Toronto Spices

Lorette Luzajic on the Toronto Food Scene

I first discovered Lorette Luzajic while reading over a monthly newsletter from Gremolata, a local wine and food website. She had written an article on vegetarianism "I'm A Natural Born Killer" that caught my eye. Clicking through on her name revealed she's a self-proclaimed "resident spice girl" and pursues food writing in a refreshing way that challenges widely held dogmas.

Always seeking a fresh opinion on the Toronto food scene, I shot her a few questions to find out more of what she had to say. Our brief Q&A follows.

Where are some of the best places in Toronto to look for spices?

Kensington Market is the Spice King if I'm the Spice Girl. You can find twelve kinds of curry in one shop. Caribbean spices, Latin American spices. The Latin stores on Augusta sell whole dried chile peppers in about fifty varieties! This led to fifty weeks of chile or stew, to try out all the kinds I'd never heard of!

There are Middle Eastern stores, Indian stores, stores with voodoo candles and exotic spices. Don't ever be shy to try something new. Spices won't break the bankbook! Ask the proprietor what to eat it with, how to use it for best effect, how hot it might be, what complements it. People love to share their culinary history, their favourite stories. Sadly, I don't live near Kensington anymore, but I still head down once a month to restock my spice list.

I've come a long way, baby- I used to buy spices from the dollar store! Spices are actually cheaper than that dollar to buy in bulk at any ethnic market. In Kensington, you can go to six stores and buy fifty bags of spices, and the bill is something incredible like twelve bucks.

I tend to think we're extremely lucky to live in such a multicultural city with respect to the availability of hard core ethnic grocery shops. Does this enhance the prospects for the appreciation of real food and ingredients?

I live near Greektown and this is wonderful for me because I live gluten-free, and most of the menus are fine for me. If you're super low carb you can skip the rice and potato dinners and feast on succulent lamb or pork with a massive village salad (tomatoes, cukes, red onion, feta in real olive oil). This simple meal may be my favourite in the world.

I'm not far from Little India and can head toward Greenwood and Gerrard after lunch. It's not that hard to make some awesome Indian foods at home. Just talk to the people in the stores. What should you use that chunk of tamarind for? What's all that coconut milk for anyways? Is butter chicken sauce gluten-free? (Most is, if it's from India or Pakistan. Although it seems like it has flour, it's actually almond paste and cream. But always check, especially made for white people brands!)

I like to get my meat at Fresh From the Farm, a Mennonite place on Donlands. Mennonites refuse to use hormones and antibiotics, and animals are mostly free range.

Care to share any favourite take out low-carb favorites?

The most devastating thing about going gluten free for me, besides giving up beer, was giving up Kensington Market's Big Fat Burrito. Then I found they had 'burrito in a bowl' and all was well with my soul!

I'd have to say my favourite meal in the world is Mi Mi Vietnamese on Gerrard and Broadview. It's stunningly cheap, mostly gluten-free (all the noodle stuff is rice). I eat piles of the best BBQ pork in the world, with sprouts, basil, mint, carrots, and cucumbers. Simple, simple stuff, dressed in as much chile paste as I can hack. I dream of this meal when I'm not there.

Sushi is always a favourite takeout. Now I get mostly sashimi - the fish is the best part, anyhow, right? I will get a few pieces of roll and now obsess over a bit of white rice. But if you're gluten free, you have to skip the tempura and that kind of hurt me until I got used to it.

Also, soy sauce is out of the question for gluten-avoiders. It's filled with wheat. Pick up naturally fermented tamari and carry it around with you so you don't get caught off guard. Not only is it gluten free, but it tastes better, and the real fermenting arts originated to remove the poisons from soy. That's why Asian soy is not as toxic as North American soy un-foods.

There's not much fast food for me, but after awhile I stopped considering fast to be food. I can make amazing things at home and bring them along. I freeze up wonderful chillis or soups in portion sizes and bring them wherever I go, just in case. But that said, there is nothing wrong with ordering the burger without the bun, and using a knife and fork. It was weird at first, but now I don't miss it because I don't feel sick afterwards.

Forget gluten-free pizza. It's not very good. If anyone knows of one where the crust doesn't taste like cardboard, please let me know!

For more info on Lorette you can visit her website, The Girl Can Write. She does freelance writing, has written several books, and does a quite a bit of blogging. You can also check out her food articles on Gremolata.

Photo by Arieh Singer on Flickr

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