Talk to ‘Em: Toronto Food Scene

My favourite movie series of all-time is the Lord of the Rings trilogy. In addition to its action-packed scenes, touching commentary on friendship, and historical importance to the field of storytelling and literature, Lords of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings features this all-time great scene:

Aragorn, the group’s hunky leader, implores the hobbits to continue on the journey. Hungry from their travel, Pippin asks about stopping to eat breakfast, to which Aragorn flatly responds that they’ve already eaten it.

Pippin – in the most perfect way possible – says: “We’ve had one, yes. What about second breakfast?”

I don’t think I have ever related more closely to a movie quote in my whole, entire life.

The following is a roundtable discussion is for all the people who believe that we should have second breakfast, third lunch, pre-dinners, and midnight meals. No better way to the heart, than through the stomach!

(If you missed it, take a couple seconds to read the series introduction, and first installment of my Talk to ‘Em roundtables).


JZ: Welcome to another Talk to ‘Em Roundtable! This time we’re talking (and salivating) about food! I am honoured to introduce our 4 guest contributors. They are all huge foodies, with ideas and opinions as wide as their palates: Rey Pan (@eatnmingle), Madame Marie (@madame.marie.mange), Resham Ramirez (@rae.baaee), & Tanzima Khan (@t.o.onmyplate).

You can tell a lot about a person by what comes out of their mouth. I tend to judge people on what they put in. (Hehe). That being said:

What item of food best describes you as a person?

I’ll start. I’d like to think I’m the shepherd’s pie of people. Warm and inviting. Multiple layers that you need to dig into to enjoy the full experience.

Rey: I’m like Scotch whisky. Great alone and great when mixed with others. An acquired taste with sweet and mysterious qualities. Sophisticated, complex, best sipped over time.

Marie: Definitely a crème brûlée that’s executed properly. It’s a French classic with a crispy caramelized top that might not appeal to everyone at first glance. But once you crack into it, the thick, creamy custard base will always make you dip your spoon in for seconds.

Rae: Hmm … I’ve always wondered what food best describes me, and because I’m an “all over the place” kinda gal, I feel like I’d be a good old tray of nachos. Like nachos, I’m laid back but have intricate layers (mostly with opinions towards food). It’s a very shareable dish which I think sums me up in terms of my social and outgoing personality!

Taz: A baked potato! Nourishing and full of goodness. Just like how you can put any type of topping on a baked potato, I’m adaptable, dependable, and can take anything thrown at me.

JZ: It’s safe to say that the majority of people like food. To LOVE food is something else, however.

What’s an example of your love for food?

When I was younger, I used to crush up Ritz crackers, pour ketchup on it, and mix it up. The creation of this weird concoction was probably the precedent for using food as a tool for discovery and exploration.

Rey: I LOVE food so much, I switched my career from finance into the food industry 2 years ago. I now work with restaurants, eat, and write about food everyday – now that’s dedication!

Marie: I’ve always enjoyed experimenting with food–whether in my own kitchen or tasting the creations of others. An example of my love for food is traveling to destinations around the globe to experience Michelin star dining (Stockholm, Copenhagen, New York City, Paris, etc.). That said, I love discovering new places that don’t have a hefty tab.

Rae: Indeed, it’s a whole other thing to LOVE food. Growing up in 8 different countries has actually been the core reason behind my love for food and so, I feel like my childhood memories of food is basically a Pandora’s box of self-discovery. I ate EVERYTHING. From chewing green chilies of the stem to Ube puto dipped in vanilla ice cream. But the weirdest of all my “food fusions” has to be rice with ketchup … I know, but I’m not ashamed of it!

Enjoying A Bite of Food
(Image via @rae.baaee)

Taz: I think I realized how much I loved food, when I found myself binge watching the Food Network afterschool when I was in grade 5. This was a time when most other kids would come home and watch SpongeBob on YTV. To kick this up a notch, I would try to cook the recipes and if no one were around, I would talk the recipes out as if I was cooking on the show.

JZ: From things on a stick to ube everything, mainstream food culture is very much driven by trends and unique changes in the public’s preferences in food.

What do you think will be the next craze to sweep up foodies everywhere?

Rey: I think Steak Sandos will be a big thing soon. Steak sandwiches (usually Waygu beef) done katsu style, with special sauce and sandwiched between thick, crustless bread. It’s like luxurious comfort food that can be served in food stalls or high end restaurants. For a bonus, charcoal the bread and gold leaf the steak for endless Instagram hype!

Marie: Hmm, it’s always tough to pinpoint what foodies will fixate on next. I think there’s a growing movement in plant-based cuisine—in a more Frankenstein way than what we’re seeing today. Tech-food startup, Impossible Foods, has been experimenting with plant-based proteins, such as heme, to create ‘bleeding hamburgers’ from vegetables. Toronto has seen vegan-only restaurants popping up too (Planta, Rosalinda, etc.).

Vegan Burger
Vegan Burger from Rosalinda Restaurant (Image via @madame.marie.mange)

Rae: Here we are, living in Toronto where almost everyone knows what ube is and I no longer have to tirelessly explain why it’s purple, and why people should try it, or why the matcha kit-kat should be the only kit-kat.

However, speaking on this topic on a more general scope … I feel like the way we eat food is definitely shifting. The trend of buckling down to complete a three course meal or just a “full plate” of one dish, will soon be replaced with tapas-style dining. I have noticed that more millennials prefer having a little bit of everything instead of committing to one whole dish. I, myself love eating that way. Why have one when I can have it all???

Taz: I think the next food trend/craze is going to be nostalgic foods escalated. A big target market for the food industry are the 90’s babies and kids. We as a generation have a knack for fusion foods and breaking down all culinary rules. We love trying new things and exploring culture through food. BUT, at the same time we are a wildly nostalgic bunch. This is reflected in the fashion industry with jelly shoes, chokers, pastel colours, etc. and I think this is beginning to seep into the food world too. I love gourmet pop-tarts, and you can see this trend in the way that our favourite childhood cereals are being incorporated into ice creams and desserts. I am so looking forward to seeing where this goes, the possibilities are endless!

JZ: Speaking about trends, fusions and unique food combinations has provided us with beautiful creations such as the sushi burrito and shawarma poutine.

Sushi Poutine and Sushi Buritto
(Image via @JZRigore)
Create your own crazy and tasty food fusion!

Rey: I would takoyak-ize my favourite fast foods. Using the same batter but instead of bits of octopus, replace it with cheese, pepperoni, and peppers, topped with mayo and tomato sauce to create a pizza-yaki. Ground beef, pickles, onions, topped with ketchup and mustard for a burger-yaki. You got the delicious idea right?

Marie: A cheesecake hamburger … my two favourite things!

Rae: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had conversations about food fusions with my friends, followed by eye rolls and being interrogated on how I keep up with my eating habits and why I’m not 200lbs, haha. But, I definitely want to try some: Suya tacos (suya is a west African dish: super spicy meat chunks) or Ube French toast (Filipino and French cuisine). I’m drooling you guys!!!

Taz: Similar to Rae, I love Filipino desserts, and I love South Asian desserts and recently I’ve been thinking about making an ube gulab jamun, or an ube ras malai!

What is your favourite aspect of the Toronto food scene?

Rey: It’s ever growing and the food selection is endless. I must eat out 4-5 times a week and I never get bored because there’s always something new to try. You want Tibetan beef momos? There’s a place for that, open til midnight!

Marie: I agree with you on the city’s rich cultural tapestry. For me, food is one of the best ways to learn about a culture. You can “visit” pretty much any country in the world by dining out in Toronto…and it’s always an adventure!

Table of Filipino Food
(Image via @eatnmingle)

Rae: My favorite aspect about Toronto food culture has to be it’s versatility and food festivals. You can’t deny how amazing it is to be able to have access to so many different types of food in this city. From mind blowing Hakka food to eccentric French cuisine and everything in between. I also love looove loooooove food festivals in Toronto. I mean, where else in the world do you go to a bubble tea festival or a taco festival? … Ribfest?! Honestly, just google them and thank me later.

Taz: I don’t mean for this to sound like a cop out because you’ve mentioned cultural diversity in your question, but THAT literally is what I love so much about the Toronto food scene. I love that I can walk down any of the major Toronto arteries and find a restaurant serving up authentic recipes from every continent. With that said, I would love to see more African and Aboriginal restaurants.

JZ: So many restaurants, so little time.

What’s a Toronto restaurant that more people NEED TO know about?

Rey: Sumo Boi Sushi (5324 Dundas St W, Etobicoke). I know, I know, the name spelled boy with an “i”, but what they lack in branding they gain in quality, fresh seafood. The fish is sourced directly from Japan and the sushi is always super silky. Get the aburi rolls and uni nigiri – but you can’t really lose if your belly steers you towards something else on the menu.  

Bonus round: P.G. Clucks (fried chicken sandwiches), Nuit Social (comfort Italian).

Marie: That’s my little secret. 😉

Rae: Need to know about?. That’s a HUGE list man, but here’s my top two pick. Not one but two, I know. I’m generous.

1. Seven Lives Tacos – Kensington Market: BEST CEVICHE hands down.
2. PG Clucks – College St: My most favorite fried chicken sandwich in the world. Yeah – that good.

Fried Chick Sandwich
Both Rae and Rey recommend fried chicken at P.G. Clucks! (Image via @rae.baaee)

Taz: Richmond Station, and if you can you should try their chef’s menu!

JZ: One’s relationship with food can often be intimate and personal. That being said, sharing and eating with others is essentially to the experience of food.

Where would you take a group of your closest friends and loved ones to enjoy Toronto’s local food scene?

Rey: That’s a super hard question – I would want to bring them around to a few different spots to give them a well-rounded taste of what the city has to offer. So, I guess I’d bring them to Dundas/Queen St. West. It’s a laid back area with high-end and creative food. Places like Miss Things, Hanmoto, Grand Electric, Bellwoods Brewery, Electric Mud, Uncle Mikey’s are my choices.  

Marie: I would take them on an adventure to some of my favourite spots, starting with brunch at Smith and ending with a digestif at Canoe overlooking the city. Anything with a focus on local cuisine is high on my list. Some of my favourites are Marben, Alo, Aloette, and Chubby’s Jamaican Kitchen. It’s impossible to pick just one place that reflects the diversity of this amazing city.

Rae: If I really love you, I’ll brunch with you. My favorite brunching spot is called Bonjour Brioche. It’s somewhere on Queen street east; it’s honestly so far for me but if you’re someone special – it wouldn’t matter. As for dinner, Bar Isabel is a must.

Taz: If it’s the summer season, I would love to take my closest friends and loved ones to a food festival. It’s a great way to try and indulge a wide variety of restaurants in one spot. Not sponsored or anything like that but my favourite food festival is the Taste of Toronto one. The selection is impeccable.

Taste of Toronto Sign
Taz loves the Taste of Toronto Food Festival! (Image via @t.o.onmyplate)

JZ: Let’s put our chef’s hats on.

Curate a three course meal you believe to most accurately reflect the Toronto food scene? (ie. appetizer, main course, dessert)

Rey: Appetizer: Bison tartare w/ quail egg, something seasonal but pickled, and something crispy.
Main: Octopus a la plancha w/ roasted potatoes, something charred, and something relish-like.
Dessert: Gold-covered-matcha-and-charcoal-flavoured twist ice cream.

Marie: Appetizer: Fresh local greens with red/golden/candy beets, strawberries, pepitas and burrata.
Main: Cherry pepper short ribs, slaw, roasted fingerlings.
Dessert: Buttery local apple cake with a side of Sweet Jesus coconut soft serve.

Rae: A three course meal reflecting Toronto …that’s a tough one.
Appetizer: Salmon Caesar salad.
Main: Maple roasted duck.
Dessert: Rhubarb and key lime layered pie.

Taz: Appetizer: Jamaican beef patty with sweet chili sauce.
Main: Various tacos including: Japanese Karage taco, traditional Mexican beef taco, Butter Chicken taco, Mediterranean grilled fish taco.
Dessert: An ube beaver tail with maple coconut ice cream.

(Image via @eatnmingle)

JZ: As a huge sports fan, I am often forced to take sides. The nature of competition pits one against the other. Food is no different. Meals have gone unfinished, drinks spilled on floors, and friendships effectively ruined over heated food debates.

Let’s turn the heat up in the kitchen … time for a FOOD FIGHT!!!

Smooth or crunchy peanut butter?

Rey: Smooth all the way. Better for sauces, cookies, eaten off a spoon…

Marie: Crunchy. Life’s better with texture.

Rae: Smooth with light crunch.

Taz: CRUNCHY

Which goes in the bowl first: milk or cereal?

Rey: Cereal because I’m not an animal. I sometimes pour out too much cereal, so having milk in the bowl first would be like pulling the chute after I’ve hit the ground. Does that even make sense?

Marie: Cereal.

Rae: Cereal- duh, cause science.

Taz: UH CEREAL. If you put milk first I don’t associate with you.

JZ: I once accidentally poured my milk in first … the rest of my week was ruined.

Is a hotdog a sandwich?

Rey: That’s a good question. I’d say a hot dog is a hot dog; it’s so iconic that it’s a category of its own.

Marie: I don’t do hotdogs.

Rae: It can’t be a sandwich if it’s a hotdog?

Taz: It’s meat between bread with various condiments. So yes.

Ketchup directly on the fries? Or on the side?

Rey: On the side. Balance is key and dipping is fun.

Marie: Mayo and frites.

Rae: On the side, I like options.

Taz: On the side, why would you ruin the perfect crispness of fresh fries by soaking them…

JZ: Yikes. Looks like I’m the only one who prefers sauce directly on. Moving on …

Pineapple on Pizza: Yes or No?

Rey: Of course! Hawaiian pizza was created in Canada and ya gotta support all things Canadian eh?

Marie: Mais oui!

Rae: Why not???

Taz: I’m allergic to pineapples but still I will give you a resounding yes!

JZ: I’m a yes too! Take that pineapple-on-pizza haters!

No better way to close off this roundtable than with the age-old question:

What would your last meal on Earth be?

Rey: A good thick burger with McDonalds french fries.

Burger and Fries
(Image via @eatnmingle)

Marie: Only the best cut of filet mignon with a side of asparagus and grilled mushrooms. Glass of full-bodied red. Chocolate cheesecake for a sweet ending.

Rae: Wow, last meal on Earth? Hmm…..Some really good biryani would do it for me.

Taz: Is a buffet an option? I think a buffet should definitely be an option because I could eat myself to death and that would be the best way to go. I’m going to say yes and I would like some kind of a strange mix of a Mexican and Bengali buffet. (I feel like this might be a good business venture for me). I want chicken and beef tacos, nachos with spicy queso and guac, and some fries supreme, but I also want a nice big plate of Bengali chicken tehari (our version of biryani) and all the bengali sweets in existence.

JZ: You know what I can have seconds of? Hearing all about your passionate stories, opinions, and love for food! Thank you again to all my special guests. Here they are once again: Rey Pan (@eatnmingle), Madame Marie (@madame.marie.mange), Resham Ramirez (@rae.baaee), & Tanzima Khan (@t.o.onmyplate).

Happy Eating!

If your food doesn’t make you smile, you’re eating the wrong food. (Image via @t.o.onmyplate)