Toronto Food Trend Report: six things that caught our attention at the Underground Market
On Saturday, the Toronto Underground Market celebrated two years of connecting street food lovers with budding food entrepreneurs. Since launching its first Toronto market in 2010, the organization has become a platform for enterprising home cooks and small businesses to test-run their wares. The exposure has been the first step toward many brick-and-mortar restaurants—think La Carnita, Rock Lobster, Fidel Gastro, Seven Lives and, most recently, Hot Bunzz—but it’s also a survey of the city’s food obsessions. Here, the six food trends that caught our eye at the second anniversary fest.
1. Asian flavours are hot
The crowd still showed interest in Latin American and Spanish food, but there was an increasing appreciation for lesser known Asian cuisines. Babi & Co. (who recently won best popup at AwesTruck) served Indonesian street food. New to the scene La Brea Food playfully combined Tex Mex and Asian flavours in a manner that was more mash-up than fusion. Even Lamesa Filipino Kitchen put its own spin on American classics with the tapa “filly” cheesesteak (made with dried marinated beef) and the tocino pulled pork sandwich (made with sweet cured pork).
2. Jazzed-up humble foods
Homey comfort foods were given a kick this year, with Home of the Brave dishing up crema-drizzled, hickory-stick-topped, honey-habanero-dressed barbacoa pork ribs. Hand-held Australian pies from Kanga were also moving fast, stuffed with an assortment of unconventional fillings like creamy garlic zucchini or minced beef seasoned in vegemite gravy. Even chicken wings got a reinvented by the folks at Stuffed, who took their name seriously by stuffing mortadella or jalapeño into the pub classic.
3. Vegetables are the new bacon
While baconmania still runs rampant on the mainstream market, only a few Toronto Underground Market vendors featured the breakfast side dish. Instead, vegetables were used in abundance for vegetarian- and vegan-friendly dishes, as a delivery vehicle, and even as the central flavour in sweets. Boreal Gelato was pushing a subtle pumpkin-spice gelato and Laura Slack Chocolate Artist offered black garlic-infused caramel dark chocolate skulls that had a swoon-worthy umami punch.
4. Portable desserts that aren’t cupcakes or macarons
Yummy Tummy sold layered cakes in a jar, which were as easy to eat as to carry in a purse. Newcomer Oma’s Dutch Delights introduced poffertjes—fluffy bite-sized pancakes slicked with butter and a mess of icing sugar. We suspect that these traditional Dutch treats will be the next Tiny Toms.
5. Punny menus
La Brea Food led the pack with something called “General Tao’s Seoul brotha nacho libre” (nodding to the dish’s Chinese, Korean and Mexican influences) and dressed each plate with “happy ending” sauce. Me.N.U. (pronounced “me and you”) did its own pun run, featuring various mozzarella-stuffed fried rice balls called Dead Mau5 (with tortilla chip ears), Porkzilla (with braised pork belly) and the PokéBall. Hot Bunzz created a tribute menu with nods to popular Underground Market alumni Fidel Gastro (“b.l.t.o”: pork belly, lettuce, tomato, and an “o” for the Fidel’s signature “olé”), La Carnita (mole rojo), and Rock Lobster (a lobster dish).
6. People are still hungry for street food
Founder Hassel Aviles says that Toronto Underground Market events are as popular as ever, drawing 1200–1500 eager supporters each. She also told us that she and business partner Kate Clegg are in the process of developing Sumac, a year-round service that will offer food entrepreneurs a social space to develop and launch new businesses. The pair has already won a spot in the inaugural cohort of MaRS Centre for Impact Investing’s Impact 8 program, which will equip them with effective fundraising skills.