What do you think Toronto tastes like? Would you say the city has a distinct flavour?
By Carmen Gómez-Cotta
I’ve been thinking about this, now that Toronto is experiencing such an interesting culinary evolution.
Ever faster, the city is moving away from the classical style of white-cloth tables and rigid maîtres toward a more casual one, with non-cloth counters and cheaper menus elaborated to encourage sharing.
Toronto is relishing with recipes and dishes, experiencing with flavours and tastes, looking to find new and unique bites.
It is a fascinating moment to explore the culinary side of the city while trying to seek if Toronto does have an authentic flavour. Does it have a particular savour, a distinguish smell? What is its culinary essence?
“Toronto is still a young culinary city,” says Guy Rawlings (@), General Manager at Bar Isabel and a well-known (and very proactive) chef. “Many things are going on right now, but it’s just the beginning.”
The beginning of a journey during which the city has to “build its identity, and that takes time,” adds Rawlings. But with all the “the new people entering the industry, which are more professional and stronger,” the tour promises to be exciting, impassioned and enriching.
It seems is going to be tough finding that one unique taste because “Toronto is a very multicultural city,” a real melting pot where not just different cultures, religions and races meet, but also where flavours and aromas collide.
“Let’s say Tokyo, Beijing, Copenhagen; they have a strong culture, easily identifiable, which makes easier developing that characteristic taste,” says Rawlings. But in the case of Toronto, with all the cultures coexisting “that task is harder,” he says. And he keeps thinking while finishing his cortado, “that’s the essence of the city: its multiculturalism”.
Absolutely true; it’s a fact. The melting pot is Toronto’s brand identity. More than 100 ethnicities making up 80 dialects get along in this city, perfectly organized in their own neighbourhoods. And those neighbourhoods, bits of other cultures… how many cities do you know with all these different quarters, so real and authentic?
“You can travel the world without going anywhere!” says smiling Tom Thai, chef and owner of Foxley. The beauty (and convenience) of this is that “we can have many distinct flavours from all around the world, we can get specific ingredients from this or that country in just one city.”
And the interesting consequence is that “you can pick up the flavour of the world in many restaurants in town where there is people with different background. And this is particular from Toronto, not from all Canada,” he says.
The Globe and Mail pointed out that ‘Foxley has become one of the quintessential Toronto restaurants, a must-try for anyone who hopes to understand the city through its food’. I really don’t know if it’s true or not (although you should try his char -spicy-ceviche!), but I can assure you’ll learn a great deal of what’s going on talking to Tom Thai.
He goes on explaining that to get into the right food you must go to the right neighbourhood, each one with their specific cuisine. “If you want good Italian food, you’ll go to little Italy; if you want real Chinese food, you’ll walk through Chinatown or even better, Markham, right?” Right.
Well, the great thing is that “now the new generations are able to bring their different cultures together and create dishes of their own,” says Thai. And that influence from one culture to another is, to him, a really interesting aspect, because “it’s a very unique way of doing”.
The Canadian culture, based on traditions that come from Europe, meets with the new immigrants that bring the traditional recipes from their countries; old cooking methods that they now mix with local products evolving, in the end, into brand new tastes and dishes.
In this cultural miscellany, where modernity and tradition perfectly coexist, fresh ideas mix with inherited techniques and the result is a quite interesting cuisine evolution… don’t you think?