You’ll feed your appetite for culture(s), both local and international.
As more of us see more of the world, whether online or by travelling, we are starting to realize that there is more to fine dining than white tablecloths and maitre d’s. Fine food is fine because it tastes good, not because it’s wittily plated. And some of the finest food is street food.
I’ve been getting nostalgic about street food recently, because it’s so fundamentally about being out in the world at a time when we are so fundamentally not.
One stop street shop
Maybe the best spot to get street food, now or anytime, is the World Food Market on Dundas at Gould, just north of the Eaton Centre, and between Dundas and Gerrard. Though there are sometimes picnic tables in this small lot, vacated by a building that tumbled during renovation a few years back, all the food at the 18 or so kiosks is designed to be eaten while wandering.
You’ll want to stop at a few of them, starting maybe with Chickee Kone, mostly because they’re called Chickee Kone. They specialize in weird and fun things to do with chicken, mostly deep fried it seems.
The standard is chicken bits served in a thin waffle cone, as you might expect. But they’ve also got fried chicken and waffles, maybe with mango ice cream. They’ve also got salads and wraps, but you can get those anywhere. Get some chicken in a cone and go from there.
Within a few steps, you can get dumplings and noodles at Karma’s Kitchen, steak sandwiches at Steak & Cheese, ramenesque noodles at Thindi, an Indian noodle place (who knew?), biryani at Spice.66, Middle Eastern-inspired wraps at Mazeh, crepes at Holy Crepes and churros to top it all off at Choco Churros.
A few blocks west of Kensington Market, just as Dundas swerves north to meet Bathurst, there is a string of shipping containers on the south side of the street specializing in street food from around the world, like Kanto Filipino street food (try everything, but try the sisig fries first), Suzume omusubi bar, where you can get Japanese rice balls, Nantana Thai, Mazar’s Kitchen with food from Afghanistan, some Japanese fried chicken at Gushi and jerk chicken at Original Taste.
Toronto does tacos
But even outside these delightful little street food theme parks, the city is full of street food, whether you want to eat and walk or sit down somewhere and tuck in. Toronto’s blessed with tacos, the mother of all street foods.
El Asador near Christie Pits Park on Bloor serves Salvadoran tacos, similar to the Mexican classics, but leaning more towards soft shells and meat chunks, including goat, rather than ground meat.
Some of the best Mexican street tacos, tiny and delicious, are at El Trompo in Kensington Market, where you have to try the cochinita pibil, with bitter orange, and the chicharron de queso, a sort of little hat made of thin fried cheese.
El Catrin in the Distillery District not only has great tacos (try the Madre with yellow mole chicken), but they say they have the biggest mezcal collection in the country. That may not be street food in Toronto, but it is in Mexico City, where they have hundreds of streetside mezcal joints, so I figure it counts.
Then there’s Rebozos on Rogers Road in St Clair West Village, where you need to try the huarache, a kind of Mexican open-faced sandwich made on an oblong masa corn dough. Though not as self-contained as we tend to like our street food around these parts, it was born in a stall on the street of Mexico City in the 1930s, and if they can balance the mess of refried beans, cactus leaves, queso fresco, we probably can, too.
The streets of Taipei
In Toronto, if you notice a Chinese restaurant that looks a little cooler than you’re used to, it’s probably Taiwanese, and in addition to the cool bubble teas (a Taiwanese invention), you’ll find fun foods that were born in the night markets of Taipei.
There are dozens, but if you want to get the general idea, order the exploding chicken from ChiChop downtown on Yonge Street, a fried cutlet that’s filled with four kinds of melted cheese that, though it does indeed explode volcanically as soon as you bite into it, was meant to be bitten into on the street, with friends, to the general amusement of those around you.
You could also try the squid balls or Taiwanese sausage (sometimes served on a stick) at Charidise in Baldwin Village. And if you’re uptown with a sweet tooth, you can get a sweet azuki bean-filled wheel cake from the FormoCha bubble tea house (its name is a play on Formosa, the old colonial name for Taiwan) on Eglinton at Yonge. Originally a Japanese dessert called Imagawayaki, named for the bridge where they were sold in the 18th century, they’ve become a staple of Taiwanese night markets, where they’re called chēlún bǐng.