Toronto, I rather love you for your food (although when it comes to straight-up vegetarian options you are worse now than 15 years ago, with Sadies and Grasslands now distant tasty memories. Sad.).
A few weeks ago I popped into Simit & Chai, a newish coffee shop in King West and tried simit, a circular bread that is dipped in molasses and encrusted in sesame seeds. Yum. And vegan. Extra points there. This sparked my curiosity in Turkish cuisine (the vegetarian kind). I’ve since followed my tastebuds out to the Danforth to sample pide (like a delicate flatbread pizza folded over toppings, served with pickled hot peppers and lemon – omg) and then back to S&C to try a light fluffy bun and the delight that is Turkish coffee.
“Everyday” simit with cream cheese
Turkish coffee – thick and fragrant
The coffee is served in a small, pretty cup, which I think enhances the flavour. Thick and almost syrupy, it’s also fragrant and strong and not bitter. Alas, I didn’t ask for drinking instructions and ended up with a thick, undrinkable coffee sludge in the bottom of my cup (for best results, gently swirl the cup occasionally to remix the water with the coffee paste). Regardless of my java faux pas (kahve hata? — like I know Turkish and didn’t consult an online translator), it was a lovely caffeinating experience. Plus, all the patrons around me were speaking Turkish (I think), a language not heard much here on the West side.
I think my little Turkish nosh exploration has found its end, however. A quick glance at menus of Turkish restaurants reveals a heavy use of meat (boo) and eggplant (sigh). But I did learn that there’s a whole lot more to Turkish baking than the pita bread.
When the season descends you dazzle us with the springtime favourites: tulips and daffodils and big bursting blossoms on flowering trees. But its your delicate lilacs that lure me: that sweet, old-fashioned scent pulling my face into green leaves, those delicate buds breaking open into lavender, fuchsia, and white.
Sure, they’re perfuming up the parks and front gardens and back alleys, distracting photo-snappers with the near-allure of cherry blossoms. But the sweetest Syringa of all are those springing forth from a patch of cracked concrete by the fire escape of an old factory.
#1 reason to spend time in Toronto in May: the CONTACT photography festival.
This year I spent several days traipsing around the city checking out the collections. This one, Inside The Gate by Kent Krugh, was both my favourite exhibit and the hardest to find. An area where factories may once have hummed with activity but now sit still, contemplating, perhaps mourning. The gallery is somewhere inside one of these buildings. And there it is: pressed up against a stone wall that shields eyes and ears from nearby train tracks. There is no sign. Just an arrow — which could lead to anything. Up three flights of old steps, creaking and groaning. Through an unmarked door. And then into a dark room, windows blacked out. And when your eyes adjust to the lack of light, all that you see: illuminated photos against the black like apparitions.
The photos are 360 captures of trees. The objects around the trees — hydro lines, cars, people, gravestones — fade into the periphery. But with each angle you can see them, like memories, like ghosts.
The best way to walk in the downtown core is via the laneways. These hidden sub-streets travel within leafy neighbourhoods, unseen from the roads where homes rest against each other in eccentric rows. The lanes are like paved spines; their vertebrae: dilapidated garages with weakened roofs and moss-strewn fences lining narrow backyards. Here there are hidden windows and gates, prowling cats, broken bikes, brightly painted doors, and rogue gardens. And small glimpses of the secret lives of city-dwellers.