One of my favorite things to do in this city is to be a “tourist in my own town”. I’ll head out into various neighborhoods of Toronto, armed with a nap-sack, camera and wallet and take in neighborhood or two, snapping photos, stopping in some shops and ultimately, recharging with a bite to eat.
One of my neighborhoods in the city is Kensington Market, a area of town that was home to Toronto’s earlier immigrant populations and their stores. The neighborhood has changed but it is still worth visiting with one eye to the areas past with fruit and vegetable stands, a few butcher shops and a series of fish mongers. In Kensington Market, you will also find lots of second-hand and vintage clothing stores…all patronized by the student with a budget or the trendy person looking for that stylish piece of clothing to launch a new trend.
Kensington Market is located just west of Spadina Avenue and home to Toronto’s original Chinatown (Toronto boasts of a few Chinatowns) and its borders are College Street to the north and Dundas Street to the south and Bathurst Street to the west. When visiting Kensington Market, you get to visit Chinatown on Spadina Avenue…an avenue in every sense of the term. You will find a wide avenue along with dedicated tracks for Toronto’s famed streetcars.
Toronto’s urban planners had grand schemes for the city. Toronto was supposed to have wide avenues like Spadina and University Avenues to run parallel to each other in the series of north-south streets in the city core. The Great Depression changed all this and a more frugal eye towards urban planning set it. There would be no more Spadina Avenues.
After checking out the vintage stores, picking up some spices, the odd kitchen utensil or Asian ingredient – I’ve worked up an appetite that has to hold meÂ for the rest of the afternoon and the ride back home, in time for dinner. One of the places I like to eat is at the Saigon Palace. Located on the west side of Spadina, just south of College street is where you’ll find this Toronto favoriite. The name says it – Saigon…you’re coming here for Vietnamese food and like me and the many others who stopped in for lunch, it’s all about the Pho.
Pho is a Vietnamese soup that has shot quickly up the list of my favourite foods to eat. A bowl of Pho contains a huge handful of noodles, an aromatic broth that’s redolent with star anise, scallions and fresh coriander leaves. Walking into Saigon Palace, you’ll be scratching your head wondering where the Palace-like atmosphere is but be assured, this bustling Toronto favourite makes up for its lack of decor with prompt service, clean establishment, delicious filling Pho that’s light on your pocket book.
You’ll be quickly seated (maybe even beside a stranger), the menu is provided along with a piece of paper and pencil. Many Asian eateries have bridged the language gap with this ordering method: scan the vast menu, choose your meal and write the number(s) down of your order. I come for the Pho…I like the combo of rare beef and beef balls.
Standard procedure here, a pot of green tea arrives at your table, the place of bean sprouts, cluster of Thai basil and lime wedge arrive before the soup. Grab your chopsticks (or ask for gwei-lo cutlery) and bring the Sriracha Sauce and Hoisin to within reach. The Pho arrives. Squirt some Sriracha (hot sauce), some Hoisin, squeeze the lime juice in your soup, tear the basil leaves and add those into the mix and I finally dump the bean sprouts in. The chopsticks are my instruments for mixing up the cold ingredients into the hot soup.
Lunch is slurped, relished and sated (and wiped off my face and shirt). My belly is full and my wallet is relatively unscathed. I walk away with paying for lunch for almost $7.00.
Saigon Palace details, location and contact details can be found here.
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