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Around the World Walking Tour
How fast can you circumnavigate the globe? Forget 80 days—in Toronto you can do it in a mere 80 minutes (give or take). Overwhelm your senses in Chinatown and the multicultural Kensington Market, and then take your time on a leisurely walk along Little Italy's main thoroughfare. These neighborhoods are food-centric, so start out hungry.
Start on Chinatown's periphery with a photo op. Three of the city's most recognizable buildings are visible here: the whimsically modernist Sharp Centre for Design, the CN Tower in the distance, and the Frank Gehry-designed Art Gallery of Ontario. Moving west, signs of Chinatown appear, literally and immediately. At the Chinese Bakery fuel up with sticky rice cakes and salty pork cookies. Ten Ren Tea is a favorite for bubble tea, milk tea, and traditional green tea. For a full meal of noodles, try Swatow, and for inexpensive dim sum at any time of day (or night), drop into Rol San. The intersection of Dundas and Spadina is one of the busiest in the city. The Royal Bank of Canada building here has a colorful history. Opened as a Yiddish theater in 1921, it became a burlesque theater and then a Chinese-language cinema before closing in the 1990s. All along Spadina, sidewalks spill over with bins of exotic fruit (rambutan, durian, dragon fruit) and dried fish, stacks of rattan baskets, and racks of inexpensive clothing. Chinese restaurants are plentiful, but Thailand, Japan, and Vietnam are also represented.
Cross Spadina to Kensington Market, via Baldwin Street. In the early 20th century this was an overwhelmingly Jewish neighborhood; one of the few remnants is the 1930 Minsk Synagogue. Today Kensington is a global marketplace: side streets are crammed with colorful storefronts selling cheese, produce, clothing, and ethnic foods. Get a cupcake at Miss Cora's Kitchen, a pair of vintage cowboy boots at Courage My Love, and unique gifts at Good Egg and the Blue Banana. Or watch the carnival go 'round, coffee in hand, at I Deal, with a you-wouldn't-guess-it's-vegan burrito from Hot Beans, a "double" (chickpea sandwich) from Caribbean Patty King, or a fresh-squeezed juice from Urban Herbivore.
On the Continent
Along College Street, the passage to Little Italy, the flavors alternate between old-world European, trendy Canadian, and off the map (Ethiopian, Mexican, Persian). Café Diplomatico has been a Little Italy institution since 1968: its sidewalk patio is a great place to chill with a Peroni or granita. Sadly, espresso isn't its forte; hit deliberately disheveled Manic Coffee instead. The Italian bakeries, restaurants, gelato shops, and newsstands multiply closer to the heart of Little Italy, around College and Grace streets. End your cultural tour with a taste of Portugal: a traditional pastel de nata (custard pastry) at Nova Era, one in a chain of Portuguese bakeries around the city.
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