It’s been about four years since I’ve been to Toronto. Things have changed and things have stayed the same.
Crawling along Gardiner at the lake shore. You are introduced to a new crop of high rise condo buildings that makes one feel like their are floating above some vaguely southeast asian ghetto. The vast majority of these units look unoccupied, though your imagination could begin to picture colorful rugs flung of balcony railings and clothes lines festooning the space between each balcony. In the courtyards below the Gardiner you see groups of men gambling over winged blood-sport. The din of conversation trying to stay above the volume of the cacophony of music emanating and echoing between the buildings, leaves you bleary and overwhelmed.
But this will not happen, the people who will populate these concrete bomb-shelters have condo boards and visions of possible resale dancing in their heads. Millionaires buying a third home to send their mistresses and daughters. Working suckers who just want their slice of a lake view. It all made my heart sink a little. Good thing I got to see the real Toronto.
I arrived at my cousin’s home which is better known as Hotel Pearson. A beautiful slice of inner city Toronto living, in the Roncesvalle neighborhood. Roncesvalle is like many of the villages in Toronto, distinct, soulful and just slightly off kilter in an endearing way. After I was settled in with my very generous hosts, we toured the neighborhood. Delis, butcher shops, bakeries, bars and restaurants line Roncesvalle Avenue which climbs a slight hill. Giving you almost the feel of San Francisco. It’s a refreshing place to be introduced to after my taxi tour of the lakeshore.
There was also food on friday. After much debate we settled on a trip to Little India for dinner*. Toronto’s Little India is on the east side of the city, and Gerrard St is the epicenter. Like many of the ethnic neighboorhoods in Toronto. Little India feels like you have been transported to another country. Restaurants, clothing shops, and grocery stores are the main draw for the area, great food smells wafting from small storefronts, selling grilled curiosities and roti style flat-breads through small windows.
Our destination was Lahore Tikka House, a bustling North Indian/Pakistani eatery. Inside are tables in long rows and plastic lawn chairs. It felt like a German beer house that had suddenly swore off the suds for curry and lassi**. The walls of the building are lined with vibrantly coloured fabrics and the kitchen can be seen through small opening. Numerous waiters buzzed around the floor of the restaurant with sizzing cast iron platters full of meat, rice and curry. There’s a great communal feel to the place, the sights, smells and sounds of food buzz all around you. The tables are modest, you eat on a disposable plate and with plastic utensils, but it is more charming than detracting.
We ordered tandoori BBQed lamb, Tandoori Chicken, Spinach and Paneer curry, potato and cauliflower curry naan bread and vegetarian rice biryani. The food was amazing. The lamb was so tender that a plastic knife made quick work of it. The chicken was moist, juicy and incredibly flavorful. The curries were intense, full of those exotic but familiar comforting flavors. The naan was the prefect thing to scoop, and sop up the great flavors on the plate.
The meal was an amazing experience, not just because of the food, but because of the surroundings. Great family to share the meal with but also this great overarching experience of eating with a large group of people in such a modest but vibrant place. I would recommend anyone who is visiting or who lives in Toronto to try this place out with an open mind and an empty stomach.***
Friday finished with a walk on east Queen street in the Leslieville neighborhood. There looked to be many great places to eat, drink and shop, but my impending food coma and distended belly kept our activates to walking.
My first night in Toronto with my cousins was just the start to a weekend that would see us eating tongue tacos with bourbon, Duck Confit hash and a flank steak cook out for the ages.
Stay tuned boys and girls.
*This in my mind was perfect as if you remember last week I lusted for Naan and Indian cuisine.
**A lassi is a yogurt based drink served either sweet or salty with indian spices, fruit or honey.
***Christian and I ate way too much. And by, way to much, I mean we were both in considerable pain that evening. This had nothing to do with the quality of the food, which was top notch, it was just the result of wanton gluttony and general disregard for our own well being.