Spice City Toronto: The City's Most Diverse Food Court
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Spice City Toronto: The City’s Most Diverse Food Court

It's in an unlikely spot, but visitors to this food court in a Downsview flea market can choose from an impressive array of international cuisines.

Who would have guessed that the food court with the most interesting cuisine in Toronto is located inside the Downsview Park Merchants Market, a flea market next to Downsview Airport?

The market is home to merchants hawking used stereos and $5 T-shirts. But the gem of the market is its International Food Court, which is billed as an “international food festival every weekend.”

Two-dozen food stalls with tiny kitchens are sprawled throughout the food court and in other corners of the market offering cuisine that is hard to find elsewhere in the city. In fact, you could call this the food court of the future, because due to demographic trends and the growing popularity of international foods, you may see some of these items show up in your local mall at some point.

There are no chains in this food court. The businesses are family-owned, and weekend-only hours and cheap rents (around $650 a month) mean that many of the patrons are dabbling in the restaurant business while holding down other jobs during the week.

El Rinconcito Peruano offers ceviche, fried fish, and beef dishes. The owner explains that she hasn’t translated the menu signage, as most of her customers speak Spanish. “This place is very, very authentic,” offers an enthusiastic Peruvian customer. “This food is something that my mother would have made.”

Pupuseria Delicias sells made-to-order pupusas for $2.50. These Salvadoran thick corn tortillas are stuffed with beans, meat, cheese, or zucchini and spinach. They also sell tamales with chicken or elote (corn). Wash it down with horchata, a milky sweet drink made with cinnamon.

Comida Ecuadoriana serves Ecuadorian fare such as empanadas and ciccarones, a thick cut of pork that is similar to bacon. When the owner, Catalina (above), isn’t at the market, she’s working at her Ecuadorian restaurant, Latin Flavour (4040 Steeles Avenue West). “I can’t afford to advertise in the newspaper, so this is a good way to advertise my restaurant,” says Catalina.

Soon, another enthusiastic customer comes up to offer his praise for the restaurant. “Ecuadorian food takes a long time to make, but it’s quick to eat,” he says.

Rincon Cubano Dona Barbara is a Cuban restaurant run by the Suarez family. “We opened this place a few months ago in honour of my dead grandma,” explains the teenage girl helping out with the stall. “These are her recipes.” During the week, her father works as a dental technician and her mom stays at home with the kids. For $9, you can get a generous plate of tasty marinated beef served with beans and rice, plantain, and cassava.

Melo’s Kitchen serves up the classics from Trinidad and Tobago, such as macaroni pie and corn and shark soup. The owner Melanie gave me a piece of shark meat to sample—a strongly flavoured fish cooked with lime, salt, black pepper, and thyme. The cassava pone, a chewy desert square made of brown sugar, pumpkin, and coconut, is also quite good.

During the week, Melanie is a cook for a daycare and she also serves food at various festivals during the summer. “When you have a regular restaurant, a certain set of people come in, but everyone comes to the flea market,” says Melanie. “They try my food and they like it.”

El Sabor Dominicano is one of the older stalls in the market—they’ve been serving up food from the Dominican Republic for six years. They sell chicarrones, tripe, beef, chicken, and plantain. The owner, Ahuilda, takes care of seniors during the week, but she hopes to use the stall to launch a restaurant at some point.

That’s not all the International Food Court has to offer. There’s also a Tex-Mex joint, a fresh juice and sugarcane stand (above left), a Filipino restaurant, and a halal jerk chicken (!) place.

The International Food Court (40 Carl Hall Road), open Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free. There is free parking or you can take bus #101 from Downsview Subway Station.

Spice City Toronto explores Toronto’s great hole-in-the-wall restaurants and strip-mall joints serving food from all corners of the world. Find more photos and details about Downsview Park Merchants Market here and here.

Photos by Jennifer Hollett.