No sooner had I landed back in Ottawa for my annual summer visit than I was on a train heading to Toronto to help dear friend Puddy celebrate her birthday. It was a milestone birthday but I am pinky sworn not to mention which one.
With a few hours to spare before the big event, I popped on my flats and off I went to St Lawrence Market to see what I could see. For me, it was a trip down memory lane. I lived in Toronto in the early 80’s and back then, every Saturday morning, rain or shine, I’d jump out of bed before sunrise, take the Yonge Street subway to King Street and walk the remaining 5 or so blocks to the market. Saturday was my favourite day to visit the market because on Saturdays, it was alive with local, artisanal vendors.
The Market is large by North American standards and consists of two buildings, simply named, the North Building and South Building. The South Building, the oldest of the two, is open every day but Sunday. It’s lively and dynamic and filled with about 120 vendors, some of whom are are resellers and some are local or Canadian producers like Anton Kozlik’s Canadian Mustard.
It’s a great place to go for lunch and munch and while you’re perched on a stool you can watch the action swirling around you.
The current South Building was rebuilt in 1904 on the site of where the first one was built in 1803. In 1971 it was slated for demolition but a group of concerned, passionate Torontonians saved it, thank goodness. The South Building’s vendors are spread between two levels of fresh fruits, vegetables, cheeses, fish, meat, baked goods, dry goods, an art gallery, demo kitchen, and on and on and on. You can find everything you need to make pretty much any cuisine from anywhere in the world and I’m not the only one who thinks it’s quite exceptional. The Market was recently voted one of the World’s Top 10 Food Markets by National Geographic Magazine.
Although the South Building has its merits, I’m a big fan of the smaller, more modest North Building. On Saturdays, it’s filed with local producers of cheese, meats, crafts, baked goods, and pretty much anything you can imagine that’s produced locally. Even when I’d shop there in the 1980’s the crowds were thick, relentless and the vendors more often than not were sold out of whatever goodies they brought by 10AM. On Sunday the North Building is also home to a fabulous flea market.
One of my favourite vendors from the Saturday North Building market was Stephanie Evanoff. I’m heartened and somewhat surprised to see that 30 years later she’s still in the market’s Vendor Directory. Ms Evanoff produces excellent goat, sheep and cow’s milk cheeses but most of all, I loved her soft and delicious one day old “Fresh Cheese.” The taste of them reminds me of fresh Italian ricotta but with a silkier texture. The only thing I’ve ever found that comes close to it is Brousse de Brebis, a speciality cheese that I buy from an artisanal producer on Saturdays in the market in Menton, France.
Since I was at the St Lawrence Market on a weekday I can’t share photos of the North Building with you but I hope to return to Toronto later in the summer and you can be sure that I’ll post some North Building snaps.
If you’re lucky enough to be in Toronto on a Saturday, I suggest you visit the North Building first to get your pick of locavore goodies and then take a spin around the South Building. You may want to go bright and early before the relentless crowds arrive. Both buildings open at 5AM. Bring cash.
92- 95 Front St East
Toronto, Ontario, M5E 1C3