Waves were made in the city of Toronto when it was finally announced that there would be some relaxation of the strict by-laws that have plagued gourmet food trucks for years. One of the olive branches has been Tasty Thursdays, an initiative “produced” by the city of Toronto. Every Thursday in July and August, Nathan Phillips square comes alive with a variety of tents and food trucks offering an array of snack foods, all for under $7.
By the looks of it, it has been quite successful. There were long lines at each vendor while the regular food trucks and stands lining Queen Street sat there sulking with arms crossed and no lines despite promising the best hot dog in town. It seems street meat falls by the wayside when hungry diners can choose from Indian, Caribbean, Greek, Indonesian. Thai, Malaysia, Mediterranean, fresh salads, Canadian and food truck favourite the Food Dudes. The vendors will switch up in August but promise an equally diverse smorgasbord. As mentioned, the lines were long, especially at the trucks. so I strategically maneuvered around the crowds to find something I wanted while still being able to avoid rush hour two hours later. In the end, I opted for a visit to Hot Bunzz (international with Canadian focus) and Babi and Co. (Indonesian).
The concept is simple; take freshly cooked buns and stuff them with something fun. While in line, I had “food truck fear”,meaning as time goes on and you are paralyzed in line, there is the increased risk of diminishing options. My fear was somewhat realized when the black tape came out and the elk bun was scratched from the menu like a race horse with a last minute injury. That said, when I reached the front of the line I still had three choices.
I opted for the bison short rib and the Wisconsin three cheese with spinach and mushroom. The buns have great eye appeal and were crispy on the outside and soft on the middle, the perfect house for the filling in that it didn’t succumb to possible sogginess. The short rib had a strong coriander flavour and was a tad oversalted but the meat was tender and ample. The spinach was lost in the mushroom and cheese but the filling worked as a whole. In the end, these are a bit more than a snack and bit less than a meal but really nicely priced at 2/$6.
Babi and Co.
This pop-up offers snack food with an Indonesian spin. On this day, it was Mami’s Sate Babi and Babi on a bun. Normally six bucks each, there was a 2 for $10 special. The sate was safe…well marinated strip of pork synonymous with what you would find in most izakaya bars in Toronto. The Babi was well constructed with nicely seasoned pork belly, a crispy yet light bun, sambal mayo for a little kick and pickled cucumber to round it out. Once again, it was safe but struck all the elements of a well-balanced snack. From a value perspective, I think, even with the multibuy discount, the price sits on the upper cusp of acceptable especially when compared to Hot Bunzz.
On another note, the vendors at both tents were very pleasant and the passion was relayed in their food. It was a pleasure to watch the meticulous yet jubilant execution of each snack despite the tight confines of the makeshift shelter.
In a city that prides itself on diversity, the presence of a variety of ethnic street food is noticeably absent. Tasty Thursdays seems to be an effort to address this discrepancy. At the same time, it recognizes the long term battle food trucks have had with the Toronto politicians over selling their wares on city property; a battle which will have some resolution starting August 1st when trucks will be allowed in 5 parks across Toronto. I still chuckle over the fact that this event is produced by the city of Toronto, making it sound like it’s some sort of self-promoting documentary starring the fine folks in city hall who sit on their collective asses stalling on decisions which promote free enterprise (hell, it will even keep food inspectors busy). In a way, maybe it is like a film, with the ultimate intention being an increased awareness of small business and the cornucopia of food they have to offer beyond hot dogs, burgers and big gulps. If anything, when Torontonians hear the term “Hot Bunzz”, they may recognize it as something other than a name Rob Ford may have used to describe Sarah Thomson during a drunken stupor at any given city event.