Where there are tiny takeout joints nestled within a strip mall or convenience stores that sell the essentials and then some, there is good food to be had, says longtime Toronto food writer Suresh Doss.
Between over a decade of food writing and regular food tours in the Greater Toronto Area, Doss knows the ins and outs of good eats in the 'burbs and beyond.
- Watch for video of his jaunts across the city on CBC Toronto's Facebook page
This week, Doss debuts a weekly segment on CBC Radio's Metro Morning. Every Thursday, he will introduce a restaurant, takeout counter or convenience store with great food and a backstory to dish up.
"We're talking about places that are not your 'typical' restaurants," Doss said. "They offer food that reminds people of life back home. They're often times the best places to get good food."
Get to know Doss, your new food guide.
Food idol: his mom
As a kid, I was constantly surrounded by cooks — aunties, mothers and grandmothers. They were very confident home cooks who taught me about the convivial nature of cooking: multiple people in the same space, sharing stories, laughing and creating something together.
They were my babysitters, so I became very comfortable being around the process. My desire to learn about food and cooking blossomed from those years of being near the kitchen. But really everything comes from my mom.
When we moved to Canada, her dedication to recipe preservation allowed us a culinary conduit to what we missed from leaving Sri Lanka. She's the best cook in the family, a real "taste memory" creator and a source of inspiration. She's also a curious tourist and is constantly finding food gems spread across the city, whether it's a convenience store for a specific imported vegetable or the one shop where she buys chutneys.
Earliest food memory
Definitely South Indian-style dosas. Going back to those moments in the kitchen — where you would have different people working on different dishes at the same time — I remember how dosas were prepared. The rice and lentils would be ground using a very large aatu kallu (mortar and pestle.) I remember it was mesmerizing to watch. Then the batter would rest for a bit, and get scooped onto a hot cast iron tawa (flat frying pan) and cooked like a crepe. That fermenty, sponge-y texture of the dosa, along with the myriad of sauces ... is probably my earliest food memory.
What he wants to see more of in Toronto's food scene
There is a clear distinction in the style of restaurants you see downtown — stylish, trendy, new-fangled — versus the style of restaurants you see out of the city — speaking to a regional cuisine from a specific time and place, mom-and-pop owned. I'd love to see more regional international cuisine in the downtown core and more media attention to the restaurants outside of the downtown core.
Quintessential Toronto food?
To me, it has always been a mash of different cultures and food. People argue that there isn't such a thing as Canadian cuisine, and that's because the story has always been about immigration and the idea of a mosaic; an assemblage of influences and ingredients from different places.
My mother's crab curry. It is a dish that instantly transports me to the Western coast of Sri Lanka. It is a fairly laborious dish that involves the toasting and grinding of a spice mix to create a masala, and cooking whole crabs with tomato, onions, moringa leaves and coconut milk. She serves it with a mound of plain white rice, whole crabs and the curry poured over it. It is not easy to eat. You sit there picking at the small claws, but the meat and curry when mixed with the rice hits you with a blast of spices complemented by the sweetness from the crab meat.
Suresh Doss's weekly food segment premieres on Metro Morning Thursday. Watch for video of his jaunts across the city on CBC Toronto's Facebook page.
Do you know a GTA restaurant that Doss should visit? Tweet us @metromorning or send us a message on Facebook. And if you try any of the places he features, we want to see photos!