Toronto as a world map
Grab an espresso in Little Italy. (Corey Wise/LPI)
Maple syrup and Mounties? You will find them in Toronto, but you may have better luck sniffing out kimchi, Polish sausages and obscure Italian opera recordings. Half of this city’s population was born outside of Canada, and with more than 140 languages and dialects spoken, it is one of the most multicultural cities on the planet.
Beyond the typically North American downtown core lies a vibrant patchwork of diverse neighbourhoods, each faithfully importing a microcosm of the old world. Korea, Poland, Greece, Italy, China and India are heavily represented. There is even a Malta Village (and you thought the original Malta was tiny).
The beauty is that you can easily span the globe - or a decent portion of it - within a couple of days.
Here is a glance at the big four neighbourhoods:
Gerrard India Bazaar (Gerrard Street between Greenwood and Coxwell; www.gerrardindiabazaar.com)
It is nasal bombardment, in a good way: wafts of curry drift in the breeze, cinnamon sings on the sidewalk and many shop owners keep a stick of incense perpetually burning.
With all those flirtatious aromas flitting about, a thorough feeding is both encouraged and inevitable. In addition to both northern and southern India, delicacies from Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are handy, as are restaurants catering to halal diets and vegetarians.
On the cheaper side, street vendors push two items: grilled corn rubbed with lime and spices, and Kashmiri tea, a creamy pink concoction sprinkled with crushed pistachios.
Window browsing may yield simultaneous shopping therapy and colour therapy, as sari-clad mannequins strike sassy poses and endless rows of brightly-hued bangles wink at buyers.
Both the food and the fashion whoop it up at Diwali, the annual festival of lights, which takes place from 6 - 7 November, 2010 (www.gerrardindiafestivals.com).
Little Italy (College Street between Bathurst and Shaw; www.littleitalyintoronto.ca)
Plain old streetlights simply would not do. Little Italy marks its territory with boot-shaped lights attached to each lamppost.
It is no wonder that pride is abundant in these parts: after World War II a wave of immigration graced Toronto with the largest Italian population outside of Italy. By day, dapper older gentlemen stroll along the Italian Walk of Fame, treading on plaques dedicated to Dean Martin, Connie Francis and friends. Hushed conversations are had on street corners. Espressos are sipped. "Italia"-emblazoned onesies are bought.
But - the lights were a hint - Little Italy is a night owl at heart, especially in summer. After dark, throngs of slick partygoers hit the area's overflowing outdoor patios to sip martinis, nibble on pizza and whisper "amore" while spoon feeding each other gelato from a Colosseum-sized bowl - or was that "no more?"
Chinatown (Spadina Avenue, between Queen and College)
There are, in fact, six Chinatowns throughout Toronto but this, the downtown version, is the linchpin.
Densely populated by shops whose wares spill onto the street for perusal by bumper-to-bumper pedestrian traffic, Chinatown is a magnet for bargain-seekers. Ten dollar haircuts, discounted long-distance phone cards and dirt-cheap T-shirts are frequently used as bait. Meanwhile, prices for fruit and veggies (including flamboyant produce like Sweet Dragon Fruit and Fuzzy Squash) are unrivalled in western grocery stores.
Like the India Bazaar, Chinatown has grown to encompass far more communities than its namesake. Thai, Japanese and Vietnamese restaurants now happily reside beside established dim sum joints and dumpling houses.
Greektown on the Danforth (Danforth Avenue between Broadview and Jones; www.greektowntoronto.com)
Akropolis, Athens, Zorba, Athena, Omonia: the businesses on "the Danforth" have no qualms about trotting out the most clichéd Greek terms.
Greek retail shops are few and far between nowadays, but the Danforth's gastronomic forte still leans toward moussaka. Large, airy restaurants dominate - edifices that could accommodate the whole family or even a big fat wedding.
The neighbourhood basks in the limelight every August during Taste of the Danforth - a boisterous street party rife with souvlaki and bouzouki music.