Toronto, CAN: Toronto’s Street Food ‘Provincial’ Compared to Other Cities


By Simon Kent  |  Toronton Sun


Toronto the hungry, meet Toronto the good.

Once again, residents of Canada’s biggest city have been confronted with the issue of food carts.

Do we set them free or keep the current tight operational rein through licensing and health restrictions?

Members of a group called Food Forward want a definitive answer.

They went to City Hall last Wednesday with an “illegal” food cart of fruit to “shine a light on Toronto’s ridiculous restrictions” on street food.

“Torontonians want to end the delays that prevent food carts and trucks from selling from streets and parks so they can enjoy diverse street food this summer,” said Darcy Higgins, executive director of Food Forward.

“We are asking why Toronto residents or tourists can’t even enjoy a healthy fruit stand downtown.”

It’s a good question on a needlessly vexed issue for city fathers — and presumably mothers.

Needlessly vexed because it’s not the first time we’ve been here.

Back in 2007, Ontario eased a regulation that limited street vendors to just selling hot dogs, sausages and a handful of other pre-cooked items. The aim was to bring the world to our streets on a sizzling plate and expand the range of edible options available.

It was a great idea that was strangled at birth by official meddling.

Rather than let a new street food scene flourish and be governed by the simple laws of supply and demand, former mayor David Miller and his council thought they knew better.

Remember the A la Cart program? It was a centrally-controlled experiment that forced vendors to buy bulky standard-issue vending carts that required significant capital outlay before a single sidewalk burrito could be sold.

Epic fail.

Vendors struggled under the combined weight of the official carts and red tape. The project was the quietly killed with its creators running as fast as they could from the scene of their culinary crime.

The pressure to do something at City Hall — anything — about Toronto’s lack of street food alternatives has returned ahead of a staff report due next spring expected to bring with it a host of recommendations.

Before then, perhaps, a few sets of councillor eyes could be cast towards Singapore.

Next Friday, the tiny island nation will be holding the inaugural World Street Food Congress. It will be 10-days of eating and debating the future of this truly global cuisine style in a city where eating out isn’t so much a hobby as a national sport.

The congress will acknowledge that an overwhelming majority of the world’s population relies regularly on the biggest, most loved, yet most unstructured culinary culture for sustenance.

From curbside jeepneys in the Philippines, the kaki limas of Indonesia, falafel stands in the Middle East, food trucks and burger stalls in the U.S., street stalls in Bangkok, taco stands in Mexico, pie carts in Australia, street food inns in China and hawker stalls in Singapore and Malaysia, eating on the street is part of the pleasure of life in major cities the world over.

Singapore especially has an affinity with the food style that draws visitors from around the world.

Street food started there in the 1900s out of necessity because there was a 10:1 male-female ratio in the city.

Lacking anyone to cook their meals, the hungry but hopeless male population was forced to go outdoors and seek sustenance. The solution was on the curbside — hot, comforting and cheap.

Anyone who has been to modern Singapore knows that the food cart vendors are now offered more permanent homes at places like Newton Circus or in air-conditioned, under-cover hawker markets.

They are regulated for health and safety but still allowed to flourish with a minimum of bureaucratic interference.

Given that robust capitalism and personal endeavor form part of Singapore’s DNA, it’s no wonder food carts find a happy home there.

The city makes Toronto look positively provincial by comparison.

Here’s a list of the current food cart fare which can be sold on Toronto’s streets:

• Pre-packaged cut fruits and vegetables using only vinaigrette dips

• Whole fruits and vegetables, including corn on the cob

• Pre-packaged fruit salad

• Bagels with individual serving containers of butter, margarine, peanut butter or jam

• Pre-packaged nuts and seeds

• Pre-packaged salads containing only vegetables and/or fruits with all dressings to be pre-packaged and not requiring refrigeration

• Pre-packaged Tabbouleh salad and pita bread

• Soups

•   Pre-cooked veggie burgers

•   Coffees and teas