Toronto, Day Four

Toronto is huge. San Francisco feels like a small town in comparison and the first thing that struck me as we checked in to our hotel in downtown Toronto is how expansive the city limits are. Canada may be sparsely populated, but its cities are huge and there are a (metric) ton of things to do, see, and eat.

Smoke's Poutinerie

Naturally, my first order of business was poutine. Must. Eat. All. The. Poutine. Word on the streets (and by streets, I mean the internet) is that Smoke’s Poutinerie is one of the best, so Nishan and I stopped by for a pre-dinner snack. Yeah, “snack.” I got the classic, Nishan got the double bacon cheeseburger. In the wise words of the great George Takei, oh my. What is this magnificence? What is this perfection? And why don’t we have it south of the border?

Smoke's Poutinerie

Mission accomplished.

CN Tower

Afterwards we walked over to CN Tower. CN Tower was the world’s tallest tower until the completion of the Burj Khalifa in 2010, and I learned that CN stands for Canadian National, the railway company that built the tower. Inside, we took the glass shaft elevator up to the observation tower, complete with glass floors!

CN Tower

Only one of us was amused.

For dinner (or dinner #2 depending on how you look at it), we ate at Buca, a trendy Italian restaurant in a converted old brick warehouse.

Maple moose chips

And of course we had an after dinner snack, because Canada.

Toronto and Niagara Falls, Day Three

By our third day in the Toronto area, we’d settled in London, Ontario, where we spent a few fun days with Nishan’s brother, sister-in-law, and adorable nephew. London was also our home base for a day trip to Niagara Falls, only a two-hour drive away through Niagara wine country. The drive was pretty and the reward was stunning.

Niagara Falls

It’s not every day you get a view like this.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls straddles the international border between Canada and the US and while it’s smack in the middle of a hyper-touristy area, you sort of forget the commercialization that you’re surrounded by as soon as you see the views. These waterfalls are beautiful and it’s crazy for me to imagine that they actually freeze during the winter. (Seriously. Google it. It’s awe-inducing.)

Niagara Falls

We decided to embrace Niagara Fall’s touristy-ness and embarked upon the Maid of the Mist, a boat ride that takes you all the way up to the waterfalls.

Niagara Falls

I thought these plastic overcoats served no purpose other than to make passengers look ridiculous until I realized how misty it really gets down there. We were soaked!

Once we dried up we began our drive back to London, souvenirs in tow. Niagara Falls may be touristy, but it’s worth the drive.

Toronto, Days One and Two

Toronto is hailed as one of the greatest food cities in North America, though you might not know it because Canadians can be so modest. But when I visited last fall, I was excited to eat, explore, spend time with Nishan’s family and enjoy some home-cooked Sri Lankan cuisine.

String hoppers

After a delicious new Canadian dinner at Marben in downtown Toronto, Nishan and I spent a couple of days in Brampton, where I was treated to an incredible Sri Lankan meal. Sri Lankan food isn’t for the faint of heart — it’s spicy, pulls no punches, and was almost too much for my wussy Iranian taste buds. There’s nothing a dollop of yogurt can’t cool, though, and I happily went to down on fiery mutton curry alongside seeni (onion) sambol, pol (coconut) sambol, biryani, fish cutlets, and hoppers.

What are hoppers, you ask? Similar to a crepe, hoppers are made from a fermented batter of rice flour, coconut milk and a dash of palm toddy. The batter is cooked in a hemispherical wok-like pan. There are many types of hoppers, like string hoppers and egg hoppers. Sri Lankan cuisine is nearly impossible to come by in the Bay Area, so this was a real treat.

After a couple of days in Brampton we were off to the Toronto suburb of London, Ontario. But first: Tim Hortons.

Tim Hortons

C’mon. What’s a road trip in Canada without a coup of Tim Hortons coffee and an order of Timbits doughnut holes?

Ledson Winery and Vineyards

Growing up, Ledson Winery was “the castle winery.” As children, we had no interest in wine, and only cared that driving past Ledson at night along rural Highway 12 was especially spooky.

Ledson Winery

These days, my tastes have matured and I like to visit Ledson for the (non-scary and actually very welcoming) ambiance and breathtaking vineyard views. I was last there during harvest season with Nishan and my sister, Melody. And yes, we still call it the castle winery.

Ledson Winery

The castle has has only been around since the 1990s but the Ledson family has been making wine and farming since the 1800s. The French Normandy-style structure is easy to spot in Kenwood if you’re wine tasting along Highway 12. The vines immediately surrounding the castle are Merlot, but the winery makes a range of reds and whites.

If you’re in the area and thinking of picking up a bottle, better do so while you’re there: Ledson only sells at their winery and at their hotel in neighboring Sonoma.

Adas Polo (Iranian Rice and Lentils)

Adas polo is comfort food. Simple to cook and customizable to taste, nearly every Iranian kid grew up with this lentil and rice dish. Like your adas polo sweet? Top with a sprinkling of fried raisins. Prefer it savory? Add extra fried onions. Craving a hit of tartness? Eat with a dollop of Middle Eastern yogurt.

Adas polo

This recipe comes courtesy of my mom, who always made me extra tahdig (the crispy rice at the bottom of the pot) to go with my adas polo. Now that’s love.

Ingredients:

3 cups basmati rice
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
8 tablespoons oil
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
3 1/2 cups water
2 cups lentils
1/2 cup raisins
Iranian or Greek yogurt, to serve

1. Clean and wash 3 cups of rice 3 times in cold water.

2. In an electric rice cooker, combine 3 1/2 cups water, washed and drained rice, 1 tablespoon salt, and 4 tablespoons oil. Start the rice cooker. Cover and let cook for 15 minutes.

3. In the meantime, clean and wash lentils and boil in a pot of water and 1/2 teaspoon salt for 15 minutes over high heat. Drain.

4. Hollow out the middle of the rice mound and add the lentils. Cover and continue cooking for 60 minutes longer, then unplug cooker and let stand for 10 minutes without uncovering it.

5. Meanwhile, in a skillet, brown the onion in remaining 4 tablespoons oil. Using a slotted spoon, remove onions and place on a serving plate. Reserve oil in skillet.

6. Reheat skillet with oil and brown raisins until slightly plump, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove raisins and place on another serving plate.

7. Remove rice cooker lid and place a large serving dish on top of the rice cooker mold. Grasp them together firmly and turn pot upside down to unmold tahdig and rice onto the dish. Cut into wedges and serve with onions, raisins, and yogurt.