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Travelling the world in Toronto

posted May 1, 2018


Toronto Chinatown

Toronto has long been hailed the most multicultural city in the world. The city’s many cultural districts of Portuguese, Jamaican, Chinese, Korean, Italian and Polish communities make Toronto the wonderfully diverse city we know and love today. It’s estimated that approximately 10% of the population is of Chinese origin, and one in 50 locals are Korean.

One of the many joys of visiting Toronto is simply wandering through its vibrant neighbourhoods to take in the sights, sounds and smells. On one street, you’ll see Peking duck hanging up in the windows of authentic Chinese restaurants, and just around the corner, strings of sausages hanging up in Eastern European grocery shops. And it’s not just about the food. The city of Toronto holds hundreds of festivals throughout the year to celebrate the city’s multitude of cultures.

Book your flights to Toronto for an excellent way to explore the Canadian way of life and dip your toe into other cultures. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at Toronto’s cultural districts and how you can travel the world within one city.

 

toronto-flights

 

Toronto’s cultural districts

Toronto History

Toronto is a melting pot of more than 100 cultures, and the best way to experience these is by wandering through the city. Although many of Toronto’s street names stem from when the city was first established in the 1800s by Scottish Presbyterians, Canada’s relaxing of immigration laws in the 1970s helped to make Toronto the diverse city it is today. Music, art, food and festivity gradually took over the streets, and suddenly, the city became highly desirable to tourists. As there are so many ethnic enclaves in the city, we decided to take a look at just a handful of the most popular.

Koreatown

Koreatown is one of Toronto’s many cultural neighbourhoods. During the early 70s there was an influx of Korean immigrants settling in Toronto, bringing with them a wave of exciting new culture to the country. Today, Toronto has the largest single concentration of Koreans in Canada, with almost 50,000 calling the city home. Korean restaurants, bakeries, grocery stores and retailers began to set-up shop, catering to the Korean-Canadian community.

Toronto is a melting pot of more than 100 cultures, and the best way to experience these is by wandering through the city. Although many of Toronto’s street names stem from when the city was first established in the 1800s by Scottish Presbyterians, Canada’s relaxing of immigration laws in the 1970s helped to make Toronto the diverse city it is today. Music, art, food and festivity gradually took over the streets, and suddenly, the city became highly desirable to tourists. As there are so many ethnic enclaves in the city, we decided to take a look at just a handful of the most popular.

 

Hodo Kwaja, an authentic Korean bakery, has been serving sweet treats to locals for 25 years. The family-run shop’s walnut cake is perhaps its most famous menu item. To find out more about Hodo Kwaja and life in Koreatown, we spoke to general manager Suki Lee: “Hodo Kwaja opened its doors on October 29th, 1992 and is still family-owned to this day. The owners Mr. Lee and Mrs. Kim (husband and wife) started small with just the walnut cakes.

“Over time they added in other Korean traditional and popular desserts, like the Red Bean sherbet, Korean brown sugar pancakes, madeleine and Chun Byung. The difference between Hodo Kwaja and other walnut cake bakeries in the Greater Toronto Area is that we only use Canadian-based companies for their ingredients from the grade A shelled eggs to 40kg bags of Five Rose flour. Even the red bean filling in our cakes and other products are made using Azuki beans grown in Ontario, about 3-4 hours away from our bakery.

“Food is the major attraction in our Koreatown. Every restaurant has their own unique speciality, which caters to all types of hungry customers, from Canadians trying Korean food for the first time to elderly Koreans who can enjoy the food as if they were back home.

“The shopping is great for fashion as well; quite a few stores carry Korean fashion trends and brands. Then there are the retail stores with Korean items such as Kpop CDs to traditional Korean rice wrapping paper. A great photo opportunity is with our trusty Tiger that sits by Christie Pits, which shines brightly every evening for visitors and residents.”

Hodo Kwaja pancakes

Image: Hodo Kwaja

As an established business in Koreatown, we wanted to find out what the Hodo Kwaja team love most about living and working in Toronto: “I came to Canada at the age of 4, I am what Korean people call a 1.5 generation (born in Korea, raised in Canada) and I speak both Korean and English fluently. I love the diversity of Toronto, especially the food and events that happen all-year-round.

“Since Hodo Kwaja is actually owned by family, I’ve worked here my whole entire life, you can say I know this store better than the back of my hand. I used to fold our signature boxes for a penny a box, when we used to still have pennies. I have also worked lots of different types of jobs, from folding clothes at night at Eaton Center to being an assistant manager at a private gym. I always love how every job I have worked here in Toronto you meet such an amazing array of people, co-workers and customers. Hearing stories from customers, watching customers’ children grow over the years, meeting 1st, 2nd and 3rd generation customers are one of the biggest perks of working at Hodo Kwaja.”

Where is it? Koreatown is located on Bloor Street between Christie and Bathurst Streets in Seaton Village.

Greektown

Danforth Toronto

Greektown, or Greektown on the Danforth, or simply The Danforth, is a Greek neighbourhood in Toronto. The area is known for its architecture, which dates back to 1910, and its many Greek restaurants and shops. The Danforth was one of the major settlement areas of Greek immigrants to the city in World War One.

By the 1970s and 80s, the Danforth was considered to be the largest Greektown in North America. It has one of the highest concentrations of restaurants per kilometre in the world, so you won’t be short of great places to eat traditional Greek cuisine on your holiday to Toronto. Head to Pappas Grill for Greek-inspired food in a casual setting, or family-friendly Greek eatery Pantheon, which has a delightful patio so you can do some people watching while you eat. For those looking to celebrate Greek culture in Canada, the annual Taste of the Danforth food festival takes over the district for 2 days in mid-August. This vibrant event has grown exponentially, from roughly 5,000 visitors at the first festival to over a million people in 2008.

Where is it? Danforth Village

Little Italy

Patio is open for business! 😎

A post shared by Café Diplomatico (@cafedip) on

The Little Italy district of Toronto is famous for its Italian-Canadian restaurants and businesses. Centred on a main strip on College Street, Little Italy is lined with authentic cafes, delis, restaurants and pizza joints, with wider sidewalks accommodating al fresco dining. Huge numbers of Italians arrived in Toronto during the early 20th century and first settled in an area then known as The Ward. By the 1920s, many Italians moved and the College-Clinton area became the city’s major Little Italy.

The first multicultural radio station in Canada was CHIN, launched by Johnny Lombardi, in 1966. Lombardi was later recognised as a pioneer of multicultural broadcasting in Canada. The Italian Walk of Fame was also established here, celebrating the accomplishments of successful persons of Italian descent. In the decades that followed, the Little Italy district continued to bring tastes of Italy to Toronto. Café Diplomatico, which originally opened as an Italian bar, now offers delicious, authentic Italian food. Lorraine of food and travel blog Not Quite Nigella loved exploring the various restaurants in Toronto’s Little Italy. We started by asking her what she thought of Toronto and the district: “I’ve only visited once but loved it. I love the diversity of Canada and that is really apparent in a city like Toronto.

Little Italy is vibrant, unpretentious, it’s full of great personalities and stories. People seem to go there to have delicious comfort food. I was lucky enough to see it with Chef Scott Savoie.”

We were also curious to find out which restaurants stood out to Lorraine the most: “If we are talking strictly Italian I really enjoyed Marinella for the prawns in Marinella sauce (which I could not stop eating), Trattoria Taverniti for the gorgonzola, pear, walnut and Italian honey pizza, or Sotto Voce for the lamb or the Nova Scotian lobster pasta. But there was also great Japanese and Peruvian there too!”

Where is it? On College Street at the intersection of College and Grace Streets.

Chinatown

Crossing at Chinatown Toronto

The ethnic enclave of Chinatown can be found in Downtown Toronto. This cultural pocket of the city first appeared in the 1980s with the migration of American Chinese people from California. It’s believed that the earliest record of Toronto’s Chinese community is traced to Sam Ching, who apparently owned a hand laundry business on Adelaide Street in 1878. As he was the first Chinese person listed in Toronto’s directory, he has been honoured with a lane named after him.

Chinatown’s long history means it can essentially be divided into two phases: First Chinatown, which from the 1870s to 1961 was centred near Elizabeth and Hagerman Streets, was essentially demolished to make way for Toronto City Hall. Old Chinatown has been centred at Spadina Avenue and Dundas streets since the 1950s. With the influx of Chinese immigration during the 1960s, Chinese businesses expanded in the area to create the Chinatown we know and love today.

The present day Chinatown is one of the largest in North America, and has gradually developed to also reflect Vietnamese and Thai communities. If you’re looking for high quality cheap eats, this is the place to be. Tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurants are dotted throughout the enclave, as well as more traditional eateries. Rol San is renowned for its authentic dim sum, served fresh all day, while King’s Noodle Restaurant is famous for its some 50 varieties of noodle soup.

We asked Chinatown’s Business Improvement Area (BIA) team what there is to see and do in the neighbourhood: “The supermarkets in Chinatown carry lots of affordable food and authentic Asian groceries. The restaurants are another highlight of Chinatown. From global franchises to local business, you can find all kinds of Asian food from different parts of Asia in Chinatown.

“We noticed there are some visitors from the neighbouring US travelling all the way from home to Chinatown just to find the best Asian food. There are stores providing souvenirs and delicate models for animation fans.

“Chinatown BIA aims to preserve and create cultural heritage and arts. In the Chinatown area, unique murals, the cavalcade of lights and public art installations are popular tourism spots. You can spend half a day walking round to experience the unique Asian experience.

“Toronto is a multicultural city. People can hear all kinds of languages while taking the public transit. We not only respect different ethnic groups but also preserve the culture in different areas. Visitors can find Little Italy, Little Portugal, Greektown and Chinatown in the downtown area and explore them all within a day. It’s a city to explore the world.”

Where is it? Chinatown can be found at Spadina Avenue and Dundas Street.

Little India

Festival of India

Home to Gerrard India Bazaar, North America’s largest South Asian ethnic market, Toronto’s Little India district is one of the most vibrant areas in the city. Wander through textile shops overflowing with colourful silk materials, and let your nose guide you to some of the area’s most exciting restaurants. Little India is a hub for many cuisines from Pakistani and Sri Lankan to Bangladeshi. Lahore Tikka House is one of the area’s most popular eateries and a neighbourhood landmark, serving authentic, delicious Halal food. MotiMahal, situated in the centre of Gerrard India Bazaar, claims to be the oldest Indian restaurant in Toronto.

And it’s not just about the food in Little India. There is a real sense of community here, and the district’s annual Festival of South Asia celebrates this. Taking place in July at the Gerrard India Bazaar, the festival is the largest and longest-running South Asian street festival in Ontario, welcoming some 250,000 people over two days.

Where is it? Gerrard Street, between Greenwood Avenue and Coxwell Avenue

Little Poland

Polish food in Toronto

Roncesvalles, also known as Little Poland, is a neighbourhood with a large Polish community. Although the neighbourhood is mainly residential, there is a commercial strip lined with Polish grocery stores, delis and restaurants. Roncesvalles Avenue and the surrounding area have long been known as Toronto’s Polish hub. Many shops display the sign ‘Mówimy po polsku’, translating to ‘We speak Polish’.

 

 

As Poland is a predominantly Catholic country, there are two large Catholic churches on Roncesvalles. One, St. Casimir’s Roman Catholic Church, offers Polish-language masses every Sunday. The community is so well-established in Toronto that the public library holds a collection of Polish books and magazines, and at a local school, Polish language lessons are part of the curriculum.

Little Poland celebrates annually at Roncesvalles Polish Festival. It is North America’s largest celebration of Polish culture and takes place in September each year. If you’ve booked your flights to Toronto around this time, it’s well worth stopping by to eat, drink and dance. However Little Poland’s authentic restaurants and cafes are open throughout the year. Café Polonez is a popular choice, serving traditional Polish dishes in a cosy setting. Expect traditional Polish soups, sausage stews, goulash and schnitzels.

Where is it? Roncesvalles Avenue

So, there you have it. You really can travel the world in Toronto! With more than 100 cultural neighbourhoods to explore, you’ll find plenty of new sights, tastes and sounds on your holiday to Canada. If you just can’t wait to set off on your adventure, take a look at our flights to Toronto for the latest deals.

Image credits: Sebastiaan ter Burg, Loozrboy, Jade Tran, The City of Toronto, Harvey K, Toronto History

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