Monday, May 17, 2010

Toronto: Full Day #2

In my last post I mentioned a site called "Top 25 Things You Must Do In Toronto". I had already discovered the world's best cup of hot chocolate because of this site's recommendation, and so with great anticipation I again walked to Kensington Market this morning to take part in a culinary/history tour also recommended by the site.

(An old, Victorian building in Kensington Market that has had 2/4 of it remodelled during the '80s. See if you can guess which part was remodelled.)

I mentioned yesterday that the streets were not as lively as I would have expected, but today being Saturday it seemed everyone was out enjoying the best area of Toronto, despite the chilly weather.

Our first stop was the lovely Moonbean Coffee co., which serves a variety of exotic Fair Trade coffees and teas. Here we enjoyed some pastries from India (samosa) and Israel (rugelah), as well as a surprisingly delicious slice of vegan cranberry loaf. This was also one of the first coffee shops in Canada to sell only Fair Trade coffee, even before anyone in Alberta had even heard of the term Fair Trade.

(Some "ee-peas", or maybe "eep-sters" going for a stroll or drinking coffee in front of Moon Bean Coffee Co.)

From here we headed to the Caribbean section of Kensington Market to pick up an amazing grapefruit drink from Jamaica called Ting. I also bought 24 bags of Jamaican cinnamon tea for $1.99, and came back later for a second bottle of Ting at only $1.25, it was that good. I also strongly suspected that the woman who owned the shop employed differential pricing - charging customers based on how much she liked them - since I'm pretty sure my box of tea was marked at $4.99, and my bottle of Ting had no price tag on it at all. Whatever the price, it would have been worth it, for as one customer told me when I was trying to decide between Ting and another 500 mL grapefruit drink for $0.66, "you can't go wrong with Ting."

The tour continued on until lunch, where we stopped at a specialty cheese shop that has been around for 50 years. Customers can specify, to the gram, exactly how much of a given type of cheese they would like, and can also buy freshly made cream cheese in the same manner. My guide selected a trio of cheeses you'd never be able to find in Safeway, including a cheddar cheese marbled with maple syrup - the most Canadian of cheeses.

Next we picked up a real Montreal bagel from the next door bread shop, baked by the owner who moved to Toronto from Montreal. Montreal bagels differ from "normal" bagels, in that they have larger holes and are boiled in honey water before being baked over a wood fire. We sampled the bagels with our cheeses and spreads, and it made me think that compared to freshly made cream cheese, Kraft's Philadelphia Cream Cheese is not really cream cheese at all.

After some more history of the area, we finished the tour with some Middle Eastern cuisine from a Lebanese shop. This was my first time tasting humus, baba ganoush or falafel. At first the taste was quite foreign and strange, but it grew on me, and by the time I had left I had finished off the whole tray (I was the only person on the tour, so don't have to worry about the other customers).

After the tour I continued to spend the rest of the afternoon checking out the other shops around the market, buying truffles and exotic teas, etc. I then made why north-east to the University of Toronto Campus, and eventually all the way to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), where I was enamoured with its stunning Michael Lee-Chin Crystal - a 2010 add-on to the original stone structure, creating an interesting piece of art in its own right.

(The Michael Lee-Chin Crystal is also too big to fit in the picture.)

I thought I had only stayed in Kensington Market until 2 PM, but when I got to the ROM I was told it was 4:45, and that the museum would be closing in 45 minutes (I don't have a watch, so I can't tell the time when I'm walking around). I wasn't too worried though, since I can add the ROM and AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) to my itinerary when I'm in Toronto for a whole day on my way to Vancouver next week.

From here I took a relaxing stroll back through the tranquil Queen's Park, enjoying the numerous trails that branch out like veins on a leaf, and the cool shade of the leafy trees. Queen's Park not only serves as a park behind the Ontario Legislature, but also as a "green area" for the students of The University of Toronto. Granted, it seems impossible to find any part of the UofT campus not disturbed by public roadways that make the UofA's bus lane look like a walking path. However, when compared to UofA's absolutely pathetic "Quad", Queen's Park more than makes up for it.

By now I was quite a ways away from my hostel, and so I had quite a trip to make. When I did get home I washed my first load of laundry since leaving Grande Prairie, since my suitcase was running out of clean outfits.

While I waited for my laundry I noticed that an old, single screen theatre on Bloor Street (think the Gaiety in down town Grande Prairie, but with three levels of seating... and movies). was showing the new Korean film by Bong Joon-ho - the creator/director of "The Host", one of my favourite Korean films.

I hadn't made any Korean friends at the hostel, so I took a gamble and asked my Japanese roommate if he wanted to go for some ddeokbokki in Little Korea, and then watch the film with me. To my surprise he said he liked Korean food and would join me. Apparently, while Koreans really despise Japan, The Japanese don't really care about Korea. It's more or less the same dynamic as the "rivalry" between the U.S. and Canada.

Sadly, the ddeokbokki had been slightly de-spiced for the Canadian market, and the movie wasn't quite as exciting as The Host, or its "Visceral and deftly plotted... Fully worthy of its primal title" review (J. Hoberman, Village Voice) would lead one to believe. However, it was a chance to support an independent movie theatre bravely importing a Korean film, not to mention practice my Korean on the owners of the restaurant, which brought back fond memories.... That's it! I'm going back to Korea some day.

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