8 hounds met on a sunny Saturday to explore a few of the many ethnic bakeries that Toronto has to offer. With so many to choose from, we had to narrow it down to a feasible number so we wouldn’t end up in a sugar or carb overload. So we deliberately chose a few spots that had savoury items in addition to sweet. We specifically excluded French pastry shops, as those could be a full tour by themselves. Below is a summary of where we went and what we had. I hope the other attending hounds chime in with opinions, corrections and photos.
1. Columbus Bakery (Columbian)
Our first stop and we were all very hungry. So perhaps we over ordered just a bit…
- carimanolas (fried yucca fritters stuffed with minced beef)
- empanadas (Columbian style -- small and fried, with a corn meal pastry)
- chicharrons (fried pork belly, what's not to love?)
- tamales (filled with big chunks of beef and an entire chicken leg, bone and all) served with an arepa, which we found rather odd (corn on corn), but which kinda worked.
- sweet egg bread with a swirl of arequipe (Columbian dulce de leche)
- giant alfajores
- tamarind filled puff pastry
I’m sure I’m missing an item or two. Pretty much everything here was “yum”. If you go, you must ask for hot sauce, as it’s really tasty and definitely enhances the savoury items. The highlights for me were the carimanolas and the tamales.
2. Doce Minho (Portuguese)
So much to choose from here, so again, we may have over ordered…
- custard-filled donut
- lemon-filled donut
- sweet egg pastry (a squash coloured filling in this adorable little boats made of plain ice cream cone pastry)
- pasteis de natas (of course)
- hankies (light sponge cake filled with a fruit jam (apricot?)
- almond tart (literally a tart shell filled with sweetened slivered almonds)
- a huge chourico (Portuguese chorizo)
- pasteis de bacalhaus (salt cod fritters)
- pasteis de camaraoes (shrimp and cream fritters)
- minced meat croquettes (no idea what these are called)
- coxinhas (cassava fritters stuffed with minced chicken)
The highlight for me was the hankies – so simple, so delicious! The custard donut was quite fabulous as well. Lots of people loved the sweet egg pastry boats, but I think I was too overloaded to appreciate them. I love Doce Minho, and the natas and the pasteis de bacalhaus are regular purchases for me, so I won’t rate them.
3. Panchos (Mexican)
Much smaller bakery, with about a dozen or so sweet options.
- sweet empanadas filled with one of: strawberry jam, pineapple jam, or grape jam
- yoyos – sweet biscuit-like ball, cut in half, filled with jam and rolled in powdered sugar
- a couple of other items that I can’t recall
I think I just don’t care for Mexican baking in general – the theme seems to be dryish, semi-sweet breads either topped with sugar or filled with a jam. The best for me was the yoyo, as the biscuit had a decent texture and flavour of its own. The other stuff was so dry that it was difficult to swallow without a drink. Probably good with a cup of tea or coffee, but difficult on its own. I should mention that the woman working there was as sweet and friendly as could be.
4. Athens Bakery (Greek)
- spanokopita (spinach and feta filled phyllo pastry)
- tiropita (feta filled phyllo pastry)
- kreatopita? (meat-filled phyllo pastry)
This was the best spanokopita I’ve ever had, and I would go back just for that. The in-house made phyllo is excellent and not oozing butter like most I’ve tried. The filling is particularly spinach-y, which I appreciate, with the feta providing a nice salty note, but not overwhelming the spinach. I’m not a huge fan of loukoumades, but these were pretty tasty dipped in cinnamon.
5. Simba Grill (Tanzanian – not a bakery, but a purveyor of damn fine samosas)
We had to pass here on the way to the next destination, so we picked up a dozen beef samosas to compare against Samosa King. These are Tanzanian style – phyllo pastry and a spicy minced beef filling. No potato or other veggie. These are my favourite samosas in the city, and from what I can tell, the others in the group were pretty fond of them as well. A dozen for $10, carry out only deal. And while we were waiting, we all popped in to Fresh From the Farm, which is across the street.
6. Lebanese Bakery (um, Lebanese)
Odd location in an industrial area. BIG kitchen and a large, clean seating area. They must do a huge lunch business during the week.
- 2 kinds of baklava
- some other sweet that I didn’t try
- mini “pizzas” – one with zatar, one with a spicy veggie mixture, and one that I’m blanking on
- spicy beef pastries
- packages of lahmajoun to go
The little pizzas and the beef pastry had a great chewy dough and tasty toppings. For $.99 each, or 6 for $4.50, they would make a fantastic lunch or snack. The lahmajoun are damn tasty as well, but pack a good spice kick.
7 and 7b. Babu (Sri Lankan) and Mona’s Roti (a surprise stop a few doors down from Babu)
Holy busy place on a Saturday afternoon!
- chicken koththu roti
- beef string hoppers
- hakka chicken
- a variety of barfi
- Mona’s doubles
- Mona’s plain roti (being cranked out fresh by the dozens)
Everything was fantastic from both places. The koththu roti and the string hopper both packed a serious burn, but were both delicious. The hakka chicken, was only "ok" for me, but was particularly good wrapped in Mona’s amazing, fresh, flaky roti. And the doubles were pronounced “damn good”. I didn’t try the barfi.
8. Samosa King (Indian)
We were pretty much done by the time we got here.
- veggie samosas (5 for $1)
- chicken samosas (4 for $1)
- a variety of barfi.
I didn’t try the barfi or the samosas, as I’ve had the samosas many, many times before. For me, their appeal is the simple, cheap snack. Easy to freeze and heat, I often have a dozen or more in my freezer. But the Simba Grill samosas blow them out of the water.
9. Fragrant Bakery (Chinese)
Alas, we were so full that we all agreed to skip this last stop. No. More. Food.
The best part of the day was sharing so many different flavours with like-minded chowhounds. It was a beautiful day, and we ended having the food from Babu and Samosa King in a nearby park under some shady trees. We were all stuffed to the gills after about 5 (6?) hours of eating. We all just took turns buying, and probably ended up spending about $20-$25 each. Not bad for having sampled 40+ items. A really good day. A shout out to davwud for organizing!
375 Donlands Ave, Toronto, ON M4J3S2, CA
1790 Birchmount Rd, Toronto, ON M1P, CA