A look around back reveals a door with basic sign saying “Food Court.” It’s as unassuming as it can be and an understatement if there ever was one. For this is no mere food court. This is an oasis. A portal to another part of the planet. A culinary vacation without ever leaving the city.
Hidden in the north west corner of the city, el Mercado Latino or Plaza Latina is a gem among jewels. Catering to the growing GTA Latin American community it’s anchor shop is Autentica Spanish Food and Empanadas. Of which I wrote earlier.
For the rest of the food court, English is an almost ignored language both written and spoken. It’s somewhat ramshackle in appearance with kiosks looking more like they were built by a local handyman rather than a licensed contractor. It can be intimidating I’ll admit. Even off putting. But muster up your courage and you’ll enjoy some genuine Latin flavour.Chile, Ecuador, Mexico, El Salvador and even Cuba are among the countries represented here. Easily identified by the flags above. If not by a little deductive reasoning.
First and foremost, don’t let the language barrier worry you. Most vendors have pictures at which you can point and generally speak decent, broken English. In fact the younger, the more likely they are to speak it. Secondly, I’ve noticed that anywhere you go, if you show interest in another peoples food they really open up to you.
So on with the food.
Most items are cooked to order. Generally you place your order and take a seat. They bring out your goodies when they’re ready.
Being Latin it’s no surprise most vendors have “Real Coke.” That is, Coca-Cola made with cane sugar and not that health political hot potato HFCS. I prefer the diet versions of soft drinks but every once in a while it’s nice for a change. This version from Mexico is far better than that of Canada or the US. It’s smoother, less carbonated and doesn’t have a harsh sweetness associated with HFCS. This is why we fell in love with the drink in the first place.
El SabrosonWho knew Peruvian food was so good. Other than Peruvians of course. East meets west in Peru where conquest from Spanish and immigration from China have shaped the cuisine. The name of this place says it all; “Delicious.”
Lomo Saltado is another shining example of fusion food. A simple Chinese stir fry mixed with French fries to create this conglomeration. It came nicely presented with a mound of rice at one end but the game plan here is to get the rice to the bottom of the dish and have it soak up the oils and grease. As is pictured below. This dish was stunningly good. It’s always great when one minute you don’t even know a food exists and the next you’re eating one of the tastiest things you’ve ever had. You have to wonder how anyone could keep it a secret. It’s the type of dish that is probably better the more greasy it is. Comfort food, hangover food, fusion food. Call it what you will but ultimately it’s delicious food.
As was the Jalea. Corn meal battered and fried seafood topped with a garnish of Peruvian Creole saladAt first bite, (shrimp with no garnish) it seemed rather boring. What makes this dish is the pickled onions and tomatoes. Contrasted with the heavier fried shrimp, calamari and fish it was excellent. I found the fried yucca side to be somewhat plain. That’s what yucca is though. Like a mild, starchy potato.
A hot sauce was provided that was bordering on deadly. This seemed to be little more than pureed habaneros. I didn’t add any since it didn’t need it.
Comedor Popular Ecuatoriano
Meaning, Popular Ecuadorian Dining room this stall is tucked into the corner and serves up some great soups (sopa) and ceviche. A number of other diners had terrific smelling soup from this vendor. We opted for ceviche though.
Ceviche is seafood “Cooked” in citrus juice. Rather than heat cooking the protein, the acid in the juice cooks it. The result is a fresh tasting, tart dish that’s sweetened slightly by the sugars pulled out of the added vegetables. Most often red onion and tomato. A little cilantro for garnish and colour rounds out the dish. As one can imagine, this ceviche mixto is just terrific. A seafood medeley of shrimp, scallops, mussels and calamari tossed with the vegetation. Keep in mind that a minimum of 15 minutes is required for the citric acid to work it’s magic.
La Fuenta del Puro Sabor
Translated to mean “the source of pure flavour”, more foods hailing from Ecuador are featured in this stall. They specialize in natural fruit juices. This mango shake, more like a smoothie in consistency was fantastic. A velvety texture and sublime mango taste was fabulous.
La Costenita Colombia
Near as I can tell, this translates to “The Colombian Coast.” During a crawl around the city sampling Colombian empanadas we paid a visit. Empanadas are a meat and potato filled pocket pie. Other meats and even veggie filled empanadas are sometimes offered but here it’s the Colombian standard beef and potato.The empanadas are cornmeal breaded and have a potatoey tasting filling similar to that of a samosa. They’re quite good.
Much better are the pupusas though. Especially when paired with the shredded cabbage. The fried tortilla is stuffed with cheese and pork and is just tasty.
For desert a dulce de leche churro from Autentica was the perfect finish.
You can find the el Mercado Latino at 9 Milvan Drive in Toronto, Ontario.
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Well that’s all for now from the Latin food court. Check back in for updates as I work my way through this place.