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Opinion

From the Middle East to Mexico

Delicious donair, terrific tacos highlights of two takeout-friendly restaurants

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/10/2014 (1584 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Although in most ways they are worlds apart, today's two restaurants do have something in common. Both offer a limited selection of dishes from sub-tropical climates, and although it is possible to eat in either, you may be more comfortable taking the food home.

The menu at Sultan's Shawarma lists the inevitable pizzas, burgers and fries, and for all I know they may be good. But they weren't what I had come for. It wasn't for the decor, either; there is none -- it's just an austere little room, but spotless, and visible just behind the counter where orders are placed, is the major attraction.

The donair on its vertical spit isn't one of those commercially processed preparations but the real, house-made thing, composed of both lamb and beef for extra flavour. Slices are shaved from a surface that is aromatic with garlic and a mix of spices (cardamom and cinnamon among them), resulting in a subtle flavour that lingers on the tongue. Also starring are the huge, cumin-spiked falafel, which were crunchy on the outside, light and fluffy within, and quite wonderful.

The Sultan chicken is similarly prepared, with the addition of a yogurty tang -- also flavourful but slightly dry on one visit, which is probably less noticeable as a shawarma, i.e. in a pita, augmented by lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and hummus, than on its own. All three are served either as shawarmas ($7.25 each), or on a plate garnished with addictively flavourful, raisin-dotted rice, a simple salad and hummus ($10.95). The seasoning and results have varied from visit to visit, but were never less than good, and were often excellent.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/10/2014 (1584 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Although in most ways they are worlds apart, today's two restaurants do have something in common. Both offer a limited selection of dishes from sub-tropical climates, and although it is possible to eat in either, you may be more comfortable taking the food home.

The menu at Sultan's Shawarma lists the inevitable pizzas, burgers and fries, and for all I know they may be good. But they weren't what I had come for. It wasn't for the decor, either; there is none — it's just an austere little room, but spotless, and visible just behind the counter where orders are placed, is the major attraction.

BMC Market owner Beatriz Marivel Calderon-Villasenor with tacos.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

BMC Market owner Beatriz Marivel Calderon-Villasenor with tacos.

The donair on its vertical spit isn't one of those commercially processed preparations but the real, house-made thing, composed of both lamb and beef for extra flavour. Slices are shaved from a surface that is aromatic with garlic and a mix of spices (cardamom and cinnamon among them), resulting in a subtle flavour that lingers on the tongue. Also starring are the huge, cumin-spiked falafel, which were crunchy on the outside, light and fluffy within, and quite wonderful.

The Sultan chicken is similarly prepared, with the addition of a yogurty tang — also flavourful but slightly dry on one visit, which is probably less noticeable as a shawarma, i.e. in a pita, augmented by lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and hummus, than on its own. All three are served either as shawarmas ($7.25 each), or on a plate garnished with addictively flavourful, raisin-dotted rice, a simple salad and hummus ($10.95). The seasoning and results have varied from visit to visit, but were never less than good, and were often excellent.

There are a few other worthwhile choices. The slightly smoky baba ghanouj, for instance, and an la carte portion of the velvety and slightly citrusy hummus (each $3.25 for generous small sizes, $5.25 large). Or the tabbouleh salad of bulgar grains, bright green with parsley and dotted with bits of tomato and onions in a refreshing lemony dressing ($4.25 small; $5.25 large). The fattoush salad was less predictable, ranging from a decent mixture of veggies with a hint of sumac and enough pieces of toasted pita to justify the name, to a merely passable mixture with only a few soggy chunks.

It's all pretty basic. Since the food is served on Styrofoam plates with plastic cutlery, you may prefer to take it home. There's no coffee, just tea, and I can't report on the baklava, since it has only become available since my last visit. Depending on which server is working, communication can be difficult, leading to occasional wrong orders, but the staff have been unfailingly courteous and accommodating.

*  *  *

At the other end of the scale, both in size and ambience, is the vibrantly colourful BMC Market, with a few tables and chairs and some shelves of Latino groceries. It's charming enough to eat in, but so limited in seating you'll probably end up with takeout.

The name gives no tip-off to what's going on inside, but tacos and quesadillas (plus a few extras) are what this place is about. My experience with Mexican food doesn't extend below Los Angeles, so I claim no expertise, but old Mexico hands have been singing BMC's praises and swearing to its authenticity. The soft corn-flour tortillas will be made to order only, and I'd been warned to eat them on the spot instead of taking them home, because they'd become soggy en route. But I did take them home once, and they weren't in the least soggy.

Raad Khamis, manager of Sultan Shawarma.

TREVOR HAGAN/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Raad Khamis, manager of Sultan Shawarma.

The difference between the tacos and the quesadillas is the mozzarella in the latter; otherwise the fillings are the same: pastor (pork with bits of pineapple); barbacoa (beef); shredded chicken (a little dry); chorizo; and the vegetarian poblano peppers with mushrooms and cream. They are small — snack size, actually — but at three tacos for $5 or three quesadillas for $6.99, lunch doesn't come much cheaper. I don't know why potato salad comes with the quesadillas — an odd one of vinaigrette-moistened mashed potatoes — but I liked it.

All the fillings tasted fresh and flavourful, and although the seasoning is mild, they can be as hot as you want them to be, depending on which of the five house-made salsas you choose — they range from mild to incendiary (the medium green salsa is about my speed). Pay no attention to what you may see on the Internet — there are no fish tacos, and no tamales. I did once manage to be there when there was tongue, but it's rare and, in any case, it was quite bland.

But there are a few other must-tries: the pozole, to start with, a terrific soup with hominy and juicy nuggets of pork ($3.99), and two delicious desserts to end with, a caramel-sauced flan ($2.99) and the pastel de tres leches, a milk-soaked sponge cake topped by whipped cream ($4.99).

Mexican beer is available, and although I'm not a fan of agua de horchata (a rice and milk-based beverage), those who are will find that here too.

marion.warhaft@freepress.mb.ca

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History

Updated on Thursday, October 23, 2014 at 9:00 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds map

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