This Stop, Afghanistan; Next Stop, Zimbabwe: Ingredient Hunting in Toronto

We split our time pretty evenly between eating out on the town, eating ordinary stay-in meals (salad, veggie dogs, fish and rice, frozen curries), and tackling more ambitious recipes in our own kitchen. If we cooked every day like we do for Wooden Spoon Wanderer (WSW), we’d be exhausted; if we ate out every night, we’d be broke; and if we had frozen pizza every dinner, we’d be bored.

We’re lucky to live in a city where all three are made easy. When it comes to eating at restaurants, Toronto offers tastes from around the world at any price. Ingredients for our go-to meals get a little more interesting when you have purveyors of wonderful staples the world over. For WSW meals, when our grocery list grows long and we no longer recognize the needed ingredients, it’s time to hit our ever-expanding list of destinations, most within a short streetcar ride.

FreshCo: We have to start here, at Parliament and Dundas, just a few blocks from our Corktown home. FreshCo is a huge chain, but this location never disappoints. They carry a massive amount of foods from around the world, with special sections for different regions, including the Middle East, Europe, the Caribbean, and more. We often end up finding items here that we haven’t found anywhere else.
Notable find: Breadfruit

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Bulk Barn:
A must if you want two tablespoons of thyme instead of a two kilo sack, Bulk Barn is the place we head to for pretty much every assignment’s spice and flour needs. Plus, you can’t beat candy in bulk. You just can’t.
Notable find: Condensed coconut milk

T&T Asian Supermarket: A bit further afield, giant market T&T provides us with all our East Asian needs, from produce to seafood to dry goods. It’s a maze of brightly-lit aisles, and more than once we’ve stumbled out of there with bursting backpacks, surprised that the sun has gone down and it’s tomorrow already. This is our first stop for Asian ingredients, before heading to Toronto’s Chinatown neighbourhood.
Notable find: Whitebait

Caribbean Corner: Nestled on a side street in Kensington Market, this little grocery has come through for us for a variety of Caribbean and African ingredients. The shelves are packed with items, floor to ceiling, and there is always a knot of people at the front chatting away, ready to direct a shopper.
Notable find: Palm nut cream

King’s Cafe: This vegan restaurant is wonderful as a dine-in destination (get the wonton soup and don’t forget the plum sauce “duck”), but King’s Cafe also boasts a little market inside. We keep WSW pescatarian-frendly (since I, Caeli, am a friendly-ish pescatarian), and King’s has some great meat alternatives, not to mention the best steam-able barbecue “pork” buns ever.
Notable find: “Pork chop”

mussels
Hooked Fishmonger: We head over to Leslieville (though Hooked has other locations in the city) for sustainable seafood that never disappoints. Hooked has a great, very knowledgeable staff, and really high-quality seafood on offer.
Notable find: Perch

St Lawrence Market: This two-storey market in downtown Toronto includes some great cheesemongers, fishmongers, greengrocers, and bakeries. The smells in there are amazing. While the items on offer are not the cheapest, they tend to be excellent quality, and if we can’t find the seafood we need at Hooked, we can often find it at St Lawrence.
Notable find: Mirin

SRI spices

BJ Supermarket: In the heart of Little India in Toronto’s east end is this fantastic supermarket that sells all things South Asia. The spice section is inspiring. Just wait until we get our India assignment. (We always stock up on frozen curries here too, since their selection is hands-down the best we’ve found in the city.)
Notable find: Besan

Nella Cutlery: Located just a couple of blocks away, Nella is a cookware store for actual chefs. I didn’t go in there for three years because I thought I wasn’t allowed. We’ve taken home the best in peelers and cutting boards at really reasonable prices. Plus, if we ever need a full-sized deep fryer, we’ll know where to look.
Notable find: Baking stone

Toronto offers plenty in the way of eating-out locales, but it also can’t be beat when it comes to stocking a kitchen. Wooden Spoon Wanderer is made possible by its setting, a place in the world where so many people have come to lay down roots (and grocery stores). We feel fortunate to have such abundance at our doorstep, and it’s impossible not to be inspired as we walk down a busy street, alive with the colours and smells of this vibrant multiculturalism.

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