For the final issue of the year, I wanted to do something different with this column. I’ve written about the best places to get burritos, cheap eats, and decadent dinners, but this time I’ll be examining my relationship with Toronto through the food that I eat.
Food and Toronto have both led me to some of my lowest lows, but have also helped me pull myself out of those slumps. While seeking new foods (or sometimes just sustenance), I discovered Toronto. Here are some of the places that I have very fond memories of. They may not have 5 star ratings, but that’s not all that food is about.
We’ll start off with where my affair with food in this city started: Hong Shing. A mere 3-minute walk from Chestnut, there is something almost charming about this place. The ambience is nothing special, and a friend often jokes that it is a cover for the Chinese mafia. Despite its somewhat sketchy atmosphere, it’s hard to forget all those midnight meals I shared with friends over a drink. Their food is as good as un-authentic authentic Chinese can get. I for one enjoy being able to eat a decent full meal for under $10 and getting a fortune cookie at the end of it.
Hong Shing holds a special place in the hearts of those who have lived in Chestnut, and of those who frequent it often. Its popularity is not limited to just UofT students: the place celebrated its twentieth anniversary recently, and the event’s popularity was quite something for a small, shady-looking restaurant. Hong Shing showed me that all I needed for a good time were a couple of friends, crispy fried tofu, and Sriracha.
While I frequented many places like Hong Shing along Dundas during my first year, none of them screamed “Toronto” to me, despite some of them being among my favorite restaurants in the city. However, once I started venturing beyond Dundas, I found a whole new town, starting with Little Italy.
On Halloween night, some friends and I got lost in Little Italy on the way to a kegger. We never made it there, but I did end up with some amazing gnocchi. It warmed my heart in a way that I had been craving in my new home. This little place was Vivoli, a quaint Italian joint on College and Beatrice. The food wasn’t exactly cheap ($15 for my plate), but that plate of gnocchi satisfied a part of me that I didn’t realize was there. Vivoli not only is an excellent venue to host small parties, but they also have a great bar. They have a lovely patio as well during the summer months, and it’s a cute place to have a date when you’re not looking to spend too much but just want to enjoy some good food with your boo. Vivoli showed me that even in the coldest of winters, I would always be able to find some warmth. I saw my first snowfall that night, and it was magical.
I grew more and more comfortable with the city as time went on, but I still couldn’t find a restaurant in the city that made food like my mama did. I tried several places, and each time there was only disappointment. I had almost started to believe that I wouldn’t be able to find a piece of home in the city. But this Diwali, when I was feeling particularly homesick and had forgotten to make any reservations beforehand, I found Sher-e-Punjab (“The Lion of Punjab”) in Greektown, of all places. Finding this restaurant on a rather difficult day for me (even though it is almost 30 minutes away) was like seeing a mirage. I could not believe that an authentic Indian restaurant had made its way to Toronto, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it truly was an oasis and not just a mirage upon going there. The food there is perfectly spiced; even my non-Indian friends seemed to enjoy it. It’s again a little expensive (a bill for two will be about $50) but the quantities are ample, and the ambience is great. They have small touches of ‘India’ around the restaurant in the form of posters, Air India advertisements, and so on. The best part? Their butter chicken isn’t sweet! Sher-e-Punjab reminded me that home was always near me; I just needed to find it.
And now to end off with something sweet, and in the fanciest area of Toronto – Yorkville. Close to Victoria College and Yorkville is a cute little dessert place called Prairie Girl Bakery. It’s run by a lovely young woman and the cupcakes are quite a delight. I discovered this place after a friend insisted we have a little treat after last year’s Skule Nite show. The cupcakes are reasonably priced, they have all your favorite flavours, and there’s some space inside to enjoy your treat. Go early though, since they run out quickly! Prairie Girl reminded me to always remember to have fun and relax, and that Toronto was a town of surprises: even near Yorkville could one find affordable yet amazing desserts in a modest-looking bakery.