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Chinatown, Toronto

I consider myself as an intrepid explorer, most likely due to my irrational fear of public transport. (The vehicles themselves are fine, the people on them scare the crap out of me. I need to carry around a lifesized dreamcatcher to keep the weirdos away.)

This fear isn’t always a bad thing, it means that I will walk up to 1.5 hours to get to my destination before I consider the alternative: still going nowhere near a train or a bus, and getting in a car.

So there’s the health benefits, and the fact that wherever I like, I feel like I am a tourist in my own town. I get to see every shop, restaurant, café, bar, gym, theater, park, statute, river, bridge etc as I walk on my merry, non-public transit way.

And this is what led me to Chinatown in Toronto. Toronto is split up into 140 officially recognized neighborhoods. Originally, Toronto was a quarter of the size it is now. In 1999, a whole bunch of districts and neighborhoods were consolidated to create what is now known as the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

Toronto’s original Chinatown was created in the late 19th century around York and Elizabeth Streets, but when City Hall was constructed in the 1950s, many Chinese businesses and families were forced to move further west towards Spadina and Dundas Street West, making downtown’s current Chinatown. And the GTA doesn’t have just one Chinatown – outside of Toronto’s Downtown Core, there are Chinatowns in Scarborough, Markham, Richmond Hill and Mississauga.

This Chinatown excursion was due to another aversion of mine: paying a truckload for over-priced vegetables. When I lived in Sydney, Australia, I drove from the beaches to Chinatown every couple of weeks to jostle amongst grey-haired Chinese grandmothers for choice bags of cheap fruit and veggies. And as I was about to a juice detox (another crazy idea of mine) for a week, I decided to trek up to Chinatown in Toronto.

As a vegan there are always items that are eye-opening for me in Chinatown, particularly of the dried variety. On this particular humid day, the dried shrimp and squid caught my eye, and I lingered over them thinking how they looked like props from a sci-fi movie set.

Downtown Toronto’s Chinatown is more pan-Asian than other Chinatown’s I’ve visited. Aside from Chinese grocers, herbalists and dim-sum restaurants, it also boasts some pretty fancy looking pho-cafes, Vietnamese restaurants and even Korean and Japanese eating places.

It’s not as authentically Chinese looking as Chinatown in Singapore or San Francisco in the United States with its lack of serious grand arches, nor as frantic and yum cha focused as Melbourne or Sydney in Australia, but the produce is fresh and there’s a great selection between the grocery stores. And the footpaths are still littered with eclectic Chinese seniors selling spinach and choy fresh from their backyard, or jade bracelets and trinkets.

Which Chinatowns have you been that impressed you? Which have been the most authentic? Which are the most eclectic or pan-Asian?



Profile photo of Jessica Meddows

Jess is a freelance writer and lawyer. She and her Canadian husband travel the world and share their stories on their blog - North & South Nomads. She loves the sun, swimming, animals, and cooking. She's also the most mild-mannered vegan you'll meet - at least about your diet. :)

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