After plenty of revisions and nitpicking by city officials, Toronto’s a la Cart project was finally realized this summer when eight ethnic food stands parked their wheels for business. So far, it’s been a slow and steady pilot project dedicated to feeding foodies with traditional and healthy meals at incredibly reasonable prices. With the weather finally seasonal and our diverse palate ready for a challenge, we took to the streets to taste test four new stands and find our fave new food cart (if it even existed).
Stop 1: Central Asian/Persian
Located in Nathan Philips Square, this stand features signature Central Asian/Persian dishes. You can get a heaping amount of either chicken or vegetable biryani for 5$ or a kabob wrap for just $3. The chicken dish isn’t too spicy and comes with a hefty serving of chicken mixed with steamed whole-grain rice. The cart also offers salsa karahi, served in a pita or chapati or with a side of rice for 5$. Set among the usual hot dog and ice cream stands on the Queen Street side, this location is looking to distinguish itself as a healthy food alternative to its neighbours.
Stop 2: Central Asian/Afghani
Next was the Afghani cart, located right in the middle of the Metro Hall action. The chapli kebab, a delicious mix of minced beef, pickles, lettuce, and tomato, all wrapped securely in pita bread, is the perfect lunchtime treat. At 5$, drink included, this kebab is excellent and even better served with hot sauce. The wrap itself is nearly a foot long, but we easily ate the whole thing and had room left for a beef samosa, which sells for 2$ and comes with a choice of tamarind or chutney dip. Two stops in and it looks like we’ve found a winner.
Stop 3: Thai
We took a trek up to Toronto’s northernmost a la Cart foodstand, the Thai cart, which offers a wide selection of dishes as well as daily specials. Overwhelmed by the variety of choices, we went for the chicken pad thai with mango salad, a two-dish combo for 5$. You can also add another dish for a 7$ meal. The pad thai is great, but it could have used more chicken. All of the meals come enclosed in a Veriseal reusable container, which makes it ideal for taking back to your desk or to the park. (Tip: If you bring the container back once you’re done, the owner, Nancy Senawong, will give you a free spring roll!)
Stop 4: Carib Fusion
Our last stop was near Yonge and St. Clair, at the food cart belonging to Bridgette Pinder, a Guyanese woman selling Caribbean-style cooking. Bridgette calls her cuisine a mix of her own Chinese, Indian, and African heritage. We opted to go with her Jerk Chicken wrap, which for 5$ was huge and could easily feed two people. Bridgette’s expert touch safely sealed what appeared to be an entire chicken into the wrap, along with a generous helping of vegetables and a lot of hot sauce (anything’s fair game after surviving the Afghani hot sauce). Wash yours down with some Tamarind juice – you won’t be disappointed.
We’re still on the prowl for the additional carts – although three have placed a temporary halt to operations due to location issues. While the Afghani cart exceeded all expectations, as with any experiment, there are some overall areas for improvement for a la Cart (for one thing, the branded uniforms that the cart operators are forced to wear seem to take away from the whole idea of infusing ethnicity and authenticity into Toronto’s streets). All in all, Toronto’s a la cart pilot project is steering in the right direction. Consider taking a stroll to one of the carts and see for yourself – it will only cost you a few bucks and a new experience in street eating.
Have you tried any of the new Toronto food carts? Which one is your fave?