Earlier this year I had the opportunity to tag along on a visit to Toronto, a city I hadn’t been to since I was a child (literally, the last and only time I was ever there was 1993; it’s safe to say I look a tad different now). I didn’t have a lot of time to do tourist pursuits but one thing I did do and that I loved was going on a food tour. And what better place to go on a food tour than in the city’s Chinatown and Kensington Market neighborhoods, two wonderful ethnic enclaves.
Being as it was Canada in the winter, it’s safe to say it was cold, probably the coldest food tour I’ve ever done. And come to think of it, the only food tour I’ve done in the winter months. But I survived because nothing warms you up more than good food, or at least a food tour that features two lengthy sit-down dining experiences (as opposed to stopping on the street and just snacking).
After doing some thorough Googling, I ended up booking with Culinary Adventure Co. which seems to be the premiere food tour company in Canada (seriously, they have multiple tours in six Canadian cities). Although the VIP Early Access Food Tour of St. Laurence Market intrigued me and was only a five minute walk from where I stayed (as opposed to a 20 minute cab ride to Chinatown), I had always wanted to do a food tour in a bonafide Chinatown complete with dim sum and all. So the company’s Chinatown and Kensington Market tour seemed like the best fit; the fact that it was also dubbed one of the best food tours in the world by Forbes magazine didn’t hurt either.
The tour didn’t have as many stops as other food tours I’ve been on, but only because at each of the stops , the tastings were more equivalent to full on meals. I’ve been on enough food tours now to appreciate having a variety in terms of their offerings.
Here’s a complete summary of everywhere we ate and what we had:
The tour’s first stop was at a spot that’s considered to offer the best dim sum in downtown Toronto. It’s been around for nearly 30 years and the family that runs it is originally from Guangdong province in southern China.
We sampled a variety of dumplings here, siu mai (minced pork and shrimp dumplings) and har gow (simple whole shrimp dumplings); I liked the former more. We also had char siu bao (Cantonese style BBQ pork buns) and these were probably my favorite item from the entire tour. There was also fried calamari (not really a favorite of mine), and of course, tea.
We didn’t have to go far to get to stop number two as it was literally just across the street. Here we had what’s considered “Cantonese comfort food.” King’s Noodle is the brainchild of a couple originally from Hong Kong who have been in business since 1984. I particularly loved the street-front windows where you could see both the noodle and meat carver masters at work.
We had char siu (Cantonese BBQ pork), congee (savory rice porridge), and you tiao (dough fritters) as well as some delicious looking greens which unfortunately I couldn’t partake of.
Torteria San Cosme
Okay, I lied. The incredible torta (a Mexican-style sandwich) was neck in neck in terms of what I loved most on the food tour. If you’re thinking, how does a torta fit into Chinatown and dim sum, well, the Kensington Market neighborhood is very ethnically diverse and home to an array of Latin-style eateries. Torteria San Cosme offers sandwiches you’d find in Mexico City.
We had a torta de nopales (cactus pad sandwich with panela cheese, house-done refried beans, caramelized onions, salsa verde, and fresh avocado on a buttered telera bun). This was so good.
Wanda’s Pie in the Sky
As all food tours should, this one ended on a sweet note at an establishment that’s been in Kensington Market for 11 years. We had a slice of the sour cherry pie which was made with real whole sour cherries, almond extract butter, and vegetable shortening crust. I’m not a big pie person, but this was extremely tasty. I’d be anxious to try some other flavors like peach or strawberry.
Even though it was cold and blustery to be out and about all in the name of food, this was still a terrific food tour, complemented by Leo, a truly excellent and passionate guide. I definitely look forward to returning to Toronto in warmer weather, hopefully with another food tour to go on as well!
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