"Good food makes us happy," states Susur Lee, Toronto's superstar chef who has won countless accolades, including the highest rating ever for a plate on TV’s Iron Chef America. Lee's imaginative cuisine, blending Chinese flavours with French technique, was at the forefront of a new wave of fusion cuisine that’s now become entrenched in Toronto's culinary scene.
Lee's legacy is still going strong at his family's newest restaurant Bent. More casual than his previous establishments, it serves up a wide selection of smaller dishes designed for sharing. Here, comfort foods like braised short ribs are served alongside sashimi delicacies from the Raw Bar.
Each dish has a touch of unexpected flavour, which is typical of this culinary master who believes that "each bite should involve all of our senses and tastes."
Though Lee may be the father of Toronto's fusion scene, there are plenty following in his footsteps. Chef Grant Van Gameren has been heralded as the next Susur Lee by Toronto Life Magazine, and his latest venture Bar Isabel has been listed as one of the city’s best new restaurants several times over. This cosy and unpretentious eatery is known for serving up dishes with a twist – a Spanish twist in this case. Tapas of cured meat, cheeses, and seafood are served up alongside a legendary late-night chef platter. The cocktails, courtesy of mixologist Michael Webster, are also among the best in town.
Oddseoul, owned and run by Leeto and Leemo Han (Korean brothers who grew up in Philadelphia) is another local favourite, with dishes that incorporate the brothers’ interpretation of both American and Korean cuisines, sometimes in the same dish. Korean/Mexican fusion is on the menu at Barrio Coreano, recently opened in Toronto's Koreatown district. After sampling their grilled octopus with wasabi salsa tacos and Soju Sangria, you can always head for a nearby Korean karaoke bar and sing your heart out in their private disco-ball adorned rooms.
How about the combination of Hungarian and Thai food? The aptly named Hungarian Thai Bar and Eatery in Kensington Market serves up combo plates of spring rolls, cabbage rolls, chicken pad thai and schnitzel. It may seem a little odd somewhere else, but not in this downtown neighbourhood in the heart of multicultural Toronto.
With more than 140 languages spoken and half the population born outside the country, Toronto has been serving a range of authentic cuisines for many years. Gizelle Lau, a Toronto food writer and photographer, says that whether you’re looking for “Vietnamese pho noodle soup, Neapolitan-style pizza, Korean pork bone soup, Japanese ramen, Greek gyros or Indian dosa - you can get the real deal in the city, usually at a very reasonable price.”
She adds that fusion is an exciting part of today’s food scene in Toronto, which is thriving thanks to so many new restaurants and chefs looking to make a name for themselves.
Lau believes that it’s the city’s diversity that makes the food truly stand out internationally. “It creates a city of people who embrace and discover influences and cuisines from around the world,” she says.
And that makes us happy.
Header photo 1: Goi Cuon © Paul Brighton/Thinkstock
Header photo 2: Chef Susur Lee © Toronto Tourism
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Written by Jennifer Merrick
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About the author: JenniferMerrickJennifer Merrick
Born with itchy feet, Jennifer travels whenever she can with her family, writing about their adventures in numerous publications, including Buffalo News, American Eagle Latitudes, Montreal Families, Washington Times Community and Ontario Magazine. @jenmerrick