I arrive in Toronto on the cusp of autumn, yet temperatures and spirits remain high. The Bluejays are leading the Eastern section of the National Baseball League, the Liberals look set to overthrow the Conservatives from government in the upcoming election and the city’s sun-streaked streets radiate with a late-season buzz. The sub-zero temperatures and subterranean walkways of winter beckon but for the moment everything is above ground and dandy.
From first impressions, the city’s food and drink scene also seems buoyant. In the Downtown area, where I’m staying, people gather in craft beer and burger joints and spill out of happy hour bars with luminous cocktails in hand.
It seems here, as in most major Western cities these days, concept is king. Which is fine. But I’m looking for a more honest slice of Toronto’s culinary culture: the dishes of its past, the restaurants of its future and the chefs of the here and now. So after a few days spent mooching around elevated fast food joints and sandwich bars, I resolve to expand my horizons a little.
Where else to start but with poutine, probably Canada’s most well-known dish. From its Gallic-sounding name you could forgiven for imagining some elaborate, Escoffier-like creation. Not quite.
In reality, poutine is essentially chips and gravy with some gloopy cubes of cheese on top. And while I realise this description may make me sound incredibly uncultured, I can only say what I see. And sitting here in the food hall of the city’s largest mall with a large bowl of the stuff in front me, I see, well, a poor man’s chips and gravy. Sorry. (To be fair, poutine is everywhere in Toronto and I think I have chosen the wrong place to sample it. Perhaps the lesson here is you get out what you, erm, poutine.)