Is Scarborough, Ontario the dining capital of the world?

by on March 13, 2015 at 1:48 pm in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

Wednesday night I was taken on a restaurant tour of Scarborough — four different places — plus rolls from a Sri Lankan locale, consumed in the office of the Dean of UT Scarborough and with the assistance of Peter Loewen.

After that eating, and lots of driving around and looking, I concluded Scarborough is the best ethnic food suburb I have seen in my life, ever, and by an order of magnitude.  I hope you all have the chance to visit Scarborough, Ontario.

If you are wondering where I went, that is beside the point.

1 bartman March 13, 2015 at 2:08 pm

Well, there are certainly no “beautiful people” and lots of ratty strip malls in Scarberia, so I guess it fits a few of TC’s dining theses.

2 Andrew March 13, 2015 at 2:09 pm

Scarberian here. So great that you made it up here and yes, it is the best ethnic food suburb just about anywhere!

For what it’s worth, Scarborough was incorporated into the Greater Toronto Area some time ago and is officially part of the City of Toronto. It has generally been looked down upon by other areas of Toronto, so I’m glad you enjoyed it.

3 prior_approval March 13, 2015 at 2:11 pm

‘If you are wondering where I went, that is beside the point.’

Self-recommending.

4 Walter Liu March 13, 2015 at 2:11 pm

I have been following your blogs (food and economic sites) for a few years now. I live in Miami, FL and am originally from Toronto, Ontario. I also lived in Scarborough for several years. I was pleased to see your comment. I tell people that Toronto is probably the most multicultural city in the world with authentic cuisine. I am of Chinese descent and my family is from India. Hopefully, you had an opportunity to try this Indian Chinese food while you were in Scarborough. The dishes are excellent and there are many places to get this cuisine in Scarborough.

5 RR March 13, 2015 at 4:19 pm

Ah, Indian Chinese! Pity it is not more frequently available in the US. Some years back, there was a nice restaurant near Artesia, CA but it either closed down or the quality was down later , can’t remember which .

6 Brian Donohue March 13, 2015 at 5:31 pm

Schaumburg, Illinois has a great Indian Chinese restaurant (in a strip mall!). Many Indians I know who live in the city schlep the 30 miles regularly.

7 bartman March 13, 2015 at 8:38 pm

Chinese Mirch, which had branches in Curry Hill and North Brunswick, was pretty awesome. It seems to have migrated to Boston.

8 Jack Farfield March 13, 2015 at 2:13 pm

A Straussian would say this is just mood-affiliation.

9 paul March 13, 2015 at 10:11 pm

It wasn’t funny the first hundred times.

10 jdw March 19, 2015 at 8:24 am

The west Indian food scene is good too. There’s all this talk about Chinese, but most Chinese restaurants in scarborough are the same.

11 Rich Berger March 13, 2015 at 2:14 pm

Dean of the Food Studies Department? Sounds like nice work.

12 MD2 March 13, 2015 at 2:35 pm

Big, bold claim, but we can’t see your data (where you went).

Sounds like an economist.

13 Aswin R March 13, 2015 at 2:47 pm

Lived in Markham (just north of Scarborough) for many years – Tyler’s onto something here. Very curious to know the places you dined at and enjoyed so much

14 naveen March 13, 2015 at 2:54 pm

I lived there for three years (and now in Arlington, VA). I am glad to hear you say that. The Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Caribbean and Chinese Hakka food in Scarborough is excellent. Though besides the point, I am curious what the four places you visited are.

15 RM March 13, 2015 at 9:05 pm

Unless you are talking about far northwest Pakistan, Pakistani food is just Indian food. (Just my pet peeve — don’t take me too seriously!).

No evidence on my part, but I am willing to guess that Scarborough’s ethnic food scene took off due to the presence of Indians from the West Indies.

16 jordan March 13, 2015 at 10:46 pm

False, Indian is (IMHO) far more greasier but that can be a plus. And Indian cuisine is so vast, there’s just so many different ethnicities within India, all regions have their own cuisine. Authentic Pakistani food is easy to find in Scarborough and Mississauga but good luck if you’re looking for a good dining experience. There are a ton of awesome Pakistani takeout spots, but no nice dining spots

17 Jeff R. March 13, 2015 at 4:19 pm

Were there ample amounts of parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme?

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

18 dan1111 March 14, 2015 at 4:48 am

Yes, those are key ingredients in Scarborough fare.

19 Anon March 13, 2015 at 4:20 pm

Did the dishes have Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme?

20 collateral March 13, 2015 at 5:12 pm

Have you been to Queens (NY)?

21 carlolspln March 13, 2015 at 7:28 pm

Queens has the best Indian food in the USA.

22 RM March 13, 2015 at 9:10 pm

Good point. But my guess is that dollar for dollar, ethnic food is better in Scarborough. The harried pace of Queens makes food just a business. In Scarborough it is probably more a calling.

I also believe that Scarborough benefits from the more attention that Canadians pay to the quality of food when compared to Americans: There is a reason Tim Hortons is Canadian.

23 collateral March 13, 2015 at 9:31 pm

Maybe it’s totally ruined by the Americans, but the Tim Hortons in Jamaica station by the airtrain is nothing special at all. On the contrary, the coffee is mediocre and the food is worse.

24 DGT March 19, 2015 at 11:55 am

The American stores don’t have Maple Glazed or Dutchies, and their concession seems to supply different-tasting food. May be the distances involved, or the crappy partner Hortons uses in the NY area.

25 dan1111 March 14, 2015 at 4:51 am

Tim Horton’s is better than Dunkin’ Donuts, but it’s not some paragon of quality. Plenty of American chains can at least match it for quality. For example Chic-Fil-A, Five Guys.

26 dan1111 March 14, 2015 at 4:52 am

For the record, I’ve eaten at many Tim Horton’s in the U.S. and Canada.

27 Geoff Olynyk March 13, 2015 at 6:11 pm

Tyler, you should read this Toronto Star article about how the diversity lives in the suburbs. Micallef is a great writer (I literally subscribe to his newsletter – the 4x/year Spacing magazine).

Downtown vs. the suburbs: Why Toronto needs to call a truce

Now the rent is often so prohibitive downtown that the landscape is dominated by Starbucks cafes and other big businesses. In the suburbs, rents are cheaper, so space is affordable to people with little start up capital.

The strip malls have become the places where mom and pop stores can open. They’re what we call “economic incubators” in other sectors, such as technology and fashion, but those are more sexy and better funded.

Worse, in Toronto we all trade on the reputation afforded to us by these strip malls and surrounding areas. We’re proud of being one of the most multicultural places on earth, but this diversity happens more in the suburbs than downtown.

28 Jan March 13, 2015 at 7:44 pm

The Fords have a strong aversion to downtown yuppie liberals, too. But do you think Rob realizes that the outer parts of Toronto and burbs are where the minorities live?

29 NWE March 13, 2015 at 10:44 pm

Same situation in Vancouver, with Richmond, BC being the epicenter of Chinese cuisine.

30 Thor March 16, 2015 at 9:53 pm

Yes, but it one of the least ethnically diverse places in Vancouver.

31 Attila Smith March 13, 2015 at 6:13 pm

How can an apparently intelligent man be so obsessed with food?

32 bartman March 13, 2015 at 8:42 pm

Food is life. Tyler shares the Chinese philosophy that a bad meal is a missed opportunity.

33 Peter Akuleyev March 15, 2015 at 5:12 pm

Yes, Chinese people do tend to spend an inordinate amount of time talking about food. Possibly because it allows them to avoid more sensitive and revealing topics. I have noticed that cultures with fairly bland food – Ashkenazi Jews, Russians, English – tend to produce better and more intellectually interesting conversationalists than cultures that are obsessed with food.

34 prognostication March 14, 2015 at 12:43 am

Does anyone actually think this?

35 hello dolly March 14, 2015 at 7:17 pm

Eat or die.

36 Ethan Bernard March 13, 2015 at 6:46 pm

Better than the Mahatma Gandhi district in Houston? Amazingly good and low priced food there.

37 bartman March 13, 2015 at 8:41 pm

Recent transplant to H-town (Westchase). Do you have any specific recommendations? I’m looking for a good thali joint.

38 Jan March 13, 2015 at 7:47 pm

Eating my way around Toronto last year, I was impressed by not only the variety and quality of the food, but also the prices. Super-cheap. Yes, I am coming from DC, but I am pretty sure a lot the stuff we ate would have even been pricier back in my Midwestern hometown.

39 The Anti-Gnostic March 13, 2015 at 8:41 pm

Walmart is “super-cheap” as well. For some reason it doesn’t carry the same cachet.

40 Jan March 14, 2015 at 5:08 am

It was good food that was super cheap.

41 Tim March 14, 2015 at 11:01 am

If you’re paying in American dollars…

42 Jan March 14, 2015 at 1:36 pm

Oops, I thought they didn’t tip in CA. I apologize to all my waiter and bartenders.

43 K. March 13, 2015 at 8:47 pm

With Toronto being probably the most multicultural place on the planet, this isn’t a surprising conclusion. My personal experience is that you can get almost any kind of authentic ethnic cuisine in Toronto. German and Scandinavian being notable exceptions; Russian places are also scarce; but that’s about it.

Scarborough has certain ethnicities represented very well, but the other corners of Toronto also have their specialties.

44 cm March 14, 2015 at 8:34 am

For German, head down the QEW to Hamilton’s Black Forest Inn.

45 Garnet March 14, 2015 at 6:19 pm

Russians love Aragvi, a Georgian place up in Vaughan.

46 Cliff March 13, 2015 at 9:00 pm

Really, 10x better than any other place you have been in your life? Is that possible?

47 dan1111 March 14, 2015 at 4:56 am

Hyperbole is an accepted rhetorical device for making a point.

I just decimated your argument. And no, that doesn’t mean I killed 10% of your argument.

48 John Smith March 14, 2015 at 11:24 pm

Ethnic food heaven in Vancouver. Many are mom and pop sorts of places.

https://www.google.ca/maps/search/kingsway+restaurants+vancouver/@49.2326494,-123.018797,14z/data=!3m1!4b1

49 Drew Yallop March 15, 2015 at 6:11 pm

Hi Tyler,
Lived in Scarborough in the 90’s (Scarberia to the downtown aesthetes) and the ratty strip mall – mom and pop ethnic scene was new and growing. Of course, Chinese Agincourt was always very close to Vancouver/Richmond in quality and both the best Chinese in North America.

For some specific recommendations see here:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/food-and-wine/restaurant-reviews/eating-through-torontos-east-end-the-10-tastiest-spots-in-scarborough/article4365223/?page=all

50 Neville Ross March 22, 2015 at 11:42 pm

As a Torontonian, I’d love to love this article, except for one thing-the fact that or order to get to these places, one needs a car to do it. This fact makes hash of the ‘small steps towards a better world’ tag that’s on this site.

Having to get to restaurants by a series of bus routes that aren’t working (and all to get to places located in unappetizing-looking strip malls) isn’t something that people want to do when they visit a city, especially if they don’t drive (and the same applies to people who live in the city as well.) This part of Toronto would have been much helped by having Transit City built, but the ‘good people’ (I prefer sheeple) of Scarborough decided that subways are all they needed, and voted in Rob Ford to destroy it.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against that part of Toronto, and wish it well, but a little perspective is needed, along with some balance.

51 Mike March 23, 2015 at 5:03 pm

Scarborough lifer here, not quite six decades. Well Tyler, what you experienced was not even an ice cube off the iceberg. Anytime you happen to be coming back this way, email and I can provide you with a list of places to explore. And yes to the ‘down the nose club’, quite a number of them happen to be in strip malls. As to those who don’t have a car, there is zip-car and auto share or the bus, so rather than whining, do in Rome…

The food scene actually extends beyond just eating, as there a a fair number of suppliers of one type or another, then add the ethnic mix on top of that, plus many are open to public. It’s all a matter of poking around and exploring.

Bye the bye, there are German places the Scarb, it’s knowing where to look. Though to be fair, there not anywhere as many as years past. The general trend is a declining number of European/British types and increasing numbers from elsewhere as the population shifts, but this only makes sense.

As an aside, it was mentioned in a previous post about establishments opening in strips malls. This itself will be under threat if the various transit schemes ever come to pass, as these represent frequently reasonably decent chunks of real estate which can be redeveloped to greater density, which results in good ‘cah-jing’ for both the developer and the city tax base.

52 Ken March 26, 2015 at 9:12 am

Just checked out this blog by way of a University of Toronto e-newsletter. I am a specialist physician who has been practicing in Scarborough for 30 years and the only thing that surpasses the richness and diversity of the food here is that of the people. Every day I learn a thing or two about different cultures and get tips on where to get the best roti or Hakka. I’m loving’ it! (wait, where did that come from?) I like to check out “ethnic dives” when I travel and I gotta say that some parts of Melbourne or London offer a lot to choose from as well.

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