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Monday, May 2, 2011

Eating Tour of Toronto

Location Review:
All Around Toronto!

Today's post will be a special one, because it'll from a couple places instead of just one!

This past weekend, my cousin Vincent from out of town came to Toronto, so my sister Amy and I decided to take him around to see the city. He'd already been to most of the bigger attractions in the city, so we were stumped on where to show him. Luckily, all three of us love eating, so it ended up being a huge eating tour! Of course we stopped by any parks, shops, and markets that we stumbled upon too. It's really crazy how both my sister and I have been in Toronto for over ten years, and we still ended up seeing and experiencing new things in Toronto for the first time.

We decided that at each food stop, we would only try one thing on the menu to limit ourselves to avoid over-eating. We hit up multiple communities, and tried to eat some cultural specialities! Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera, and didn't start taking pictures of the food until later into our food tour, so I don't have close up pictures for some of the food. You'll just have to use some imagination!

China Town

Food stall Near Spadina and Dundas:

We stumbled upon this snack shop and it reminded me of Hong Kong where these shops are just everywhere on the streets. It sold a lot of little snacks like fish balls, meat skewers, and even pig hoof. But out of all things, we decided to try the sugar coated haw (or what I always knew it being candied haw) because it wasn't something you see being sold everywhere in Toronto. The three of us shared one stick and it costed $3.

Candied Haw (冰糖葫芦)

The stick that my cousin on the left is holding is the Candied Haw. Think of this as a candy apple, but with Haw. The Haw itself reminded me of a crabapple and had a tangy sour taste to it. The sugar coating that I thought would be too sweet was actually just enough to counter some of the sourness. Our stick was evidently stored in the fridge because it was cold and kind of hard to bite into, but after thawing a bit, it was a nice treat for the warm day.

I actually remember in University some of my friends and I stumbled upon the question: "What are Hawflakes made of?" We had many theories of what it was, and I remember my answer was "Haw". I didn't exactly know what Haw was at the time, but after today, I do! Oh, and if anyone was wondering the obvious, Hawflakes tastes exactly like haw!

Yummy Refills
280 Spadina Avenue
Inside Dragon City Centre:

Tea Leaf Egg

Anyone who's been to China town has probably seen or been inside this mall. We took a quick trip inside, and saw another one of these snack shops. It sold fish balls, bubble tea, and some other random things. What caught our eye was this bowl of eggs. Turns out they are eggs being soaked in tea that's flavoured with different herbs and spices. We decided to try one. The egg tasted really good, but it didn't really wow me. I didn't find there was any tea flavour, and it wasn't too far off from braised eggs. It was tasty, but not as special as I thought it would be.

Kensington Market:

Panchos Bakery
214 Augusta Avenue:

We stumbled into Panchos Bakery because we saw there was a huge crowd of people inside. When we got inside, we realized that it was actually more of a market with many different food stalls crammed into one small store. There were all different types of foods from different regions like fresh made churros, empanadas, and these mexican entrees that I couldn't remember the name to. We ended up trying an arepa from Arepa Market, and some fruit smoothies from the nameless smoothie place right next to it.


Arepas are actually food commonly found in Venezuela. It's structurally similar to a hamburger, except the 'bun' part is actually made with corn flour. They made everything fresh there, and when someone ordered, you would see the guy take out a blob of dough, mould it into shape, and place it on the tiny cooking grill. We ordered #10 on the menu (can't remember what the name was) and it came with plantain, black beans, feta cheese, beef and tomato in it. I was initially a little worried about the combination, but it actually tasted amazing! The sweetness of the plantain balanced the saltiness of the feta cheese, and the beef and black beans gave it some hearty textures and flavours. The 'bun' part didn't really have any flavour, and it's texture was more crumbly and dry than sliced bread. It was almost almost like a cross between cake and an english muffin. Definite must-try if you are in this area.

Drink on the left: Large sour sop smoothie, Drink on the right: Small naranjilla smoothie

This smoothie place had a lot of flavours to choose from and basically made its smoothie by blending frozen fruit with a bit of water. As a result of my last post where my curiosity for exotic fruits were sparked, I decided to try the less common fruit smoothies. The naranjilla smoothie was kind of sour, and somewhat bland in taste. I preferred the sour sop smoothie much more. For whatever reason, the consistency of the sour sop smoothie was much much thicker than the naranjilla, almost like a milk shake. It was very very sweet like lychees, but fragrant like guava. I'm really interested to try sour sop as a fruit now.

Arepa Market on Urbanspoon
Little Portugal:

Nova Era Bakery
1172 Dundas West:

I found out later after doing a quick search online that this bakery is actually a chain, but none the less it was quite a good find. When you walk in, you notice that the place is really warm because all the ovens in the place have probably been running the entire day to make all the breads and pastries that it sells. There were a lot of pastries that you don't normally see, but the three of us all agreed that when you come to a portuguese bakery, you have to eat portuguese custard tarts! To wash it down, my cousin ordered a cappuccino, and my sister and I ordered waters.

Portuguese Custard Tarts

The portuguese tarts came cold, but we asked the waiter to heat them up and he was happy to do so. The tarts reminded me of the ones that I've had from Macau, but less greasy. The shell of the tart was light, flakey and crispy, which went well with the thick custard. It was very sweet and rich, so the small portion was more than enough. They were quite cheap as well!

Left: Water, Right: Cappuccino

The guy gave us bottled water when we ordered it, so I guess they don't have tap water. Regardless it wasn't too expensive, and we noticed on the label that it's bottled and imported from Portugal! I guess that was a bonus. I didn't have a close up of the cappuccino, so I'll just have to post one of my cousin sipping it with much indulgence. He described it as being very very creamy and smooth. I guess for $2, that's worth taking his word to try.

Nova Era Bakery on Urbanspoon

Little Italy:

Sicilian Side Walk Cafe
712 College Street:

I don't know much about the italian food culture aside from pastas, pizzas, and calzones. But since we were all pretty full from eating practically every minute, we settled on getting gelato instead. One of the reasons why we went into this cafe is because another one of my cousins William, said that it's one of the best gelato's he's ever had. So of course we had to try. It has a nice patio on the outside, and I imagine it would be a pretty popular spot in the summer. The prices of the desserts were very reasonable, bordering on the side of cheap for the portions that you get. The three of us ordered a crepe to share and found the portions to be just enough.

Tanti Bacci Crepe -Bacci ice cream, Hazlenuts, Nutella chocolate spread, and whipped cream

I think my cousin wasn't too far off from describing it as the best crepe he's had in Toronto. It was in fact very very good. It looks so simple, but it was the little details that made it much better than some other crepes I've had. First off, the whipped cream was real whipped cream. None of that artificial stuff that comes from a can. It was so creamy and really smooth. The two generous scoops of ice cream itself was like eating Ferrero Rocher. it had little bits of hazelnut inside the ice cream that somehow were still crunchy despite being refrigerated with the ice cream. The actual hazelnut bits gave it extra crunch, and weren't stale like some nuts you get from other crepe places. What impressed me the most was the crepe. it was made to just the right thickness and had a nice elasticity/chewiness to it. I think I would've enjoyed eating just the crepe by itself. I also wanted to point out that the chocolate sauce and crepe was folded in a way that the ice cream did not make the crepe soggy when it melted. Hard to explain, but as a result of it, even the last bite tasted like eating a fresh new crepe. From just this one crepe, I would definitely come back to try the other things they have on the menu.

Sicilian Sidewalk Cafe on Urbanspoon

At the end of the day, I guess you could probably argue that we didn't really do a good job of showing my cousin Toronto and "Toronto-ish" food. But I guess that's just what Toronto is... a whole mesh of different cultures. On our streetcar ride home, he commented on how much he enjoyed the tour, and how it was a really unique and different way to see (and taste) Toronto. Mission to see Toronto: SUCCESS! I actually quite enjoyed it a lot myself, and I think I might do it again on a nicer day in the summer.  There are so many restaurants and little shops to try! However, I warn for anyone who wants to try this, it's A LOT of walking. I was completely pooped by the end of the day!

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