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Is there a Toronto (or surrounding area) specialty?

I will be visiting Toronto in September for a wedding and as I always do when I travel, I would like to experience the new place with new food. My question is... what does Toronto have that is either unique to the region or particularly tasty in that region?

For example:

-Southern California has Mexican Food, Chili Burgers/Dogs/Fries and artichoke hearts on pizza.
-Chicago has beef sandwiches, chicago-style pizza and gourmet hot dogs, etc.
-NYC has shawarma, street hot dogs, NY-style pizza, etc.

I've been reading the chowhound boards, but most of the Toronto restaurants I see mentioned look like the usual delicious-but-universal upscale types of eateries. What would a Toronto local recommend to an out-of-towner, for the local experience?

Fast food, hole-in-the-walls, homey-diners, ethnic markets, etc...?

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  1. Toronto is pretty well known for their hot dog vendors, which seems to be your thing. You'll find them all over the heart of downtown.

    1. Peameal Bacon on a bun (Canadian Bacon) at the St. Lawrence Market is the meal people usually recomend.

      The other recomendation (which I do not see mentioned a lot here) is French fries with Gravy from the chip trucks on the street (a bunch are in front of city hall) this is not to be confused with Poutine from Quebec where they put cheese curds on it.. but just good handcut freshly fried potatos lathered in a rich dark gravy... makes my mouth water..

      1. Really awesome Cantonese food.

        5 Replies
          1. re: clamnectar

            What is stopping Toronto from having really awesome Cantonese food, in your opinion (I never stated Toronto's Cantonese cuisine was the best, and, technically, shouldn't you have referenced Hong Kong, not Vancouver)? Obviously Mexico has better Mexican food than you can find in SoCal, and the best shwarma on Earth is probably not to be found in NYC.

            I'm pretty sure Toronto is also known for having great Cantonese food, as noted by resident experts like Charles_Yu and skylineR33.

            1. re: tjr

              just saying that doesn't distinguish it. my vote's on "peameal bacon"... never seen it anywhere else.

              1. re: clamnectar

                Even Vancouver chowhounders will admit Lai Wah Heen has better dim sum than any place in their city.

                The rest of the Cantonese food, is pretty much on par w/ Toronto. Both cities are great, but the OP is asking about Toronto.

                I would throw a vote in for Caplansky's unique take on smoked meat.

            2. re: clamnectar

              I just took five Vancouver visitors to O Mei last week for their Giant lobster 4 ways and some other Cantonese dishes. They told me they haven't eaten any lobster that good in Vancouver or even Hong Kong!! And they have been around! Since in Hong Kong, they eat at the members only top floor Yung Kee club level ( Michelin Star )

          2. Funnel cake at Canada's Wonderland

              1. re: Dimbulb

                Waffles? Toronto is known for Waffles? Please clue me in.

                1. re: Dimbulb

                  Southern Ontario produces some of the best peaches and cream sweet corn in the world. It's as simple as food gets, fresh off the stalk. You're best off buying some at a farmer's market and cooking it yourself, but for an interesting variation, you could head to Gerrard Street East on the weekend and you'll find Indian street vendors, grilling corn and squeezing lime juice and a masala of spices and salt, then selling them to people out for a stroll or to shop in the neighbourhood.

                  I really can't associate waffles, funnel cake or even peameal bacon as Toronto specialties, as tasty as they are. The peameal is Canadian, but not specific to Toronto, to my knowledge. I think funnel cake has a German heritage, perhaps introduced to North Americans by the Amish or Mennonite communities. Waffles are definitely not Toronto specialties. They're delish, but came to us via Begium, so they just aren't THE must have while in Toronto items.

                  It's tough to single out a uniquely Toronto ingredient, dish or cuisine, since Toronto is so multicultural. To me, Toronto is known for its Cantonese food, Italian food from certain regions, Indian food, particularly northern Indian, such as Punjabi, Portuguese food, Korean food, Vietnamese food, Ethiopian food, Jamaican and Caribbean islands food, Polish food and Greek food. There are countless other cultures and countries that are well-represented in Toronto's restaurant cuisine, but I haven't singled them out because they are either few in number or else not better than other major world cities (ie. Thai, Japanese, esp. sushi, Mexican, Cajun/Creole, Lebanese, Israeli, Spanish, French, Scandinavian countries, which are wholly underrepresented in Toronto, Indonesian, Chinese cuisines other than Cantonese, such as Shanghainese, Sichuan, Beijing or Hunan, to name but a few). A few honourable mentions can go out to individual restaurants, but they don't represent any sizeable population and aren't standouts from a world-wide perspective.

                  Toronto can hold its own against other North American cities with hamburgers and fries, but I highly doubt that we outclass other cities, particularly not on a world scale, with these offerings, not when our laws dictate that burgers not ground freshly and on-site are to be cooked to medium or well-done.

                  1. re: 1sweetpea

                    For safety's sake, I think burgers done pink should be ground onsite. The problem is, not enough do it onsite to make eating them the right way possible.

                    I do agree with you...waffles? Never have I heard that as Toronto specialty.

                    Toronto is more about the multi-cultural thing.

                    1. re: 1sweetpea

                      You make some excellent points, sweetpea.

                      Peameal is not specifically Toronto, but as far as I've been able to suss out it is a natively Ontario foodstuff. It's not a hugely exciting or legendary thing, but personally, I enjoy it and get my visitors to try it because you won't find it back home. I put it more in a comfort food category than an "oh my God you MUST try this!" category, but personally, I think it's worth doing.

                      I do like your point about peaches and corn, but while they are both awfully good here, I don't think they're necessarily better than elsewhere. I have had better of both in the Midwest or the South, where I have been lucky enough to be closer to the source than I am in Toronto. Of course, you're not going to find the Little India treatment on a street corner in Indiana, either. :)

                      Which brings me to what Toronto really does well, which is the insane collage of different cultures. The OP mentioned ethnic markets, and I think Kensington Market is a really good representation of what makes Toronto special. Spend an afternoon grazing through Chinatown and Kensington (not a market building, but rather a neighborhood), and between the Chinese buns and pastries, dumplings, Vietnamese banh mi and pho, empanadas, tacos, Portuguese grilled sardines, Spanish tapas, West Indian doubles, deli, etc. etc. you'll get a microcosm of Torontonian society. It's not fancy sit-down dining, but it's what I love about our city.

                      And as tjr says, we do have really awesome Cantonese food. :)

                      1. re: Wahooty

                        Wahooty, I think sweetpea was refering to the variety of corn called "Peaches and Cream". Not peaches (the fruit) and corn (the veg).

                        1. re: Tor.hound

                          D'oh! You're right. I am just preoccupied by the fact that I have both peaches and corn in my kitchen right now, and have been enjoying both. :)

                          However, I stand by my comment that I have had better corn elsewhere. Not that our local producers aren't awesome, but I have yet to top the stuff I could buy off of the truck at a fraction of the price in Indiana.

                        2. re: Wahooty

                          BUT the original post used thes as examples:

                          Southern California has Mexican Food, Chili Burgers/Dogs/Fries and artichoke hearts on pizza.
                          -Chicago has beef sandwiches, chicago-style pizza and gourmet hot dogs, etc.
                          -NYC has shawarma, street hot dogs, NY-style pizza, etc.

                          I doubt So Cal invented Mexican food.. (Ithing it was invented in Mexico :-) And there are hotdogs everywhere but Chicago has its spin..

                          So with THIS in mind I think we put up our Street Meat, Street Fries WITH gravy, Peameal Bacon Sandwich & Sweet corn (every street festival has it) as the most "Toronto" then add Cantonese...

                          1. re: OnDaGo

                            While I agree with you to a degree, OnDaGo, I agree with Wahooty's point more.

                            What makes Toronto unique is the collage of cultures that reside side by side, the microcosm of which is Kensington Market. Everything the OP asks for in their final paragraph can be found within that neighbourhood.

                        3. re: 1sweetpea

                          "Toronto can hold its own against other North American cities with hamburgers and fries, but I highly doubt that we outclass other cities, particularly not on a world scale, with these offerings, not when our laws dictate that burgers not ground freshly and on-site are to be cooked to medium or well-done."

                          Good Lord!