Toronto Underground Market – March 2012



After hibernating over the winter, the Toronto Underground Market had their first event of 2012. Last Sunday, March 4th was a freezing cold -12 degrees Celsius. Hardly the weather for an entirely outdoor event but the crowds of food fans were still eager as ever. I will apologize right out of the gate that some of the food shots aren’t my best work, but it was so cold out that night that we usually had to dig into the food right away before they got too cold. This was probably one of the only events where the longer you take to drink your beer the colder it gets!

As I described in my first post ever, the Toronto Underground Market (or TUM as it is sometimes referred) is a monthly food event that brings together smaller, independent food vendors with excited foodies in a high energy atmosphere at the Evergreen Brickworks. They describe themselves as a social food market, allowing entrepreneurs and budding chefs a place to showcase their talents and experiment with new dishes. Most of the events take place in the Holcim Gallery which can best be described as a gutted factory with no exterior walls and long decommissioned brick ovens lining the interior area. The two biggest contenders at every TUM seem to be La Carnita and Comida del Pueblo.

Judging by the length of their line and all the rave reviews of their food, La Carnita is the #1 most popular vendor at the show. Specializing in tacos with fresh and creative ingredients, they also hand out limited edition prints with their signature skull logo for every taco sold. This traces back to their roots where they weren’t allowed to sell food on the streets so they would sell the prints and provided customers with tacos for free. At this event their booth was strategically placed halfway down one of the brick oven lanes which acted as a funnel for their lines – which can have wait times of an hour or more. I didn’t take the chance with their lines at the event in November but this time around I made sure to hit La Carnita first thing.

By the same measures, Comida del Pueblo would be #2 with the second longest lines but same level of excitement. Their focus is latin inspired street foods with upscale twists. Many of their items begin with a classic idea that they play with to make something unique and special. I had the chance to try their jalapeno cornbread grilled cheese at the previous event and I was immediately a big fan. The flavours were great, but what really made an impression on me was that it was something I had never had before. In the interest of saving stomach space at this event I chose to skip the grilled cheese and try the new items on their menu. I had to follow my own tips after all.
I’ll give you a relatively quick run down of my experience at the March TUM. Earlier in the week I had posted a photo journey of some of the vendors that I missed, but caught my attention. I was lucky to have some friends who arrived very early and were near the front of the line to enter the event, we coordinated that they would rush the lines for La Carnita while I grabbed some snacks for us to have in line. In the name of saving time I grabbed a set of 3 samosas from Mama Nashi’s Indian Fare which I knew they were a safe bet from the previous TUM. When I met with my friends we were close to the front of the line (maybe 20 back) so it wasn’t a long wait before the glorious tacos of La Carnita. Their menu consisted of their usual Voltron fish taco and a carne crudo.

Voltron Fish Taco

Carne Crudo

I have to say, it was totally worth the wait for these tacos. The Voltron fish taco had a small piece of fried cod which was light and flaky, it had a great flavour without being too fishy or oily. It was topped with bits of fresh apple and red cabbage which added a great freshness and crunch to the taco. The carne crudo was good for what it was, but it wasn’t my favourite. It was on a crisp toastada that made it a little more difficult to share and the flavours seemed muted. It being a cold dish in cold weather may have made me miss the nuances. Since we got in line near the beginning the wait wasn’t too long and I was able to spend most of the time catching up with an old friend so the time went by quick.

 

 

My next stop was the line for Comida del Pueblo. Again, I was lucky enough to have strategically arranged to meet some more friends in this line while we got them some tacos to sample. The timing was perfect and I quickly was holding an Ontario water buffalo empanada with chimichurri and “Impossible” carrot cake with ginger orange flan. Although it was my number 1 item of the previous event I decided to skip the jalapeno cornbread grilled cheese this time around to try to preserve stomach space for the rest of the event. The empanada was my favourite of that they offered. The water buffalo was tender and full of flavour. Unfortunately the oil in the chimichurri thickened up a bit too much in the frigid temperature which put me off it a little, but this is hardly the fault of Comida. Also take note of the picture to the right – this thing was HUGE. Certainly worth the wait and price. Now, I’m not usually a fan of carrot cakes, but the combination with the flan made it much more enjoyable for me. It had bits of ginger in it that added a bit of a spicy note. Again, another impressive showing by Comida del Pueblo.

 

After this we were thoroughly chilled through so we aimed to pick up something hot. We spotted a nearby vendor that had a grill going and all picked up Mami’s sate babi “infamous” pork satay skewers with pickled cucumbers. I also added an order of bubur (congee with marinated pork belly, egg and sweet soy reduction) while my friends ordered rissoles (creamy pork ragout spring rolls with garlic chili sauce). We were all fans of the satay skewers. They were perfectly cooked and best of all, meat on a stick is perfect for this kind of stand and munch event. However, I wasn’t as much a fan of the bubur. The pork belly was tasty but the congee itself was a little under seasoned. I’ve grown up eating various different kinds of congees, so I was excited to see this on a menu but it was a little disappointing for me. As for the rissoles, I was able to grab a bite from a friend and I enjoyed the soft coating around the sweet and sour pork filling. Thinking about the chili sauce now is actually making my mouth water a little bit…

Mami sate's spread

At this point in the night I had foolishly drunk a cold beer (or two) and the cold was really starting to wear me down. I wanted to try a couple more places before we left so I headed over to Elle cuisine because I saw that they were serving French onion soup with a duck confit and gruyere crouton. I love French onion soup and was dying for something to warm me up so I got in line…just in time to see them serve the last of their French onion soup stock to a customer right in front of me. Plan B was a simple re-jiggering of the gruyere duck confit into a new “crustini” dish. Still delicious but I’m sure I missed something special in that French onion soup. To finish off the night I couldn’t resist the homemade vanilla mint ice cream and flourless chocolate torte. I was pleasantly surprised by the vanilla mint ice cream, the flavours were amazing and it was the freshest mint taste I’ve ever had short of munching on leaves.
The only problem with eating ice cream in freezing temperatures is that I was basically shaking with the cold. I decided to call it a night. It was about 7:45pm and after less than 3 hours most of the vendors were already selling out. From following the twitter conversation it seems like a lot of people were experiencing the same thing and calling it an early night. I read a few complaints about arriving at 8:30pm and most vendors were already packing up for the night. To me it seems like a good sign that these vendors are able to sell out so quickly – it must mean that these events are getting more and more popular. Either that or all the vendors conspired to sell out quickly to be able to get out of the cold!
TL:DR version
1) Voltron fish taco is worth the wait ( La Carnita)
2) Fresh vanilla mint ice cream is worth drop in internal temperature (Elle cuisine)
3) Water buffalo makes for a surprisingly large and tasty empanada (Comida del Pueblo)
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