I recently returned to the Motherland for a family event, and afterwards stayed for a week back home in Toronto. Unfortunately, I now see some family and friends only once every six to eighteen months, a far cry from the three to five days a week during our youth. Sharing laughs and nostalgia always makes for a good night out.
A major highlight of any trip home is the food. I crave Chinese food from the moment I step off the plane: noodle soup (bonus if the noodles are hand-pulled), dim sum/yum cha, yin yang rice, congee, seafood, steamed fish, etc., and there’s no better city in North America to satisfy that craving. You simply can’t argue with about two decades (1980-2000) of wealthy immigrants from Hong Kong, and now, from mainland China. Chinese meals obey the network effect: their quality and volume increase exponentially with the number of participants. With the rents and grandpa, we ate at neighbourhood restaurants and old haunts. We usually ordered too many dishes, but would somehow manage to not pack half the meal into take-out containers. Perhaps the rents’ claim about malnourishment is accurate.
I had two meals in the Dundas/Queen and Ossington area, which was formerly Little Portugal. Over the last three years, the neighbourhood has undergone a textbook gentrification: upscale restaurants, boutiques, coffee snobbery, twenty and thirty-somethings playing league soccer in the park, condos, and entry-level luxury cars abound. I’d only been here a couple of times during my undergraduate years, but the transformation is still jarring. An old landmark – the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health – is currently being demolished for condos. As my friend pointed out, the developer wisely changed the address by a couple of numbers to avoid any negative associations. My best friend and I ate at The Black Hoof, a well-known charcuterie restaurant. We weren’t especially adventurous, but the horse mortadella, rabbit, duck prosciutto, salami, and other carnivorous indulgences still made a good meal (aside: thanks again for treating). Another sign of having spent too long in the United States of America: I automatically pulled out my ID upon ordering an alcoholic beverage. The response of the bartender (and co-proprietor): “We usually don’t get many teenagers in here.” We walked it off heading back east to Yonge, where we marvelled at the twenty-year transformation of the area around our elementary and high school: a new shopping centre, a public square, and towers of neon signs occupy the former sites of a boarded-up Salvation Army and parking lot. The second meal was at the Beaconsfield gastropub with my brother and sister-in-law: a delicious, hefty portion of perfectly flaked fish (snapper, I think) from British Columbia. The logical follow-up? A Moscow Mule and edamame at the Sky Yard of the Drake Hotel, and then a (mostly frustrating) session of Modern Warfare 2.
Other highlights: the requisite post-flight Tim Hortons maple dip donut, a smoked meat sandwich from Caplansky’s, surprisingly excellent all-you-can-eat sushi (including mango and yogurt shots) with three friends, steak at The Keg with high school friends, and a backyard dinner and brunch with the family. A last note: while the food is memorable, it goes hand-in-hand with the company.