Mondays are going to be getting much better for me over the next few weeks. As I didn’t spend a month of my time in India this year, I’ve got lots of leftover holiday time to “use or lose.” And so, with no major travel plans ahead I’m doing something different. Aside from the next couple of weeks where I’ll be visiting a client in Louisiana, I’ll be taking Mondays off for the rest of the year.
Yesterday was the first of these Mondays and after writing a few entries and grabbing a bit of lunch we worked our way downstairs to the bus stop. This time, instead of heading south toward the downtown area of the city, we took the bus north as far as it would go. Then, needing to travel further, we caught another bus to take us east – not quite to the eastern edge of the city. About a five minute walk took us to the strip mall where we would find our next library.
But first, another distraction caught my eye: Foody Mart. I’m a huge fan of grocery stores from other cultures – especially huge ones like this one. This was an Asian grocery that had mostly Chinese food but also other Asian foods. There was a huge produce section, a great looking prepared food section, bakery with everything from banh mi sandwiches to egg tarts to fancy cakes to steamed buns. In between were aisles that they named things like “Cookie Street” and “Healthy Hall”
We were already hungry so we honed right in on the snack aisle.
We had small bags so we grabbed a few things – some of those spicy noodles and definitely the tom yum chips only to find that there were incredibly long lines at the checkout. I suspect it would’ve taken us 30 minutes to get our 3 items – and there was no sign of an express checkout. Oh well, clearly another trip will be necessary in the future as I haven’t seen most of these things in any of the groceries nearby.
Then it was off to the library. To get there we had to follow a small sign in to a dark corridor.
This library was one of the smaller ones in the city. There were just a couple of rooms. The book selection was small but well thought out and there was a large DVD selection. There was a very large selection of Chinese materials as well. In the centre of the room was a group of computers which four teenagers were using to play a multiplayer online game together. In literally every corner we saw groups of 2-3 teenagers relaxing and chatting, playing games on their phone or just hanging out together. Everyone seemed very happy to be there.
Behind the computers a large table had a cluster of old men sitting at it chatting loudly and laughing over a game of Xiangqi.
The space was so full that I must apologize for not taking any photos. Any photo I took would have someone in it who likely wouldn’t want to be photographed. But overall the verdict on this library is that while their materials were limited, this is one of the most well-loved and most used libraries in the network – a true community centre. If it’s this busy on a Monday afternoon, what’s it like on the weekend? Clearly if any branch needs funding for an expansion, it is this one.
[Update: Google Maps had some photos]
By now, though it was barely 5PM, we were hungry. It was time to go. Sadly, though, the cold autumn drizzle had started so we were lazy and took a bus somewhere we could’ve walked in 15 minutes. At the end of our bus ride we found a massive church: St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral:
But we weren’t interested in salvation, we were interested in Sichuan food. That said, we were tempted by other things as well. Xin Jiang, a restaurant specializing in food from western China beckoned to us with lamb skewers, deep fried naan, and hand-pulled noodles.
A door framed in imitation stone beckoned us inside to experience their noodle Grotto.
But in the end, spicy won out and we headed to Backyard Garden – which looks like neither a backyard, nor a garden – for delicious Sichuan food. As usual, in places with delicious food like this, I wanted to eat everything. There were so many good choices and I definitely over-ordered. Luckily, I matched it with overeating so no food was wasted.
Sage is a fan of dan dan noodles – noodles in a numbingly spicy broth with ground meat. We also both love the “Water Boiled Fish” which sounds boring but is quite delicious. I was feeling really hungry and wanted to try their kung pao chicken.
Service was incredibly fast. We ordered, and a few minutes later I got up to wash my hands and by the time I was back, there was the kung pao chicken. There was no photo of this one as Sage had already dug in to it – she was as hungry as I was. Authentic kung pao chicken is a bit different than what you’ll find in the average American Chinese restaurant in a few ways. There aren’t a lot of vegetables – no carrots or cubed celery. The spice level is much higher and includes Sichuan pepper – a spice that numbs the tongue, giving your mouth almost a ‘cool wintergreen’ feeling without that flavour. The sauce is less acidic and has many more dried chillies in it. I was especially pleased to find that my own attempts at making it courtesy of Fuchsia Dunlop’s recipe, were nearly spot on. This was better than mine owing, I think, to just a little less vinegar.
The Dan Dan Noodles came next. This was, without a doubt, my favourite thing on the menu. The noodles were perfectly cooked but oh the broth. The BROTH. It was perfectly balanced flavour-wise. Fiery but with hints of coconut. (I don’t think there was any but the creaminess made me think of it).
Finally the fish arrived. Of all the dishes, it was a little disappointing. Had we had only this it would’ve been excellent but the two previous dishes really had our expectations at a high point. Still, the deliciously boiled fish dusted with chilli pepper along with spicy, peppery bean sprouts and sliced hot peppers made me exceedingly happy.
As I said, I ate way too much – but it was all so delicious.
After that, hoping to find some interesting snacks like we had found at Foody Mart, we headed over to Pacific Mall – the largest Asian mall in North America. We wandered a bit and found a couple of stores selling snacks but they all paled in comparison to what we’d seen earlier in the day. We did find some really interestingly-packaged spicy fish jerky, though.
We were still completely stuffed but we headed upstairs to the food court anyway. We could grab a drink and check it out for next time. There were a number of restaurants with delightful-smelling foods. Everything from fish balls to skewers of lamb to Japanese snacks and everything in between. I still fondly remember visiting here a few years ago with Daegan when we found we could get an order of crispy fish skin – like delicious potato chips!
The most delicious smells came from the waffle place, though. I would definitely have bought one if I had any room left in my stomach for food.
Sage found a Vietnamese coffee bar where she got a hot coffee with sweetened condensed milk – absolutely delicious. I went to the other side of the space and got honey green bubble tea. I remember being grossed out by the idea of bubble tea when I first got here – who wants a drink with chickpea sized bits of tapioca in it? After a couple of tries, though, I was completely hooked.
Then it was time for our second childhood. There was an arcade across from the food court so we decided to play a couple of games, most notably a ridiculous shoot-em-up game based loosely on Jurassic Park. We had a hilarious few minutes in which we laughed and screamed as we were first startled-by and then killed endangered dinosaurs scientists had worked their entire lives to bring back to life. What could we do, though? Our lives were clearly endangered.
After that much feasting and fun we were exhausted. We made our way back to the bus stop for the hour long ride home. It had been a full and exciting day.
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.