EVENT: T&T Waterfront Night Market

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

I can't think of a better way to spend a Saturday evening than attending one of Toronto's most popular food festivals. The T&T Waterfront Night Market made 3rd annual appearance to the ever growing Toronto food scene. For those who are not familiar with T&T Supermarkets, it is essentially Loblaw's Asian division specializing in a wide variety of specialty Asian produce and products. T&T Supermarkets can be found in Toronto, Ottawa, Alberta and British Columbia. With the core of the GTA consisting mostly of Chinatown, its no doubt that this is one of the busiest events around. 

Pretty much everything was served on a stick at this market
Hosted in partnership with NAAAP (North American Association of Asian Professionals) Toronto, the night market is designed to treat attendees to a unique outdoor culinary experience showcasing an array of Asian themed street food and general merchandise. This night market ultimately unites different cultures together in such a unique social event which highlights Canada's multicultural mosaic.

Accompanied by my friend Geraldine (also a Windsor native!), we set off to the TTC bus destined for Cherry beach with several other hungry festival-goers. After a bit of a wait for transit to arrive, we arrived to a very, very, VERY packed festival. Upon arriving on location, we were greeted by something iconic to the night market: Stinky Tofu...  A little background information on this heavily pungent, borderline vile Asian street food staple, stinky tofu is a dish well known in Taiwan. Traditional methods for preparing this odorous dish is to prepare a brine made from fermented milk, vegetables and meat and can take as long as several months to ferment. Some say that the more it smells, the 'better' its flavour. Sorry folks, I didn't get a chance to try some nor get any pictures as this stuff hit me like I was running full sprint into a brick wall. I'll try it one day...maybe. 

AHHHH So Many people!! 
Anyways, aside from the stinky tofu sending putrid haymakers to my nostrils, it was almost impossible to even walk into the festival itself!! It was sooo crowded, some areas were just shoulder to shoulder traffic and it was moving VERY slowly. Thankfully it was a cool Saturday and it wasn't too hot, otherwise I probably would of passed out between all the people and you guessed it.. The wonderful smell of stinky tofu!

Pretty much I saw Tornado and tempura so I just jumped in line
After adjusting to the massive flurry of crowds of people, Geraldine and I jumped into a line to try some of this highly anticipated street food! There was no strategy here, I saw a sign for some treats that looked tasty and we stumbled into the moderately long line. After about 15-20 minutes and 
several Asian elders butting in line and taking all the freshly ordered food a couple of times, Gee and I split a Tempura Shrimp Tornado and an order of Tofuyaki. 

The tornado was essentially tempura battered shrimp wrapped exaggeratedly in an absurd amount of potato shoestrings and then deep fried. This thing was huge (get your head out of the gutter... ) and there was no good way to approach it except just take a big bite out of it. Aside from the mayo drizzled on top, this was pretty dry and bland and pretty much tasted like a bunch of hickory sticks wrapped around breaded shrimp. Ah well, kind of a let down. Next up, tofuyaki. This version of tofuyaki was essentially breaded fried tofu which was then drizzled with teriyaki and mayo (Asian's really loved mayo with their fried food) and fried shaved onion. It was tasty with the teriyaki adding a nice sweetness to the crunchy exterior and soft tofu center. 

nothing like eating skewers of meat from a paper bag!
After a greasy start, we ventured over to the Philippines (Gee who is a Pacific Islander herself was quite excited) We get in line for a Filipino grill stand named Kamayan (basically meaning shake hands or in regards to food, eating with your hands). We decided to go for some Filipino marinated pork skewers. Simple but so delicious! At only 2 dollars a skewer, it was easy to order a whole bag full, which we did!! I could probably have eaten 20 of these skewers easily. The marinade had the perfect harmony of savoury and sweet which paired with the fattiness of the pork gave it a true umami experience!

After a pleasant visit to the Pacific Islands we moved back to a Japanese street food favourite: takoyaki. Popularized in Osaka Japan, takoyaki is a ball shaped dumplings made of a pancake style batter that are typically filled with grilled octopus and cooked in a special half spherical takoyaki pan. Once carefully cooked all around, takoyaki is then either skewered on a stick or served on a disposable platter and topped with an endless combination of Asian condiments (bonito flakes, diced nori, green onions etc). 

Shrimp, corn and cheese takoyaki
traditional octopus takoyaki
The line for these magical Japanese balls was huge!! So much so, a girl was coming out to the line and taking orders for us to prepay so once we got up to the pass, our food would be ready immediately. Having never tried this Japanese favourite before, I went with the shrimp, corn and cheese and the traditional octopus takoyaki. After about 25 minutes in line I was given to plates of these freshly made battered balls. I'm not sure if takoyaki is meant to be as mushy as it was, but my guess since it was in such high demand, they really didn't have much time to set. The clear favourite was the traditional octopus takoyaki topped with Japanese mayo, nori, bonito flakes and what tasted to be like sweet soy or teriyaki. 

After all these tasty treats, it was all washed down with some nice coconut juice straight from a coconut!

In the end, the T&T Waterfront Nightmarket is an experience that you should try at least once if you are ever in the area for it. Aside from the huge crowds and the extreme funky smell of stinky tofu, the nightmarket is an excellent way to get your feet wet in the Asian world of street food. If its this crazy in Toronto, I can only imagine what it would be like in Asia!


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