What a privilege it was to be able to attend the Taste of Toronto 2016 this year! This is an annual restaurant food festival that is in its third year in 2016 and is hosted at the Fort York grounds in downtown Toronto (June 23-26, 2016). There is an entrance fee to enter the food festival where dozens of restaurants showcase some of their best eats and special dishes for the three day event. Each dish at the festival is sold in the currency of “Crowns” where $1 equals 1 Crown.
I had heard of this event last year and was quite intrigued about it but didn’t decide to go since there was an entrance fee and I was frankly more fond of festivals that are free because after the entrance fee, you still need to pay for your food. Fortunately for myself this year, I was able to win a pair of tickets to attend the festival for free thanks to the contest headed by @travellinfoodie care of Taste of Toronto. How lucky and amazing! ^_^
Priscilla and I arranged to meet up at the Taste of Toronto food festival at Fort York around 5:30 p.m. on a Saturday evening, the second day of the event. It was a rather easy route to take the 121 bus from Union Station to get there. In fact, because there were so many people going there too, I found a lot of my bus mates getting off and going to the same festival. I didn’t realize how many people there were going to be at the festival until much later in the evening.
We picked up our pair of free tickets at the Media check-in booth and then went in. Wow, the space was actually huge! There were many large booths lined up with the restaurant names in clear lettering and lots of people milling about and waiting in line for food.
Since we had just arrived, we decided to scope up the festival and load our Crown Card with some Crowns first. The line-up to deposit Crowns was long but it moved quite fast!
On our way to the “Crown bank”, we got some free samples of food. There were lots of free nibbles and drinks to sample throughout the entire festival! You just had to make sure that you kept your eyes peeled for it. 😉
This was a goat cheese with fruit. It was fairly good and the cheese was chewy!
The sourdough bread from ACE Bakery with Nutella and strawberry jam was so soft and yummy! It was a decent-sized sample too.
The Spread offered this spicy sauce with bread sticks that I really enjoyed! The guy there, seeing me take a photo, even posed for me. Hehe.
I recognized the Pure Leaf Iced Tea brand as I had tried them last year at the Sweetery Toronto Food Festival. This is an incredibly thirst-quenching drink! I had the raspberry flavoured iced tea. I wasn’t a huge fan of how each sample cup needed a lid and a small straw for a drink that would be drunk in two seconds…. Our poor environment.
After these small nibbles and drinks, we finally decided to start lining up for the food! We got two dishes from Rasa, the Root Beer Pork Rib and an Ice Cream Sandwich.
The Root Beer Pork Rib was made with a jalapeno corn puree, corn nuts, and pickled fennel. It was a decent size and I really liked how tender it was! The corn nuts were crunchy and added the crunchy texture to the dish. The pickled fennel helped to pick up the heaviness of the pork ribs too.
The Ice Cream Sandwich was unique in that it was a pistachio gelato and there were crunched pistachios on it with fernet branca cookies. The cookie was soft and it was a very uniquely tasting dessert that was good! 🙂
Next up, we enjoyed some great “certified humane chicken” from Blue Goose. The BBQ Braised Chicken Sausage with Tortilla Crumbs was so good! I got two of these. :9 The Chicken Chili Chimichurri was also so clean and tasty.
Next up, we got some free coconut water from Vita Coco (full sized!) and cheese with fruit from Woolwich Dairy.
By this point, we had narrowed down what we wanted to try and eat for the duration of the festival so we lined up. Unfortunately, this was now the peak time that visitors were here and the lines were massively long!
We got the Porchetta Sandwich from Carver which had Red Pepper Pesto and Salsa Verde Aioli. This was smaller than I expected but it was so tasty! I really, really enjoyed it! ^_^
We lined up for the very popular Crispy Calamari Po-Boy from The McEwan Group. By now, the lines were all very long and we waited at least 20 minutes here.
The line for The McEwan Group was so long that after we lined up on the right to order and pay, we had to line up in another line on the left for the food. So intense!
The Crispy Calamari Po-Boy had an ACE Bakery charcoal bun with lemon caper aioli. This was actually really tasty and the crispy calamari was so flavourful. The ACE Bakery charcoal bun, despite looking black, actually didn’t taste any different than a regular bun. I really enjoyed this and could see why this was one of the favourites of the food festival.
I picked up a free sturdy tote bag from The Food Network who were promoting their cookbook.
We got the Olive Oil Poached Tuna from Little Sister Indonesian & Noorden Food Bar. The Olive Oil Poached Tuna contained red cabbage & carrot slaw, avocado, crispy quinoa, and sambal miso vinaigrette. This was a great dish because it was so refreshing and the poached tuna was actually so good! It was fresh and meaty and there were three big pieces on top of the salad. Yum! (I’ve actually been to Little Sister before for a brief dinner — blog post here.)
I got another drink from Pure Leaf, this time the unsweetened Green Tea Iced Tea as we waited in line. This time, I asked to leave aside the lid and straw; no real need for that!
Last but not least, the last dish for the night was from El Caballito Tequila y Tacos & Los Colibris. I’ve already been to Los Colibris for Summerlicious last year (review here). This was definitely the longest line so far since everyone wanted to try the Churro Nest; that was what we were in line for too! (We actually ate the Olive Oil Poached Tuna while in line to save time — we should have started doing that from the beginning to save time! Haha.)
After waiting in line for about 30 minutes, it was finally our turn! The Churro Nest with housemade dulce de leche and vanilla bean hard ice-cream was so visually appealing. The churro nest was harder to break apart than I thought but it was tasty. I especially liked the dulce de leche with the ice cream. Yum!
We definitely ended up staying longer than we anticipated as we both had plans after our stint at the Taste of Toronto. However, I stayed a little longer after Priscilla left to check out the Maille booth which had a mustard station and a Make-Your-Own-Mustard Station for just $2! It looked really cool and I would have loved to make one. Perhaps I’ll get a chance in the future at another foodie event. Instead, I tried out their mustards with bread sticks and pickles.
And alas, that was the end of my wonderful first-time visit to the Taste of Toronto. I was really impressed with the amount of people that they were able to attract to this huge restaurant festival! There were people milling about everywhere but it was also very organized and well-contained. There were no drunk people or people doing silly things. Everyone was content to stroll about and enjoy the food and drinks and the line-ups were also very civilized.
If I were to return next year, I would definitely devote a full evening or afternoon to the event since there was so much to see and do! I didn’t even go to each and every individual booth to try out their food or thoroughly check out everything. You can literally spend a day there if you love food as much as I do. Also, a tip would be to eat while in line so that you don’t get caught up in line-ups during peak times at the festival.
In addition, while I did think that the entrance fee was hefty, with the organization and smooth running of the event, I understand why the entrance fee was enforced. If I get another chance at a free entrance, I would love to come again for Taste of Toronto 2017! Excited to see what next year’s festival is like. 🙂