Where to find Turkish food in Toronto
Turkish food varies greatly from region to region but the central tenet that pervades most (if not all) Turkish cooking is that every dish should be created using ingredients that are fresh, ripe and readily available. Though much ado has been made about pide (Turkish-style pizza), Turkish food is comprised of a vast array of colourful and elegantly textured dishes seasoned to perfection. So where to find Turkish food and ingredients in Toronto? Here's a checklist:
Alara, 2044 Sheppard Ave. East
In typical Turkish fashion the mezes here are huge. Best is the Patlican Kizartmasi, a gratifying dish of tender fried eggplant and the Manti, often referred to as Turkish ravioli, served in its usual blanket of tangy garlic-yogurt sauce and flavoured by a blend of pungent spices and a rich tomato oil. A typical meal ends with a toothsome piece of baklava, slightly warm and big enough for two, served with many cups of strong tea.
Well known to west-enders, Anatolia is the real deal when it comes to Turkish food. A meal here always begins with a basket of hot homemade pide, accompanied by the most delicious hummus, a little appetizer almost worth the trip in itself. Also must-haves are the stuffed vine leaves, red lentil soup and the Yogurtlu Adana and the Imam Bayildi (roughly translated to mean "the Imam fainted"), a succulent dish of stuffed eggplant that effectively makes me swoon.
Although the pide here has been the subject of wide scrutiny, and has occasionally been tagged as hit-or-miss, my most recent visit has me falling in love all over again. The Kiymali Acik topped with tender beef is a perfect blend of saltyness and savouryness and is ideally accompanied by all the traditional fixins'- parsley, tomato, hot pepper, raw onion, and some ice cold aryan. Although portions are quite large, the pide here is possibly bigger in flavour than in size.
Arz Fine Foods
Though not strictly a Turkish food shop, Arz features a variety of pistachios, baklava and well prepared delicacies such as stuffed lemon-scented vine leaves, calamari salad, and peppers packed with cheese or meat. Arz is also one of the few shops in Toronto where you can find prepared Middle Eastern-style pudding.
Burak touts itself to be "the best and biggest Turkish shop in Toronto" and carries an incredibly extensive selection of Turkish food. Inside, I find myself browsing what seems like an endless (and rather curious) collection of dried and canned Turkish foods, and am excited to find a good selection of full-leaf Turkish tea, pomegranate and cherry juice, deli meats, and Hazer Baba turkish delight (sold here for much less than at Arz). Burak is also one of the few places that sells simit, a Turkish bagel. Closest in texture to a Montreal style bagel, Burak's simit is covered in sesame seeds and has a great chewy texture.
Marche Istanbul, 3220 Dufferin St.
Located in a drab strip mall in Lawrence Heights, this charming Turkish Food emporium offers an extensive selection of tomato sauces, oils, spices, and other popular imported condiments such as sour cherry jam and honey (paired with some cheese, bread and olives, you have yourself a perfect Turkish breakfast). The marche also stocks nuts and seeds in bulk, imported chocolate cookies, and particularly addictive pistachio candy (picture oversized pistachio Smarties). A small kitchen in the back turns out simple fare such as Manti and Sucuk.
Uzel Olive & Olive Oil
At Uzel on the Danforth, the high shelves are lined exclusively with the shops' own brand of olive oil, made from the highest quality Turkish Gemlik olives. Mehmet Uzel, the store's manager, explains that all their oil is first-cold pressed using the finest and most ripe hand-picked Gemlik black pearl olives. One way to tell if an Gemlik olive has been traditionally cured is if the flesh parts easily from the pit which is exactly what occurs when sampling Uzel's black pearls. And the oil itself? The black pearl oil actually outperforms the olive, proving itself to be incredibly light and slightly floral with a wonderful, silky texture to it.
Writing by Shalta Dicaire Fardin. Top photo by Beverly Cheng
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