O Canada! Ice wine, farm-to-table food, poutine... there's much more to Canada than maple! After returning from a weekend in Canada a few weeks ago, I have to admit that I have more Canadian spirit than I previously thought. The fact that I was born on Canada's Independence Day, July 1, was more of a trivial fact than anything prior to my visit. But after this weekend, I feel a lot more connected to our North-of-the-Border Brethren.
I wasn't really sure what to expect from my visit to Toronto. I also realized that I know practically no Canadian history, as I tried to piece together the cultural and historical questions of the city. Before this past weekend, I considered Canada to be an extension of America. Perhaps a milder version, but an extension nonetheless. However, I now know that Canada has a culture all its own.
I wasn't quite sure if Toronto reminded me of London or not. I mean, it did have bits of European flair. I wondered if Canada had an empire, and just assumed that it was once an English colony--just like the U.S. I also started to wonder about Australia. How different were the English-speaking Anglo-Saxons there? And Toronto was much more than English-speaking Anglo-Saxons. The influence from non-Europeans is apparent, as many of its current residents have thick accents and come from far-away places. In fact, while I was in a cab listening to talk radio, there was a discussion about how to better assist Syrian refugees who made their way to Canada. At the end of the discussion, there was the truthful, bold admission, We are dependent on immigrants.
America is dependent on immigrants, too. Although the tone of current politics would suggest otherwise. But all of that aside, most people I encountered were just plain nice. Like, cheerfully-go-out-of-their-way-to-help-you nice. Coming straight from NYC, I found the extreme "niceness" a little jarring at times, but I welcomed it.
We explored a few neighborhoods, ate amazing food, visited markets and just had a relaxing weekend full of clean air and nice people. Toronto is the kind of city I could move to.
Pretty much everything I had was locally-sourced and made from scratch when possible. When I went to a sake tasting in the distillery neighborhood, they were making the sake on-site. From rice grain to sake bottle (although they sheepishly admitted to importing the rice from California). Similarly, next door at a chocolate shop, they made the chocolate on-site, from cacao bean to chocolate truffle. I didn't have a bad meal the entire time I was there. In fact, I had some downright inspired meals. Although I couldn't get the hang of traditional dishes involving Canadian bacon (which is basically just ham, at least to me), I did jump on the maple syrup and poutine.
Brunch is definitely a thing there. I visited two seemingly "hole-in-the-wall" eateries, Le Petit Dejeuner and The Beast. Le Petit Dejeuner would have made brunch proud with its amazing, super buttery waffles. Alternatively, everything on the menu at The Beast was downright inspired home cooking. I ordered the poutine-- a twist on the classic french fries with cheese curds and gravy, as this poutine consisted of fried gnocci, cheese curds, and gravy. The fried gnocci really elevated this dish from Canadian comfort food to something I'll never forget and will probably attempt to make myself. I also got a donut made with Canadian maple syrup. It was great, but the poutine at The Beast was the real star.
If you are a foodie, make sure you visit St. Lawrence Market. In addition to fresh produce and meat, you can find vintners conducting tastings of ice wine. Ice wine is a personal favorite that I discovered many years ago at some point during my wine travels. It is produced in very cold climates, and the grapes are harvested in the middle of the night in the middle of winter--frozen. Ice wine has a high sugar content, is served cold and reminds me a bit of sauternes wine from the Bordeaux region, but ice wine has a crisper and cleaner flavor profile.
Toronto was more than just good food. The city boasts a number of hip, eclectic neighborhoods. Neighborhoods that are super easy to visit given the high volume of flights, including flights from TAM airlines where you can enjoy international business class and all of its amenities from NYC to Toronto for $99 each way. Just make sure to bring your coat--it may snow. Even in April.