Toronto was the third stop on my North American tour. Canada’s largest city by far, Toronto is to its country what New York is to the United States: big, busy, full of concrete, and absolutely buzzing with life. Of course, being a big city comes big city problems. The homeless were quite aggressive, and I unfortunately had to chance to experience that very closely when my friend Julija’s purse was stolen by a homeless right off our table on a pub’s patio. By the time we got around the beer garden’s fence, he was long gone. So, I spent part of my first evening in Toronto waiting for the police to come take our story, but aside from that hiccough, the rest of the city was impressive.
Just like in New York and Montreal, food dominated my itinerary. For Toronto, it was easy for food to dominate. The city is one of the most multicultural in the world, and that fact is reflected in the food options. On any given block you would walk by a dozen or so restaurants, each completely different from the next. It’s not just the staples – Italian, Mexican, Thai, Greek, etc. – but also all sorts of random ones that would stand out anywhere else but seemed commonplace here: Ukrainian, Chilean, Jamaican, Cajun, and more, one right after the other.
To experience this amazing variety of food, I made my first stop in Toronto the Kensington Markets!
I met up with Helen – a friend of mine who I met in Sydney who has now returned to her native Canada – to wander around and check out the food options. The Kensington Market takes up several square blocks and offers store after store of souvenirs, clothes, and other wares, as well as food – lots of food – delicious smelling food! The range of food is as diverse as in any and every other part of the city. Not exactly what I consider a traditional “market”, the area consists of individual stores rather than tents, stands, or a bunch of things under one roof. It was a bit different and I liked it. After walking around and thoroughly scrutinizing the options, we decided on empanadas from a little Chilean place:
And, of course, we just had to pop into the churros place afterward for dessert. It would have been rude not to.
I was impressed that they actually squeezed chocolate or caramel sauce INTO the churro rather than offering it as a dip. Less mess = more fantastic!
There was also some public art in the Kensington Markets, like this decorated old car.
The St. Lawrence Markets offered a more traditional market experience – with butchers, bakers, cheese makers, and more all under one roof in an old historic building.
I met up with Jeremy – another Canadian who I met in Australia but has since returned home – to wander the streets the next day and sample more of the food. For dinner, Jeremy chose to take me to a vegan restaurant for something a bit different. There are tons of vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Toronto so they all have to be good to compete. I was a bit skeptical at first, but a few bites in and I was won over.
It’s all meat free! The carrot cake – despite being egg-less and dairy-less – wasn’t any less impressive. We ate it so fast that I only remembered to take a photo right before the last bite. Oops.
But, even with all of these incredible options, there was no doubt in my mind that the crown jewel of Toronto, and the thing that I was most looking forward to, was the Free Times Café.
Free Times Café was recommended to me by my old flatmates Vicky & Nick. It’s an all-you-can-eat Jewish brunch buffet.
Allow me to repeat that in caps lock for much needed emphasis: ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT JEWISH BRUNCH BUFFET!
2.5 years in Australia and I am seriously deprived of Jewish food. This place had it all: bagels with cream cheese, challah French toast, blintzes, potato latkes with sour scream and apple sauce, pita with hummus, pickles, eggs, fruits, chocolate covered matzah, and more sweets than you can shake your big Jewish stick at!
Not only that, but they also have a live Klezmer band on Sundays!
This was just the thing to recharge my Jewness after so long down under. The owner actually remembered my friend Vicky, and she was such a sweet lady that she let us get a picture with her.
I asked her if she’d open one in Sydney for me, and she said all she needed was a $1,000,000 initial investment.
Dear Jews of Sydney,
We have a major problem in our community. It is a problem that disproportionally affects your fellow tribe members who originally hail from North America. That problem is a severe shortage of proper Jewish food. Yes, there are one or two kosher restaurants in Sydney, but making it kosher doesn’t make it Jewish. For far too long, Australian Jews have deprived of proper Jewish cuisine. Nowhere in our community can you find a proper blintz or a bagel that isn’t complete crap. Most of you have never even heard of some of the staples of Jewish cuisine like knishes and matzah brei. I have a plea for you, fellow Jews of Sydney. Please help us feed the starving North American Jews in Australia by each donating $30 to the Feed the Jews Fund. All proceeds will go directly to the opening of the Free Times Café Down Under Branch. Do it for yourselves. Do it for your children. But more importantly, do it for all of your fellow Jews who have transplanted themselves from the United States and Canada to your glorious land and who are dearly missing proper Jewish food. Remember, we can only achieve our goals if each and every one of you participates with your $30 donation. I thank you in advance for your generous contribution.