Eat the Street

While I truly have no objection to street food, it’s still almost always my preference to eat while sitting down, with a knife and fork, and preferably a nice glass of beer or wine to go with it. So while I’ve avoided pretty much all of the recent street food events in Toronto because I’m annoyed by the trendiness of the whole thing, the opportunity to enjoy some traditional street food dishes, all while sitting comfortably, was not to be passed up.

Put together by Scott and Rachelle Vivian of Beast Restaurant, last night they gathered a number of chefs for a dinner in which they each created a course based on a street food dish. Yes, there were forks and knives (along with tasty wine pairings from Fielding Estate Winery), but the only china we were given was a side plate. Everything else came in the traditional wrapping/carrier, or else on paper plates, just as you would get the items from a food cart or truck.

The amuse bouche was a trio of canapes by Chef Dave Kemp of Salt. Each based on a street food item, from top left there is chipotle pork nacho with guacamole and coriander, pan con tomato with manchego cheese, and a grilled sardine with preserved lemon and fennel.

For the first course, Chef Corey Vitiello of The Harbord Room created a pair of whitefish ceviche tostadas with pickled red onion and baja cream; one made with red salsa and the other tomatillos.

The paper plates the first two courses came on threw off the servers, as the plates flipped in any whiff of a breeze, as opposed to weightier china or stoneware. It made for a few lost plates in the early part of the evening.

The sweet and sour crispy pork hock with jellyfish slaw and fried kimchi pickle by Chef Nick Liu of Niagara Street Cafe was up next. It was a brilliant mix of flavours and textures.

Apparently in Thailand, street food is served in plastic bags, so we were each presented with a bag, full of noodles, fishcakes and enough air to make it look like a balloon. The actual dish (see top image) was created by Adam Hynam-Smith of the Niagara-based El Gastronomo Vagabundo and was a combination of phetchaburi fish cakes, rice noodles, cucumber, hot and sour sauce, fried Thai basil and kaffir lime. And yes, that’s a fried pepper as garnish, which some of us tried to eat and later regretted.

You can’t have a self-respecting street food dinner without some kind of shwarma, and Scott Vivian complied with this smoked goat shwarma with pickled butternut squash, goat’s milk yogurt, tobacco onions and salsa verde. The pita was made by Rachelle Vivian. I’m hit or miss with goat (especially when it’s not in a sauce) so I didn’t love the meat in this one but the garnishes were rockin’. Almost good enough to add to my beloved Nova Scotian donair… if I wasn’t a donair purist.

And for dessert, Rachelle whipped up some sheep’s milk ricotta fritters with rosemary caramel. These melted in the mouth with a tangy sweetness.

So while you’ll probably never catch me chasing food trucks around the city, or lining up an hour or more for a taco, I certainly can appreciate the contribution street food adds to a place’s local culture. I’d certainly be happy to see dishes like the ones above available on a regular basis.