Category Archives: Toronto

Hasta luego Toronto

I sit in my brother’s old bedroom in my parents’ house trying to make sense of the last five years in Toronto. Naturally, I turn to the internet. For “research.”  I search for songs that would capture the city where I became an adult. Although I have never lived  downtown, preferring the comfort of the Annex, the crowded high-rises of St Jamestown or the family-friendly Beaches, Great Lake Swimmers’ Concrete Heart struck me in the gut. Toronto is the city I fell in love with when I come back from a year in Managua, one of the most challenging in my life to date, and four years in Waterloo, the suburb that’s trying so hard to be a city. It’s the city where I fell out of love, first with the charming streetcars, and then with one boyfriend after another. Toronto is a patient city. Its hidden treasures, bike trails and hiking paths, accessible from Gordon Lightfoot’s Yonge Street, forgive long absences. It accepts that I have spent too much time in Robarts but not enough time on my thesis. Sometimes. Suddenly a taxi almost doors me. On my bike, Toronto wins me over and I call it home.

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Taco Tour Round-up

I have now had the crowning moment of my taco tour experience. On Sunday a friend came to Toronto and suggested that we go to one of my favourite taco places. Since the favourite taco places are in no way close to where we were going, I suggested a new place, La Burrita. (Sidebar: Some might caution against this, but those might be the same people who think you shouldn’t cook new dishes for guests. I think that’s ridiculous. How else would you cook through an entire cookbook.) It was unbelievably amazing. Given the friend’s dietary needs, and my own need to eat corn tortillas when eating a taco, I wanted to make sure they used them. They looked at me as if I were offending them with the question, and I felt vastly relieved.

The atmosphere was fairly good also. It’s not a place to stay for long, but long enough to eat, chat, and move on. If you were so inclined, I’m sure take-out and eating in the park across the street would be a great option. We had carnitas tacos, which were absolutely amazing, tacos al pastor, which were less amazing, and I tried a lengua taco (beef tongue), also delicious. The salsas were quite good as well. I would go back there just to eat more carnitas tacos. They had a 2 for 5 dollars special, which is about half the regular price of tacos in Toronto, and the tacos not on this special were 2.90. They also took credit and debit cards. And it’s right outside of the subway. The only downside is that the bathroom was not that clean. But, I ask, how could it be the best Mexican taco place in Toronto if the bathroom weren’t in a basement  with a hidden light switch?

Overall, La Burrita wins for ease of access (ie not by street car), the salsas at Asadas were amazing, and La Carnita wins for hipster tacos. Which are not the same thing I am looking for in a taquería.

How I Learned to Love Paper Towels

I did not grow up in a home that valued paper towels, television or brand names. In spite of the merits of my upbringing, there were some drawbacks. I never learned how to clean quickly. Only well. In fact, I have been known to get down on my hands and knees to clean the floor (the only way it should be cleaned) and eschew the toilet brush (because that’s gross. Let’s be honest here.) And never, in a million years, would I touch the paper towel.

an unholy trinity: paper towels, saran wrap and ziplocs

Paper Towels

When I moved into my present abode, I just noticed them there on the counter. When a roll was done, it just got replaced. When the whole package was finished, a new one was purchased. How did this take place? (Hint: Shopper’s Drug Mart sells everything now). Initially, I was fearful. Would the paper towel convert me to its wasteful ways? In spite of my fear, I reached out to its warm embrace. I tentatively began using them for big jobs, like washing lettuce. After all, paper towels are composted by the city – even the private company they contracted manages to do this somehow. Even though they pick up garbage at highly irregular times and leave mess behind. Tea towels, my default for such a job, must be washed by me, and I wasn’t about to buy a salad spinner. So, that was an easy contest. Then I began using paper towels for other things. Like mopping up spills when the dishcloth got too gross (see previous comment for further information about my hatred of laundry). Then, this morning, I reached out to the paper towel and began cleaning with it. Even though I knew that real cleaning that should be done with a rag, in this moment, I realized that my conversion was complete.

Excuse me while I practice my newfound faith. I have a ziploc bag to throw out.

Toronto Summer List

I have this bad habit called routine. I rarely, if ever, take advantage of what Toronto has to offer. I go to the same restaurants, bars and coffee shops that I always do. I go to the same parks near my house. I have never been to a Harbourfront festival, and the last parade I went to was Pride last year. It is my understanding that Toronto is a city that has more than this to offer. What would you recommend?

Salad Greens: The Gateway Drug

When I first started cooking for myself, I was not as creative as I am now. I ate the same thing every day (ok, I still do that now), but I stuck with what I had grown up with. More-with-Less classics, and a few additions, like spaghetti sauce, lasagna and tuna casserole. I could still go for some hamburger stew from MWL actually. Or maybe some tuna turnovers. Or Pakistani Kima. Mmmm. Come to think of it, the lentil curry I eat all the time is from MWL as well. Suffice it to say, when I began cooking for myself I stuck to foods that are based on ground beef, canned tomatoes, and other canned meats. I have moved beyond this in many ways, but what I have kept with me from those days is the desire to cook good food from scratch. Except now scratch goes one level further. I blame the salad greens.

Salad greens were my gateway into being more selective with regards to my food. I used to buy regular lettuce, then I graduated to baby spinach, then I graduated to the leaves in a box. As I moved further away from a completely nutritious food that serves as the basis for salad to a slightly more nutritious alternative, to one that just takes good, my food changed as well. I moved from MWL to Plenty, and now into the great wide world beyond of expensive cheese, corn tortillas from Mexican tortillerías, and natural peanut butter.

Salad greens represent what I wish my life were, sometimes. With a grad student stipend, they were where these desires ended.

Taco Tour: Penultimate Post

This taco thing is getting out of control. Suddenly everyone is recommending taco books to me, taco maps, taco advice, it’s all quite overwhelming. I will continue to dispense advice because there are few things I enjoy more than giving advice. I have decided to conclude the tour. But, this is the penultimate post as I have yet to find the perfect tacos, and go on a taco crawl. That will happen, Torontonians. Watch out.

I have been to two taco places recently, and decided not to go to a third which made it onto the top 10 best taco places in Toronto. These taco places are judged by someone who appreciates tacos, but does not appreciate taquerías. The first, La Carnita, on College, was fine, if I were judging a restaurant on its ability to be a hipster establishment that serves pretentious tacos, with a side of Mexican beer. The thing is, I have no need to travel so far to find a hipster establishment that serves pretentious food. For tacos, I want the real thing. None of this deep fried avocado over top of rice and beans business. No. Rice, beans, meat, salsa, and possibly avocado. That is how I want a taco. It was fun to make fun of the people sitting beside me who were sure this was an “authentic Mexican restaurant.” No. It was an authentic Toronto hipster restaurant, and it was good at being that.

The second taco place I went to was called Asada Mexican Grill on St Clair West. I would eat there every day if I lived in the neighbourhood (which I don’t), because the tacos arrived quickly, deliciously, cheaply, with all the homemade salsas a person could want. People who live by this restaurant: go there often. It is the Chipotle concept but more Mexican rather than Chipotle flavours. Downsides: no atmosphere and no coffee (gasp).

The third taco place I tried to go to was called Seven Lives. I say tried, because there was no room at the inn. They had such limited seating that I could not sit down, much less sit down with the friends that had come with me. Another hipster taco place that was voted number one by blog TO. But if I were going to go to a ridiculous restaurant in Kensington, I’d rather go to the place that only serves grilled cheese, the place that only does bagels, or El Trompo, for some tacos.

The taco crawl will attempt to encompass some of the best of these, some in a new area, and of my own free will I will return to Tenoch, and plan to try this really small Mexican restaurant no one’s ever heard of (except the person who recommended it to me) and I’m not even going to tell you about because I’m hipster like that.

Varenicke

As many of you know, I am going on a taco tour of Toronto. I really enjoy tacos, a lot. But I think there is something to the idea that eating food from other cultures and countries without engaging with said cultures in a meaningful way is simply another manifestation of consumer culture. In other words, eating food from other countries doesn’t make you “cool” or “cross-cultural.” It just means that you, or I, or many people in a city like Toronto, have the means to eat food that they have not cooked, and that many other people in Toronto use their background (or country similar to theirs, that had better brand power) to make a living.

So, in an effort to combat this consumeristic view, I decided to begin cooking the food from my background. Ok who am I kidding, I have no desire to stop my taco tour. I just wanted to eat delicious food that no one will ever cook for me in a Toronto restaurant. Last week I made varenicke (perogies with dry cottage cheese on the inside, traditionally smothered in schmautfatt – I don’t know what that is, but it will clog up the arteries of non-farm workers – in this case a sour cream and butter spread) for the second time in my life. I used light (but not fat free) sour cream and it still turned out quite well, except that mine do not look like the recipe. And although I carry my phone with me everywhere I go, and have become one of those people, I have no photographic evidence to let you agree or disagree. This kind was surprisingly easy to make, no more difficult than baking powder biscuits, but there wasn’t actually all that much dough, so I would double it if I were you. I was also surprised that it made enough for a light-ish meal for 5 people (who also all brought things to the potluck). This is the opposite of most Mennonite cookbooks, where the recipes are enough to feed a large family gathering. My next foray? Moos (dried fruit soup) or rollkuchen (fried delicious dough) that must be served with watermelon. If it’s not raining tomorrow it might be a good day for a picnic.