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Snacking in J-Town: Part 1

In a city constantly fronting to tourists in the horned helms and flowing silk robes of cultural diversity and one that seems to have a "town" suffixed to nearly every ethnicity-- you'll quickly notice Japan seems to've somehow fallen between our cultural and culinary cracks with no defined crossroads to call its own. Maybe, scattered like the Great Sioux Nation, the Japanese community in Toronto exists solely in the hearts and minds of its people. And while Toronto's positively lousy with sushi restaurants--they outnumber payphones at this point--anyone who's ever actually set foot in Shibuya can tell you that unless you fork over the big bucks, there's still a lack of quality in the deluge of discount sushi buffets; and there's more to Japanese cuisine than tuna rolls and tempura.

It might just take the Mystery Machine and some pesky kids to uncover the truth about where to find some decent japanese food for the ex-pats and the the japanophiles in all of us.

C'mon Scoob, don't be so404, look closely behind that suburban plaza at Steeles at Vic Park, and behold! it's...well, another suburban plaza; but this one caters to the small Japanese diaspora that call Toronto home. No Mazinger action figures, discount karaoke machines and pirate copies of Jubei Ninpucho, this one's filled with a collection of shops that provide everything from a quick sushi snack, to katsu curry, to sweet treats to take home hunks of the best otoro the city has to offer. Quietly laid out like a charming indoor market, J-town's various food stalls offer a ridiculous variety of Japanese foods and wares--all fantastic, all authentic and all hard to find anywhere else in the city. So here's the rundown, jack-san, oh, and try not to drool on the keyboard, will ya?

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Tora Sushi
905.948.8047

Located near the entrance to the market, this unassuming little stand offers some of the best quality sushi around--when you've got Taro's Fish in slapping distance you'd better--so prepare to tear through the amazingly fresh sushi at Tora's like a giant lizard through Tokyo.

The California Roll ($4.50/6 pieces) is a nice place to start your snacking and comes deftly executed with buttery avocado and pollack couched in perfectly seasoned sushi rice and tasty nori sprinkled with sesame and salmon roe.

Along with the a la carte selections there are also several combos to choose from. The filling "small " chef's choice sushi combo (7 nigiri and 6 cucumber rolls, $12.50) is a bargain for the mouthwateringly fresh selection: thin streaks of fat ribboned through ruby tuna, plump perfectly cooked shrimp, translucent ika and dazzling orangy-pink salmon--in this combo, even lowly tobiko will blow your tastebuds out your ass. And don't worry, it also comes in medium and large configurations.

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Despite being take-out only, this sushi doesn't skimp on the skill and on a sunny spring weekend afternoon, how better to savour your meal than head for the courtyard and suck back the sushi al fresco. As the joint's name implies, it's a nearly religious experience.

Taro's Fish
905.944.1377

Sharing the same section of real estate as the esteemed sushi stall, Taro's has some amazing fish on offer. As well as wholesaling to the more reputable sushi joints and restaurants downtown taro's is one of the best places to buy fresh fish in the city. In the large fridge, chilling languidly like a beachbound fat guy in a speedo, massive hunks of sushi grade pale pink otoro tuna share space beside pre-packaged Styrofoam plates of sashimi, whole octopus, all manner of crab, sea urchin and a bounty of other hard-to-find seafood.

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Hitting Taro's on the weekend is recommended since they offer some serious specialty Japanese treats all

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bento-boxed and ready to go. Tops without a doubt is the Osakan speciality takoyaki ($3.50/4 pieces)--insanely tasty fried golf ball-sized fritters stuffed with chopped tender octopus, crispy flecks of tempura batter and pickled ginger covered in panko and deep-fried then doused with sweet okonomiyaki sauce and bonito flake. Good luck trying not to inhale them all, just remember to stop at your fingers.

As much as you'll want to spend all day at these two stalls, there's definitely more to J-town than just raw fish so loosen your belt and save some room for next week.

J-Town - 3060 Steeles Ave. E. Unit 6-11 (at Victoria Park)

Photos courtesy Anna Cook and the J-Town website


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