By Mary Jo Plouf
Toronto is the largest city in Canada with over 2.6 million residents. Approximately 49% of the population was born outside of Canada, and as a result, much of Toronto consists of relatively small ethnic neighborhoods which have retained much of their original culture, language and foods. I find that one of the best and most fun ways to get to know a city is to become acquainted with the people where they live. Visit their shops and botiques, their bakeries, their churches and their restaurants.
Culinary Adventures was started in 2010 to help locals and visitors alike to discover the best of ethnic Toronto. I have taken three of their tours and now I know why they have been ranked by Trip Advisor as the number 1 tour in the city. Chef Scot Savoi , chef, founder and culinary ambassador, was our guide for each adventure. Chef Scot, who is bilingual, has over 25 years of international culinary experience. He has spent the last two years discovering what is best and most typical in Little Italy, Little India, Greektown and Leslieville. Actually these are only four of his food adventures……there are quite a few more, including custom tours.
Would you like to know the best Indiana restaurants in the city. I do after spending an evening with chef Scot. We delved into the tastes and culture of one of Toronto’s most flavourful neighborhoods. We discovered the aromas and sampled fabulous Indian delicacies as we strolled through one of the largest and oldest South Asian markets in North America. From dosa’s to desserts, we experienced culinary adventures from street food to the best kitchens to be found anywhere in the city. Corn on the cob never tasted better than the roasted ears we purchased from a street vendor and washed down with a sweet sugar cane drink. Later, we had the absolute best Butter Chicken in Toronto. We were welcomed into the kitchens where we learned a little of the history and local stories of the area. I even went spice shopping in one of the local markets.
Towards the end of our tour, Chef Scot, informed us that we were going to try Paan, which he described as Indian chewing tobacco. That was an adventure that I, for one, was a little leery to try. As it turned out, Paan has nothing to do with tobacco. Instead it is a palate cleanser consisting of sugar, salt, rose petals, fennel and assorted other spices. All of these exotic ingredients were wrapped in a small green leaf, which we were instructed to place inside our cheek and “chew”. Needless to say, it was hilarious. The whole process involved a lot of chewing, a lot of juice and eventually, a lot of covert spitting. I have no doubt that I prefer butter chicken…but it was an adventure and lots of fun.
Early on a Wednesday evening we joined Chef Scot on a Tour of Little Italy. We were off to discover where the chefs ate. Our tour began at a secret pre-prohibition private club for cocktails and appetizers before moving on to selected restaurants for our multiple course progressive dinner. Throughout the entire evening there were no menu’s or wine lists. Our tastebuds were in the hands of some of the cities finest chef’s & mixologists. We were allowed to visit behind the scenes where each chef shared a few of his culinary secrets and told us stories of the area and his restaurant.
Be sure to come hungry because it soon become apparent that this tour is a culinary food adventure and no one is allowed to go away without trying a little of everything…..or maybe a lot of everything. At Trattoria Tavererniti I had the best lasagna that I have ever tasted. The chef sat with us and shared the information that Nona, his 83 year old grandmother was still active in the restaurant and came in early each morning to make the special sauces. When she helped open the restaurant several years ago, she was asked why she wanted to work in a restaurant at her age. She replied, “we got a 25 year lease at a really great price”. In the relatively short time the family owned Trattoria has been open it has become known as the most authentic Italian restaurant in Little Italy.
A bit of lore you probably did not know. Never eat fish in a restaurant before Wednesday because the fresh fish comes in on Wednesday. The narrowest bar in Little Italy is Souzol….it is 147 feet long and has its own beach in the back. Years ago a sign in the window of a restaurant advertising fresh oysters and hot coffee meant that prostitutes were available inside. Chef Scot and his fellow culinary friends were full of local lore they were anxious to share.