Ethnic food around Ryerson will stir you up

In Arts & Life /

By Lorette C. Thiessen

If you haven’t ventured into the international food venues around Ryerson, you should.  A new world of cheap cuisine awaits beyond the walls of the Hub cafeteria.

“I haven’t really explored the other options,” says Andrea Colby, an image arts student.  “I did attempt to brown bag it the first week, but I got so bored of sandwiches.”

“It’s no real deal,” says theatre production student Simon Kwasniuk of the cafeteria food.  “But at least it’s not greasy.”

There’s a lot more than fast food in the vicinity.  Skip the burger and chicken chains, they offer little value or nutrition.

My first stop is Pita Falafel at 355A Yonge St., north of Gould.  Pita Falafel is a Labense family business run by Jean Iskander.  “Many students come because they like something different,” says Iskander.  “And, of course, they are attracted to the price.  They really like the falafels and the chicken shawarma.”

Lebanese food is high in protein and fibre and generally low in fat.  Iskander’s menu offers many vegetarian selections.  I try a $5.25 combo platter with falafel, tabouli, and potato salad.  Falafels are fried balls of chickpea paste.  You can get them in a pita with hot sauce and greens.  The food is just spicy enough; ask for more hot sauce if you have a penchant for fire.

I wander into a tiny café called West Side Perk at 4 Elm St.  Perogies are a traditional Ukrainian or Polish food made from potato and cheese.  These ones are home cooked and served with sour cream.  The five perogies I buy for only $3.75 are filling and delicious.  If you have a large appetite, try the Vienna schnitzel or veggie burger with perogies.  The combos are under $6.

If it’s pizza you are craving, forget the chains and heads to Amato Pizza at 429A Yonge St. near Carlton.  The friendly service accompanies huge gourmet slices made with love.  Try the Bianca, with eggplants and oregano.  All choices are $3 flat.

Japanese food is new to me, but after my lunch at Daily Sushi at 20 Carlton St. I’m a convert.  I sit at a little bar and wait less than 10 minutes for my meal.  The helpful staff recommends a few items as I really don’t know what to order.

The miso soup is $1.50.  It is a broth made out of soy paste and green onions.  It comes without a spoon, so drink it straight from the bowl.  Don’t worry, everyone else does it.  I try the pickled radish and avocado sushi rolls.  Sushi rolls a rice, a vegetable, and often roe, eel, or fish rolled up in seaweed.  The waiter shows me how to make the sauce.  Just pour soy sauce into the handy dish provided and mix it with the green paste that comes with your meal.  This is wasabi, a hot Japanese horseradish.  Use caution:  I use the whole chunk and spend most of my meal in tears.

Sushi cost me almost $10 but there are lunch specials like chicken teriyaki for $5.  Also recommended are the gigantic noodle and seafood soups, or “udon” as they are called.

Just north of Gerrard and Church Streets is a Pakistani café, Mehran Restaurant, 398 Church.  It looks like a dingy donut shop but I’m glad to pop in anyhow.  There’s no atmosphere but the menu is cheap and tasty and you can also get take-out.

The woman behind the counter is wearing a colourful , draping gown and smiles a lot.  She tempts me with okra, cauliflower curries and eggplant dips.  “We have specials especially for Ryerson students,” she says.  One dish, Biryani, is made with rice and curry.  It comes with a drink for $4.49.

Up on Dundas and Yonge Streets is the best deal yet.  Coconut grove, 1 Dundas St. E., is a tiny, loud and greasy little place but the roti is huge and out of this world.  Roti is kind of like a pita, but stretchy, and it covers a gigantic wad of spinach, ground chickpeas, curried potatoes, carrots, eggplants or meat.  You’ll be able to eat about half of this healthy bundle, yours for only $1.50.  Warning:  if you can’t handle the island heat, so no when asked if you want hot sauce.

If you are on the run and not concerned by carcinogens, then classic American cuisine is cheap and fast right outside Ryerson.  Mahmoud Zarei runs the hot dog stand outside of the Rogers Communications building and he loves his job.  “I’m so happy here because the students are so nice, all of them so friendly,” says Zarei.  “I sell about 400 hot dogs a day.  I’ve been here for over two years and I like it here.”  His dogs are a bargain at $1.50.  For those worried about nutrition, Zarei also sells veggie dogs.  Sales of veggie dogs account for almost 10 per cent of his business, but that they tasted oddly of plasticine.

Of course, the school cafeteria is a necessary convenience.  And there will always be those who don’t want to stray off campus.  “The food here is decent,” says Grace Gallo, a geography student who eats in the cafeteria when she doesn’t bring her lunch.

But don’t settle for decent — the excellence of Toronto’s multi-cultural cuisine is just outside.

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