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MARKET 707 @ SCADDING COURT (707 Dundas West, at Bathurst, 416-392-0335, scaddingcourt.org/market_707) Open Saturday (September 29) noon to 3 am, otherwise Tuesday to Saturday 11 am to 7 pm. Closed Sunday, Monday, holidays. No reservations. Unlicensed. Cash only. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNNN
For a burg that's one of the most progressive on the planet, we sure get some things wrong. Look no further than the antiquated blue laws that keep food trucks off our pristine streets.
So it's a wonder that Market 707 even exists. Shouldn't a row of shipping containers converted into hawker-style cafés be illegal in Toronto the graffiti-free Good? Apparently not. The city's behind the initiative. See for yourself Saturday night, when the street food market rocks Nuit Blanche till 3 am.
"Have you ever had Filipino food before?" asks Donia Joyce of Kanto (416-893-0737).
"Why, yes we have," we reply, recalling the sour plate of unidentified pig parts topped with fried Spam we sampled at a long-gone Cabbagetown boîte years ago, a shotgun marriage of Malaysian cuisine and American imperialism simmered in a sauce of Catholic guilt.
That's nothing like what's at Kanto. Lemony palabok noodles tossed with shrimp, hard-boiled egg and crushed chicarrón ($5) could be the pad thai of the western Pacific, while crispy lechon kawali pork sided with pickled mango slaw ($6) wouldn't be out of place on some multiculti taco. Hardcore foodies will opt for the hot 'n' sour pork blood pudding (dinuguan, $6) - it's offal! - and soft-boiled duck eggs complete with crunchy 14-day-old embryo (balut, $2). An aphrodisiac, we're told.
"To be honest, I put them on the menu as a joke," says Joyce. "I didn't think anyone would order them. But people line up for them!"
There's always a queue at Dali Chehimi's Casbah (416-258-4195) for the ex-Sarkis and Sassafras maître d's camel burger ($10). Think chewy venison in the Tunisian style. Better yet, go for spicy merguez sausage on a crusty baguette dressed with caramelized onion and spicy harissa mayo ($7), and tangy chicken tagine with preserved lemon over couscous ($8). Fried brik phyllo dough with tuna and egg ($6), too.
As the sign out front of former Izakaya Ju chef Shinji Yamaguchi's stall explains, "I don't give sushi, I give Gushi (416-525-7351)." For the uninitiated, that's kushikatsu, deep-fried kebab-like skewers of delicious minced pork or shrimp ($2/$5 for three), panko-coated okra or eggplant ($1) and ripe mango or campfire marshmallow ($1.50). Buy 10 and the next one's free. So's a bottle of Ramune soda pop if you manage to drink it in less than 12 seconds.
You won't find waffles at Marc Perreault's House of Jaffle (647-478-9599), but you will see crepes - lots of them - our favourite his homage to Montreal stuffed with boneless chicken breast, sweet mango chutney and creamy Brie ($7). A few doors down, Brendan Cathcart's Snap Pea (647-638-9700) keeps it health-conscious with earnest bowls of nutritious brown rice topped with the eco-minded likes of grilled tofu and kimchi ($6) washed down with coconut-almond milk laced with dates ($3).
La Pupusa's (416-831-4309) Teri Edmondson has a secret weapon up her sleeve - her mother, Flora Aguilar, who used to cook at Tacos El Salvador on Bloor West. Her handmade pupusas come stuffed with mashed beans and either chicarrón or queso ($2.75 each), while the scoop-shaped tortilla chips that accompany her terrifically textured guacamole ($4.50) could make her a millionaire. Do they have a special name?
Smashed plantain tostados are the key players at Alan and Maria Jose Portillo's Ceviche 707 (647-627-8302), either as a side to their exceptional vegan ceviche thick with mushrooms and jicama or generously piled Colombian-style with pulled pork and guacamole (both $6).
Caribbean cooking rarely gets done with as much finesse as it does at Howard and Marie Bissoon's T&T Roti (647-707-5409). Their Trinidadian goat roti ($9) arrives replete with bones and all that marvellous marrow, while their Vegetarian Meal ($7) - sweetly fried plantain, curried chickpeas with sliced (!) potato and green pepper, al dente kidney beans 'n' rice and a purple cabbage slaw garnished with watercress ($7) - benefits greatly from a healthy shot of Howard's curried Granny Smith apple chutney. A last glass of sea moss ($5) - another so-called love potion, this one made from powdered algae - should keep us fertile till February.
"Everything we cook is made with love," says Marie.