Toronto by Library #4: Bendale Library

It is simultaneously difficult and delightful to realize that I’ve visited 4 libraries as a part of this project and that that literally equates to having visited only 4% of the libraries available to me as resident of Toronto

This time I brought my partner, Sage, along.  She had coincidentally been at the Toronto Reference Library (which I recently visited “officially”) She had been using their studio to record others’ stories for her podcast.  Wait, you haven’t had a chance to listen? What are you waiting for? Make your way over here and you’ll hear interesting true stories from her and other folks she’s met.  After a cross-town subway trip we found ourselves in the general area of the library where I knew we could find a bit of lunch.

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One thing I find really fascinating and interesting about visiting Scarborough is the cross section of our city we see everywhere we look. This plaza was a great example of that. While there was definitely a South Indian focus to the businesses, there were also Caribbean markets, Chinese restaurants, and another odd thing I’ve seen in a few places throughout Scarborough: British restaurants.  I had originally intended to visit a Jamaican restaurant I read about on the CBC’s site this week but seeing where I was – near Subiksha Foods, a place I had visited and enjoyed back in December.

The restaurant itself feels very much like many of the places I visited in India in terms not only of decor but also small amenities. A hand washing sink was installed in the corner, tables all had pitchers of water and cups on a tray ready to go. And for those who prefer an alternative to toilet paper, a small pitcher is available in the washroom.  I went up and ordered and then sat down to chat and play Upwords with Sage – our preferred pastime while traveling in the city.  As I took my turn, she would describe the plot of the Tamil music videos she saw on the television behind me. We were both intrigued. Sage has never seen a Tamil film and I’m not much more well versed having only seen Kabali when it came out some time ago. (Overall I enjoyed the film though I found it a bit silly and over the top at times. Afterward, though, reading about the history and background of the story I was fascinated and still want to learn more…)

Eventually our food arrived.  First up was my appetizer, Rasam Vada.  Vadai are some of my favourite snacks though not particularly healthy. If you haven’t had one, imagine a delicious, somewhat spicy savoury doughnut. Then take a couple of those and put them in rasam. This is a very fresh tasting thin and spicy broth. Though I would describe it simply as “hot and sour” it is neither like Chinese nor Thai hot and sour soup except in one sense – the heat hits at the back of the throat more than the tongue. This soup had lots of fresh coriander and tomatoes in it as well as several dried chilies floating in it.

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Looks delicious, yes?  I also notice something here that I saw a lot of while I was in India but don’t see nearly as much of here in Canada even at Indian restaurants: the presence of raw red onion. Often when I ate there I would be provided with a plate of red onion and sliced lime and enjoyed it so much that I often serve our own dinners with the same.  In any case, it was as amazing as it looks.

Sage’s appetizer arrived soon after. She also got vada but hers was curd vada (also called dahi vada). This has the same vadai as I had but this time in yogurt. It’s delicious, but as I’m a bit lactose intolerant, I can only have a taste without regret.

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Then our main courses came. We both got dosas.  I got a masala dosa with potato and lots of red onion inside.

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Sage got a green chili dosa which was incredibly good. It was coated with lots of green chili chutney inside and was delightfully spicy. Mine was good but hers was amazing.

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Each of our dosas came with sambar (another soup with lentils (a kind called toor dal) and vegetables – in our case carrot and potato and lots of chili. Three kinds of chutney were also offered – tomato, coconut, and one other one that I couldn’t identify (maybe a combination of the two?). These are great for dipping bits of the dosa in.

Sage also got one of our favourite things (that I can also only partake a little of), filter coffee. While some here may swear by a Tim Horton’s Double Double or a latte from their favourite barista, this is a favourite of mine. Delicious coffee with lots of cream and sugar served in a metal cup (with a second metal cup to pour back and forth between to mix and cool the coffee).  I had a taste of Sage’s and it was amazing.

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We left, satiated. My North American readers will think the $31 including tax was a reasonable price for all that food. My readers in India, though, may be horrified to know that was over ₹1,600.

Before we left I wanted to stop by a nearby Sri Lankan grocery, Eraa Foods. I’d actually been to this once before – after my last trip to Subiksha Foods when I was on a quest to find gunpowder masala. After some searching, I found it and now it is a regular part of my breakfast – often on omelettes or in this case, in a creation I called “gunpowder masala caulflower rice” – finely chopped cauliflower roasted in a frying pan with lots of gunpowder masala.

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A true Toronto breakfast, Cauliflower Rice with Gunpowder Masala, East African Carrot Pickle, Greek Olives, and Ontario eggs.

I spent a long time in the aisle looking at all the sambals. I have liked all of the Sri Lankan food I’ve eaten but unlike food from other countries, I haven’t delved very deep in to it. Everything was delightfully new and intriguing. Clearly I will need to read, taste, and then cook more.

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After this we headed off to the library – a short walk and 5 minute bus ride from where we were.  This took us in to one of the more residential parts of Scarborough. When it first started growing it was portrayed as a stereotypical 50’s suburb where people could go to get the Canadian dream of a single family home, a bit of a yard and a quiet street. Some of that dream is still there being realized though the home prices have skyrocketed as much as the population has.

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This was one of the smaller libraries in the system.  Where the reference library felt huge and cutting edge and Albion felt like a futuristic space both cosmopolitan and welcoming, Bendale was back in the realm of small town library. This is not a bad thing – it serves its neighbourhood well with lots of programs advertised on the bulletin board and nearly every seat full. That said, I did manage to find not only a seat for myself but a copy of that day’s newspaper!

I made my usual search for Hindi books (no luck – there aren’t many branches that have them anymore) and then browsed for a few things. I managed to find a book called In Praise of Profanity which looks fascinating. I find what makes something profanity interesting and how different cultures define what words are “bad words.”  For example, while English seems to have to do with sex, anatomy, and excreta, French Canadian curses tend to include a lot of words sacred to Catholicism mispronounced. Curious? This guy talks a lot about it and teaches them to you. Some of those words are considered pretty terrible even as they sound really mild to my ear. Meanwhile a word like “fucké” which sounds terrible to me was perfectly fine at a work lunch conversation: (Context: “That thing is fucké” – totally messed up).  I also grabbed Taxi, a Persian film that looks fascinating – wouldn’t you agree?

Once we checked out we walked up to a major street to catch a bus first to Canadian Tire to grab a fan (the A/C for our building has been turned off for the year just as the weather turned warm again – don’t worry, we’ll need the heat soon enough and before long it’ll be -20 outside.) and then to head home. Along the way we came across a strip mall. Out in front was a sign that appeared, like many of the others there to have been designed and installed in the mid 80’s. It directed me to something I have not really seen a viable version of since about 1995: a used paperback bookstore – the kind that makes much of their money from recycled Stephen King, John Saul, Sue Grafton and Harlequin Romance novels. I thought they had completely died – but in Scarborough, it seems, the past lives on. I’m happy to see it

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If you’d like to read about more of Toronto’s awesome libraries and the neighbourhoods they’re in, visit the Toronto by Library page.

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