You've always wanted to go to Italy, but you never had the money nor the time to book a full-fledged flight to Europe. Or maybe Russia draws you in, but you just aren't that familiar with the culture or the language yet to take the next flight over. Luckily for you, Toronto has a vast variety of cultures that comprise its population, and no doubt they have established themselves as a definite part of the city- here are 7 places in Toronto where you can get a taste of the culture and language itself!
Photo credit: HIMY SYeD
7. Greece: The Danforth
On a regular day, the streets of Greek Town aren't the busiest of places in Toronto. Greek Town is located on Danforth and offers a variety of traditional Greek cuisine, bakeries, lounges, and cafes (and did I mention, even the street signs are in Greek?). It's definitely a great place to relax and hang out with friends during the weekend; the laid-back atmosphere and sunny personalities of strangers here is a given.
However, during the "Taste of Danforth" celebration in early August, Greek Town activity is kicked up more than a few notches. This year, it took place on the 7th to the 9th of August. The 2016 date is still yet TBA - so keep your eyes peeled! "Taste of Danforth" is known as one of the world's largest street festivals, and although it celebrates multicultural diversity in Toronto, there is definitely a spotlight on Greece. Traditional Greek foods such as souvlaki and spanakopita - the latter being spinach pie, street performers and professional performers alike on the Astro Athentikos Greek Yogurt Stage, and attempts to break Guinness World Records (the most people to eat an olive in 8 hours is one of them) are just a few of the exciting things you can take part in.
Greek Town is definitely the place to be!
Photo credit: Wilson Loo Kok Lee
6. South Korea: Korea Town on Bloor
With all the craze about k-pop in today's society, South Korea has culturally expanded beyond belief. No doubt that Korea Town would attract the karaoke-lover, artist, and foodie.
Hanji offers hand-made paper gifts, Just You by Sarah & Tom sells k-pop and cutesy merchandise (ranging from pink lace pencil cases to socks with members of Exo-K and Exo-M on each foot and large printouts of Super Junior album covers), Gloria Fashion and Gift presents direct clothing imports of the latest styles from South Korea, and Korean Village Restaurant offers a variety of traditional Korean foods such as mandu dumplings, kapungki fried chicken, sundae (no, not the ice-cream. You'll have to figure what this one is out on your own!) and all-you-can-eat BBQ - what more could you ever ask for?
In addition to all these things, most (if not all) the business tenders speak Korean fluently and are definitely willing to hold a conversation with you in Korean or just teach you a few useful phrases if you're on the run.
Photo credit: Stephanie Lau (author's own )
5. Russia: St. Andrew Bookstore
On 188 College St. tucked away in the upper portion of a townhouse-turned-restaurant is a quaint Russian Orthodox bookstore by the name of "St. Andrew Russian Orthodox Bookstore." Sounds kind of sketchy at first, but bear with me for a moment.
As you may know, the Orthodox religion is the biggest religious group in Russia and many traditions and holidays celebrated there are based upon this religion. So it would be no surprise that this bookstore sold not only books, but also traditional wooden plaques with gold finishes portraying a countless number of Saints themselves. This bookstore also sells a variety of items straight from Russia including confectioneries and chocolates, Russian greeting cards, works in English and Russian translation, classical Russian text by renowned poets (Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Pushkin are just some of the few found here), and simple children's books in Russian for those who are interested in learning the language.
Don't be daunted by the signs and notes around the bookstore - the store door will most likely have its door locked, but all you need to do is follow the neatly printed note above the doorbell: пожалуйста позвоните ("please ring") and the nicest Ukrainian lady will come and open up for you (Elena - the shopkeeper - speaks fluent Russian, Ukrainian, and English).
So if you are looking to learn more about Russia or the Russian language, don't be fooled by how small this shop might first appear - it's a cultural jackpot!
Photo credit: Tony Resendes
4. China: Chinatown on Spadina
In almost every large city, there will most likely be a Chinatown. Toronto is no exception to this statement, but what sets Toronto's Chinatown apart from all the rest is the authentic mix of not only Chinese food and souvenirs, but the inclusion of other Asian cultures and foods as well. From Vietnam (Phở Hưng, Pho Ai My, Anh Dao, and the list goes on!) to the Philippines and even Westernized Chinese food, Toronto's Chinatown has it all! It usually opens and closes late, so this is definitely a great place to shop after work for books (Sun Wa Book Store carries a great variety of historical literature and poetry as well as easier books in both Simplified and Traditional Chinese writing for those looking to satiate their thirst for the language! But this is not the only bookstore you can find here), put your Cantonese thinking-caps on (and Mandarin, but most shop owners in this Chinatown primarily speak the Cantonese dialect), and find the best deals! And even though Chinatown seems crowded nearly 24/7, the only thing not authentic about this place is that it's actually less crowded than China itself.
Just located on south Spadina road, it's literally footsteps away from Kensington Market - which leads into the next country of interest.
Photo credit: Susan Novak
3. Jamaica, Mexico, and Latin America: Kensington Market
Kensington Market, located in a small block bordered by College, Dundas, and Spadina, is undoubtedly one of the most popular places to visit in Toronto, whether you are a native Torontonian or tourist from abroad. It offers a very festive feel to its streets. Pretty much every inch of it is decked out in radical neon colours and designs! There's always light-hearted music playing while you can browse the wide array of boutiques and small cafes with the sweetest aromas wafting from the interiors.
Kensington offers a unique assortment of Latin American foods - namely, from Jamaica, Mexico, Spain, and Portugal - such as churros (possibly one of the greatest culinary inventions ever - are only 2 for $3 at Pancho's Bakery. You'll smell it before you see it!), tamales, horchata, Jamaican fried chicken, taquitos, sonhos, pupusas, and more. If by some inexplicable circumstance you can't find the food you were looking for among the smaller shops in Kensington, you can always go to Latin America Emporium Inc. as well - it literally has buckets full of a variety of products!
The beauty and vast dynamic cultures of Kensington Market never ceases to take people's breaths away.
Photo credit: Surinder Midha
2. Italy: College St. West
Little Italy, also known as College Street West, is renowned for its Italian businesses, shops, and restaurants. Many Italian immigrants established themselves along this area in the 1900s, bringing their cultures and traditions with them and making their mark on Toronto. A popular tourist attraction along this street is the Italian Walk of Fame that highlights people of Italian descent (set in granite and brass stars - suspiciously like Hollywood) that have outstanding achievements and accomplishments; you can see it for yourself by taking a walk between Grace and Clinton St. Aside from the deeply rooted history that Little Italy has established, it offers so much more.
Cafe Diplomatico, Bitondos Pizza, Bar Italia, Riviera Bakery, and Sicilian Ice Cream are just some of the many sidewalk cafes and restaurants you can enjoy authentic foods and beverages at.
Little Italy on College Street West is the biggest Italian neighbourhood in Toronto, but if you feel you want to experience even more culture, you can also visit Corso Italia on St. Clair Avenue West, which is the second biggest Italian neighbourhood and offers many festivals throughout the year.
Photo credit: Robert Harvey
1. The Caribbean: Caribana
The Caribana is undoubtedly the most popular celebration in Toronto and boasts the name of North America's largest street festival. Taking place in late summer and running for two weeks, Caribbean cultures and traditions are celebrated wildly by over 1.3 million visitors for the festival parade alone, and over 2 million in total. All statistics aside, the Caribana is pretty much a huge accumulation of various Caribbean island cultures (namely Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica, St. Lucia, Grenada, Barbados, Guyana, Antigua, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines), festivals and music. Steel pan, soca, and calypso music are just among the many genres of music frequently played at this festival.
The main event of Caribana are the giant 18-wheelers blasting Caribbean music from the biggest speakers you could ever imagine and the"Mas" players that accompany them, otherwise known as the masquerade performers, that dress up in spiced-up traditional costumes representing the islands or original creations of their own. There's actually a competition going on between bands, but with all the commotion around, you'd never think people were doing anything other than enjoying themselves in the sweltering, quasi-Caribbean heat of Toronto.
It's such a wide-scale festival that events are scattered across Toronto and the TTC would be the wisest choice of transportation.