When people ask me what my favourite food event of the year is, I always answer without hesitation. It’s not the big trade shows with free samples, or the swank events with lots of “celebrity” chefs. No, my favourite food event of the year isn’t actually a food event at all; it’s a music and culture festival that just happens to have awesome food.
Afrofest has been an annual event since 1990. Taking over Queen’s Park for a weekend every July, the festival features bands and performances from musical groups and dance troupes from Africa and the Caribbean. There’s also a large marketplace area selling crafts, books and art.
And then there’s the food section.
While Toronto is most definitely a multicultural city, many communities are still so small that they don’t warrant a restaurant featuring their ethnic cuisine, let alone a whole neighbourhood. So while Toronto has two or three parts of town vying for the title of Little Ethiopia, countries like Kenya, Cote D’Ivoire and Tanzania are not well represented – except at Afrofest where small independent catering companies cooking their traditional foods abound. Afrofest is my favourite food festival of the year because it’s the only place in Toronto where people get to try these wonderful cuisines.
You can have Berkshire pork belly and local cheese any time of the year, but the opportunity to eat freshly fried plantains, fresh coconut juice, and platters of catfish, cassava and spicy chicken happens only for two days in mid-July.
Afrofest takes place today and tomorrow at Queen’s Park. Admission is free.
The Tanzanian platter – featuring stewed collard greens and a crazy spicy beef dish.
As this menu from Fish Shak shows, you can still support local farmers while eating Caribbean food.
Coconuts waiting to be sliced open. We recommend not trying to drink from one of these while juggling other food. Once you start drinking, you can’t set these suckers down.
Afrofest is always a huge party and this lady, dancing in the sweltering heat over a giant pot of hot oil demonstrates the good feelings and good food of this festival.
Congolese catfish in a banana leaf.
The effort many of the food vendors go to is astounding. People bring in generators and full-size refrigerators, as well as multiple barbecues, and are basically working in a fully equipped but primitive kitchen.
The Kenyan platter – cassava, rice and potatoes and some kick-ass chicken.
The traditional African outfits and head scarves make the whole event brilliantly colourful.
And there’s plenty of cool hats. (These guys were singing as they cooked.)
Gimme… fried chicken!
And don’t dare leave without some Ethiopian coffee from the coffee ladies. (I actually had a bag of green coffee beans with me during this visit last year, and I got lots of good roasting tips from them as I stood and chatted while waiting for my coffee to be ready.)