Much like last week, my second week in Toronto was full of walking + sweet treats–I think I’ve developed a serious bakery habit.
Monday was a civic holiday, so I didn’t explore too much. In the afternoon, I walked up to Gerrard St E. (Wong’s Ice Cream and Gerrard St. Bakery are on the west end) and to Gerrard Square Shopping Centre. In the food court, you’ll find a Caribbean place called Tropical Joe’s. Serving up dishes like jerk chicken, goat patties and stewed oxtail, big flavors are coming out of this small food court stall.
I decided to try the jerk chicken poutine–a delicious marriage of Caribbean and Canadian cuisine. Hot, spicy, complex and comforting, this poutine made me very happy. (I can see this dish being very popular during the winter months up here.)
The next day, I paid a visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). In addition to the usual large collection of European art, indigenous artists were also recognized.
Brian Jungen, an artist of Dane-zaa (First Nations tribe from the Peace River region in British Columbia + Alberta) and Swiss ancestry, had a large exhibition called Brian Jungen Friendship Centre. Jungen’s pieces in this exhibit included his most recent Warrior series featuring Indigenous headdresses and sculptures made out of Air Jordans and other athletic equipment. Another visually striking piece made by an indigenous artist used a deer hide and a sculpted lighting piece.
Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama‘s Infinity Mirrored Room – Let’s Survive Forever was another gallery highlight. After signing up for a timeslot, you and up to three others have only 60 seconds in the immersive exhibit. The minute spent in there was equal parts overwhelming, stimulating, interesting and fun–just like Yayoi.
With the gallery right next to Chinatown, I couldn’t resist visiting a Chinese bakery. I went to Furama Cake + Dessert Garden, a no-frills spot offering egg tarts, stuffed buns and other standard baked goods you’d expect to find in any Chinatown bakery. I grabbed a bbq pork bun, egg tart and pineapple bun–a tasty walking lunch + snacks that cost less than $5 CAD (around $4 USD).
I also stopped at Blackbird Baking Co. in nearby Kensington Market, a bakery known for their breads made with local ingredients like Organic Red Fife Flour–yes, there’s a Scottish connection there. I picked up some focaccia (so good!), and will be back to try their sourdough.
Wednesday I went to dinner at Shook Kitchen. Inspired by open air markets, the modern Israeli restaurant specializes in dishes meant to be shared. My friend Tiffany and I shared a few dishes including: halloumi with grape molasses, smoked grapes, and a pine nut dukkah; heirloom tomato salad with feta, red onion and za’atar vinaigrette; whipped feta dip with roasted cherry tomatoes + hummus with fresh dill, both came with warm pita straight from their wood fired oven–the softest most pillowy pita bread I’ve ever had. And for dessert, a warm chocolate date cake that’s already inspired a baking project for when I get back to the U.S. A delicious meal filled with amazing produce, the standout had to be the smoked grapes that came with the halloumi–the ‘grape-iest’ grapes I’ve ever consumed. Also, I’m pretty sure sesame seeds are the Israeli equivalent of glitter because they got everywhere!
On Friday, I walked to Koreatown to Hodo Kwaja, a small Korean bakery known for their walnut cakes. The small walnut-shaped cakes traditionally come filled with a sweetened red bean filling, but they also offer a sweetened mashed potato filling with a walnut or almond–when the bakery first opened back in the ’90s, the owner came up with this alternative to better appeal to the Canadian palate. The cakes, fresh off the walnut cake machine–a mesmerizing thing to watch–are truly unique. A crispy wafer-like ‘shell’ surrounds a soft warm cake and mashed potato filling (no red bean when I went), providing a lightly sweet and buttery bite with chestnut undertones, perfect for a quick breakfast or snack.
After that, I went to The Daily Dumpling Wonton Co. for lunch. A selection of homemade Shanghainese dumplings accompanied with soup or a choice between two sauces make up the menu. I had the classic Shanghai dumplings (filled with pork + mustard greens) with peanut sauce and a healthy amount of crispy chili oil (available on each table). Fresh, flavorful and uncomplicated, I savored every single bite.
Saturday, I ventured over to Ossington Ave. and to Bang Bang Ice Cream, a much talked about ice cream shop in Toronto. After looking at a bucket list of Asian and tropical-influenced flavors (see photo), I got a scoop of Totaro an ube/taro combo, and a scoop of Banana Pudding in a cup–cones, cookies and bubble waffles are other vessels you can also enjoy your ice cream in. Super creamy, flavorful and creative, Bang Bang lives up to the hype and is worth a wait in line–but luckily I avoided it.
I ended my week at Taste of the Danforth, an annual street festival–apparently Canada’s largest–with my friend Tiffany. As much as it was predominately Greek cuisine and entertainment, other international cuisines were represented as well (Japanese, Cypriot, Lebanese, Mexican, etc.). My festival bites were mango with chile–a super ripe mango with hot sauce and chile powder–and a chicken gyro from Messini’s. And since we were in the neighborhood, I took Tiffany to Serano Bakery–she enthusiastically approves of their baklava too.
Now to try and get my bakery habit under control…yeah, that’s probably not happening.