Part 1: Back from Toronto + 11 Lbs

Please note: this is a crazy long post with very few pictures – I was so busy eating that I didn’t think to take ANY photos, not even grainy ones. I’m such a bad blogger. After writing most of this missive I decided to break it into three parts, so it shouldn’t be too bad of a slog. I’m hoping that it’ll make me look like less of a pig in the process. Put on some tunes and rock out while you read of our epic voyage to the land they call Toronto.

On a long overdue whim, we (Darling and I) decided to visit my sister in Toronto over the weekend. If any of you have read my post about our last trip to New York, you know that the goal of any trip of ours is to organize our sight-seeing around our many, many, many meals. This trip was no exception – I’d even hazard to say that it surpassed our New York trip in food quality (and certainly quantity). Does Toronto have more vegan restaurants than New York? Not even close according to Happy Cow (there are 32 purely vegan restaurants in NYC vs 17 in Toronto and a mere 3 in Ottawa), but that doesn’t matter. Our secret weapon was that we were in the presence of my sister and her partner, who are not only terrific hosts, but stalwart foodies who know their city. They introduced us to a couple of restaurants that we would never have found otherwise. Lesson one: you always get the best of the best when you’re touring with locals. Of course, we made sure to visit some of the better known veggie spots in the city too, lest we miss out on some must-tries.

We began our weekend-long feast on Friday night, after suffering through one of the most terrible meals of my life on board the VIA train. Lesson two: the “Asian Vegetarian” dish indicated on the menu is not the sumptuous Thai stir-fry I had pictured ravenously when I indicated my choice (see below). No, “Asian Vegetarian” means soggy spinach and green peas mixed with weeny white bits of potato cooked within an inch of their lives, doused with a pseudo-curry unlike any curry powder I’ve ever come across (and spectacularly lacking in any other seasoning), served with white basmati rice and a dollop of what I can only assume must have been “mango chutney”. I use quotation marks to indicate that this is only a guess, as the blob of orangey beige muck stuck to the side of the serving dish could have been pretty well anything. Needless to say, I was disappointed, especially since we were traveling in Business Class (a first for me) and I had dreamt up a lavish journey likely inspired by Hercule Poirot’s trip aboard the Orient Express or the Blue Train. Just like Samantha and Carrie from Sex and the City, I was sadly mistaken.

I couldn't leave the post utterly pic-less, so I dusted this one off after finding it in my photographed-but-never-published files. It's a modified Phad Mee (Thai veggie rice noodle dish). Note that this would have been wonderful and would have ticked the "Asian Vegetarian" box... Sadly, what I received was nothing like it.

But back to the food: my Darling proved his love by giving me his meal (he devoured the “curry” so quickly I don’t think the taste registered), which was slightly more palatable, but only just. The 3 pieces of sadly overcooked red and green pepper which topped the 6 noodles in what I can only describe as an attempted soy sauce disappeared in less time than it took you to read this, and left me quite unsatisfied. Luckily I travel well prepared, and we enjoyed a bag of sesame hummus chips for the remainder of the voyage. You may ask why I spent so much time dwelling on the horror of one small (and predictably bad) meal when there’s so much goodness to come? Lesson three: excellent food can be  surprisingly rare, so you must savour and enjoy it whenever you’re lucky enough to come across it.

And come across it we did! We began the food extravaganza at Green’s Vegetarian once we discovered that our intended destination, the renowned Buddha’s Vegetarian, was closed (note for future travelers, it closes at 9pm). No matter – we were served a delicious hot & sour soup and tons of green tea, two key components of any good Szechuan meal. The soup was tangy and rife with tofu, bamboo shoots and mushrooms, and was one of the meal’s highlights for me. Then, we shared soy fritters (which were ok I guess, but nothing to write home about) and moved on to the main event: braised “duck” with vegetables, tofu skins with vegetables and noodles, eggplant and “chicken” with black bean sauce, spicy green beans and what I can only describe as tofu and mushroom eggs. Let me back up a bit: my sister and her boyfriend are not vegetarians or vegans, but they were eager to experience the finest veggie cuisine Toronto had to offer. I figured an introduction to the mock meat family would be well received. Indeed, if the mock meat had been anything like the stuff served at Chu Chai in Montreal, I would have been proud to showcase it. However, the “duck” and “chicken” were little more than beige blocks of flavourless seitan. Sacrilege! Luckily the vegetables made up for the blandness, with soft, delicious eggplant and crunchy, flavourful green beans. Undoubtedly, the most interesting dish was the tofu and mushroom eggs. The dish consisted of “eggs” made from silken tofu and diced mushrooms, coated with panko (or some other starch) and rice noodles, then deep-fried and served with a mushroom sauce. They were incredibly weird and delicious. With full bellies, we waddled home and dreamt of breakfast.

Be sure to tune in to Part 2 for Saturday’s bonanza!

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