Today’s visit starts out a little differently because I found an interesting new tool to play with. Thanks to this article, I was able to learn how to download all of my Google Maps history data – anywhere my phone tells Google I’ve been over the past several years was downloaded to my computer. Then I uploaded it to another site to create a heatmap – a map of Toronto that shows where I have and have not been and then grades those places I’ve been from “cold to hot” in terms of how often I’ve been there. I’m surprised at all of the gaps.
I take this map and then compare it to the map of Toronto libraries to find a library in an area I’ve never been and so I come up with the St. Clair / Silverthorne library and head out the door. As usual, I am slow getting out the door and by the time I make it to the neighbourhood, I have one thing on my mind and it isn’t the library: it’s food. Luckily signs point to finding good food!
I choose the second one in the background, Banh Cuon Pho Ga. I know what Pho Ga is – pho (a Vietnamese soup) made with chicken – it’s delicious. But I’ve not heard of Banh Cuon. Before I check I resolve that that’s what I’m going to have.
It’s one of my favourite sorts of restaurants – basic and unassuming. There are specials written on the wall in Vietnamese but I don’t know what those are either.
I order the Banh Cuon with sausage and “cupcake”. I’m very curious how a cupcake might fit in with mostly savoury Vietnamese food. All the more reason to get it. Maybe it will be an interesting dessert. The dish comes out really quickly.
It is a funny coincidence that I was talking about ghavan / neer dosa with Saumiya as I rode the streetcar over because here was a similar dish from a completely different region of the world. Ghavan is a Konkan (Maharashtran) style pancake made with rice flour also called neer dosa – and other names I can’t remember for similar dishes from Chhattisghar and Kerala), Banh Cuon is a steamed rice pancake. And just like ghavan, it is often served with savoury sides. In this case there was nuoc mam – a mixture of fish sauce, sugar, and chilli on the side and they also brought over this little bit of heaven:
When the waiter brought it over I was so happy. I didn’t know it was coming or even exactly what it was, but I saw those red and green flakes. Those are fresh chillis. The white is garlic. There may have been a tiny bit of fish sauce in here as well. It was deliciously spicy.
Also on top of the Banh Cuon was lettuce, holy basil, bean sprouts, a little coriander, and fried shallots. It was delicious.
But what about the cupcake, you might be wondering. Well wait no more. Here it is – it was cut in to pieces and served on the side.
This is not what I expected at all. It is crispy on the outside but softer on the inside and savoury with a bit of shrimp inside and a lot of things I couldn’t place but I love it. It is especially delicious dipped in to the nuoc mam. I don’t know if this is how it’s meant to be eaten but it works for me so I go with it.
I gobble the whole plate up greedily and the whole thing was only $9.00. There are few places in Toronto where you can get a meal for under $10 but this is one of them. I will definitely be coming back here sometime as there are a few other dishes on the menu that I have had before and other things in reviews I read later that sounded amazing. Their duck and bamboo soup tops that list.
Out I go to the library. I walk around and I can’t find it. Finally I look at Google Maps again to see if I was in the right place and I follow it to exactly where it is. And I see why I couldn’t see it before. It’s closed.
I really need to check before I go. This is not the first time I’ve gone to a library that was closed for expansion and renovations. On the other hand, how cool is it that not only does our city have 100 libraries, but they’re working so hard to keep them in great shape that you never know when one you’re planning on going to will be closed?
But now I’m in the neighbourhood so it’s time to walk around and see what this area is about.
The first thing I notice is this is a much more openly religious area. There are many people of all religions in this city but generally speaking people are quiet about it. I should have noticed it when I took the picture of the restaurants and was standing in front of a large storefront church. I definitely noticed it on the window of this second hand store which was sadly closed.
And I really noticed it on this sign – the likes of which I have seen little of outside the US South.
I walk further, past a guy in a curly blonde wig selling knockoff sneakers on the street and something catches my eye:
It’s a flea market. Some of these can be really interesting. We went to one on another library visit and actually went back there again last weekend. The weekend before Sage and I tried one closer to home but it was more of a bust as it only seemed to have jewelery, mobile phone stores and IP TV salespeople. But I thought I’d go in and check. Sometimes the food stalls alone can be worth checking out.
In I go There are a lot of computer sellers, mobile phone sellers, and the like as well as a whole bunch of different clothing sellers. There are also a couple of places that looked like thrift stores with all manner of goods inside and these are really intriguing.
But I don’t see anything that really speaks to me. The place is huge and I’m finding myself getting lost as I wander until I locate a map that shows that there is, in fact, a food court. I head right over.
I settle on Kavita’s for two reasons. The first is that I love Caribbean food, and the second is that I have already had lunch and know I can get a small thing to taste without overeating or wasting food.
I order an aloo pie. I’ve had this dish before and it’s pretty good. The owner takes a fried bun, slices it open and puts spiced potatoes in (imagine a thinner version of what is inside of a dosa), coriander chutney, tamarind chutney, and then after asking if I want it spicy, adds some hot sauce as well before wrapping it. I walk literally ten feet away before unwrapping this bit of deliciousness like it’s Christmas morning.
It’s really messy and as delicious as I had hoped. I wish I was going to spend a few more hours here so I could come back for a full meal for dinner. I’m particularly intrigued by something on the menu that’s called a “Wedding Paratha (Buss Up Shut)”. It goes for $12.00 (my aloo pie went for $2) – it’s one of the most expensive items on the menu. It must be big because they also sell a smaller one. I just looked online and I think I have an idea of why it’s so expensive. Check this out!
Edited to add – it’s incredibly sad and shocking that just about 90 minutes after I left, this happened there:
I leave the flea market and head out. It’s time to find an actual library. Fortunately there’s one just a ten minute streetcar ride away. It isn’t long before it arrives.
And then it’s off to the Dufferin / St. Clair library. Just ten minutes away and the neighbourhood feels a bit different. There’s been a bit more gentrification and it increases the further east and closer to the subway I go.
The library is less than a half a block from the intersection I was dropped off at.
This library, while it has a modern facade, is fairly old, having opened originally in 1921. The inside is filled with beautiful murals painted by George A. Reid, principal of the Ontario College of Art, and by two of his former students, Lorna Claire and Doris McCarthy.
The library itself has a few cozy places to sit.
And it is relatively large.
Off of this room there is a Teen area that was populated with mostly people above the age of 30 who were taking advantage of the large windows letting the sun in. A children’s section is on the other side that is almost as large as the main area.
Overall, though, I’m not as fond of this one. It feels rather bland. The book selection is small making this more of a library to send your holds to if you live nearby than a library to linger in and search. My usual areas to look are relatively short on interesting selections. The 300’s in the Dewey Decimal catalog (social sciences) seem to have nothing of interest to me and the low 900’s (Travel) is positively tiny and mostly filled with travel guides instead of the travel fiction I love. I did find Silverland, A Winter Journey Beyond the Urals.
I take that book on the streetcar home with me and she talks about her train trip from England toward Siberia where she is detained by customs in Belarus and sent back to Poland to get a visa. At first I find myself getting quite jealous. I love travel and adventure and Dervla Murphy is one of my heroes in this respect, having managed to spend fifty years of her life traveling, mostly by bike and supporting it by the proceeds of her travel writing. If there were ever a dream job for me, that is the one. And then I thought a bit more realistically and it made me resolve to think about ways in which I could have more local adventures and ride my bike a bit more often – outside of the virtual world of Zwift. Maybe some more cycling-related Appreciating My Own Backyard posts will happen. After all, I may not be able to travel the world all the time but Toronto does a pretty great job of bringing the world to me.
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.