New resto a laffa matter

Former Iraqi street food served up in huge portions in Bathurst eatery

My friend raved about a new spot serving laffa.

“What’s laffa?” I asked. And that’s all that was needed to arrange a date for lunch. There are a number of spots around Toronto but we went to Ba-Li Laffa on Bathurst. For our Jewish readers, this spot has the advantage of being kosher as well.

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Laffa (or lafa or lafah) is Iraqi street food which has been wholeheartedly adopted in Israel. As with much Middle Eastern street food, it starts with some version of a pita, in this case it’s taboon. This flatbread is apparently a staple in Middle Eastern cuisine, served stuffed with shaved meat. Laffa is the slightly chewy, Iraqi version, that’s usually used for wrapping shwarma in food stands.

So we find ourselves in the dining room of Ba-Li Laffa, perusing a menu that curiously, also includes sushi. Middle East meets Japan. Go figure.

We start with a combo platter of appetizers ($11). This has two each of small potato pancakes or latkas; deep fried pastry ‘cigars’ (their name, honestly!) stuffed with ground beef and lamb; crunchy falafel balls; and a really delicious deep fried triangle called potato pastelle. This is a Trinidadian favourite so I’m a little confused about its inclusion on a Middle Eastern appetizer plate, but at this point I’m going with the flow here.

The laffa is a large, serving platter sized flatbread, and comes with your choice of mostly meat fillings. This is finished off with various toppings (lettuce, tomatoes, sauce — you get the picture), then rolled up. Think Middle Eastern fajita —on steroids.

We’ve asked for three different fillings with our laffa: kabob (ground beef and lamb patties), chicken shish kabob, and sabich. This last is definitely my favourite.

The fat rolls come overstuffed with each choice as well as red cabbage, shredded lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and hummus. The kabob — a blend of lamb and beef ($12) — is juicy, and the combination of meat and fillings is really tasty.  My guest has asked for it spicy. I don’t recommend this unless you’re asbestos-tongued; it’s got a serious kick.

The chicken kabob ($12) filling gets full marks for being made with dark meat, says my second guest (it is possible to get chicken breast meat too). But for me, it loses on preparation — it’s a little dry and chewy. Cooking meat on a grill is bound to dry it out a little, but the result this time is not nearly moist enough for my taste. I hasten to add that my guest loves it, “It’s the blend of flavours that makes it so good.”

And the blend of flavours is the key with the sabich (pronounced with a guttural ch). Grilled eggplant, sliced hard-boiled eggs, potato latkas as well as all the standard toppings may seem a little over the top, but they turn this into an extraordinary sandwich. There are so many flavours and textures, I’m blown away. Move over Egg McMuffin, THIS would be a great breakfast sandwich!

As a codicil, I would add that the laffa is huge. I found I couldn’t manage more than half my sandwich. But the good news is that it’s just as good three hours later. So take home the second half.

We didn’t try the sushi, nor any of the other main courses. We came for the laffa. If you haven’t yet discovered this flavourful sandwich, give yourself a treat. There are laffa eateries springing up all over the city.

Ba-Li Laffa, 3521 Bathurst St. (647) 350-2254. www.balilaffa.com