where to eat

Dem Doubles Do’ - Danforth Roti Shop

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I have been on a quest. An epic search, if you will, for doubles that make me weak in the knees and are even remotely as good as my mom’s. I have traipsed all around Toronto. I went from South to North, West to East in search of doubles that were swoon-worthy. I even recruited people to go with me on my food-eating adventures. When I finally found doubles that I felt were worthy, the moment was triumphant. Eating these doubles was an experience that left me breathless and thinking about that interaction long afterwards - like the most delicious first kiss.

Doubles are deceptively simple looking. This snack food from Trinidad is ubiquitous and is made up of two distinct components: 1) two palm-sized discs of dough, fried until just kissed by golden colour, called bara; 2) curried chickpeas that act as the filling for the “sandwich.” What really takes doubles over the top is a 3rd component and an absolute necessity - sauce(s). More on this later. It’s important to note, that not all doubles are made equal. But the doubles from Danforth Roti shop are the fucking mic drop.

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Omatee, chef and owner of Danforth Roti Shop, knooowwwsss doubles. She is warm, friendly and we easily chat the entire time I’m watching her make doubles. We talk about Trinidad, the importance of food in our lives and share stories about our families. She opened up Danforth Roti Shop 14 years ago after working as a cook in a few other Caribbean restaurants. Prompted by friends, family and customers, along with the support of her husband Tony, she opened her own spot as a way to feed people the kind of homemade Trinidadian food that she believed wasn’t being offered anywhere else. She was absolutely right.

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The bara dough that she makes is yeast based, making the dough pliable, soft and feather light. Omatee divides the butter-hued dough roughly into kiwi sized balls. She presses them out into impossibly thin rounds without tearing a. single. fucking. one. You could actually read the fine print of a legal document right through the dough, if you were so inclined. With deftness and precision she works the dough as someone who has done this thousands of times over. Each bread, fried individually, spends less than ten seconds in hot oil before being speedily whisked out to drain. If you let the dough cook too long and they become dry and hard - better for ultimate frisbee than for eating.

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While Omatee is frying dough, there’s a massive pot on the stove full of dried chickpeas that have been soaked overnight and are now bubbling vigorously. Foam has risen to the top which will be skimmed off before being flavoured with celery, curry, parsley, cumin and green seasoning - a Trinidadian staple used as a marinade, sauce or dressing. Green seasoning is made by blending water, sharp vinegar, fresh green onions, pungent garlic, bright shado beni (culantro) and/or parsley, salt and pepper. These chickpeas will become the filling for the doubles that I will have the pleasure of eating again later.

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Sauces on offer usually include sweet and tangy tamarind, hot and stinging pepper sauce, and sharp and herbaceous green seasoning that add to the flavour and complexity of doubles. Sometimes, you’ll find freshly grated cucumber, or kuchela (another Trinidadian condiment made of shredded green mango cooked with amchar masala, garlic and hot pepper) which provides additional oomph. Each cook has his/her/their own combination of sauces and condiments that make their version distinctive.

At Danforth Roti ask for a combination of their three sauces - tamarind, pepper sauce and green seasoning. The sauces make these doubles a religious experience. But, I recommend caution with the hot sauce. I accidentally ate a spoonful of it and regretted it as it burned in my chest for a full hour afterwards. If you were ordering these in Trinidad - you would order “doubles with slight peppa’”.

You really need to eat these doubles. They are anything but ordinary. When you first bite into these doubles, the dough greets you with softness, a gentle and slightly stubborn stretch, and a barely-there sweetness that’s reminiscent of challah. The chickpea filling is delicate in curry flavour and doesn’t overpower the bread. There’s precise balance between the filling and the bread. The texture of the chickpeas is creamy, thick and suede soft - retaining its integrity as you eat it. Each sauce adds flavour, heat and freshness, in exacting proportion. In about six bites, the whole experience is sadly over and right now, I’m thinking about eating another one.

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Rice is Bae

kimchi fried rice with fried egg

An obvious truth - water is wet. Obvious truth number two - I fucking love rice. I have a few favorite go-tos after a night of partying. There are the usual and expected standbys, such as pizza, poutine and street meat. However, there is one that reigns supreme - Chinese food. I, like so many others, have undoubtedly tripped, swayed and staggered my way into an all night Chinese eatery post-party. They are safe havens after a night of debauchery. No matter what time or, how booze infused I am, a Chinese restaurant is open to serve me (and every other drunkard) piles of steaming, cornstarch varnished, soul-satisfying delectables. Rice is a cotton ball for your liquor-filled gut. It has the ability to save you from a desperate and shameful night of toilet bowl clutching, projectile vomit exorcism. Or, not.

But, as a lifelong rice eater, I would like to present fact number three, not all rice is created equal. I hate garbage white rice. Even worse, that shit that comes in a box with the bald guy on it. Dafuq?! That’s not rice. THAT’S NOT RICE. Rice, growing up in my household, came in giant bags that took two people to load onto the bottom of the cart at Knob Hill Farms. Then you filled the two black boxes on that top of your cart with all the meats, veggies and legumes that were inevitably be served atop all that rice.

Rice can save lives. Rice is goddamn delicious in all of its iterations. Rice is often among my first thoughts when contemplating what I want to eat. It is my soul food, my comfort food. Some people desire mac and cheese, fried chicken or burgers. Not me. Nuh uh. Those food items do not speak to me the way rice does. So, when I need carb loading/loving rice, there are some places in Toronto that are truly exceptional and where rice is the show.

In no particular order some of my favourite rice in the city:

Jackpot Chicken - Schmaltzy Rice
http://www.jackpotchickenrice.com
318 Spadina Avenue (Spadina Ave/Dundas St W)
416-792-8628

The first time I ate the rice at Jackpot chicken I stopped talking, sat in silence and marvelled at the rice. I think I repeated *at least* a dozen times while I was eating, how good the rice was. I was rice-notized. So. Damn. Good. What makes this rice delicious, no doubt, is the schmaltz and the fragrant pandan leaves. It is damn fine rice. The schmaltz adds body and rich savoury flavour which pairs perfectly poached haianese-style chicken.  Thank you Jackpot for your contribution to my #ricelife.

Baro - OG Duck Chaufa
http://barotoronto.com
485 King St W (King St W/Spadina Ave)
416-363-8388

I thought I KNEW the best fried rice until I ate THIS fried rice. This fried rice changed everything. I sat eating this fried rice simultaneously wanting to eat ALL of it in one sitting, but also wanting to hoard it for future me for fried rice snacks. I couldn’t get enough of this rice. I would honestly go to Baro just to just eat this rice. This fried rice is a concoction of duck confit, edamame, egg, some kind of voodoo magic called papi kung fu, chili and tobiko. It’s savoury, slightly sweet, chewy, umami and the rice is cooked perfectly. The tobiko lends textural contrast with little *pops* as you chew. Duck confit in fried rice, genius. Fucking genius.

Miss Korea - Rice Cakes
https://www.facebook.com/MISSKOREATORONTO/
687 Yonge Street (Yonge St/Charles St E)
Toronto, Ontario, ON M4Y 2B2

Thick, chewy rice cakes in a luscious, spicy gochujang sauce. The spice level is perfect - enough heat to prickle your tongue and make your nose run. The humble rice cakes are filling and absorbent. If you have not sunk your teeth into these fiery, fat, chewy pillows, you must. Chewy rice cakes + spicy chili + beer = emoji heart eyes X 1000. They are the most perfect drinking food.

Kiin - Rice Salad
http://www.kiintoronto.com
326 Adelaide St W (Adelaide St W/E Peter St Adelaide)
(647) 490-5040

If you have not eaten here yet, you really should. The food is not just good, it’s stunningly gorgeous and incredibly satisfying. Every morsel is a dazzling work of art. Chef Nuit brings exceptional talent and beauty to her creations. The Rice Salad here is an exquisite and colourful composition of all vegan ingredients, including fragrant lemongrass, punchy pomelo, lingering heat from chillies and textual contrast from peanuts, toasted coconut and cucumber. You need to eat this shit, pronto.

Congee Queen - Corn and Taro Congee
http://www.congeequeen.com
Various locations around the GTA

When I need some extra deep lovin’, I head to Congee Queen. It is thick, rich and satisfying bowls of warmth. As an avid rice lover, this form of porridge-y rice is perhaps, not for everyone. But then, perhaps, you are not for me. If you can’t get on board with a rice soup that is creamy, gorgeously flavoured with ginger, sesame and scallions and perhaps, a heap of chilli oil, then you got #problems. They delicate flavours of this soup makes it a favorite for me when I’m sick or when it’s cold, or when I just need some extra TLC. I often find myself drawn to the veggie options, especially the Taro and Corn version. It is thick, white, warm liquid that just glides down your throat… I’ll leave that riiiiight there.