Whenever anyone from out of town asks me what they should do or see when they come to Toronto, I direct them to Kensington Market. Aside from the Distillery District, Kensington is my favourite part of the city, second to none. I’ve fallen in love with so many different neighbourhoods over the years and although all of them hold special memories and are wonderfully unique in their own ways, Kensington will always win my heart. One of the things I love most about Kensington is its accessibility. Sitting snuggly within Chinatown, it’s literally just steps off the Spadina streetcar line and it’s easy peasy getting to other neighbourhoods such as Queen West, the Annex, Little Italy, and Little Portugal.
I can never get enough. I can come here day in and day out and never be bored of wandering around because I am always finding something new to explore and take photos of (the photo up top is just one example of the unexpected mobility of artisitic expression that weaves in and out of the market; here today, gone tomorrow) and the culinary options available could last me a lifetime! While many of the markets and food shops are mainstays, the foodie terrain is constantly evolving and changing with new businesses setting up shop in the neighbourhood. There are so many choices and I think Kensington is especially amazing for 6 different things:
1) Vegetarian and vegan delights! You don’t realize what a goldmine Kensington is for vegetarian and vegan food until you start ticking off all the options: Chinese vegetarian at King’s Cafe, Mexican vegan comfort food at Hot Beans Vegan, delicious soup, sandwich, and salad lunches at Wanda’s Pie in the Sky, Hibiscus, and Urban Herbivore, and vegan desserts at Wanda’s, Hibiscus, and Sadie’s Juice Bar, Sadie’s Diner‘s sister restaurant and Kensington outpost!
You all know how much I adore King’s Cafe. King’s Cafe was actually the very first place I ate at in Kensington 4 years ago and my friend, Jen, and I loved it so much we raved about it to all our friends. I’ve taken my best friend here, my boyfriend, my family, and even friends from out-of-town, and all of the experiences were fabulous. They have vegetarian and vegan dim sum, rice and noodles dishes, mock meat, soy yummies, tons of vegetable dishes, and a plethora of soothing teas and healthy juices. I am in love with their seasonal menus and they change things up every so often so that new menu items get to shine. Hot Beans has vegan burritos, tacos, nachos, burrito bowls, and vegan donuts! I keep telling myself that I need to come here to stuff my face because their lentil tacos have been yelling at me to get my tooshie over. Wanda’s Pie in the Sky and Urban Herbivore both have fabulous vegetarian and vegan sandwich offerings along with soups and salads, while Hibiscus takes the veggie reins with their enormous buckwheat crepes and vegan ice cream.
2) Cultural diversity of eats! In Kensington, you’ll find Mexican (there’s even a Mexican bakery! Pancho’s Bakery makes my mouth water every time I walk by with the smell of Mexican donuts, cookies, and churros wafting out), Indian, Chinese, Tibetan, Portuguese, and diner fare including fish n’ chips, burger joints, and even a grilled cheese shop!
3) Pedestrian Sundays. From May to October of every year, the last Sunday of the month is Pedestrian Sunday, a no-car day where everyone is free to roam around the streets taking in the sights and smells of delicious food! Shops will often have outdoor vendors, there’s always a bake sale going on, and amazing independent food businesses in the city, such as Earth & City make their mark here.
4) Blue Banana Market. Oh my goodness, I love this store to pieces. It is one of the most amazing gift shops in the city and although I’m sad that they no longer have the cafe section in their shop anymore with the scrumptious vegan cupcakes, Blue Banana still offers a heck of a selection of foodie amazingness. Aside from the bulk candy section, they have a wonderful assortment of kitchen accessories and tools, complete with a little cupcake paradise! There are cookbooks, aprons, candy dishes, food-themed accessories, and lots of cute giftware. I always daydream about shopping my brains out here for my future kitchen and outfitting it with adorable (yet functional) things. Blue Banana also has a variety of things like jams, jellies, mustards, sauces, mixes, and more. It’s definitely one of my go-to places when I want to buy gifts.
5) Sweets! No foodie exploration is complete with a little sweet treat. In Kensington, you can grab yourself something sweet and delicious from Sadie’s Juice Bar and Hibiscus if you’re in the mood for ice cream, and cookies, pastries, tarts, cakes, and pies from Wanda’s Pie in the Sky and My Market Bakery. Oh! And we can’t forget about our beloved cupcakes now, can we? You can indulge in cupcake bliss at either Wanda’s or Cora’s Kitchen, who also offers healthy sandwiches and giant cookies. I’ve indulged in the cake at Wanda’s and everyone raves about their lemon meringue, which I would love to try someday. I need to get my tooshie over to Sadie’s to nosh on their vegan ice cream and Cora’s Kitchen is still waiting for me. I go to Kensington fairly frequently and there’s still so much I haven’t tried! It’s exciting though, always having something to look forward to.
6) Fresh produce markets. I love seeing people slinging bags of baked goods, fresh bread, or bags of herbs and veggies over their shoulders. You have to do some walking around and research to find the best prices, but my favourite fruit and veggie market is Oxford Fruit on Augusta. I cannot get over the hanging watermelon and grape display they have in their market, and my mum and I have picked up some fabulous deals here. Over Thanksgiving weekend, we picked up mini pumpkins, gourds, and squashes for only $.50 a piece! I saw so many other places around the city selling them for $1 or $2 each and here we were rummaging through beautiful little pumpkins and gourds for $.50 a pop. I don’t know about you, but I find it hard pressed to find things that are $2, much less a dollar and under.
Kensington is a pure hubbub of foodie deliriousness. What really makes the foodie landscape so special to me is its fusion of market and eatery. It’s not just a superficial smattering of pretentious restaurants; the area stays true to its name with plenty of markets and specialty food shops offering everything from cheese to fish to meat to rice and beans and fruits and vegetables. You have your fishmongers, your meat butchers, your cheesemakers, your bakers, everything. It’s such a heart-warming feeling seeing everyone out and about on foot and on bike, buying market groceries and fresh bread to take home to turn into something delicious.
I may enjoy the experience of eating out and the exploration that comes along with it, but I think it’s equally important to remember that restaurants don’t exist in a vacuum and that food is so much bigger than what’s written on a menu. It’s one of the reasons why I enjoy taking market photos so much and going to the farmers’ markets; you get to see where your food comes from and the experience of eating it becomes much more meaningful.
Kensington Market is located south of College Street, west of Spadina Ave., north of Dundas Street, and east of Bathurst Street.