Smorgasburg summer food market serves up international fare in Toronto

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Dubbed North America’s largest food flea market, Smorgasburg is making its way to Toronto this weekend, serving up a taste of several of the city’s varied and diverse culinary offerings, all in one place.

The open-air event first began in Brooklyn in 2008 and has since expanded to Manhattan, Jersey City, Los Angeles and Miami.

The Waterfront BIA invited Smorgasburg to Toronto as part of their ongoing revitalization project and is hosting the event at Yonge Street and Queens Quay West. The event is being curated by well-known food writer Suresh Doss, who says the waterfront is an ideal setting for such a market.

“When you’re in this space, you have this wonderful view of the city, but you’re surrounded by the water. To me, it’s sort of emblematic of where you want to be in Toronto during the summer months,” says Doss.

Fifty vendors will be featured, with most being “mom and pop” ventures, which Doss says makes it different from other food markets and events in the city.

“We’re not talking about A-list chefs that already have restaurants or restaurant chains. We’re talking about families or brothers and sisters, moms and pops that have some sort of idea percolating in their head [about] food from maybe their culture — and they want to test it out and try it out, but they don’t have the capacity to open a restaurant, so they’re able to participate in something like Smorgasburg to see if there’s an audience for their food,” explained Doss.

Doss says he picked vendors to highlight the regionality within the multicultural cuisines that are available in the city, offering Torontonians international fare that they may be tasting for the very first time.

“We have not just an Indian food vendor, but an Indian food vendor that is showcasing the street food of Bombay … or it is a Guatemalan vendor that is cooking tamales from their home town, or it’s Kuala Lumpur style street food from Malaysia,” he said.

Vada Pao three ways by Smorgasburg Toronto vendor Poppadum. Vada Pao is popular street food in Mumbai, India. Credit: Smorgasburg

Doss says the vendors represent a wide range of global eats from Indonesia and Central America to West Africa and Brazil and lots more, each highlighting dishes not commonly found on restaurant menus.

“It really drives home this notion of how regionally diverse we are as a city. It’s the kind of food you won’t necessarily see on Queen West or Dundas West,” — both areas known for their foodie offerings.

Every vendor has around four items on the menu, and each will have at least one vegetarian dish and a non-alcoholic drink that “speaks to their culture.”

Doss highlights that the vegetarian options will not simply be meatless alternatives or meat substitutes that assume meat eaters to be the default but unique dishes in their own right.

“It’s not like they’re trying to tofu everything.”

To make the most of the experience, Doss suggests going with family or a group of friends so several dishes can be shared, creating your own tasting menu.

“First survey the event, walk around, look at all 50 vendors … and then try a few things that you may not necessarily think of trying … share with your friends and try as much as you can,” he says.

Pandan Kueh Kosui by Kiss My Pans
Pandan Kueh Kosui by Smorgasburg Toronto vendor Kiss My Pans. It is a fragrant pandan Singaporean sweet with slightly salted coconut. Credit: Smorgasburg.

The event runs for eight Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., starting July 23. The first four weeks will feature the same 50 vendors, giving people plenty of time to sample several of them.

“There’s kind of a big secret that we’re keeping to ourselves for the last four weeks where you might see a change up … at week five, we’re probably going to do a little bit of a reboot,” he reveals.

Doss adds that he’s proud to be part of a project that highlights “the little guy” and gives lesser-known food cultures a chance to shine.

In a statement to CityNews, Waterfront BIA says they are thrilled to support the event that they hope will draw people to the area.

“With Suresh’s carefully curated food and drink program and the anticipation surrounding this market, we expect Smorgasburg will help boost tourism and support our local businesses,” said marketing director Katherine Hebb.

Click here for a full list of Smorgasburg Toronto vendors.

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