Journalist Sarah Efron explores strip malls and hole-in-the-wall restaurants in search of the city's best ethnic food

Monday, September 24, 2012

Great Caribbean eats at the Weston Flea Market

***Note of Aug 2014: See update in comments at end of story.

Some of the best international food Toronto has to offer is served at city's flea markets. The cheap rents on stalls and weekend-only hours make them a great place for aspiring chefs to test out their home cooked favourites on a diverse crowd. 

After discovering an unmatched selection of Latin American and Caribbean food stalls last year at Downsview Park Merchants Market, I decided to hunt for cheap ethnic eats at the Toronto Weston Flea Market at 404 Old Weston Road just north of St. Clair Ave.


Outside the market, fruit and veg vendors holler to try to attract customers. "ONE-DOLLAR-PINEAPPLE-ONE-DOLLAR-PINEAPPLE!" repeats one strong lunged vendor. Another chants, "HONEY-HONEY-HONEY DEW! HONEY-HONEY-HONEY DEW!"  

There's no charge to enter the bleak-looking concrete building. Head past the stalls hawking dollar store surplus and low-rent antique junk and go to the food court in the back. The Chinese place looked like your standard mall outlet and the Caribbean joint was serving dried up chunks of mystery meat, but a Guyanese food stall caught my eye. 

Nadira & Family Halal Cuisine is run by Nadira Khan (below left). Her daughter Nafeeza (below right) drums up business by handing out flyers to the flea market shoppers. "I love to be in the kitchen," says Nadira, who is paying $500 a month to rent the stall each Saturday and Sunday. "I want to open up a restaurant that would be open every day, so I'm here to build up my clientele." 

The menu reflects the diversity of the South American country of Guyana. Vegetable fried rice and chow mein dishes are variations on Chinese recipes, while the channa curry and roti have Indian roots. The prices are super cheap: A curry and roti is just five bucks. 

The potato balls ($1) are a Guyanese snack that sound like a novelty item you'd get at the CNE. It's basically a deep fried and battered ball of mashed potatoes. Similarly, the egg ball ($3) is a hefty lump of dough with a whole hard boiled egg inside of it. They were served with a tangy chutney. 

Nadira also sells traditional Guyanese sweets: The round 'chinee' cake probably also has a Chinese origin, as its black eyed pea filling tastes like the sweet bean paste you get in Asian desserts. Red cake (salara) has layers of shredded coconut in it. My favourite of the bunch is the pine tart: It's triangular shape reminds me of the Jewish hamentashen, but it's filled with tangy, stringy pineapple.

Check back with Spice City Toronto next week for more discoveries from the Toronto Weston Flea Market.

Photos by Molly Crealock

Toronto Weston Flea Market is located at 404 Old Weston Road, just north of St. Clair Ave West. Admission is free. It's open Saturdays and Sundays 10am to 6pm. Tel: 416 654 6455.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Indian-style roti that rivals Gandhi's

A quaint semi-detached house at Dupont and Spadina is home to Roti Cuisine of India, a restaurant that specializes in Indian-style roti that rivals the legendary Gandhi Indian Cuisine

Owner Vijayan Venkitaraman, a former cruise ship chef from Chennai in South India, opened up the restaurant with his brother two years ago. The original plan was to open a conventional Indian restaurant, but Venkitaraman felt a simpler, more casual concept would work better in the small space. Inspired by Gandhi Indian Cuisine, he decided to wrap classic Indian curries inside a Caribbean-style roti shell.


Spice lovers won't be disappointed, as these rotis pack a serious punch. While the butter chicken roti ($10.99) lacks the tomato content of the standard dish, it doesn't disappoint. The boneless white meat chunks and tender potatoes make a tasty and filling meal. 

The lamb curry roti ($8.99) has small, lean cubes of lamb mixed with potato, nestled into a slightly crispy shell. The curry is cooked for six or seven hours to maximize tenderness, while the roti is toasted on a flat grill. 

Not only is the food on par with Gandhi, but Roti Cuisine of India also offers some new variations on the Toronto-style Indian-Caribbean roti hybrid. Baingan bhurtha roti is made with oven-roasted eggplant, sauteed herbs and green peas. Chicken and lamb saag rotis include pureed spinach, and shahi shrimp roti is cooked with coconut milk and ground cashew nut sauce. The restaurant also features a wide selection of biryani (rice dishes), and you can order Indian beer, such as Kingfisher.

Although you can dine in the restaurant, the majority of customers order take-out. You can see the complete menu on the Roti Cuisine of India's website, which is worth visiting just to read the baffling Google-Translate-gone-wrong text, which promises dishes with "the perfect poise" and "high calorific value."
Photos by Dana Lacey. Thanks to Zoe S. for the tip. 

Roti Cuisine of India is located at 308 Dupont Street at Spadina. Tel: 416 968 9366. Hours: Open Monday to Friday 11:30am to 10pm; Saturday and Sunday 12:00pm to 10pm. Debit and cash only. 

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