Toronto’s interest in food and food events seems to have reached a fever-pitch; food trucks, food fundraisers, and the proliferation of farmer’s markets in every mall parking lot give a good indication of this. Latest on the scene is the Toronto Underground Market. Self-described as a “social food market,” cooks, both new entrepreneurs and seasoned chefs alike, can show off their culinary skills to ravenous crowds.
Though TUM touts itself as “not a food festival,” it wasn’t unlike a food festival either. Vendors lined the walls of one of the large spaces at The Evergreen Brickworks and people shuffled around from station to station trying to eat all they can. Perpetually long lines streamed from the tables of La Carnita and Comida Del Pueblo with cornbread grilled-cheeses (what’s with the grilled-cheese fascination!?). Everyone else seemed to have an ebb and flow of line ups over the three hours we stayed.
I can’t imagine the terror novice vendors must have felt seeing the genteel stampede of foodies rush at them. After my sister and I quickly got our bearings, we started the initial pass of the vendors so I could attempt to take get shots of everyone’s tables before it got busier. Some were at the ready, some didn’t have any signs, and yet others didn’t have any food on the table. Now, we didn’t quite make an actual second pass, because by the time we hit the bend in the L-shaped layout of the venue, we gave up and I decided that we’d better hit La Carnita’s table sooner than later.
Tons of flavours, both sweet and savoury, were on offer from Popover Girl and one of the first things we snagged while passing by and the line-up was only 2-people deep. In the end, we settled on the onion popover with guacamole filling. Smelled really great. The popover was moist; the filling was tasty – fun to have tried. Reminded me of cream puffs, especially when they filled them with a squeeze bottle. Armed with this first item, I made my sister go and stand in the line for La Carnita while I ran off to take more shots and snag a couple more items while the lines were short enough.
I wasn’t sure about the fried bacon & egg dumplings from Les Amis d’Oeuf at first – $5 for two was pricey, I thought – but the line was non-existent when I passed by and they looked interesting enough. I added two to start my pile of food.
The Scotch egg from Hackney Fine Foods. Super-cute hat sported by the lady manning the tables.
Another random pick due to a not-long line up; the Adventurefood table and their Frikandeller sandwich.
And with that, I made my rendez-vous with my sister in the La Carnita line at the very end of the venue. Here, we opted to get one of each taco on offer. The Mexican chorizo taco with lime crema, Ontario peach salsa, pickled onions, and red cabbage sprout is on the left. On the right, taco de lengua; crunchy beef tongue, avocado crema, radish, Ontario grapes, Rossy’s diablo de fuego, green onion, and cilantro pesto.
There were a bunch of tables running down two of the dead-end kiln aisles that gave us the opportunity to unburden our plate-laden arms. With plenty of turn-over, we never had to wait for a seat, though we did share tables. With a slight pause, we dug in.
It wasn’t until I bit into one of the bacon & egg dumplings with its still-liquid yolk that I had no issue with the price. These were interesting and tasty. I would have gotten another one, but I was trying to conserve stomach space. Too quickly did it disappear down the hatch. Next up was the Scotch egg. I discovered that they aren’t my thing. The meat was cold and dense and the egg was – well, hard-boiled (Scotch egg, I know!). I probably should have squirted it with one of the sauces on offer or something. Moved on to the frikandeller sandwich. The Danish pork meatball within was very flavourful and tasty. Topped with duck-fat braised red cabbage, remoulade, crispy onions, and homemade pickles. All the parts were almost better than the sum. And finally – the tacos from La Carnita. I favoured the taco de lengua over the Mexican chorizo – the flavours worked better for me. I was also sad there were no Voltron fish tacos. My sister was unimpressed.
Our initial lot finished, we moved on.
The big winner of the night for me was Big Smoke Coffee‘s pork belly sandwich. Really flavourful meat and great toppings. Was quite fond of the pickled onions. My sister enjoyed the pineapple and jalapeno relish. Also a great deal at $3. Was trying to avoid eating more bread at this point, but I really needed some to balance the delicious, but fatty, pork.
While waiting for the sandwiches, my sister went and took a look around and came back with the lavender peach dessert from Chef Guy Rawlings‘ table. We enjoyed it so much that my sis ended up buying a jar of lavender peaches from him. I really regret not getting the rillette and sauerkraut thing. Chef Hopgood was there too and caught me shooting.
In our search for the next plate, we ran into Bonita and we thankfully added another stomach to the mix.
The Black and Tan sandwich (blood pudding, mixed mushrooms, sage butter) and the very last order of Fish ‘n’ Chips from The Beech Tree. Thought the blood pudding was decent. The texture and taste reminded me of the Korean sundae at Cho Sun Ok.
Desserts from The Lunch Room. Brown butter almond financiers with blue agave orange glaze and Maldon sea salt. And a goat-cheese clafouti with black mission figs, toasted walnuts, and thyme honey. The financiers were decent, but the clafouti didn’t work at all, as it was really too hard and cold.
The last thing I had on the way out: the smoked salmon ice cream sandwich by Albert Tan. I love trying crazy things like this – it’s a total gamble. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised at how the flavours actually worked. Though a bit too sweet as an appetizer, the smoked salmon flavour was pretty light, and there were nice hits of salt against the sweetness of the ice cream. Definitely glad I tried this one.
Coming up to 9pm, we decided we were done. By then, the crowds had thinned out from earlier (see photo), though lines were still long here and there. But at least it wasn’t a wall-to-wall swath of bodies anymore. In the parking lot, we said our good-byes to Bonita and slowly made our way to the car.
My sister had snagged some of Katrina‘s macarons earlier and pulled it out her purse, only to discover that some of them had been crushed over the course of the evening. Of course, we had to eat them. After snarfing down three (salted caramel, lemon, and maple walnut), we decided that we should go back in and get some more. They were out of two flavours (salted caramel was one – sob) and I cleaned them out of the lemon. The meringue was airy and crisp, the fillings were quite good as well. We were happy to buy a dozen more between the two of us.
Given the amount of sugar coursing through my system, I needed some coffee to counterbalance it all. Went all the way down the hall and opted for a coffee from Brazil (good!) from the Big Smoke Coffee kids. The guy serving my coffee gave me a fist-punch for taking it black.
The Tita Flips table had samples of their spring rolls (crispy!) and garlic roasted peanuts. I opted to get the ukoy (shrimp fritters) and though greasy, thought it was tasty, but could use more shrimp. My sister bought a small tub of the peanuts, as it reminded her of the peanuts we would get as a snack at restaurants in Malaysia. I think my parents will like them.
We passed by Wheelie Sweet‘s table and I spied a salted caramel square. Couldn’t resist. I had an initial “meh” reaction, but after finishing a couple bites, I changed to “decent.” The base was quite good and the square was a pretty light bite – important when you’ve crammed yourself full of food already.
And though there was more food to be had, but I was done – for real this time. Overall, I wish the focus was less on eating a meal per vendor and more on tasting. It seemed like vendors were worried about people being “full” and provided bread-based sandwiches galore. I could have done with smaller portions for less money. I had also imagined more vendors selling things to take home. Though there were quite a few who did this, it felt like only 50% where I had thought it would be closer to the majority. Props to the organizers and volunteers for a job well-done. It was good fun to see what people were dreaming up and putting on our plates.
1200 tickets were on offer for this inaugural TUM event and it sold-out quickly, so be on-point for the next TUM on October 22nd (again, at the Brickworks). Tickets for the next go on sale on this Monday (September 26th).