April 17, 2024

CPS

Travel Adventure

Rediscovering My Home City of Toronto Through Its Ever-Changing Food Scene

3 min read

Shereen Simic, the straight-talking owner of Shereen’s Guyanese Bakery and Roti Shop, says she’s seen firsthand how open the city can be. At Aggarwal’s suggestion, I wander into her shop in a strip mall in slightly industrial East Scarborough. Inside, Guyanese staples like Mauby (a bitter tree-bark-based drink) and imported curry powder line the shelves, a hot counter serves vegan and halal dishes, and baked goods fill glass cases. The shop is popular with Guyanese Canadians seeking a taste of home, but word-of-mouth recommendations have expanded the clientele to include people of all ethnicities from across the city. Requests come from as far away as Europe. “This place is a pain in the ass to get to. It’s not something that people can stumble upon,” Aggarwal says. “It’s a decision. I want to try Guyanese food today.”

It’s easy to see why people return. Within moments of wandering in, I’m chatting with Shereen’s dad, who’s baking up salara—sort of a Caribbean Yule log that can be sweet or savory. Then her Serbian husband, Uroš Simić, shows me the best way to puff up roti shells. (Shake them in a pitcher after frying.)

Late afternoon near Play De Record on Yonge Street in downtown Toronto

The Ingalls

A corner fruit stand in the city’s Kensington Market neighborhood

The Ingalls

There’s a similar familial atmosphere at Maha’s Egyptian Brunch in Leslieville, a gentrified neighborhood in Toronto East. Monika Wahba, a former contestant on Top Chef Canada, launched the colorful eatery at Greenwood Avenue and Sandford Avenue in 2014, alongside her parents and younger brother. When she arrived from Egypt in 2000 as a kid, she recalls being immediately smitten with the city’s multitude of ethnic neighborhoods, including two that are now close to home—Little India and Greektown. Wahba still enjoys showing people around her neighborhood—a mix of classic one-story bungalows, redbrick corner stores, and small businesses. When not in the shop, you’ll find her sipping tea with neighbors or eating at nearby spots, like the Michelin-rated Wynona (where fellow Top Chef Canada contestant Joachim Hayward is the head chef) or Que Ling, a family-run Vietnamese restaurant.

Jennifer Reynolds, a horticulturist, former editor in chief of the lifestyle magazine Harrowsmith, and a fifth-generation Torontonian, is as smitten with her Riverdale neighborhood—a few blocks north of Leslieville—as Wahba is with hers. “You can see a frog in the middle of downtown,” she tells me before sharing her neighborhood’s nightly ritual. Each evening people filter toward Riverdale Park East—a 44-acre green space with walking trails and benches built for two—to watch the sun set over the distant Toronto skyline. The ritual started during the pandemic and caught on. Now in the glow of orange and pink, it’s hard to know who lives in the neighborhood and who is just passing through.

People gather at parks on the city’s west end too. Married actors and comedians Kris Siddiqi and Aurora Browne often wonder if they’re on a movie set when they visit the sprawling Trinity Bellwoods Park. “Sometimes the park looks like somebody has cast it. Because it’s just so full of people doing these beautiful recreational things,” says Browne, best known for her work on the award-winning Baroness Von Sketch Show. “There could be, like, two, maybe three bands scattered throughout. Somebody’s slack-lining, somebody else is doing a drum circle. There are people playing pickleball, and there’s a baseball game.”

Maha’s Egyptian Brunch in Leslieville

The Ingalls

A guest room at the Ace

The Ingalls

The couple live in nearby Little Portugal. “I’m really good at spotting people who are down for the day to visit our hip neighborhood,” Siddiqi says. “There’s always four of them walking together and looking up at the buildings while I’m carrying my cat litter and toilet paper home.” The couple says they can relate. They’ve watched the neighborhood transform from a mishmash of rundown spots to the kind of neighborhood that gets talked about by celebrities like Johnny Depp and Jason Momoa. “I’ve been living here for more than half my life, and I’m still not over how much I’m in love with it,” says Browne, “particularly in the spring and the summer when all the gardens just explode with greenery and people. I don’t like even thinking about moving somewhere else.”


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