Toronto, I like you
Winters must be cold in Toronto. This is the impression I got from the St. Lawrence market hall in the heart of Toronto, Canada.
Lots of hearty products which fill you instantly with joy and energy to overcome any harsh weather conditions. It was warm at the time of the visit but the resistance to stuff my belly was rather weak.
The St. Lawrence market hall is conveniently located in downtown in this rather pedestrian friendly North American city. It is an old spacious building with two floors where sales happen and a partly covered outdoor seating place for consumption of the foods served inside.
But the market hall does not only serve meals, it has a wide range of produce available to cater for home cooking. Toronto is a multicultural city par excellence. Nevertheless the majority of the offerings seemed to target consumers with a rather European background, thus reflecting the neighborhood.
Diving into the St. Lawrence Market Hall
The peameal bacon sandwich is the thing to try in Toronto according to several guides. It is all about a juicy peace of bacon supposed to be rolled in ground peas. I could see that it was rolled in something but I could not taste any pea. It was rather disappointing when measuring it against the hype. Still a decent sandwich though.
That experience made me skeptical about the market hall offering, which in hindsight was not fair.
Comparing with US markets
As I have been a several times in the USA, I always compared my experience there with the one in the St. Lawrence market hall. There are a few commonalities and a few differences.
The meat selection is very broad in quantity and in terms of cuts. Emphasis is on beef but I found more game meat than in the US. The game was focused on deer and wild boar, I was hoping for more “exotic” meats. Maybe this is not the area for that.
I love the displays here, they are so generous as if space is unlimited for the merchants. you have to truly walk along a single stall to get an idea of the offering, just glimpsing form one point will not help. This is probably what meat eaters consider as paradise on earth.
Considering this large offering, one must assume that people are still cooking a lot. The meat merchants all had their little ready made food stand, like ribs, wings etc. but that looked rather tiny in comparison, indicating only a small portion of the clientele not wanting to cook.
Nevertheless a merchant complained that things had change over time, that they sold more in the “old days”, and that people were not cooking as much anymore. That would mean that all the meat would be left unsold in the stall. Of course this is not the case. I am aware that in the “Western world” I am living in, home cooking is on a decline, and I see streetfood becoming more popular. Still the stall displays showed a still persistent need for produce.
Toronto is situated at lake Ontario, not exactly seaside but seems to be full of fish and seafood lovers. Octopus, salmon, shrimps, squid, oysters, tuna, trout, halibut, swordfish, cod, lobster and much more on several stalls. I did not ask how often the fish mongers get new deliveries as they looked fresh to me. Strangely enough I did not see whole fish, only filet. That’s a pity.
The cheese stalls surprised me the most. In the US these sections are rather small, focusing on more or less local production. Here I saw so many European imports from many countries and regions. The selection would make many cheese stores in Europe jealous.
I do not know where this is coming from, maybe because the French influence via Québec is quite strong. Or maybe the import regulations in Canada are more liberal than in the US?
Some of the cheeses were brands you may find also in European supermarkets, others were more artisan cheeses even hard to find in my home town. I had difficulties to spot artisan Canadian cheeses, being overwhelmed by the wide choices.
Vegetable & fruit
Generally speaking I saw similar choices here in Toronto in comparison to Vancouver and the US markets I have visited over the years. The share of stalls with vegetables was smaller but one could find all the seasonal products. Green asparagus, all the lettuce, topical fruit, a nice selection of potatoes etc. Of course, as convenience food is gaining traction, there were enough plastic containers with cut fruit or nuts to go.
I was impressed with a couple stalls showing a wide selection of mushrooms. They get my attention as they look good to me and I am still wondering how to best prepare them.
Being unfair to vegetables
When writing over vegetable on farmers’ markets I am lacking a bit of imagination and do not present them as something special. Which is a bit unfair. Yes colorful displays catch my attention without noticing the details too much. Probably this is due to my lack of having a deep enough understanding of their origins, quality and distinctions in aromas or taste.
When I see a tomato or a lettuce or an onion, do I have an idea if it will be a good or not? No.
I still have memories from my times as a student in Turkey when the tomatoes and other veggies really had taste. And they were not necessarily organic. The same was valid for the potatoes I ate during an internship at a Northern German farm, they were so lovely. For insiders the varieties were Linda and Granola. Linda, organically grown, has gained popularity in the meantime, whereas Granola is hard to find.
Since then I have not been overwhelmed by the commercial produce. But the homegrown carrot from my colleague I got recently truly had a great taste.
I need to kick myself into my rear to get a little more exploratory here.
Toronto is a truly multicultural city. I had been walking through Portuguese, Chinese, Indian and Pakistani influenced neighborhoods. On some other spots I saw many more different cultures without having seen their respective centers. This is somehow also reflected in the St. Lawrence market hall, I observed it mainly on the food level, not so much on the produce level.
Salsa & guacamole
I go the biggest joy out a Mexican stall where I bought homemade salsa and guacamole. Eating them at the hotel was a real feast! So much flavor, nice acidity and a little trip through so many aromas. No idea how it had been created, where all the necessary ingredients imported? I doubt it.
The Ukrainian bakery called “future bakery”. The family fled from Ukraine to Canada with the outbreak of second World War. The name “future bakery” expressed their wish to look forward into a new future. Still the products have their roots in the former home of the family.
The St. Lawrence market hall is not small and therefore offers a wide array of goodies which caught briefly my eyes.
A wide choice of honeys
A surprise; truffles!
Italian Pasta: fresh and imported
Of course maple syrup
Wine as well and so many other specialties.
All in all
Is it worth to have a look at the St. Lawrence market hall? For sure. When you are hungry it is good place to find yummy street food and small items to eat on the spot.
When you want something to bring home for cooking it is a great place to find a large variety of produce often of very good quality, still in a laid back fashion. Not snobbish for sure, but it would not harm to have a better display of all the goods, currently it is rather squattered and confusing. That could elevate it to very fine place.
It would be a shame not to visit the St. Lawrence market hall when in Toronto, it gives such a good introduction of what people eat here, I assume predominantly for buyers with some European heritage.