Oh Canada. You have brought us so many icons; Drake, Celine Dion… Bieber. But as far as your culinary contributions the only ones that sprung to mind prior to my trip were Poutine and maple syrup. Now I’m not knocking maple syrup or poutine (and we will get to that cheese curd goodness later) but what I found when eating my way around this city, led by my friend, personal guide and native Torontonian Marlowe, is that the food that makes this city so special is not built on just one countries traditions, but a delicious melting pot of different cultures that have found there home here and built a vibrant and exciting food scene. This has always been a city of immigrants and even now over half the city is made up of people who were born somewhere else and this is reflected strongly in the city’s culinary identity. I came across the poster below whilst shopping in Kensington Market, summing this delicious diversity up perfectly it shows the A to Z of Toronto eating, including dishes ranging from cheeseburgers to goat rotis and from oysters to yakitori, it became something of a hit list for my trip. I might not have gotten through all of the alphabet in the week I spent there but below you will find a gastronomic journey around the world through trendy no cutlery restaurants and scruffy local hole in the walls.
Tacos in Mexico
Compared to the soggy, limp and generally flavourless attempts made in the UK, Mexican food is obviously always going to be better in North America, Tacos particularly. Ok there is a couple of exceptions, Hija de Sánchez in Copenhagen are the best I have had in the world, and London has had a few recent additions such as Tacos al Pastor that are creating some promise for this country’s reputation for Mexican food. But when I do find myself on the other side of the Atlantic my first stop is always a taco hit. After dumping my bags at my friends apartment it was off to the tiny Seven Lives in Kensington market, where perched in the window I stuffed my jet lagged face with a delicious fish taco with fresh salsa in a blue corn tortilla. Later that night still not quite satisfied, it was on to Grand Electric in Parkdale for more ‘fancy’ tacos of Baja Fish, Shrimp and Pork Carnitas which were fantastic, as well as a unmissable zingy, spicy tuna ceviche that bolted me from my jet lag long enough to make it home.
Bao Buns in Taiwan
For pillowy Bao buns stuffed with traditional fillings like pork belly and spicy chicken, or a less traditional fillings such as pulled pork and apple slaw head to one of the various outposts of Mean Bao. We had a bao stop at their Queen & Bathurst shop, but for more of a sit down meal head to their newer Leslieville restaurant. Better yet, try some of the exciting Toronto offerings that I didn’t make it to that are doing some interesting twists on classic bao buns such as Korean cocktail bar Oddseoul for a kimchi bun or trendy Dailo for the famous Big Mac Bao.
Pastel de nata in Portugal
You just have to see my post on Lisbon to see that whilst there I fell hard for Pastel de nada. Developing an unhealthy obsession that led to me opening up my suitcase in a Gatwick Airport car park at 12am to break into a stash of those flaky and custardy tarts that where actually intended for my coworkers. So when my friend dropped in to conversation that “they have those custard things you like here” I immediately demanded to be taken there. Head to the Brazil Bakery and Pastry Shop on Dundas West in little Portugal for a custard hit, an espresso, and to try the many Portuguese treats they have on offer.
Doubles in the Caribbean
One of the best new things I tried on my trip was the humble, cheap ($2.50) and ridiculously flavourful West Indian double. Layered between two baras (fried flat bread) is a delicious curry channa (curried chickpeas) which at Ali’s Roti are drizzled with sweet tamarind or spicy hot sauce. Currently seeking good doubles in London… open to suggestions.
Tuna Nigiri in Japan
It was only shortly after I had returned from Tokyo that I was off to Toronto earlier this summer. Still in peak Japan fever, when I heard that was a great sushi place close by in Roncesvalles that served tuna nigiri made from fish imported from Tokyo’s Tsukji Market; I overlooked the air miles and headed to Sushi Nomi immediately for a Japan fix. For more Japan vibes head to Korea town for Karaoke bars and freshly cooked Taiyaki from the Asian food market. If your Japan thirst is still not quite satisfied then do one better than I did and have dinner at Kinka Izakaya which was on my hit list and have heard is close to the Izakaya experiences of Tokyo.
Momos in Tibet
If doubles were close to being the best new thing I tried on my trip, then thats because that crown was stolen by my introduction to Momos. A Tibetan answer to the dumpling, at the family run Loga’s Corner in Parkdale they were filled with varying meat fillings and served with a hot sauce that I warn you to be careful with. I have sought Momos out since my return to London at two new spots that have recently opened; Madame D in Spitlefields and House of Momo in Dalston. However neither compared to the juicy dumpling made at Loga’s Corner.
Papusas in El Salvador
Another first in the form of the Salvadorian dish Pupusa. A thick corn tortilla stuffed with fillings like spiced chicken or cheese and beans. Head to the brightly coloured Latin Food Emporium in Kensington Market for these delicious and comforting parcels of joy served with curtido (spicy coleslaw) and why not go for a side or cheesy plantain too. Just because.
Dumplings in China
More dumplings, this time the more traditional Chinese kind at the cities famous Mother’s Dumplings in Chinatown. We ate an over ordered feast of handmade dumplings that you can watch being prepared in the kitchen from a recipe past down by the owner Zhen’s mother, along with a table full of delicious sides such as smashed cucumbers and spicy peanut salad
Classic Americana in North America
You can’t come to North America without experiencing some Americana diner classics. For burgers head back in time to Harry’s Restaurant in Parkdale. This 60’s time warp servers up delicious burgers in a retro setting, order the Plain-Jane burger for a taste of the best McDonald’s style cheeseburger ever. For a ridiculous brunch head to Saving Grace and be prepared for a long wait, but with dishes such as scrambled eggs with cheddar cornmeal waffles, pickled jalapeños, bacon and blackberry preserve its worth waiting for. And finally for that all (North) American doughnut head to Glory Hole Doughnuts on Queen for delicious and interesting flavours such as ‘buttered toast’ which has the added bonus of passing as breakfast.
Tapas in Spain
In my pre-Toronto foodie research, nowhere popped up more than the sister tapas bars Bar Raval and Bar Isabel. After some research and recommendations from an array of Toronto friends Bar Isabel came out on top. We spent an evening in this dark catalan cave feasting on plates of thick pan con tomato, jamón croquettes, patatas bravas topped with salty anchovies, platters of cured meat and a exceptional grilled octopus which was the star of this glitzy show.
Pirogies in Poland
Even more dumpling, however this time of the Polish variety. Head to the adorable ‘Stars Hollow’ like Roncesvalles, Toronto’s Little Poland, for pierogies and pickles at Cafe Polonez. Here the delicious pillows are filled with classics like mash potato & cheese, pork and sauerkraut served with sour cream and a irresistible bacon onion relish. On another sunnier day we stopped by for some pierogies to go which in true fashion ate on the bleachers of nearby High Park.
Steak Tartare in France
Ok this place is far from being remotely french but trendy 416 Snack Bar couldn’t be more Toronto if it tried. With a menu of Korean fried chicken, dim sum, oysters, steak tartare, steamed buns, reuben sandwiches, foie gras toasts and killer cocktails it is a tribute to the worldly food scene of the city. It is also famous for being cutlery free which has lead to some internet hipster ridicule, particularly over the deconstructed caesar ‘dipping’ salad… however I would go back again for that steak tartare and the fun vibes at this devilishly delicious bar.
…and finally when in Canada, eat poutine, stock up on maple syrup and bring home the baconaise.
Despite the gastronomic tour of world cuisine their is a few more things you need to do including stopping of at Poutini’s House of Poutine for some of Canada’s finest cheesy gravy fried goodness. For the best souvenirs with a tasteful trendy twist head to the Drake General Store (no relation to the Drake) for delicious blends of maple syrup, gourmet Canadian snacks, milk bar bake kits, questionable jars of baconnaise, ‘CANADA’ mugs, and of course drake pins (actual drake, confusing yes?).