Toronto Night Market
I’ve been in Toronto for ages, it would seem, and still know so little about this city, hence as an old-stager, my ‘First Summer’ recommendation for anyone, after doing one this year, albeit for the first time:
Do a Toronto Night Market. What walkabout food-and-entertainment cultural fun!
To get to the one I went to, you take the 72 at Pape. And when the swarms of people come off at Commissioners and Cherry, just follow them straight into the stinky tofu den. BTW you will be the only one asking what’s that smell? Everyone’s nose has gone on a pc-vacation. No one else knows what you’re talking about, so you’d better put away that Kleenex. Yes, there are food inspectors around.
Follow the throng to the most patronized stalls and there you are, in front of a deep fryer turning out cubes by the thousands for demanding patrons, who are just dousing their mounds with a little of this and that per preference. Close up there is no smell. This delicacy is an acquired taste, I’ve learnt. Get over it! It’s the wafts of perspiration mixed with the heat saturation that is making your breath so labored.
OK, Have some barbecued trotters instead. Good to know that there is a cultural alternative to what you call souse – your pressure cooker-ed pig foot swimming in cucumber, lime juice and watercress. Or you can have curried fish balls and a noodle cocoon of delicious skewered shrimp. I also want that! you say. Squid threaded and splayed like origami pagodas that the young people are walking around with, biting into twirls staggered from the curling edges of crimped towers – crispy storeyed goodness tapering down to the bottom eaves.
And it is then in a flash you might have a mind-association anthropological experience. You can’t help but wonder about the affinity between cultural history and architectural perception, between raw material and the design of an end product. Not in a simplistic essentialist way, but still you can’t help but wonder why souse and why barbecued trotters?
Not adventurous enough for stinky tofu? However, you might try going down memory lane on oysters. These are shucked in your presence and placed on ice in a styrofoam container with packets of condiment. Your taste buds know mangrove oysters, in a shot glass slurped at a stand with a flambeau on top on Southern Main Road over a running canal. While digging and pasting and slurping from this farmed oyster box lunch, your Trini friend swears that these micro-managed packets of hot sauce and lime DON’T COME CLOSE, cannot be classed with your cocktail of tomatoes, garlic, scotch bonnet, lime and of course, bhandhania, the key ingredient. I mean, this is OK, but that cocktail, your friend reminisces, that cocktail! You could drink a whole bottle all by itself.
As for entertainment, live bands (no Machel, he is at Caribana), a noodle eating competition in which the locals are outclassed by visitors from out of province and out of town. Get some beauty tips for keeping your makeup fresh – here no gender bias. Get ambushed into a free wellness diagnosis for that ancient pain in your lower back. But, of course, nothing is really free – everyone wants your email or your number so that they can attack your pocket-book where it hurts when this promotional day of public spirit is over.
Take a quiz at the eco-energy booth and win $5 coupons for low wattage light bulbs. You are already smiling, so why not succumb to the request for a picture with the team? For youtube, they say. Normally you wouldn’t. In your right mind, you wouldn’t, but at the Night Market, what’s the harm? With the jollity you don’t feel like saying no to anything. This is also why you need to go with a responsible friend, and needless to say, reciprocity counts.
Your legs will get tired after a while, so sit at table with people you don’t know, people with whom you don’t share a common tongue, but you’ll find that a few Pimsleur phrase words and some pointing and waving, do the trick – where to find the closest 3D printing hub and albeit by a different name, how to eat conch. Trade information, exchange a few recipes and walk away with a large as life appreciation of different jacket, same species found around the world.
And that was the core of my Night Market experience, for market is market in the vision of a shared world. Travel with the eye of a perpetual newcomer, regardless of how many years you can claim on the ground. Humble yourself to experience, for if you allow yourself to become complacent about years under your belt, place and difference, it is difficult to share, to be renewed, and to be open to learn.
© Cynthia James – July 2014