It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Toronto, like many large cities in Canada and around the world, is very multicultural. After all, it’s the top choice for new immigrants and the University of Toronto also attracts international students. Plus, you know, it’s “Trawna”—or “Trono,” “Toronno”… the local pronunciation if the city’s name is often debated around here—, the cultural hub of civilization (the rest of us just shovel snow or produce maple sirup), the one Canadian city foreigners can locate on a map, that place where sometimes you find no snow on the ground in January when non-Torontonians battle severe winter weather.
But Toronto is not “just” multicultural—it’s a fascinating blend of people, food, customs, languages and experiences, a nightmare for anyone stupid enough to believe that cultures shouldn’t mix, a dream for those who want to experience the best the world has to offer.
As dumb humans, we tend to gravitate towards people who look like us, even if only superficially, as if there were insurmountable cultural barriers between us. I notice it all the time, especially as one half of an interracial couple. Case in point, if Feng and I are queuing together, we are often treated as two customers or two strangers instead of a couple. But in Toronto, interracial couples, families and groups seem to be more common. It’s a relief. We’re getting there, little by little! Sooner or later skin colour, cultural background and personal religious beliefs will be irrelevant… right?
Head to Dundas Square, packed night and day, rain or shine, summer and winter. You can accept a Quran from a dude who has been giving out free copies for as long as I can remember, or if you already have one you can consider embracing Jesus as your saviour—chat with the folks standing so close to the Quran guy that it looks like they’re creating a new religion. Not convinced? You’re not the only one. Three metres to the left is the conspiracy theory guy who has some breaking news for you—inquire further if you want to waste an hour on the latest thing he discovered. Oh, and note that these characters don’t fight or argue with each other. Interesting, isn’t it?
Pick a street, any street, really, and travel without a passport through Chinatown (Spadina, Dundas and more), Greektown (Danforth), Little Italy (College Street between Ossington and Bathurst), Koreatown (Bloor), Portugal and Brazil (College, Dundas West), India (Gerrard)… and probably to other destinations as well, as new immigrants choose to make Toronto their home.
Where else but in Toronto could you order a “sushi burrito,” whatever that it? (Try it on Dundas and University!) Where else can you see old British ladies slurping a Chinese hot pot, a Korean guy buying a $1 Jamaican patty, Chinese tourist tasting sugar pies and baked goods at St Lawrence Market and an Argentina family ordering Cantonese dim sum in Spanglish?
Where else can you have steamed xiǎolóngbāo (juicy dumplings) as if you were in Shanghai, fresh cabbage and pork jiăozi (dumplings) wrapped and dumped into giant pot of boiling water in front of customers, juicy eggs and chives jiān bǐnɡ (filled pancakes) or cōngyóubǐng (scallions pancakes) (pancakes) salty and slippery zhájiàngmiàn (cold noodles with soybean paste), chewy bāozi (meat-filled steamed buns), crusty pineapple buns and melt-in-your-mouth egg tarts?
Yeah, I got my fill of Northern Chinese food in Toronto.
Bring the best of your culture with you to Canada and share it proudly. We appreciate it—I certainly do.