Have you ever “swum” with sharks, sailed under the falls, or set paper airplanes flying without the teacher knowing? All of this amusement can be found within Toronto, which contains many tourist destinations – Ripley’s, Niagara Falls, and the Ontario Science Center. But even knowing all of this doesn’t make you a local resident – you probably missed at least one of the tours!
Kensington Market Sweets Tour, Toronto’s only sweets tasting tour, used its special magnet and attracted sweet teeth all over the world. There were people from Great Britain, Mexico, and more local residents. This tour started at Ding Dong Pastries, in the Kensington Market, Toronto Downtown. The six sweet stores we visited were Ding Dong Pastries, Filipino Popcorn Shop, Take Out; Eat in Catering, Churros, Wanda’s Pie in the Sky, and the Blue Banana Market. Our tour guide’s name was Audrey Ooi and she was the one who introduced us to all the sweets and told us interesting facts about them.
Ding Dong Pastries – Egg Tarts
This is our first stop. Ding Dong Pastries was filled with different kinds of bread, and workers zooming in and out carrying fresh trays, ready to be sold. Not long after, our tour guide arrived and initiated a group introduction. After everyone’s warm introduction, the tour began. She explained that there are two different kinds of sugar (sugar beet sugar and sugarcane sugar). We learned about the fascinating history of how sugar was made, when it was made, and how Canada contributed to the creation of sugar. Who knew that the Napoleon war played an important role in sugar?
Two-third of the world’s sugar comes from sugar canes, but they are only grown near the equator. Therefore, the US also discovered sugar beet, which is grown in more temperate forests.
The tour guide soon gave each of us an egg tart to taste. There are two types of egg tart, one of which is Portuguese style and the other of which is Chinese style. The Portuguese egg tart includes more fruit, whereas the Chinese Hong Kong style is made of only egg. The egg tart was created in the 1980s and quickly became a popular dessert around the world. Nowadays, we find egg tarts in all kinds of shops.
Filipino Popcorn Shop – Popcorn of many flavors
Before we were done licking our lips to the great savory taste of the tarts, we had already stepped into the Filipino Popcorn Shop. When you walk into the house-fashioned building, you see bags full of colorful popcorn piled high on shelves, and a worker who introduced some gumball machines full of popcorn as “samples.” It was free to the tour members, so we tried almost one of everything. Bacon and cheddar, pizza, smoky chipotle, ketchup, grapes, banana, pina colada, blueberry, toffee, sweet chili pepper, honey mustard, hot jalapeño, jalapeño cheddar, ranch, cheesy barbeque…. Do you think I listed all of them? What if I told you that that’s just one-third of them all? We enjoyed the Cheddar, Cheesy BBQ, both jalapeños flavors, and banana.
It took a big effort to create the shop, a bigger effort to get the products, and an even bigger effort to create so many different flavors. This shop presented the most awkward kind of sweets, but also our favourite.
Akrems Shoppe– Middle Eastern Sweets
We got energy from the popcorn and could walk even faster. Soon enough, we were at the third stop, a Middle East store. We got to try out some salted pistachios and candies, which brought a flavor that showed not only the food, but even the kind of emotion of working.
Voice K had the pleasure of interviewing the owner, Hiyan Samara, who enjoys making others happy. She makes all kinds of food, and others really like it, which makes Hiyan joyful.
In the beginning, Hiyan sold clothes and her husband sold food. Then they worked together to make food, such as fellahin. Everybody went to eat the food and it became very popular.
Hiyan and her husband established the building from scratch, and it took over two and half years to rebuild it. But, in our opinion, it was worth it.
“Little by little, we built up this store, and improved our reputation. From all over the world, magazines came to talk about our food,” Hiyan said. “This is an accomplishment that makes me very happy.”
“Communication is very important. It is the key to success,” as Hiyan said. “It builds our community and jobs and improves it.”
Some people love bread, though some people dislike it. But, we bet Churros are something that no matter your culture or taste, you’ll be willing to try. The worker took out a deep-fried hollow strip of bread, then using a bottle of chocolate sauce he squeezed it into the fluffy cake bread center. This food came from either Portugal or Spain. They still debate on who invented it, and with two completely different stories.
Audrey said, “The Spanish said what happened was that these shepherds were living in the mountains of Spain, and they baked the bread over a fire. This soon developed into Churros. And they say this is true, because the Churros are named after a kind of sheep.”
The Portuguese story is that they actually went to China in the 1600s, and saw this kind of hollow, fluffy, crispy tube of bread, about 30 cm long. When they went home and made it, they failed, but made the completely new generation that is just really popular to this day.
Wanda’s Pie in the Sky
Does she cook pies in the sky? No. It’s just a creative name. Wanda creates pies, cakes, salads, and cupcakes to fit the taste of her customers. Wanda started baking when she was eight years old using the berries in her mother’s backyard. When she grew older, she went into an arts and design university where she decided to pursue her career of baking. We tasted mini cupcakes, of which there were red velvets, and vanillas. We enjoyed the red velvet more than the vanilla ones. There were many cool cake displays such as rainbow cakes, and animal cookies.
Since the pan-am games are coming to Toronto this year, this shop will work harder to be prepared when millions of people come to Toronto in the summer.
Blue Banana Market
The Blue Banana market ranges from food to jewellery. It is a grocery store that sells things from many different countries. We tasted the marshmallows, which were made by hand. There were many different flavours such as coffee, mint and strawberry. The marshmallows tasted fluffy and stiff at the same time. It was very different than the ones they sell at the supermarket.
We also tried a kind of chocolate named flakers, with many layers and holes inside, kind of like the Aero chocolates we eat.
Audrey explained to us that this chocolate was made by accident: “A long time ago this chocolate was leftover from chocolate bars. Someone saw that this was a smart idea to invent a new type of chocolate, and he thought, Why not?”
Interview with our Tour Guide
At the end of the tour, Voice K finally got a chance to interview with our tour guide Audrey Ooi.
She said, “I think one of the biggest challenges is when you face people who are not interested in the tour. You need to experiment with the people to help them regain their interest.”
One of Audrey’s best experiences was when there was an old lady with health issues, and slowed the team down. But to Audrey’s surprise everyone else on the tour were very understanding about the situation and enjoyed the tour very much.
Audrey also explained the most popular sweets in the past few years. “I think the most popular sweets in the past few years are definitely the churros,” she said. Other than this, people also favored the Take out; Eat in Catering, where Hiyan told about her exciting life and the stories of her shop.
Hiyan said, “Communication is the key to success.” The Kensington market has been around for more than a century, and so have the stores. Small companies usually don’t survive over generations. As a historic market, the stores start in a community. Other than providing the foods, though, the market also knows what the customers need. Then, they grow – in popularity and reputation. Even though the people came from different places, they felt that they were treated as old friends here. With good communication, the stores kept their business, the customers kept their community, and I kept my taste.