[Toronto] TO Food Fest
Summer in Toronto is jam packed with festivals. Being a food lover myself, going to food fests has become a must every summer. When I was contacted by Susanne about participating as “media” at the first TO Food Fest (@TOFoodFest), I was super excited. Even though I’ve been blogging for years and my blog has evolved over the years to focus primarily on food and travel, I really don’t blog often enough compare to many of the food bloggers out there. I was surprised that anyone would approach me to write about their events!
I was lucky enough to score an extra “media pass.” My original plan was to invite my brother so that he can help me photograph the event. He bailed the last minute and I had to bring Charles along with me. Big thanks to my dear husband who took notes when we visited vendors during the “media tour!”
Given the size of the event and the number of vendors, I can only write about the vendors that stood out to me and the food I’ve tried.
One of the very first vendors we visited was TacoCat. TacoCat serves Asian-inspired tacos that give traditional taco a unique and creative spin. During the TO Food Fest, TacoCat was selling three styles of taco: Braised beef taco, chicken satay taco, and calamari tacos. The braised beef taco consists of lemongrass braised beef, sour cream, charred corn salsa, and jalapeño. The chicken satay taco contains satay chicken, peanut sauce, coconut sticky rice (yum!), and pickled cucumber. The calamari taco uses deep fried calamari with pineapple salsa and mayo, and thai chili. Unfortunately, I was too full to try any of these tacos. The combination of ingredients sounded so amazing and they looked absolutely delicious. Based on the long line in front of the TacoCat booth, the tacos did live up to people’s high expectation. I am hoping to see them again somewhere so that I can give these tacos a try!
Many of the vendors started out as home cooks and expanded to small caterers. How ’bout Those Meatballs (@HBTMeatballs) is one of them. The meatballs are made from a blend of beef, pork, and veal. The meat is stuffed with tomato, fresh arugula, Buffalo Mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano, Provolone, olive oil, and garlic. I was drooling when I was listening to this description! The chef uses his nona’s recipe to bring traditional Italian homemade tomato sauce to the public. The tomatos are also from his grandma’s backyard. These meatballs are simmered in the homemade tomato sauce for 8 hours before serving. The chef says that he does not follow a “recipe” to measure out the ingredients. Rather, he cooks with “love,” just like how his grandma taught him. I love it!.
I did not get to try the slider, but I did sample the meatballs and the sauce. The meatballs were scrumptious! They were very tender and juicy, and all the flavours blended so well together. The tomato sauce was to die for. It tasted so tangy and rich in tomato flavour, and yet did not overpower the taste of the meatball. The tomato sauce served as the perfect complement for those succulent meatballs. These were one of the best meatballs I’ve ever had.
Mary Macleod’s (@mmshortbread) has been serving gourmet shortbread to Toronto since 1981. Mary Macleod’s first opened at The Capital Theatre at Yonge and Eglinton. The heavenly aroma attracked passerby to sample the unique cookies and the rest was history. Mary Macleod’s has been selling their high quality cookies to Holt Renfrew for 21 years. It is a holiday favourite and Mary and her staff often have to bake throughout the night to keep up with the holiday demand.
All shortbread cookies from Mary Macleod’s are handmade in small batches with lots and lots of butter. The lady at the booth said they use 10,000 lbs of butter every year! The owner, Mary, spent 8 months perfecting the original Scottish recipe to adapt to Canadian ingredients. Apparently Canadian flour is much “harder” compare to Scottish flour. The shortbread uses only the finest ingredients including pure Belgian chocolate and high quality nuts. No preservatives or additives are used. I sampled the traditional plain shortbread and Belgiam chocolate shortbread at the Food Fest. They tasted amazing! They were so buttery that they literally melt in my mouth and there are no words to describe the sweet aroma of the shortbread!
Mashi Catering (@Mashi_Catering) was started by a culinary student at George Brown college. “Mashi” means “taste” in Korean. The owner comes from a Korean background and he takes a modern spin on traditional Korean dishes. Mashi was serving two hors d’oeuvres at the Food Fest: Kimchi pulled-pork sandwich and deep fried potato ball.
The sandwich uses pulled-pork with a sweet red pepper sauce, topped with chopped kimchi and served on a sweet Korean bun. The pulled pork in the sandwich was sweet with a spicy kick. I found the pulled pork to be a bit dry by itself but the kimchi added some moisture and a spicy tang to the sandwich. Given my high tolerance to spicy food, I also wouldn’t mind if the pork was spicier. Charles thought it was just the right amount of spiciness. The Korean bun was sweet and so fluffy. I was surprised how the “sweet” bun complemented the spicy and salty meat so well. I wouldn’t mind having a little bit more sauce in the sandwich, but it might destroy the nice delicate presentation of the sandwich.
The potato ball is an innovative creation based on traditional potato pancake. The potato balls are made by rolling up the potato in the a ball, breaded with panko crust, and then deep fried. The potato is similar to the “potato salad” one can get as “banchan” (the side dishes that accompany your meal) in Korean restaurants. It is basically little chunks of cooked potato mixed with hardboiled eggs, mayo, and finely choppped vegetables. It is one of my favourite side dishes when I have Korean food. The potato balls were super delicious. They were lightly battered and fried to perfection. It did not even taste greasy at all. The potato was very flavourful and creamy. I could eat those all day! These golden brown potato balls and delicate looking sandwich definitely adds exotic flair to any occasion or event!
Casa Manila (@CasaManilaTO) serves traditional Filipino food in Don Mills & York Mills area. The owner is very passionate about Filipino food (and got me so excited about it!) and explained that Filipino cuisine has evolved over many centuries from its Filipino origin to a mixed cuisine with many foreign influences, inlcuding Malay, Indian, Chinese, and Spanish. The owner stressed that their food strives to provide “world of flavours” in each bite!
With our media passes, we got to sample all the food for free! We tried the pork belly adobo, beef stew, garlic rice, pancit noodles, and pork skewer. Adobo is a type of vinegar commonly used in Filipino food. Adobo is popular for its ability to preserve food and improve flavour. Traditional adobo pork uses only pork belly, but Casa Manila has incorporated pork butt into the stew. The pork belly was super tender and the adobo gave it a nice sour kick. The Spanish-influenced beef stew tasted amazing! It was cooked in a tomato-based sauce with carrots and potato. The beef was so tender and flavourful. The sauce had the perfect combination of sweetness and tang. Charles and I both really enjoyed it. The garlic rice started out as a way to “re-use” day-old rice, by frying minced garlic in oil and mixing the rice with it. The garlic really gave the rice a sweet aroma. The pancit noodle used rice vermincelli and it was very tasty. My other favourite was the pickled papaya slaw that was supposed to go with the BBQ pork. It was tangy and sweet. The green papaya and carrots were still crunchy and the flavour went well with the spicy BBQ pork.
We also tried the sweet dessert, called “Halo Halo” from Casa Manila. “Halo Halo” means “mix mix” in the Filipino language. It was a dessert with 8 different sweet toppings (sweet red beans, sliced mango and coconut, jelly, etc.), crushed ice, and different kinds of syrup, including sweet condensed milk. Halo Halo was very refreshing and Charles really liked it, particularly the coconut meat. The Halo Halo also reminded me of the Taiwanese shaved ice (“剉冰/刨冰” or “tsua-bing/bao-bing).
Charles’ work involves lots of travelling. One of the most frequently visited countries happened to be Brazil. When Charles saw the Brazilian Pastel, he insisted on trying them. The real origin of Brazilian Pastel is not well known, but popular beliefs suggest a few possible origins:
- Originated from Chinese immigrants who had to adapt to the ingredients available in Brazil to make their fried wonton.
- Originated from traditional Italian fried calzones.
- Originated from Indian samosas.
- Originated from the sweet Portuguese sweet pastries.
Regardless of its origin, Brazilian Pastel consists of thin pastry envelopes wrapped around assorted sweet or savoury fillings, then deep fried in vegetable oil till its crispy and golden brown. The savoury fillings usually inlcude beef, cheese, ham, or chicken, whereas the sweet fillings include fruits. We ordered the beef pastel. The ground beef in the pastel was a little spicy, just the way I like it! However, I found the pastry to be thicker than my liking and a little bit too greasy as well.
Big Moe’s Burger opened in Oct/Nov 2011 by 3 food fanatics: Big Moe, Little Moe, and Cousin Moe. :)
Big Moe’s burgers are made from 100% never frozen, real meat. Big Moe’s is famous for its “Juicy Lucy.” This innovative burger consists of 5 oz. of meat stuffed with 1.3 oz. of cheese. Another unique item at Big Moe’s was the “Holey Moly.” The Holey Moly is a donut burger with an egg cooked in the middle.
We got to sample the mini “Juicy Lucy” at the Food Fest. Big Moe’s had the most insane lineup at the Food Fest but it was worth the wait. The burger patties were so juicy and moist, with warm gooey cheese oozing out of the meat. It was slightly too salty for my taste but it was still quite delicious!
Baoss (@baossTO) serves Taiwanese-influenced bun with a modern twist. I assumed that “baoss” is a more “stylish” name for “baozi,” meaning “chinese buns.” The chef at Baoss got his inspiration from the Momofuku pork bun and Taiwanese-style buns. The Taiwanese-style bun (“刈包” or “Koah-Bao”) is basically a steam bun shaped like a taco, and stuffed with braised pork belly, chopped peanuts, vegetables, and garnished with cilantro. I was never a fan of “koah-bao” when I was growing up (possibly because I did not like peanuts), but I fell in love with it again when I went to Momofuku Noodle Bar in NYC.
Charles and I tried the pork belly bun from Baoss. The bun had the perfect texture: fluffy and soft. The pork belly was well marinated, tender, but still had a nice bite to it. The meat was a little bit too salty but the chopped peanuts added a nice crunch and sweetness to it. Having tried the pork belly bun from Momofuku, I couldn’t help but compare the two. Charles and I both prefer the pork bun from Momofuku. The hoisin sauce and cucumber in the Momofuku pork bun gave the bun a sweet and refreshing taste. However, I think Baoss has great potential and I would still recommend others to give it a try!
One of the latest culinary moves is to incorporate savoury ingredients into sweets. I’ve seen bacon cupcakes being made on the show Cupcake Girls. The night before the Food Fest, I also watched Master Chef having a mystery box challenge, using savoury ingredients to create desserts. I have been dying to try this new culinary delight and was very happy to see Bake’n (@BakenToronto) serving bacon cheesecake, sticky toffee bacon cake, and bacon popcorn. The bacon cheesecake used bacon fat in the crust, bacon bits in the cheesecake batter, and topped with bacon bits and caramel sauce with spiced whiskey.
It is shocking how good the salty bacon tasted with the sweet cheesecake. It was the perfect mixture of sweetness and savoury. The cheesecake itself was top notch: creamy, smooth, and perfect level of sweetness. The salted caramel and bacon popcorn had a bacon smokiness to it. I didn’t get to try the cake but I am sure it was delicious as well!
This pretty much concludes all the food we tried at the TO food fest. I have lots of pictures of the vendors and food…
I had a blast at the TO Food Fest. I love that this event brings together local chefs and vendors. It was a very unique multicultural gourmet food experience. I hope this becomes an annual event and I can’t wait for next year!