Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Great Toronto Ethnic Bakery Tour

If you've been reading along you'll probably know that I live in Toronto. At least, the Toronto area that is. What you may not know is that "The Big Smoke" as it's called is as multicultural a city as there is on the big blue marble. This of course means there is ethnic food from every corner of the globe.

With our love of ethnic foods and bakeries in tow, a small group of local Chowhounders set out to sample some of the delights, both sweet and savoury which our immigrant compatriots have bless the city.
There is too much to go into great detail about everything so I'll hit the high points in terms of taste and interst. Focusing on 4 of the 7 bakeries and 2 places we got side tracked.

Our first stop was Columbus Bakery at 2931 Dufferin St. south of Lawrence.

Specializing in Columbian baked goods, it's quickly becoming a favourite of mine and some of my partners in crime.
We tried over half a dozen treats from the sweet and the savoury as well as a Columbian soft drink.

Pony Malta: A carbonated drink with a malted molasses taste to it. I found it to be okay and if I went back would order it again. I doubt I'd have it somewhere else though.

Carimanolas: Fried cassava (yucca) fritters stuffed with minced beef that make a great little snack when you're on the road. Perhaps a touch greasy for some but I love them. Perfect with or without hot sauce.

Tamales: Not the same as most tamales as they are much bigger and not wrapped in corn husk but banana leaves. A great corn taste from the massa. This particular tamale was chicken and contained some vegetables and a whole drumstick. Bone and all. I thought it was the best tamale I'd had but sadly, it's in short company. Eaten on arepas (cornmeal pancake) with hot sauce it was fantastic. (sorry the pic is a bit blurry). The white thing is the arepa.

Other samples consisted of giant alfajores (a shortbread type double decker cookie), empanadas (made with a corn meal shell that certainly need the hot sauce), chicarones (fried pork belly, skin on. Can't go wrong there) and a tamarind stuffed puff pastry (we don't know the name of but was also good).

We showed up hungry and ate a little too much for our first stop. As you can imagine, we compounded the problem at our second stop.

On we went to Doce Minho a little further south at 2189 Dufferin St. specializing in Portuguese fare.

I'm a chocolate nut but if I'm not having chocolate my favourite sweet is pasteis de natas. The famous custard tarts are simply out of this world good.

There were two things surprising to everyone. A custard filled donut (bottom right). Given that is has custard in it, it probably shouldn't have surprised. The other was a neat little boat filled with a sweet custard that was the colour of sweet potato (top left). There was a good almond tart (middle) and a nice piece of chourico (we laughed at the sausage being a palate cleanser) that was quite tasty too(bottom left). (blurry again)

We also had some savoury pasteis as well. Salt cod, shrimp, beef and chicken flavoured fritters (I mean seperately, not all meat mixed together).

Athen's Pasteries is as you can imagine, Greek. Right in the heart of Greektown.

First thing you'll notice is the goodies were right in the front window. All portioned and cut right there for the passers by to see.

If the pastries in the front window wasn't enough to convince you you were on to something, the fact that they make and sell their own phyllo is should seal the deal.

Kreatopita: Much like Spanakopita but with a meat filling. Fantastic.

Spanakopita: (right) Perhaps the most well known of the Greek pasteries, it's phyllo stuffed with cheese and spinach. Most were in agreement it was the best we'd had. Strong spinach taste without overwhelming.
Tiropita: (left)As above with Feta. Often called cheese pie it too was great.

All the above had flaky, buttery phyllo.

We also had Loukoumades. (above on the bottom) A donut like doughball drenched in honey. Unbelievably sweet and somewhat one dimensional. The addition of cinnamon turns something somewhat boring into a nice sweet treat.

Later in the afternoon we made our way to Babu Bakery and Sweets. Located in the back of a strip mall at 4800 Sheppard Ave. E. it's a take out only Sri Lankan place offering both the sweet and the savoury. Suffering from sugar shock we stuck the hot tables. Upwards of a couple dozen delicious looking a la carte offerings all of which I'd never sampled. We took our goodies and had a picnic in a local park.

Beef String Hopper: (left) Named for the string like rice noodles. At first bite it was quite good but unassuming. As a few more bites came so did the burn. Not overpowering but a nice back bite to it.
Chicken Kothu Roti: (right) HELLO!! Bang, tasty with an up front heat that'll get your attention.
Chicken Hakkah: (bottom) My favourite. I like sauce and spice which is exactly what this delivered.
An ingenious "PeteRock" slipped out to Mona's Roti (4810 Sheppard Ave. E.) and picked up, you guessed it, roti. Mona's roti was very nice, fresh and perfect with all three dishes from Babu.

A couple of us had (what I'm told is) sahlbet. A fruity drink made from a base of milk and rosewater. It needs to be stirred as the rosewater sinks to the bottom. I liked it.

The other unscheduled but well worth it side trips was to Simba Grill at 375 Donlands Ave. to pick up some Tanzanian style samosas to compare with those from Samosa King. Not a bakery but since we were driving right by it....

Tanzanian style samosas sport a phyllo type wrapper. We opted for the beef filled.
I prefer this style and these were as good as it gets. Another reason why we stopped.

The more traditional style have a more standard dough. Both are deep fried.
The Samosa King samosas were fine. The are loved by many but it's most likely because of the price. (5/$1) I've had much better.

Another goodie from Mona's was a Doubles. A sandwich of two flatbreads filled with chana (spiced chick peas). It's called doubles. As in, one "Doubles." It was excellent.

We also stopped at Lebanese Bakery for (obviously) Lebanese. I thought it was okay, nothing special. I did like the baklava.
Ponchos Bakery offers up Mexican breads. It seems none of us are into Mexican breads. For the most part we found them dry. Probably they're meant to be eaten with coffee or some sort of drink. I did like the strawberry flavoured empanada.
We skipped Fragrant Bakery (Chinese) since we were just flat out spent. Sensory overload and/or food coma were the reason.

Well that's all for now folks.



  1. Thanks to your blog, I now know what a "doubles" is. I've often wondered. Your pix are helpful.
    You and your happy little band of noshers are a brave lot, taking on so many pastry shops in one swoop.
    Also enjoyable: past descriptions of your adventures at the hot dog joint in Detroit, and Zingermann's in Ann Arbor, both of which I share your enthusiasm for.
    Your reports are written with zest and humor. They're fun to read.

  2. nice pictures, Davwud!
    Have to try out Simba's samosas- Simba has been on my list for years now!