Statistics tell us that Toronto is the most ethnically diverse city in the world. The number of languages spoken seems to be endless, and culinary establishments represent a close second.
This diversity is attributable to the waves of immigrants coming from the four corners of the world.
After the World War II, Europeans from Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands were the first to arrive, followed by Greeks, Spaniards, and Middle Eastern people of different ethnic background, the East Indians. The list is long.
Every nationality that settled in Toronto tried to open a restaurant to introduce its cuisine. Some were more successful than others.
At first French restaurants enjoyed an exalted reputation fostered by hotel dining rooms. Most general managers then were of Central European origin and familiar with the refined cuisine of France. People enjoyed the fine, creamy and nuanced dishes and willingly paid the high prices. After a few decades, Italian cuisine started to become more popular due to its simplicity, availability of major ingredients and featuring fresh seasonal produce.
Subsequent waves of immigrants introduced Indian, Greek, Arabic, Persian, Chinese, South American, Mexican, Caribbean and now Russian specialties. If you are in the mood to eat Greek food, head to Danforth Avenue between Chester and Pape. Many Greek restaurants line both sides of the avenue. Some serve more authentic dishes than others. It all depends on your palate and demands.
Along with Greek restaurants, there are a Japanese, and Afghan, and even an Italian establishment.
Greek bakeries along Danforth also do a roaring business with their specialties.
If you want Chinese food from Canton or Szechwan, the choice is vast. The Pacific Mall on Spadina and Dundas represents a veritable Hong-Kong atmosphere where you can experience many styles of Chinese food from quick take-out to fine dining. Along Dundas west and Spadina there are many restaurants featuring roast duck, delectable soups and Chinese specialties at reasonable cost. Now that many wealthy Chinese families reside in Thornhill, fine restaurants have started springing up in the modern malls of the region. They offer unlimited parking, a convenience, and downtown restaurants lack.
You want Korean food, head to Bloor west. Here one restaurant is next to the other, offering extra hot soups and Korean specialties like bulgogi.
If you are in the mood to eat sushi or sashimi, many establishments interspersed throughout the city can satisfy your demand.
Japanese sushi places are scattered all over the city. Some are downtown east of Yonge along King Street, others in the west end a few even in the east of Toronto.
St. Clair Avenue west offers a veritable mosaic of ethnic cuisines from Cuba to Jamaican, Arabic, Spanish, and Italian; family operated establishments beckon the adventurous diner.
Diners interested in Indian food should pay a visit to Gerard east past Don Valley Parkway. You feel you have entered a “sanitized” small Indian town. In the summer, merchants pile their wares on sidewalks. Restaurants offer all you can eat buffets at low prices, but all seem to offer the same uninspired fare.
If you want to eat authentic Indian food, go to stand-alone restaurants elsewhere in the city where chefs will satisfy your adventurous palate with nuanced, and flavourful food.
Italian restaurants are everywhere. Some restaurant chains offer “formulaic” foods many Torontonians believe to be authentic. Pizza in Italy is an appetizer; the dough is very thin and ingredients are few. Pasta or risottos come in small servings as second appetizers after antipasti; and main courses consist of small portions of veal, fish, or poultry, with vegetables and may be with potatoes. Italians like bread more than potatoes. Polenta is a north Italian specialty and never grilled but served along with specially produced sausages. You can eat fine Italian food in mom-and-pop restaurants, and pay very reasonable prices, or eat in pretentious establishments offering overblown service and pay a small fortune.
Thai cuisine has become the darling of thousands who like moderately spicy flavourful food. Buffets are popular with those who like a variety of crunchy or soft textures.
If you want kosher food, head to Bathurst north where several restaurants can satisfy your delicatessen cravings. Corned beef, pastrami, chicken soup, kreplach, chicken fricassees are just a few of the offerings.
To top it all off, now there exist many restaurants featuring eclectic and/or fusion cuisines, some gleaned from New York Los Angeles.
The unthinkable is combines with the pedestrian. Some of these combinations work, others are jarring, and will leave your palate wondering about the peculiar taste.
When it comes to refined food, you must venture downtown to King Street west to experience restaurants run by knowledgeable caring and experienced chef-owners out to dazzle your palate, provide “telepathic” service, conducive, appealing environment, and rare wines you will have difficulty finding in most Toronto restaurants.