One of the biggest regrets I have from my youth is not taking the time to explore. I was always rushing to something; school, work, out with friends. I didn’t really appreciate the world and anything outside of my daily realm. Now that I’m older, married and have children, I often daydream about exploring cities in far off places like Malaysia, Turkey, Greece and China. Cue “a whole new world” from Alladin right about… Now. But with the realities of life in place it seems like this magic carpet ride won’t happen anytime soon. That’s a typical glass half empty look I suppose.
A more optimistic approach is what fellow Torontonian Sarah Efron is taking; she discovers cultures of the world right in her own city, through hidden gems we would tend to refer to as “hole in the wall” restaurants. She then writes about her experiences in a blog called Spice City Toronto.
Since Sarah lives in downtown Toronto, one of her biggest challenges was venturing outside of the city’s core. She doesn’t have a magic carpet either, but she does have a car share membership which helps her practice her driving skills as many of the restaurants she visits are in the burbs outside of normal and convenient transit routes.
We decided to meet at a strip mall Pakistani restaurant and talk over some spicy South Asian food.
Was this your vision or did you have something else in mind before you started spicecityTO?
I started the blog as a way of exploring the food of the city. I had moved to Toronto a few years before and I was really excited about all the types of food here I had never tried, so it was a way to get out of my neighbourhood and discover new things. For me, it’s a bit of a substitute for travelling—I’m trying to recapture that buzz I feel when I’m in a new, exciting place, crossing into cultures I haven’t encountered before.
What was the biggest surprise you had about your blog?
I’ve been really surprised at how passionate people in this city are about food, and particularly about the type of restaurants I write about, which tend to be low end strip mall joints. People really love these places and want to spread the word about the good ones. The restaurant owners are also very passionate about their recipes and love to tell their stories.
What’s your favourite or most memorable food find?
There’s a great Sri Lankan place called Amma Takeout and Catering at Steeles and Markham Road where you can get six different curries wrapped inside a giant banana leaf for $6. Truly amazing. Another great find was the Downsview flea market. It has an international food court with stalls from all over the world, including many types of food that are hard to find elsewhere.
Do you have a preferred cuisine style? i.e Thai, West Indian, etc.
One of my favourites is Malaysian food. They make all these wonderful curries using fresh ingredients like lemongrass instead of dry spices. I’m also a big fan of any food from South Asia—India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
You mention you want to cook more: what’s the first meal you want to learn how to make?
I’m up for pretty well anything at this point–Latin American, Asian, African, Caribbean. I’d love to do a blog post where someone in Toronto shows me how to make one of their traditional recipes. If anyone wants to invite me over, get in touch!
Through all of your local travels what advice can you give to people who want to be adventurous and try new food?
People are naturally curious but sometimes they feel a bit uncomfortable crossing into places that they perceive as catering to groups of people they don’t belong to. I’d love to see more people give in to their curiosity and check out new places. For people who live downtown, I’d encourage them to get out to the suburbs and explore, because that’s where a lot of the great international
food is in this city.
After spending time on her blog you’ll feel inspired to go on your own foodie treasure hunt – we’d love to hear about the wonderful finds in your local city in the comments section below!