After 17 days without cellphone contact, internet access, and pretty much any news from the outside world, it was time to leave Cuba. These technological comforts are available for those really desperate but after finding out the high cost and low quality, we decided to just cut ties with our gadgets. Travel was arranged the old fashioned way- we purchased our bus tickets from the stations a couple of days earlier, rooms were booked through word of mouth and trust… there was absolutely no price comparison or Tripadvisor reviews to consult. In many ways, it was easier, even liberating to just hope for the best and deal with whatever hand you get dealt! Generally, it’s a pretty decent hand considering what you’re paying.
But my sense of nostalgia was starting to fade, 17 days of disconnect was my upper limit. It was time to check those emails, send that ‘we’re alive text’ to the mums, and catch up on the Facebook gossip! Unfortunately, all this came along with a severe change of climate- flying into Toronto we were greeted by snow and the sharp drop to near freezing temperatures. I was no longer watching my step to avoid the endless dog poop (it seems Mexicans and Cubans aren’t big pooper scoopers) but now making sure I wasn’t going to slip on the icy pavements. Oh joy.
Apart from craving some connectivity to the world, we were also craving some variety in our diet… particularly something asian… basically sushi and/or noodles. After a bit of googling we set off to Guu Izakaya– it’s well-loved by Torontonians, it had noodles on the menu, and it was not in a scary price range (usual prices take a bit of adjusting to when you’ve been paying under US$25 for your entire Cuban meal including cervesas). The food managed to somewhat satisfy but it by no means gave me that “I’ve been waiting a month to eat this goodness” warm fuzzy feeling. Both sashimi dishes were good- the fish was generous and fresh, and the salad dressing was a definite step up from the white vinegar and oil we were getting in Cuba.
The noodles disappointed though… yaki udon was a little too heavy on the noodle and too light on the beef and flavour. My kimchi udon was unexpectedly a cold dish… not exactly the belly warmer I was hoping for in the frigid temperatures, but otherwise the kimchi was tasty. Dinner wasn’t a knock out but I see why Toronto loves it- it’s just fun. The staff yell a lot- not just the ‘irasshaimase’ when you step through but also when you order, or when the dish is ready, or just when they feel like it. All part of the charm… it’s the place you head to with a huge bunch of friends for a boozy kinda night!
It was really tempting to stay in our toasty warm hotel room all day, trawling the internet and watching an endless loop of trashy American tv but we did manage to layer up and hit the streets. We strolled along the Harbourfront watching ducks slipping around the frozen lake, wandered around the shops in Downtown Yonge and the more upmarket Bloor-Yorkville, and stopped into National Geographic’s best food market in the world, St Lawrence Market (guess there wasn’t much competition when they awarded that one…).
One lunchtime we ended up in Chinatown and stumbled upon Mother’s Dumplings, apparently one of the best in town according to their sign and all the reviews plastered on the window. We ducked in not only because we love dumplings but because our hands were freezing and our feet were numb… The dumplings were traditional- mostly pork and served boiled or pan-fried, they lacked a little flavour for our liking but perhaps by that stage even our taste buds were a bit frozen.
Our final night in Toronto felt especially cold- so much so I was seriously contemplating just staying in bed and skipping dinner altogether- ok, fine… I probably wouldn’t have skipped dinner, more realistically a certain someone might have made a dash to the nearest greasy diner… But luckily for us I came to my senses and we braved the cold towards Bannock for some Canadian comfort food (according to the tagline). A certain someone took their claim seriously and started with some piping hot soup followed by fish pie- neither were lookers but no-one cares when it comes to comfort food, it just has to taste good.
I opted for the grilled rainbow trout and mash- potatoes for the comfort factor, the fish because I don’t actually think I’ve ever had rainbow trout… a simple but lovely combo. To finish off we had the s’mores pie, also not a pretty plate but my goodness it was a good sugar hit. Based on the traditional north American campfire treat, the pie had a graham cracker base filled with a chocolate brownie filling topped with grilled marshmallows and berries… yum.
Let’s be honest, Toronto was not the most gastronomically exciting city in our travels but hey, we can’t all be perfect. I can’t put my finger on it but the city did have an endearing quirkiness about it. If Vancouver is the picture-perfect popular kid with the pearly whites, then Toronto is definitely the kooky class oddball- a lot more interesting that meets the eye.