Toronto Dispatch

Greetings from the Great White North. Actually, the only white around here is the population, with the slim exception of Asians, including Indians. My initial impressions are that the diversity is primarily European and Asian (I have only been here 24 hours and focused mostly downtown, so give me a break).

Here’s my adventure for today:

When I travel I am uncharacteristically disorganized and unplanned. I had downloaded a few restaurant reviews, glanced at some brief descriptions of the town and its neighborhoods and I was off.

Perhaps it was too obvious, but my first priority today was to check out the so-called Portuguese Village. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I walked there—a bit of a surprise to my friend Joe, whom I haven’t seen in nearly 10 years.

As a woman traveling alone, I am always keenly aware of my surroundings and my personal safety. For the most part, I felt fine. I knew when I read in the guide book that if a certain neighborhood is called ‘funky,’ it will be safe but edgy. So that was fine.   So I walked through a ‘funky’ neighborhood to get to this Portuguese Village.

Oddly, it seemed like a rundown Chinatown. Brick rowhouses were dilapidated, with junk piled in front yards. Signs were in Chinese. I wondered if the Portuguese had fled to the suburbs and the neighborhood was in cultural transition. Yet I walked and walked and finally started seeing Portuguese flags—way past the commemorative “Portuguese Village” street signs.

There are over 200,000 Portuguese people living in Toronto, and apparently many of the old-timers still live in these old neighborhoods. Where the businesses were still predominantly Portuguese—many of them were sports bars with old men sitting in the window—the neat brick houses were overrun with rose gardens.

I stopped at one little shop in search of a Portuguese cookbook (didn’t find what I wanted). Instead there was a wide selection of CDs, Jesus statues and soccer jerseys for the Portuguese national team. And it was run by a nice Chinese couple.

I would get the nod of recognition from the old folks—men with their gristled faces and old women, wearing solid black, bow-legged, walking in sensible shoes. Did they recognize me as Portuguese? I asked one woman about bookstores (none around) and we chatted in Portuguese a while until she asked if I spoke English!

I kept wandering to College Street, where the Portuguese neighborhood segues into Little Italy. You stop here “bom dia, adeus” and start hearing “ciao, grazie.” It was an interesting experience, particularly where the lines merge. It was in the Italian neighborhood where I had a lovely espresso at Manic Coffee (beans sponsored by 49th Parallel).

I hooked up with my friend Joe Hash (look up his profile on MySpace) at a Portuguese restaurant on College Street called Chiado. I met and chatted with the chef earlier when I made our reservation. I had asked if he could help me track down this hard-to-find cookbook by a Lisbon chef (the restaurant had one on display. He told me I should just email this chef and he’d send me one. I laughed…I am not a professional chef! In any case, it was fun talking with the chef in Portuguese.)

Joe and I enjoyed a great three-hour lunch/catch-up session. This restaurant has been called one of the best in Toronto. And indeed it was delicious. For some appetizers they had “pasteis de bacalau” that were incredibly light and fluffy—much better than the ones I make! And they also served some breaded and fried queijo de Sao Jorge (a great idea for Tavolavila!). For dinner I had swordfish and risotto. We shared dessert—natas do ceu (cream from heavy).

After a bottle of wine, Joe had to return to work at his advertising agency and I returned to my hotel room for a nap—interrupted twice by calls from a client.

After my nap, I took a bus to the Old Distillery District. More on that later. This dispatch is getting long!

Tomorrow I’m hooking up again with Joe and his wife Diane. We are planning to go wine tasting in the Niagara region.

Photos tomorrow, too.

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