The tour meets at Jimmy’s, a new-ish café on Baldwin Street. I walk to the back of the busy coffee shop, spot the Savour Toronto sign, and meet with Suzanne Urpecz and Neil Egan, the food-lovers, and ex-Kensington residents, who run Savour Toronto.
I’m not sure I would have made that call. More people means you need more time. Something we found out as our three-hour tour quickly turned into a four and a half, almost five, hour tour. Thankfully the chill in the air was mild. If it had been a typical January day in Toronto, this tour could have felt a lot longer, and that may have ruined the tour for most of the group. Which would have been a shame as Savour Toronto’s Kensington Krawl food tour is, in my opinion, a good food tour.
Kensington Market has been one of my favourite ‘hoods since I learned how to drive in the mid to late ’90s. I loved the market back then. I loved its eclectic vibe, how it was located next to Chinatown, and the funky secondhand shops. I remember the smell and the chaos of the market in summer. The pungent punch of fresh fish. Oh, the memories.
Since the early 18th century Kensington Market has played an important role in shaping Toronto into the city that it is today. This is the area where new immigrants were housed. Almost every ethnic group in the city has started out in the Kensington Market area; Irish, Jewish, Ukrainian, Polish, Hungarian, Chinese, Latin American. So many waves of immigrants have passed through this area, each one leaving a piece of their culture behind.
While the Jewish immigrants are credited for starting the market, over the years the market has taken on a global ethnicity. This is what makes Kensington Market so fascinating. Today the market is filled with fruit and vegetable sellers, butchers, fishmongers, spice-sellers, secondhand stores, bakeries, cafés, army surplus shops, and boutiques.
The market, while retaining some of its historical heritage, has slowly evolved into what one tour participant called, ‘the new hippy area’. And he is kind of right. Kensington Market is probably one of the few places where long-term business owners and hipsters happily co-mingle, mostly because they both want the same thing; high-quality, locally sourced food and products, and a sense of community.
Blackbird Baking Co.
Our tour begins with a stop at Blackbird Baking Co., a relatively new shop (opened summer 2014) in the market. Blackbird Baking Co. is located in the old Cobbs shop, and thank goodness for THAT! I’ve shopped at Cobbs in Calgary, and they make some good bread, but I am here to tell you that Blackbird Baking Co. is far superior, and I personally hope they remain in the market for many years to come.
During our stop at the bakery, I tried their Fruit & Nut loaf. Served warm, the crust was, well, crusty, but the bread itself was moist, with pieces of yummy fruit and nuts. It was absolutely delightful. Made from local ingredients, the bread seemed to melt in my mouth. I was in love, with a piece of bread. Naturally, I rushed to buy a loaf before we left.
Sanagan’s Meat Locker
This is what I like about the Kensington Krawl food tour, visits to local businesses who produce high-quality foods. During our tour, we visit a cheese shop, tasting cheeses from both Ontario and Québec. We pop by Sanagan’s Meat Locker, a butcher shop where it seems as though being a hipster is a job requirement as all the guys appear to have beards and tattoos, and the girls are playing around with blue hair dye, tattoos, sequence hats, and skinny jeans. But don’t let the hipsters scare you away.
Sanagan’s Meat Locker sells mostly locally produced meats, with 98% of their meats being raised in Ontario in hormone-free environments. A popular spot among locals and chefs, Sanagan’s Meat Locker sells various cuts of beef, pork, wild boar, lamb, and oxtail, as well as charcuterie, sausages, rotisserie chicken, and freshly made sandwiches – we tried their chicken sandwich, and I have to say, it was superbly moist and delicious.
Freshly baked gourmet bread? Check! Cheese? Check! Charcuterie? Check!
Carlo’s Spice House
We walk up and down and criss-cross the market. Stopping to sample gourmet popcorn, and the market’s spice terminal, now known as Carlo’s Spice House. We learn about the history of shops that have been in the market for over 25 years. We stop by Kensington Lodge for a warm winter drink. And we learn about this history of the neighbourhood.
A tour of the market, food or otherwise, is never complete without stopping by the bronze statue of Mel Lastman (former Toronto mayor and furniture store owner who started his sales career hawking fruits and veg in Kensington Market), the Kiever Shul (circa 1917, and one of the oldest synagogues in the Kensington Market), and St-Stephen-In-The-Fields Church (which was actually in a field when it was first built).
When we stop at Nu Bügel I am elated. I stumbled on this gem earlier in the day, before the tour, and had breakfast. Specializing in wood-fired bagels, Nu Bügel brings back a little bit of the market’s Jewish heritage. I ordered a Lox & Cream Cheese bagel and sat down, taking deep breaths and savouring the smell of bagels cooking in the wood-fired oven. The sesame bagel was fabulous, so similar to a Montréal style bagel that I started to swoon. Of course, the lox, cream cheese, capers, and lemon aioli elevated the whole experience even more.
OMG did I seriously just make literary love to a bagel?
Yes, yes I did. Well, this is awkward…
Savour Toronto has created a food tour in the market that not only pays homage to its history, but to the culture of the neighbourhood. Each partner is dedicated to quality locally sourced products and has a strong sense of community. I liked that there was time at each stop for shopping, however, with a large group, this is very hard to control and was a huge contributing factor to the tour running almost ninety minutes longer than normal.
Timing aside, Savour Toronto’s Kensington Krawl food tour is definitely one I would recommend. It’s great for both Torontonians and visitors to the city.