TO Food Fest (TOFF) in its inaugural year was full of hope and potential. Its second event last year had a rougher and more confusing start for both media pass holders as well as the vendors, most of whom seemed to have no idea that the media would be arriving earlier to have a chance to chat with them before the lines began. The highlight of TOFF 2013 for us was Kanga’s meat pies, who have since successfully opened a physical store just west of Queen and University.
Island Oysters’ very nautical themed booth
Moving on to this year, it was good to see some familiar faces, such as Gala’s Hot Sauce, Buster’s Sea Cove food truck, Marathon Donuts & Coffee and José Arato’s Pimentón, but we were excited to see all the new offerings. Most of the stands were catering and pop ups only, with some farmer’s markets, TUM, Annex and Junction Flea regulars. One of the stands new to us this year was Island Oysters.
Island Oysters’ Oyster Set 6
Island Oysters’ wonderfully nautical themed booth caught our eyes, and we were particularly interested in the clams, which are not as commonly offered as oysters. Regularly found at Sorauren, Dufferin Grove, and Trinity Bellwoods farmers’ markets, Island Oysters were offering an oyster set with a representative from each coast in addition to the sweet, chewy PEI little neck clams. P’s favourite was the Kusshi, a popular West Coast oyster with a creamy, sweet flavour.
Sisig Fries from Kanto by Tita Flips 5
Having had consistently good food from Tita Flips at TUM, TOFF, and their Kanto shop at Scadding Court’s Market 707, we were eager for more. We decided to pass on their pancit palabok this time, and opted for the calamansi iced tea and sisig fries instead. The iced tea was sweet and refreshing, and we particularly liked that they avoided adding ice into the dispenser to prevent dilution, with the ice being added to the cups as the drink was ordered. The sisig fries came with super crispy fries topped with a balanced amount of aioli (as opposed to the accidental mayo-explosion last time), sriracha, and lechon. The fries were delicious as always, but we found this year’s serving to contain a lot less offal than in past years.
Grilled Mini Eggs: Corn and cheese grilled quail eggs 3.5 each
Kwek Kwek are one of my favourite foods ever, but since fried quail eggs are harder to find in Toronto, the next best thing are grilled quail eggs. We opted to top ours with corn and cheese, in addition to the okonomiyaki sauce and kewpie mayo the eggs come with. We both preferred the cheese topping most, and P was happy to add to her double digit tally of grilled quail eggs consumed this summer (over various food festivals).
Aracataca’s Porky Arepa 5
Aracataca offered arepas, a Colombian street food based on a crumbly flatbread made of white maize. Although the Bangkok (beef) and Le Hipster (Vegetarian) options sounded interesting, we chose to go with the Porky (bacon, roasted tomato and brussel sprouts) arepa. The shape of the brussel sprouts, tomatoes, and bacon made the arepa tricky to eat without a fork (one of my brussel sprouts ran away). When I was able to get a bite of each component together I enjoyed the combination of flavours, but wished the bacon could have been slightly saltier to balance out the sweetness of the tomatoes.
Vegiterra’s Sweet Potato Gnocchi 5
Vegiterra brought their worldly vegan flavours, offering empanadas, gnocchi, burgers, salad and drinks. We tried their crispy sweet potato gnocchi, which came with a refreshing cilantro sauce, and a creamy garlic aioli. The flavourful sauces paired very well with the gnocchi, which managed to retain their crispiness despite being prefried, but we found them to be a little tough in the centre.
Little Tomato Catering’s Homemade Peaches & Cream Soda 3
Little Tomato Catering brought some delicious looking porchetta and mushroom sandwiches, along with a caramel bread pudding. However, we were not in the mood for sandwiches that day, and instead decided to try all three of their old fashioned sodas (FOR SCIENCE). Made with homemade syrups and sparkling water, the flavours available were ginger, peaches & cream, and pina colada. The ginger had a nice spiciness and proved most popular with the predominately Asian crowd. The pina colada was the most refreshing, with a strong pineapple flavour, and thankfully did not taste anything like malibu/sun screen. P’s favourite was the peaches and cream, which had a smooth sweet flavour, and definitely captured the essence of fresh Ontario peaches. All the soda syrups were sweetened with real vanilla beans, leaving delicious black flecks in the soda. If Little Tomato Catering were selling their syrups, I would definitely have brought all of them home.
Gushi’s Karaage Skewer 5
Gushi is another vendor from Market 707 at Scadding Court. At TOFF they offered their fried chicken skewers with spicy mayo, sweet chili, or nanban (Japanese vinegar) sauces. As always, Gushi delivered a delicious crunchy, juicy, chicken skewer that could not be improved upon.
Pimentón’s Paella 7 and Grub’s HK Milk Tea Freezie 2
Although we were pretty full at this point, we couldn’t leave without trying Pimentón’s chicken paella. A generous portion of rice cooked with peppers, onions, green beans, tomatoes and saffron in lobster stock was topped with a chicken drumstick. The rice was very flavourful and with a good bite. The colourful paella also attracted a lot of attention, with many people asking me where I bought it from.
The other item we could not leave without was Grub’s milk tea freezie which P had raved about, having tried it at the night market. Grub also had other interesting food concepts with attention-catching names, such as their bow chicka wow wow slider and “don’t be a hater” tater tots. Our freezie had a leak in the bottom which could’ve caused quite a mess, but the Grub staff kindly let us exchange for a defect-free one without any fuss.
Marathon Donuts & Coffee’s award winning HK Milk Tea
Although that ends the food we tried this year, there were plenty of other booths we didn’t have stomach space for that were worth noting. In the lovely air-conditioned indoors, Soul2Go had a selection of empanadas and drinks. Mon K brought some of their very pretty pastries. The New York Times and TEDx were the odd booths out, offering knowledge rather than edibles. Caterers Toben Food by Design had sandwiches. Shaved ice, a night market staple, was also present, available in either mango or honeydew flavour. Moo Milk Bar were creating tempting ice cream sandwiches. Lamesa’s Summerlicious menu was excellent, but nothing from the TOFF menu really jumped out at us – apart from their awesome soundtrack! Me.N.U. food truck specialized in fried rice balls, using Korean short grain rice (as opposed to arborio) for stickiness. Baos & Buns by Wonderpho, unsurprisingly offered baos, buns, and Vietnamese iced coffee. Another night market staple was Ice Volcano, who offer frozen mini marshmallows as a specialty from time to time (but sadly not today), in addition to freshly churned ice creams on the spot with the use of liquid nitrogen.
Mamak Satay’s Malaysian Offerings
Not to be outdone, outdoors in the sweltering heat was Mamak Satay, from which P tried their Filipino-style thick cut bacon on a stick at Night It Up this year. Unfortunately (for P), only pork, chicken and beef skewers were among their offerings at TOFF. Also outside were Liko’s Hawaiian BBQ, The Saucy Pierogi, Blue Donkey (Greek food truck), Dutch Frites, Hong Kong style stinky tofu & BBQ squid, Lemonade, Hakka bao sandwich bar, Babi & Co (Indonesian), Hot Bunzz, Stuffed Wings (yes, stuffed chicken wings), Asian Sliders, Meat ventures, Okonomiyaki (onfire.com), Bricks & Mortar, and Koribbean Dumplings. On the sweet front were Sweet Pop, who offered gourmet dessert popcorn, and Penny Lou Lou with their sweet takes on bubble waffles, a popular HK street snack.
Sunday Afternoon, August 10, 2014
TO Food Fest
Chinese Cultural Centre of Greater Toronto, Scarborough