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Sunday, August 8, 2010

T&T Waterfront Night Market :: Food Festivals

Toronto is no stranger to night markets - Metro Square's Night It Up! is immensely popular and packed every year. The intense crowds, wafting smell of stinky tofu, and energetic vibe always remind me of the bustling streets of Mong Kok in Hong Kong. I can't wait until I go to Taiwan to experience their famous night markets.

When I caught wind that T&T was hosting their own night market and they had free shuttle buses from the downtown core, I quickly gathered a group of hungry friends for some good eats!

T&T Waterfront Night Market
Verdict: Go with fun friends for a great time! Be prepared to spend a few hours in line, but that's why you go in a group ;)
Meal: Dinner
Price: Varies - $2-$5 per item
Location: T&T Supermarket, 222 Cherry Street

Well the shuttle bus was quite fail - the small 7pm City Hall bus filled up to the brim, leaving disappointed foodies behind. The Night Market rep suggested we take the TTC from Union Station instead of waiting another hour for the next one. Luckily, a friend was running late anyways and rescued us from the TTC bus overflowing with other Night Market goers. Phew.

Relative to Metro Square, we did not have a hard time finding parking. Large lots were offering parkin for $5, and many cars optimistically parked along Commissioners St. Mind you, this is the first night market that T&T has hosted so word of mouth hasn't spread yet, and we arrived shortly after 7:30pm - relatively early. Things might be a little crazier tonight.

Food festival experience has taught us the following:
  1. Go with a decent number of fun, non-picky buddies. (I usually go with 4-6 people) 
  2. Do not to follow the old "long line=good food" mentality (Ribfest being the prime example)
  3. Fan out in pairs to efficiently combat the lines, and know where your friends are so you can quickly scamper over with goodies while they're still hot and fresh to enjoy while they're still in line. This can get tough at very busy venues, due to the overload of cell phone signals
Sounds like serious business doesn't it? Naw. After going to so many festivals, you just learn to tweak it each time to maximize your enjoyment :)

Smaller than Metro Square, but a substantially smaller crowd. Familiar offerings were quickly spotted - skewers, stinky tofu, oysters, and squid. Surprisingly, my favourite vendor was missing - the murtabak guy! Oh well. I've eaten it twice this year and I'm quite sure I'll see him again soon.

Chef Susur Lee's Famous Cheeseburger Spring Roll ($5)
Verdict: Try!
Cheeseburger spring rolls? I was hesitant about this - but how often can I try something from Susur Lee for $5? We bought 5 of these guys and they were mm mm good. The lineup moved surprisingly quickly, as the chefs were efficiently creating 12 at once and weren't slowing their pace to drag the line on. Ground beef spring rolls wrapped in fresh lettuce, this was surprisingly tasty. Thumbs up!

BBQ Skew ($2/1, $5/3)
Verdict: Skip
The line up for this stand was horrendously slow. However, the idea of trying beef tongue, lamb, Angus, and beef skewers was too tempting to pass up. Lines like this are why going to food festivals with a decent number really helps :)

We grabbed a couple of each - the lamb was good, but the beef was way overcooked while the tongue was not grilled enough. Perhaps I've been spoiled by Black Hoof's beef tongue, but the tongue was too chewy - somewhat rubbery, a little tough. The beef was really tough, and the kabob ends were inedible. Definitely not worth the wait, especially since excellent lamb kabobs were offered at a smaller booth near the centre of the market. Speaking of which...

Lamb Kabobs ($3/1, $5/3)
Verdict: Try!

These were much more tender, juicy, spiced than the BBQ-Skewer booth. The line was up was quicker, and none out of the 12 skewers that we snagged were over cooked! You can get them spicy or non-spicy. Get 'em spiced, you won't regret it! My friend said that these were cooked like kabobs found in a certain region in China - very glad we listened to his suggestion!

Thai Pastries, Desserts, & Fruit Drinks!
Verdict: Try the fruit shake ($2.50)!

Next to the Lamb Kabob booth was a Thai vendor offering mango sticky rice, an assortment of Thai candies and pastries, as well as fruity drinks. You can choose from an assortment of juices (Mango, Coconut, Longan) and add jellies/longan. I liked the mango juice a lot more than the coconut juice with, and they were quite generous with my jelly (my cup is on the right!).

My friend tried the Thai curry puffs, which she liked but didn't recommend purchasing considering all of the other treats surrounding us, so the rest of us skipped out.

BBQ Puffer Fish & Fresh Squid
Verdict: Skip

Right next to the entrance, the BBQ Puffer First & Fresh Squid stand has an incredibly long line that is tortuous for three reasons:
  1. It's right beside the stinky tofu line. Eau d'tofu-stank; perfect for the post-Night Market night out
  2. It moved ridiculously slow - despite the picture above, as we creeped closer and closer to the front my friends started to notice that they were only grilling a few skewers at once (I didn't spot this because I was in the Lamb Kabob line at the time)
  3. ...I personally didn't think it was worth it
When I hopped back to the line, cheeseburger spring rolls and rice cake desserts in hand for my hungry friends I asked a fellow marketer eating his squid if the line was worth it. Without hesitation he shook his head and said "No"! Seconds away from ordering, it didn't seem right to just ditch the line after waiting for an hour. I've never tried Puffer Fish, and my curiousity always wins.
BBQ Puffer Fish - Tough to eat, not much flavour
Tough like dry jerky, it just had a fishy taste covered in sweet sauce. I have a suspicion that I might like it a lot more if it was re-hydrated then cooked. Only 1 out of 6 of us really enjoyed it.

BBQ Squid - an okay treat, but I would've preferred the Squid Teppanyaki
HK-Style Stinky Tofu :: No Night Market is complete without it

I was actually quite surprised with this tofu - I usually hate stinky tofu. I've tried it twice - once at a friend's house and another at the Metro Square's Night It Up! Both times, squishy stinky-tofu juice just overwhelmed me and I found myself hunting for something else to eat to quickly mask that taste! However, this version looked spongier with an appetizing sauce...and it was good! Just enough "stink" to enjoy the flavour, and nothing squishing into my mouth. I don't know if I just got a couple of bad batches before, or maybe the Taiwanese style is just that different. Either way, I'm glad that I gave it a third chance. 

Korean Rice Crisps ($1)

Fresh rice crisps shot out of the little machine, just like the ones I saw in South Korea. Yum, I love fresh rice crisps. Covered in chocolate, cream, and fruit this was a quick and tasty treat...good for snacking on while waiting in line. I managed to snap a picture right when it was popping out!

I'll admit that the joy in these crackers is mostly nostalgia though - and there was virtually no line up. Don't hassle yourself to grab one.



Creme Brulee ($2)

Torched on the spot, creme brulee was a Night Market treat that I've never seen before. I'm not a fan of creme brulee in general, so I'll let the brulee-lovers decide whether or not if this dessert is good for themselves.

Spicy Hotpot ($2/skewer)
Verdict: Try all of it, except maybe the beef balls & fish cake skewers!  
This was my favourite stand of the night. Full of mouth-watering skewers, soups, and dumplings we snagged three servings of everything. It wasn't particularly spicy as the booth suggested but it was still great! The line-up was moderate relative to the other stands of the night. Faster than the BBQ Skewers and Puffer Fish booths, and tastier - this booth was the winner for variety, value, and taste. Since you get a lot of different skewers, the line is efficient...that is, if you're open to trying everything. 

Soup with mushrooms, seaweed, glass noodles, and chicken

Yum. It might not look like much, but we all loved this soup. Very glad that we ordered two. Filled to the brim with mushrooms and bits of chicken, it tasted great and was perfect for the chilly summer night. My friend said that he heard that there was shark fin in there, but I'm not entirely sure...

Fish Siu Mai
I really liked these fish dumplings! I wish they gave us a bit more sauce, but they were also quite good with the fish ball curry sauce (below). Yumm...

Tasty fish balls in curry sauce

Hotpot Skewers

Delicious assortment of hot pot skewers. The quail was my favourite!

Flavourful seaweed ribbons tied on the skewers

Shrimp & scallops. Boiled in the broth, they weren't rubbery. Yum!

Beef balls with fish cakes. My least favourite skewer, double up on quail instead!
What a delicious end to a yummy night! 

Boiled Lobster ($10)
Yumm..ready ready for your belly
Pound that claw!

Squid Teppanyaki

Tornado Potatoes ($2)
(Recent visitors to South Korea may recognize this street treat, except these are made with Jumbo PEI potatoes)

Tofuyaki, Jumbo Spring Rolls, Deep Fried Wontons ($2), & Taiwanese Style Popcorn Chicken ($3) 
Tofuyaki with Mayo & Bonito flakes

T&T Booth
Popcorn Chicken

Deep-Fried Wontons
Jumbo Spring Rolls

Other Night Market treats...

Grilled Chicken
Spicy, fried chicken
Jerk Chicken, BBQ Chicken

Heavily spiced and ready to go!

Slushy pineapple drink...the usual coconut drink was offered as well

Caramel-filled Churros. The classic festival snack. One last bite for me!

Om nom nom nom...I had a great time at this market, and I'll definitely go back next year. I'll know what to avoid and hopefully there will be some new, tasty treats to try!

I personally liked this market better than Metro Square's market for a few reasons. I'm easy to satisfy, and while Night it Up! certainly has more variety, there were more than enough eats at T&T's Night Market with less of a crazy crowd. We'll see how crazy it is next year... Lastly, while the shuttle bus system was quite fail (hopefully it will be improved next year), in my opinion, it is a bit more TTC-friendly than Metro Square.

T&T Waterfront Night Market
Verdict: Go with fun friends for a great time! Be prepared to spend a few hours in line, but that's why you go in a group ;)
Meal: Dinner
Price: Varies - $2-$5 per item
Location: T&T Supermarket, 222 Cherry Street


Anonymous said...

Hi Erin,

Was it you who took a picture of my tofuyaki? I was the pregnant lady with the pink t-shirt!

Erin said...

Small world! Thanks for the photo :)

Vince said...

The Murtabak guy was there on Saturday night! It was my first time and it was amazing!

Anonymous said...

I'd go back!
I really enjoyed the beef skewers (T&T), the pork skewers (FV) and Lee's cheeseburger spring roll--although it was just a sample. There were quite a few items I didn't get to try and can't wait for the next event.

All was good... except the odour of the smelly tofu! Like the dreaded durian, the stench it more that enough to keep me for even trying a piece.

Kevin C said...

Looks so good Erin! The churro looks delicious, memories of eating them in Japan, but wow Caramel filled *jealous*.

Erin said... can get churros at Kensington Market! Pedestrian Sundays run on the last Sunday of every month. On Augusta, right next to Segovia Bakeries there is a stand that sells them freshly made (it's kind of gross seeing them squish out of the machine actually) and you can fill it with chocolate, strawberry, or caramel :) Re-live those memories of Japan. Now all we need is a good bowl of ramen, fresh fatty tuna, whale, and melt-in-your-mouth kobe beef!

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