made with love

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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That's B for Badass Mom

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Stories of badass women who chase their dreams and build their lives through grit, perseverance and iron-clad will, will forever inspire me. I didn’t know that when I posted my last blog post about my own mom, I would have another opportunity to write about someone else's mom. I have been lucky enough to meet a friend's mom who has a food story worth telling.

On Facebook, my friend was reaching out to food bloggers in Toronto to cover her mom’s new spot. She told me that her mom just took over a restaurant called The Fresh Italian Eatery. She promised me scrumptious eats and delicious conversation. An offer that I could not refuse. It’s winter in Toronto and the only thing worth eating right now is carbs, amirite? Normally, a restaurant opening of any kind wouldn’t elicit from me any response other than “oh, cool!” But this time was different. Ms. Kim is a Korean woman who decided to create Italian food in downtown Toronto. Whoa. I was undeniably intrigued. I was certain there had to be an interesting backstory to this cultural mashup. This wasn’t going to be a story of some white dude who decided to open a taco joint because he really likes tacos and stayed in a resort in Mexico *that one time*. I was stoked to find out about how Ms. Kim came to be an owner of The Fresh Italian Eatery.

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When I arrived at The Village by the Grange, Ms. Kim’s smile literally beamed. Some welcome warmth from the blustery winter cold. If you know nothing about The Village by The Grange - know that it’s a great food hub. It’s located close to U of T, 52 Division, OCAD and the Art Gallery of Ontario. If you’re in the neighbourhood, you certainly should make a point of popping in. You can find all kinds of delectable goods in this little complex with a random mix-up of fare. If you don’t believe me, check out this blog post from BlogTo - Village by the Grange is Toronto’s Most Underrated Food Court (Note - that some of the tenants have changed since this was posted in 2016).

Ms. Kim and I didn’t do a whole lot of conversing. But, it is overwhelmingly evident that Ms. Kim is warm, generous, and kind-hearted. I would also eventually discover she can make a meeeeaaaan lasagna. Ms. Kim decided to purchase The Fresh Italian Eatery after a terrible fiasco with her former sublessor to whom she diligently paid rent, but who readily took her money and had failed to pay the landlord, for two whole years. The small space that she was subletting was in arrears and she lost her business, as she had no rights as a sublessee. This was an unimaginable position to be in. She was responsible, hardworking, and had always paid her rent on time. She had done everything right. But, an unscrupulous asshole pocketed her hard-earned cash, leading to the demise of her little business. When shit hits the fan what do you do? You can cry and wallow for a little while. You are definitely allowed to feel all of your shitty feelings. But, eventually, you have to pick yourself up and figure it out. 

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In 2012, The Fresh Italian Eatery was opened by Marco. He prepared his nonna’s recipes including fresh and well made pastas, beautiful eggplant parmesan sandwiches and homemade chicken noodle soup. However, in just a few years after opening, he had a change of heart and decided to sell his business. And, this is where Ms. Kim came upon her next business venture after her devastating loss. This time, however, she had an opportunity to own her very own business where she had autonomy and control.

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As mentioned earlier, Ms. Kim is Korean, born and raised. She had literally zero reference point for the flavour of marinara sauce, ravioli and eggplant parmesan sandwiches, far less how to prepare these carbolicious delights. But, she learned how to create these Italian recipes from Marco via his nonna, and perfected them with the help of her friends and family who happily taste tested and provided feedback along the way. Wonderfully fresh sauces full of juicy ripe tomato flavour, pastas cooked al dente, and, a mouth-watering lasagna that I bought two containers of, to share with my partner and friend. It was saucy, cheesy and beefy. Each bite was delicious. If you find your way lingering around Dundas and McCaul - I highly recommend visiting Fresh Italian Eatery. Or, eating your way around The Grange. This is mall food I can get behind.

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