I arrived in Toronto at about 2 in the morning, and the very first thing I did, after parking the car and checking in to the hotel, was to walk down Yonge Street to the nearest street vendor and buy a sausage, slather pickled peppers and mustard and kraut on it, and walk back to the hotel, eating my hot dog, victoriously. Hot dogs taste better in Yankee stadium, or on Yonge street. No one knows why. It’s just that way.
I love Pittsburgh, but one of its biggest drawbacks is the near-absolute lack of street cart or vendor culture. The city council doesn’t just not support it, they actively oppose granting new licenses (and then they write whiny, stupid articles in local papers wondering “Why don’t more people move here?”) Oh sure, there’s the Saigon Sandwich lady on the strip, who makes the best Saigon sandwich I’ve ever had, anywhere, and there’s Dilly and her ribs, but they’re in the Strip District where there’s already a ton of great food. Half the joy of a street vendor is that you can find them in neighborhoods where there’s nothing but overpriced restaurants and banks. Hand them $2, walk away with the best meal you’ll have all day. Other than the strip ventures, there’s a few truck-based places that operate near the University campuses, and one Asian cart on the South Side. That’s pretty much it.
Another aspect of Toronto street food that I love: everyone eats it. When I lived in New York, you could pretty much divide people — on sight — into those that will eat a hot dog from a cart and those that won’t (there was also a third category, which was “I would eat a hot dog from a cart, but I decided to go to Nathan’s in Coney Island, instead.”) In Toronto, dividing people up this way isn’t possible, because they don’t let you into the city if you don’t eat street vendor hot dogs (all of the vendors sell vegetarian sausages, too, so you’re out of excuses). Every time I go, I see someone I wouldn’t expect to be chomping down on an Italian sausage in public wolfing one down. Last trip, it was the 60-something asian grandmother, squatting on the curb (onions, peppers, mustard). This time, a Muslim man and his wife (in a chador!) walking down the street eating their very delicious looking beef dogs (I presume), which were covered in chilli.
It was a long drive. But it was a really good hot dog.
More culinary notes from Toronto will follow soon.