Toronto sushi fest

Is the Toronto Sushi Festival the worst event ever?

The two-day Toronto Sushi Festival kicked off yesterday and while it resumes tonight, ticket holders might want to just eat the $30 ticket price and save themselves the aggravating and underwhelming experience. We'll let you decide if it was worse than Grilled Cheese Fest, but the event was most definitely indicative of what's been ailing Toronto food festivals.

The festival was billed as the "largest annual sushi festival in Canada" and promised "a wide range of sushi delicacies from renowned sushi restaurants and acclaimed Japanese chefs throughout Ontario". A promising venue change from Roy Thompson Hall to the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre seemed to add credibility to the event when organizers cited a positive initial response "since there are over 500 sushi restaurants in the city".

Disappointment (and reality) sunk in when I realized there were only 10 vendors present (to serve 3,000 attendees over two days). What's worse was the lack of signage and the fact that many of the tables were staffed by volunteers who couldn't even tell me whose food they were serving (in some cases they couldn't tell me what they were serving).

The event layout positioned the majority of vendors in the front half of the room, meaning long queues formed in a gauntlet and chaos ensued as line-ups crisscrossed each other.

Food tickets priced at $1.50 each were sold in blocks of 10. Most samples (comprising one or two pieces at a time) cost two to three tickets. The food for the most part was unremarkable. The number of California rolls, cucumber rolls and salmon rolls witnessed was embarrassing - the promise of authentic Japanese food was hardly realized.

Not all the food was bad - some delicious and interesting interpretations were offered by Rock Paper Ciseaux who served Filipino, ceviche-style salmon rolls as well as milk fish rolls with pickled ginger. In the back corner, hidden away in the 'VIP' section, Dailo offered another Filipino-inflected option, freshly sliced vinegar-rinsed, beet-cured rainbow trout delicately layering over coconut sticky rice.

I left at 6:30pm, an hour and a half into the event, and even then I wasn't the first. Waiting in line to retrieve my coat at coat check, the common sentiment was "we're going out for sushi right now" or "I wish we had just gone out for sushi instead."

Did you go to the first Toronto Sushi Festival? Are you planning to? Let us know in the comments.

Photo by Natta Summerky

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