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Toronto Street Foods Revealed

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By Noelle Munaretto

Today, the City of Toronto announced the eight successful applicants for its outdoor street food program, "Toronto a la Cart".

Here's the thing. I love Toronto. I'm a huge Toronto-holic. I work in this city, I play in this city and most importantly, I eat in this city. Which is why, in my opinion, the just-released list of street food locations and offerings strikes a slightly depressing chord.  

Since news of this project first broke, I thought it was a great idea. Other cities around the world have long offered myriads of culinary delights on their streets. What better way to feel like a New Yorker than to grab a piping hot coffee and cream-cheese-loaded bagel from a vendor while on your way to work downtown? What better way to enjoy Florence in the late fall than by munching on a handful of roasted, fragrant chestnuts? What better way to taste authentic Caribbean cuisine than by stopping by a local stand for some fried fish and rice. I have been fortunate enough in my travels to have experienced these three taste sensations. All were cheap, seasonal, and quite delicious.

Every time I returned to Toronto, I would be depressed that the only street food for me consisted of hot-dogs, french fries and soft serve. 

Only recently did Toronto re-consider its hot-dog-only street food policy. Toronto a la Cart was approved on Dec. 2, 2008. The delay in bringing this project to light seemed odd too, given the multicultural population this city attracts. In a place where so many cultures provide so many flavourful dishes, Toronto could have been a world leader in offering diverse street food.

Unfortunately the limited choices, and sporadic locations, unveiled during today's press conference leaves me hungry for more. 

Though Toronto a la Cart is still understandably in the pilot stage, I would have expected a lot more creativity in both the menus and cart placements. 

Nathan Phillips Square, already jam-packed with carts, will get a biryani stand and a souvlaki stand. Two Yonge St. intersections, Eglinton and St. Clair, will have Korean bulgogi and jerk chicken respectively. Queen's Park will have kebab wraps, more kebabs at Metro Hall, pad thai and fresh rolls at Mel Lastman Square and lastly, injera will be served at Roundhouse Park. 

Kudos for the injera and bulgogi (yum!), but the common souvlaki and kebob offerings could have been swapped in exchange for more interesting fair.

Also, it would have been nice to see some Canadian choices on the menu: e.g. - peameal bacon and aged cheddar sandwiches (after all, we are Hogtown), beavertails, seasonally-inspired crepes or elk/bison burgers. 

Furthermore, the absence of carts from downtown hot-spots such as Dundas Square, Queen's Quay and Yonge and Bloor is a definite shortfall. 

Don't get me wrong, however. I still think this project is a great first step in diversifying the lunchtime and late-night dining options of hungry city-goers. I urge all Torontonians, and tourists in the city, to try at least one of the foods available from these vendors. I also urge them to get over the fear of street food being dirty and contaminated. Yes, at times and in certain places street food can seem a little sketchy (think of Anthony Bourdain's escapades) but for the most part, it is a great way to grab a quick meal or snack. And, because this is also a pilot program, I expect that strict standards will be enforced right off the bat to ensure Toronto a la Cart's success.

It will be interesting to see how Torontonians will embrace this concept when it rolls out onto our streets this May. It will also be interesting to see, as this project evolves, what changes will be made.

Reader Question of the Week: 

What dishes would you like to see being served on the streets of Toronto? Why?


Fruit Juice and Smoothies would be nice...but not very ethnic I guess. If I had to go with something different, how about much of it in Montreal but very few places in Toronto.

Mmm, love Falafel..would be great to buy it "on the run".
Post Reply By Carol on 3/18/2009 1:05:30 PM

Peameal bacon sandwiches, of course.
Post Reply By Malcolm on 3/18/2009 9:33:50 AM

pancakes and maple syrup!
Post Reply By nancy on 3/18/2009 9:22:27 AM

I couldn't agree more. What about a salad stand? Or fruit?
Post Reply By Susan on 3/18/2009 9:04:36 AM

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