and seasoned – just enough to let the natural flavour come through. The side salad is nothing special but good, and the dressing is tasty. A spicy side salsa is light on heat but high on flavour. The one disappointment was the qorma (I had the chicken), which was bland and a bit oily for my liking. I came for the kabobs though and they didn’t let me down. I didn’t know kabobs could taste that good. We finished up with firnee, a delicious dessert (custard topped with cardamom, cracked pepper and pistachios). It's an unexpected combination, but it works and I recommend it.

Have you been to Salang? If not, check it out. I’d love to hear what you think.

http://www.salangkabobhouse.ca

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Bryan Dowkes

Bryan has taught English in Spain, the Dominican Republic, Toronto and Ottawa. In his travels, Bryan has eaten: bull’s tail, sheep’s brains, horse, kangaroo, black bear, alligator and numerous spicy dishes ranging from mild to volcanic. He has sampled dishes from every continent except Antarctica (although he recently discovered a recipe for penguin ragout). Bryan is not a picky eater.

Links:    Ottawa FoodiesStreet Food Ottawa Chow Hound