Follow Me Foodie to Toronto!
You know it’s really cold when you go into a restaurant after being outside for 15 minutes and think the standard water they are pouring you is hot. You also know it’s really cold when you take your gelato outside and it never melts and actually gets harder as you eat it. You’ll eventually find out why I was eating gelato in the winter (although not surprising if you know me or this blog), but these are all true stories that happened to me during Follow Me Foodie to Toronto. It was my second time in Toronto, but my first time writing about it. The trip was split into two parts with different itineraries and purposes, but the first part was a breeze – a breeze in a Buick. These are the chronicles of Follow Me Foodie to Toronto.
“It was a cold and stormy night”, I could start a bunch of my blog entries for Follow Me Foodie to Toronto like this, because Toronto was freaking cold. It wasn’t so much “stormy”, but the rain followed me from Vancouver and I experienced the bitter cold with a few days of brutal rain, couple days of snow, and the worst – slushy snow.
Toronto was cold like I’ve never experienced. Cold where I thought my face was going to fall off, or cold to the point where taking my hands out of my gloves to take a couple photos made me fear for potential frost bite. So after all this complaining why the heck did I choose to explore Toronto in the dead winter? Easy. It wasn’t my choice and I got to do it in comfort, style and on wheels…
Follow Me Foodie to Buick Encore’s Culinary Adventure – Part 1
It all started when I was invited on a “Culinary Adventure” in a Buick Encore, but I decided to extend my stay to do some personal exploring and food research of the city. So the first part of my trip was very different than the second.
The first part was all planned and guided and I had the luxury of driving around a brand new 2013 Buick Encore. The features of the car told me how to get to unfamiliar places while warming up my bum, holding my coffee, playing my music, and warming my hands! Yes! The steering wheel is heated, which is one of the features I missed most even after coming back home to my car. I am always cold.
Beyond the car, the whole trip was quite memorable and I did things I wouldn’t have done. My Buick Encore experience took place in Toronto and Muskoka – an iconic Canadian destination less than 200km north of Toronto – see my post here.
Of course, I had to return the Buick Encore after the road trip, but I sure missed it for part 2 (especially the heater seats and heated steering wheel), although part 2 had its extremely delicious moments. Being in Toronto for just over a week while spending a few days in Muskoka barely showed me enough, but I got a feel of the city. I also managed to make a decent dent during my short time there. I didn’t do as much damage as I did in Follow Me Foodie to New York or Follow Me Foodie to Chicago, but I didn’t disappoint. Quality over quantity, although I promise to be honest and share the good and the bad from the entire trip.
The Toronto Food Scene: West Coast VS East Coast
Throughout Follow Me Foodie to Toronto I am going to draw comparisons to Vancouver to put things into context. After all, it’s all relative and I can’t ignore the whole West Coast VS East Coast or Vancouver VS Toronto food scene rival.
This Canadian version of the “Big Apple” has so much to offer. As a Vancouverite we tend to pride ourselves on being multicultural and diverse regardless of the context, but compared to Toronto or other big alpha cities, they do not give us much to brag about. Vancouver excels at Asian cuisine and offers many options for it, but when it comes to everything else the population is quite small or not represented in the food scene. Toronto on the other hand has everything.
Vancouver’s food scene is predominantly influenced by various Asian cuisines and ingredients. It even caters to that palate depending on the restaurant and/or clientele. It is uniquely Pacific Northwest more so than international cuisine, but Toronto is truly international.
Toronto is a city composed of cultural and ethnic areas, whereas Vancouver is not ethnically defined and more about the lifestyles of particular areas. Yes, we have a Korea town, Little Italy and Greek street, but Toronto has West Indian, Polish, Latin, Jamaican, Portuguese, Somalian, Korean, Japanese, and almost a neighbourhood for every single ethnicity. It truly is a diverse city, in a way I wish Vancouver was.
The best part is all these ethnic areas can be explored conveniently within downtown or in Toronto’s suburbs. Whereas in Vancouver you kind of have to make more of an effort to experience some ethnic cuisines in the suburbs. A born and raised Torontonian put it very nicely when he said “the people are the same, but what sets Toronto’s neighbourhood’s apart is the food”.
Vancouver has a food scene to be very proud of, but last year Toronto really showed up dominating media coverage with exciting new restaurants. Given the city is much bigger with many more options, it should, but it’s not just about options. It’s about what the options are and what the chefs and cooks are doing.
The seafood and Asian food was generally harder to impress a West Coast “foodie” with, but that is not to say they did not exist. I did have a few good experiences in both areas during my short time there. The use of local ingredients was quite limited, although I would love to go back in the summer. I think relative to Vancouver their seasonal menus, passion for local ingredients, and concept of sustainability is not as intense as Vancouver’s, but there is consideration for it. They lack the bountiful harvest of BC, but they make up for it with their access to international ingredients and resources.
I know I am making general statements, but I found the strengths in Toronto’s culinary scene in the endless options for authentic ethnic cuisine. At least that is what I took value and keen interest in. Not many cities can pride themselves on this and it is not a characteristic that can be created, copied or forced. In Toronto it comes naturally because the city is made up of immigrants from literally all over the world. Their multi-cultural population continues to grow which enriches their food scene.
According to the City of Toronto there are more than 200 distinct ethnic origins as reported by residents of Toronto in 2006, and over 140 languages and dialects spoken there. It is undoubtedly one of the most culturally diverse in the world.
Some Torontonians might complain about not having good West Indian food, Burmese food or Tibetan food, but don’t realize many North American cities have no options for the mentioned, let alone even one. Yes, it’s not New York, but it is Canada’s alpha city. Vancouver and Toronto offer eclectic menus, but they have very different styles of eclectic. Toronto’s food scene is culturally inspired by many cultures which are not even really represented in Vancouver, so I found that very special.
Toronto has plenty of mid-range and affordable spots, but the street food scene was lacking and it has plenty of room to grow. Toronto’s most expensive restaurant will be more than Vancouver’s, and their cheapest restaurant will be cheaper than ours, but generally, Vancouver has a pricier food scene. Many say it’s a bit pretentious, but Vancouver can be too, but again different styles of pretentious. Surprisingly I didn’t come across one wooden long table and the food trends were a bit different, which was refreshing, and I am looking forward to re-visiting already.
I packed in as many meals as I could while still enjoying them, and I still scratched the surface of Toronto. There is much more to explore, and my statements and thoughts are based on the vibe I got. I could go on and on about everything I learned and experienced about this vibrant city where people are always on the go, and restaurants are closing as fast as they are opening, but it will all come up in my upcoming posts for Follow Me Foodie to Toronto.
What you can expect from Follow Me Foodie to Toronto over the next little while are stories from my Buick Encore Culinary Adventure in Muskoka as well as adventures exploring Toronto’s old and new restaurant scene.
Here is just a small taste of things you can expect from Follow Me Foodie to Toronto!
From good old grilled cheese sandwiches (from The Grilled Cheese)…
… to new and modern revamped grilled cheese sandwiches (from here).
From a fancy version of eggplant parmesan (from Buca)…
… to a dessert version of eggplant (candied eggplant from Buca).
From South American empanadas (from Top Chef Canada finalist David Chrystian’s Victor Restaurant)…
… to Jamaican patties (from Patty King).
From Taiwanese influenced baos (from Banh Mi Boys)…
… to Venezuelan arepas (from Arepa Cafe).
From soulful Southern deep fried sweetbreads (from Black Hoof)…
… to sophisticated European glazed sweetbreads (from Edulis).
From runny fried eggs (from Edulis)…
… to fully cooked eggs (from Black Hoof)…
… to lovely duck eggs (from Buca).
From deep fried fish tacos (from Grand Electric)…
… to deep fried “fish n’ chips” (from Victor Restaurant).
From lamb one way (from Muskoka Catering)…
… to lamb 2 ways (from Bosk).
From whiskey (at Grand Electric)…
… to wine (from Buick Encore’s Long Table Dinner).
From pig’s blood gelato brioche sandwiches (from Buca)…
… to foie gras ice cream oatmeal raisin cookie sandwiches (from Victor Restaurant).
… to modernist bread pudding (from Bosk).