Friday, July 22, 2005

Kensington Market & Chinatown

Well, after my last post and the shock of Christmas stuff for sale, I felt I HAD to venture out even though it was 31° C (88° F for those of you in the US) with a humidex of about a million!!!

I’ve been talking about going to Kensington Market and Chinatown/Spadina for a month now but something always seems to get in the way – most often --- the heat naturally since I’m such a wimp.

Yesterday was a very lazy, hazy day in Kensington Market. Even the basil was wilting

Everyone was moving in slow motion, not the usual hustle and bustle. Of course Thursday is not Saturday, but still it’s usually busier with both locals and tourists checking out the wares and the people. Even the store keepers were indoors unless they were on the shady side of the street. Normally I wouldn't be able to get a shot just of the produce.

Shops and stalls in Kensington Market sell everything from clothes (both new and vintage)

to trinkets and food, fish markets, fresh produce, condiments and more from around the world.

This area of Toronto has always been the place where many new immigrants start their lives in Canada. An Orthodox Jewish synagogue,

built in 1930 when the area was predominantly Jewish stands beside a Vietnamese establishment.

Around the corner there are many West Indian shops as well. I love the diversity of this neighbourhood.

It was too hot for me to be tempted by the many cafes but not too hot for me to meander around the streets and into some of the shops. My favourite was Casa Acoreana – the best looking bulk food store ever!!!

The riot of colours from coffees to spices to candies was awesome with everything in rows of huge mason jars lined up sharply like soldiers on parade. I bought some cardamom pods and garam masala. However, I think I’ll wait until it cools down some to cook. And of course, I couldn’t leave there without buying some of my favourite sweets – black licorice. There were at least fifteen varieties. Life is full of so many decisions…..I finally chose licorice babies and a new sugar coated type I’d never seen before – delish.

Another wonderful shop was Little Tokyo that carries everything Japanese - table ware, jewellery, videos and food – canned, bottled, boxed and frozen – awesome.

Moving over to Spadina, the heart of downtown Chinatown, I must admit that during the summer I usually find the air here a little to pungent – especially when it’s this hot, but yesterday, I guess because a lot of the fresh produce and fish was kept indoors, it wasn’t as fragrant and usual.

In Chinatown produce stores are interspersed with Asian Importers carrying everything from toys, to trinkets, to clothes, electronics and household goods. On Saturdays, in particular, the vendors hawk their wares very loudly. Cars honk their horns to deal with the frustrating traffic (streetcars, double parked cars, pedestrians ambling across the road without paying much attention to the vehicles). It all adds up to a wonderful cacophony of sights, sounds and smells. I guess it was just too hot for everyone - so much quieter than usual.

My most interesting purchases were some exotic looking fruit from two very friendly, charming and helpful young men. I couldn’t resist their smiles.

Rambutan, which looks prickly but the prickles are actually soft, has a fruit that is similar to lychees - sweet but not as perfumy (I like it better).

Mangosteen, which looks like purple cartoon fruit and taste great – sweet and tangy – definitely a winner.

Dragonfruit, looks like a medieval toy – bright fuchsia with streamer-like flaps. The inside looks like kiwi fruit – but really tasted quite bland - maybe it was just this particular piece- not sure what it really is supposed to taste like.

Down the street I saw some Durian fruit. You can check out some interesting factoids here -
I have heard that it smells something fierce and some places won’t even allow it to be served. So the closest I’ll get to it is this photo.

You can see ducks, pork and more aging and marinating in windows of restaurants

Beautiful Chinese desserts and pastries, Dim Sum, and Pho noodle houses abound. You can buy Chinese greens grown locally in small gardens and trinkets as well right on the street. Ginseng root will cure what ails you and if it won’t there are herbalists around that can find something that will.

Well, that's it for Kensington Market and Chinatown - at least until it gets cooler. A must see for those of you who plan on visiting Toronto and for those of you who live here as well. I find I usually don't do the exploring in my hometown as much as I do when I travel. Too bad, really since there is so much to discover.


Anonymous said...

I don't know how, but you actually made me want to try the stinking, prickled durian fruit. I love Baldwin street in the Kensington market, with it's fantastic cheese shops, bakeries and international foods. When you go into Global Cheese, the guys offer you samples with their arms appearing from behind a wall of cheese. It's hilarious.

Ruth Daniels said...

You're on your own about the Durian fruit, but you are certainly right about Global Cheese. Actually all the merchants are passionate about their stuff and excited to have you try stuff.

Joycelyn said...

hi ruth, thanks for the visual feast and tour - makes me want to hop onto a plane immediately! cheers,j

Ruth Daniels said...

J, glad you liked the tour. Next stop....Little India

MagicTofu said...

Again... I'm missing Toronto so much now! Contrary to many, I loved the weekend hustle and bustle of chinatown... the saturdays and sundays used to be the best days to find real bargains in chinatown... We often went there for dim sums or for a few steamed buns (there used to be an amazing steam bun restaurant on Dundas a few years ago)before going grocery shopping and when we were tired from the crowd, we went for a coffee at a very small street corner cafe in Kensington market.

Astrid Keel said...

there's a farmer's market nearby my house that sells durian - it never seems to smell, but i'm not yet convinced enough to bring it home. Thanks for the visual tour of the market! it looks delightful. :)

Ruth Daniels said...

I'm way to chicken to buy Durian. But drop by any time for a tour.