Groceries for next to nothing
Anyone new to living downtown soon discovers that supermarkets are few and far between. Not to worry. The only time to shop at a box store like Dominion (425 Bloor West, at Spadina, 416-923-9099, and others) or Loblaws (650 Dupont , at Christie, 416-588-4881, and others) is when student staples like 900-gram bags of spaghetti, cans of tomato sauce or tuna are on sale for 69 cents. These loss leaders only happen every couple of months, so stock up. Then you'll always have the ingredients on hand for Pasta Tuna Putanesca. Otherwise, check out smaller grocers like Parkdale's Fullworth (1371 Queen West, at Dunn, 416-533-5880), where the entire Mr. Goudas line of Caribbean essentials - beans, jerk sauces, tinned tomatoes - sells for the lowest prices in town.
Around the corner, the subterranean space known to customers as the dented can store, Usher's Surplus Foods (1266 Queen West, at Noble, 416-535-7243), offers just that and more. Deeply discounted 102-ounce (!) cans of green Tex-Mex tomatillos go for $3.99, while generic 28-ounce tins of Fire Alarm Table Sauce are only $1.59.
The queen of dollar stores, Dollarama (730 Yonge, at Charles, 416-924-1064) is a great spot for inexpensive housewares like Teflon spatulas, good serrated knives and dish towels. Everything in the store costs a buck, including discontinued squeeze bottles of Heinz's ill-fated purple ketchup. Confirmed snackers will want to check out the Peek Frean Cookie Outlet (5 Bermondsey, at O'Connor, 416-751-7120), the factory store just a few minutes up the DVP that sells essential munchies like Crispers and Cheeze-its in massive bulk bags for $3. Lots of cookies, too.
Chinatown and Kensington tips
It's easy to get overwhelmed by the chaos of Chinatown and Kensington Market. But once you learn the key spots, grocery shopping becomes a pleasure - and the prices are the best in town. On weekends, the large Asian grocery stores near Dundas and Spadina - New Asia (293 Spadina, at Dundas West, 416-591-9314), Tai Kong (310 Spadina, at Dundas West, 416-581-0129), Sinnon (70 Huron, at Dundas West, 416-596-8996) - and east-side Fu Yao (643 Gerrard East, at Broadview, 416-778-1920) are near anarchic, full of regulars who don't mind waiting in line for what seems like hours to buy chicken legs for 79 cents a pound.
Any other time, find oriental essentials like rice-stick vermicelli (79 cents), vegetarian oyster sauce ($2.59) and Srirachi hot sauce ($3.69) to assemble the simplest of student stir-fries. Two-pound bags of carrots and onions are 99 cents, too.
Just up the street from the vintage clothing boutiques, tofu factory Fong On (46 Kensington, at St. Andrew, 416-598-7828) sells large 12-block tubs of super-fresh bean curd for only $1.99, a third the price of supermarket tofu. Tex-Mex aficionados know House of Spice (190 Augusta, at Baldwin, 416-593-9724) as Toronto's best supplier of way-south-of-the-border supplies like frozen packs of 7-inch corn tortillas ($1.99 for 50) and 10-inch burrito-friendly flour versions ($2.99 for 10). Spice-tacular Mado's hot sauce, too ($5.49).
Casa Acoreana (235 Augusta, at Baldwin, 416-593-9717) has become Kensington's hub now that Louie's, the caffeine café that wraps itself around the bulk food store, opened a while back. Inside, check out Casa's new movie memorabilia decor while shopping in bulk - or in small - for vegetarian necessities like lentils, TVP and brown rice.
Both Tutti Frutti (64 Kensington, at St. Andrew, 416-593-9281) and Essence of Life (50 Kensington, at St. Andrew, 416-506-0345) offer bulk deals on organics and nutrient-high seaweed products.
Cheese Magic (182 Baldwin, at Kensington, 416-593-9531) isn't really any cheaper than most other fromageries, but when you ask for a half-pound of hand-cut cheddar, the friendly staff give you exactly that, unlike the Brie bandits around the corner on Kensington. The Magic folks also own My Market Bakery (172 Baldwin, at Augusta, 416-593-6772), a great spot for picking up bagels and whole wheat bread from the day-old $1 bin.
Always fresh, 9-inch pitas, both plain and whole wheat, go for rock bottom prices (85-90 cents) at Middle Eastern grocer Alvand (214 Augusta, at Baldwin, 416-597-2252). Further west, Portuguese butcher Nosso Talho (1326 Dundas West, at Rusholme, 416-533-0101, and 1048 Bloor West, at Gladstone, 416-531-7462) offers bargains on carnivore must-haves like ground beef, chicken legs and hot dogs.
Now that the cupboard's full, head for Tap Phong (360 Spadina, at Baldwin, 416-977-6364) for Toronto's best deals on woks, cast-iron skillets and inexpensive knives and cleavers.
About the only thing that tried-and-true foodies and level-headed nutritionists agree on is that the best food - veggies, baked goods, organics - gets grown in our own back yards. Here's where to get the freshest produce in town from local suppliers without the grocery store markup.
Dufferin Grove Park Farmers Market 875 Dufferin, south of Bloor, 416-392-0913
Thursday 3:30 to 7 pm year round
Organic Farmers Market 238 Queen West, at John, 416-703-4975
Saturday 8 am to 4 pm year round
City Hall Farmers Market Nathan Phillips Square, 100 Queen West, at Bay, 416-395-7378
Wednesday 10 am to 2:30 pm until October 8
Parkdale/Liberty Community Farmers Market In front of the library at 1303 Queen West, at Cowan, 416-516-8301
Saturday 9 am to 1 pm until October 11
Riverdale Farmers Market Riverdale Farm, at the east end of Carlton, 416-961-8787
Tuesday 3:30 to 7:30 pm until October 21
Organic Farmers Market Bambu, 245 Queens Quay West, at Robertson Cres, 416-214-6000
Saturday 8 am to 3 pm until October 25