Taste the world without leaving the city!

Toronto is one of the most diverse cities in the world. As a cultural hub, the city provides us with many opportunities to embrace ourselves in different traditions. Whether it is street festivals or authentic restaurants, there is always something to explore, learn and engage with the rich tapestry of heritage that shapes our collective identity.

And what is a better way to become familiar with a culture than through traditional cuisine? After all, a nation’s culinary traditions often reveal so much about its history, values and customs.

Although some might say that these restaurants have undergone Canadian influence, the bottom line is that you still have a lot of options. From that fully stuffed shawarma to world-class omakase, the choices are endless.

Here is a curated list of five authentic restaurants that we have enjoyed so far:

Chinese (and Taiwanese) food

Toronto is home to a large Chinese population. So it is no surprise that you can find many Chinese restaurants downtown, where Chinatown is located.

Chinese cuisine is a mixture of various cooking and seasoning techniques. This is why most people describe these dishes as “sensory explosion” in terms of texture, taste, and presentation. I mean, we’re talking about a country with thousands of years of culinary history, so that description is pretty valid.

If you are lactose intolerant, don’t worry! Because these dishes don’t contain any dairy products as ingredients. Instead, they will use calcium and protein-rich alternatives like tofu and soymilk.

Picture of Chinese food in ceramic bowls.

VIA Unsplash

So what restaurants should you try first? Well, first and foremost you have to go to Chop Chop. Located in the cultural consumer’s paradise of Dundas West, the restaurant offers some well-known dishes such as Beef Noodle Soup, General Tao Chicken and Abel-certified Shanghai Lo Mein.

Honourable mentions include Rol San and Liuyishou Hotpot.

Friendly reminder: Make sure you know how to use a chopstick before you go!

Italian Food

There is a saying that when you think of Italy, the food will come first and all the beautiful places to see come second.

While some people might have different opinions, Italian cuisine surely creates a warm ambiance for diners with its homemade wood-fired pizza paired with a good glass of wine. That’s even greater than any destination in the world: the sense of belonging and feeling at home.

For me, what is truly amazing about Italian culinary dishes is the simplicity and quality of the ingredients. Geographically, Italy has a Mediterranean climate. Along with its terrain, the country is ideal for growing olives, grapes (for wine production), citrus fruits, various types of vegetables and catching fish. This means that the food is super fresh and healthy, with very low levels of processed food.

A picture of pepperoni pizza with green leaves topping in authentic restaurants

VIA Unsplash

Toronto has so many Italian family restaurants to check out. My favourite is definitely ARDO restaurant. They have a wide range of dishes from Ragu, the famous pasta made with maccheroncini rigati, organic beef and Parmigiano cheese to the typical pizza Margherita.

You can also have a look at Annette Food Market. The food is amazing, but what draws my attention is the cozy local spot with its friendly professional service. Good vibe, great service and fair price, what else can you ask for?

Honourable mention: Bar Poet and Gusto 101.

Mexican food

A picture of a plate of food with a tortilla and burritos in an authentic restaurant.

VIA Unsplash

Just like Toronto itself, Mexican food is diverse, flavourful and profoundly omnivorous, both simple and sophisticated. Aside from the dishes’ exclusive names, Mexican cuisine is very flexible in terms of how the food is made. Staple Mexican food can be as simple as the famous tacos or as elaborate as the mole de Mexico.

This dates back to the complicated history of Mexico. Since the pre-Columbian era, the people here have mainly used corn, squash, chile peppers and beans for cooking. With an Indigenous background, the Mexicans also incorporate ingredients such as tomatoes, avocados and potatoes. The influence of Spanish settlers and Europeans introduced new recipes and ingredients, ultimately resulting in a unique and original Mexican cuisine.

When it comes to Mexican food, I like to have a taco at Seven Lives Tacos y Mariscos. Located in the thrifting haven Kensington Market, the place is ideal if you want to have some rest while strolling around for some clothes. The last time I went I tried Baja Fish Taco, a crispy battered fish, served with fresh pico de gallo & tangy Baja sauce and Gobernador Taco, which featured smoked marlin, shrimp & cheese.

Japanese food

Japanese cuisine offers an abundance of gastronomical delights centering around intricacy, both in the food and the dining experience.

The reason for this is that Japanese people take great pride in what they are doing. So, everything they do, they do it with dedication, principle and impeccability, even when it comes to cooking. You’ll likely notice that Japanese food is always served in small portions that almost look too delicate to eat. Indeed, this is the case with everything, from sushi to noodles.

However, this stems from the tradition of Japan that focuses on mindfulness and balance, urging you to take your time and enjoy every taste of the dishes.

Picture of sushi on black square plate in authentic restaurants.

VIA Unsplash

Toronto is a great place for Japanese food lovers. One of my favourites is Nomé Izakaya at Yonge Street. As I mentioned earlier, Japanese cuisine provides a variety of dining experiences, and Izakaya is one of those. In an Izakaya restaurant, you can expect a vibrant atmosphere that resembles a pub, with popular drinking food like fried chicken, yakitori and sashimi.

However, Nomé Izakaya goes above and beyond with its sensational dishes like Japa Burgers, Gyutan Beef Tongue and Lobster Fantasy Rolls accompanied by top-notch service and an ideal atmosphere for a night out with friends.

Honourable mention: Tsujiri and Ikkousha Ramen.

Vietnamese food

Influenced by its French colonial and Southeast Asian background, Vietnamese cuisine is the brilliant balance of aromatics, heat, sweetness, sourness and fish-sauciness.

As a country with a strong agricultural industry, Vietnamese cuisine incorporates a variety of fresh herbs and spices, resulting in unique flavours, textures and wholesome dishes.

Whether that is a bowl of pho or a loaf of banh my, you will find yourself adaptable to every dish you eat here. It’s very hard to describe in some words and sentences. Even the celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey and the famous American chef Anthony Bourdain can not resist the harmony of Vietnamese flavours.

Picture of a bowl of pho in authentic restaurants.

VIA Unsplash

Here is the real question: “What makes the cuisine of this small country so remarkable and captivating at the same time?” Perhaps, you will find your answers once you get a bite of that tasty Bun Bo Hue!

In Toronto, Pho 90 is one of my local favourites for authentic Vietnamese dishes. The decoration is appealing and cozy. When you go to the restaurant, I suggest you try Bun Bo Hue or Rare Beef Pho if you don’t know what to pick. Then, you can go for a Banh mi, Broken Rice and Vermicelli to spice things up!

Before we go

Obviously, this is just a small component of the big multicultural picture of the city. However, isn’t it exciting to know a culture just by enjoying its food?

No one can deny the importance of food. Aside from sustaining our lives, it also connects our souls, memories and emotions to the rich heritage of different cultures. From that, we foster understanding, empathy and appreciation for the diverse tapestry of humanity.

Did you go to some nice restaurants recently? If so, don’t hesitate to connect with IGNITE @shareignite and share with us your experience!

Feature photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash.

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