I travel to TO a fair bit. Over the past nine years I would hazard a guess that I have been to the self proclaimed “center of the universe” (okay, Canada) approximately fifty times, half of those being overnight or longer trips. I have eaten at fast food, more posh restaurants, small family run takeout places and street vendors and I will say it right now, you have ruined ethnic food. Where I come from, there is a vibrant Cambodian and Portuguese community mixed with a hodge-podge of other ethnicities and very large European contingent of locals some of whom have been in the area since the late 1700s (my family included). We are largely multicultural with none of the ethnic violence that seems to simmer in Toronto. We also have more restaurants per capita than most other cities in Canada. If you go to any ethnic restaurants, or even white-bread, vanilla German or English places to eat, there is taste, flavor, spice that mimics that one finds in the associated country of origin. There are fusion places, straight up shawarma or pita places, Cambodian and Thai places with heat and sweet taste. I am used to variety and options. Toronto, relative to where I come from, you frankly need to pull up your socks at least downtown.
Food in (downtown) Toronto promises excitement. From Caribbean to Thai to sushi to bland old Kelsey-style places have signs and menus that imply traditional food excitement for your mouth. What you get most everywhere I have gone is as follows:
- Bland French fries (called “frites ” at places trying hard to sound posh) that are cooked in ancient oils (possibly waste TTC lubricants)
- Lots of random meats on “chiabatta” buns
- Spring mix salads with fruit based dressings
- Lamb (I like lamb, I do, but it seems to be the new thing to toss ground lamb in food in TO)
- Sweet potato things cooked so much they taste like orange colored sweet starch mush
- Thai food that has the flavor of buffet “Chinese” food cooked by Indonesian people afraid to upset locals who strive to make it sweet and palatable to Americans who just aren’t in TO this week
- Cold soups made with strange ingredients that look nice in the (always far too shallow) bowl (deep plate) but taste like a smoothie someone left on the deck for an hour in the sun
- Tofu (I like tofu, just noting that outside of Toronto it is served in something spicy and flavorful since TOFU IS FLAVOURLESS)
- Fish and Chips (overcooked)
- Salmon (always with the goddamn salmon)
Tips for the traveler who likes flavour: Small ethnic family run places. Eat at the small places and avoid anywhere that you see people in suits and anything close to the financial district. People who work in downtown TO go out drinking most EVERY NIGHT after work except the small percentage who live near downtown. They have a huge commute and wish to avoid the slog in traffic, so they go out and have a few beer with their besuited colleagues and soon want something to eat before they head off home. They order salty carby sweet things that satiate their empty souls.
Sorry Toronto. I like your people and your things to do, but you really make me want to pack a lunch when I visit.