After the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it’s no wonder most of us begin the New Year looking for ways to slow down and relax.
Keep the chilly blast and miserable rain at bay with some comfort food – warming dishes from a host of rich food cultures that will be sure to soothe the body and the soul in the face of blustery autumn cold. And, winter’s coming.
Latinoamerica Unida is tucked away and nearly out of sight on Concession Street between Water and Ainslie streets in Cambridge. The enchilada, however, has made itself well-known at the venue.
A corn tortilla rolled or otherwise stuffed with meat (in this case, tender, moist pork), the enchilada is served with rice that is accented with achiote (from a shrub native to the Americas), giving it a yellowy-orange colour and with a touch of mild spice. Owner Guadalupe Sanchez Diaz says that pinto beans, especially popular in the northwest of Mexico, are boiled and then blended together with garlic, onions, salt. They are creamy and rich.
An enchilada may be served with a steak or with eggs for breakfast; it’s a hearty plateful, to say the least. One element of the dish that really stands out though is probably among the very best refritos frijoles—refried beans—you will have in Waterloo Region. Peppers like chipotles and chile de arbol combine with tomato, garlic and onion to make the rojas sauce for the large enchilada. The sauce adds complex flavours and a lot of warmth to the dish.
Bún bò Huế
Pho Tran in Kitchener serves a spicy-warm bún bò Huế noodle soup (“bun” is rice vermicelli; “bo” is beef) that has its origins in the central Vietnamese city of Hue, formerly the country’s capital. Here in Waterloo Region, we are blessed with many pho (noodle soup) restaurants with their delicious and steamy broth.
The bún bò Huế, which is about $10, is a combination of beef and pork in a rich beef-based broth. The kitchen adds lemongrass and a spicy shrimp paste, mam ruoc, that adds big flavour alongside pieces of bologna-like pork sausage and slices of flank steak, tender with small bits of fat, to provide the dish’s warming meat component.
Sure Oktoberfest is over, but that’s no reason to now shun the schnitzel. At downtown Kitchener’s Two Goblets, there are about two dozen schnitzels on the menu.
With mashed potatoes and sauerkraut, it’s “Waterloo County fare” comfort food without apology.
The kitchen prepares pierogies, cabbage rolls, goulash, spaetzle and schnitzel dishes (including gluten-free options) with variations in seasoning, meats, cheeses and sauces, such as mushroom gravy and spicy “Budapest” tomato sauce. Crunchy and tender at once, the Vienna schnitzel is the original from which all other schnitzels are derived: while it’s crispy and golden brown and as big as your face, it can soothe your soul too.
Gol’s handpulled noodles
Near University of Waterloo, Gol’s Lanzhou Noodle will warm you up just watching how they are prepared: from a thick rope of dough, a noodle-master swings and stretches and folds and loops the dough until it transforms into a dozen thin noodles. It’s like magic.
The other element of the noodles, which are cooked in water for a mere 60 seconds, is that through their alkalinity they maintain their texture even after sitting in a bowl of hot broth for several minutes: they are light and yet they are chewy. You can ask to have the spice level in the soup adjusted to your preference. The beef broth is made each day, and the main section of the menu has about 15 items, including the Sichuan street snack dan dan noodles. A BBQ menu is available only in the evening which includes barbecued scallops and abalone, beef heart, pork belly and lamb, as well as squid, okra and bacon-wrapped asparagus and oysters.
Baked hot dog
Located right across the street from the St. Jacobs Market, Crazy Canuck is a crazy busy venue on a market day that makes a baked hot dog sure to tamp down any chill. It’s huge and filling too.
For bread, they start with what is a small baguette that gets doused with garlic butter. Next, a foot-long jumbo hot dog is all beef – and deep-fried. It then is nestled in the bun with chopped tomatoes. The final stage of the dog’s preparation sees it blanketed with a generous portion of cheese and bacon and garnished with Crazy Canuck’s house-made pickled jalapeño mayonnaise. If that bit of bite doesn’t give the dog the comfort-food ability to fend off a wintry blast, then I don’t know what will.