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When Kashi Syal arrived at the University of Toronto as a first-year student four years ago, she was as pumped as fretful, disoriented as determined. Clad in skinny jeans and turtleneck––both black––she had an undercut she didn’t know she would be remembered for. Nor had she anticipated that two years later, the Facebook profile picture she posted, of her contemplating over what appears to be an open bottle of soy sauce before a silver tray of garish display, would gain her 270 likes. By then, the undercut had grown into a French bob, and despite the same skinny jeans, the turtleneck had softened from ebony to gray. With some occult magic of college, friends evolved to family and Toronto started to feel like home.
While she “didn’t make friends over food per se,” she reckons that food was a way to bond. And while you might not remember the taste of your first meal at the Howard Ferguson Dining Hall, the sound of “Fung”––as university students would call it––would always bring to your lips a reflex of a smile.
Indeed, the food at Fung, like at most cafeterias, is less than unimpressive. But on the other end of Fung's impressive “oak table under dimly lit chandeliers,” you can always find a friend by talking over their rip-off meal plans, or how you both got food poisoning from their stale sushi.
That said, food is food, and no amount of friends could fill the void in our stomach. If you want good food, you have to forage off campus. As a “notoriously bad cook,” Kashi had frequented many, if not too many, of Toronto’s best eats while studying in Toronto.
“Kos in Kensington Market, Mother Dumpling in Chinatown or Sushi on Bloor are [all] great places I would recommend to incoming freshmen or returning second or third years," says Kashi. "They’re all affordable, close to campus and yummy authentic eats. If you fancy going a bit further, Naan and Chai on Queen Street West is amazing east meets west Indian food with a twist. It’s also super close to Trinity Bellwoods so you could eat it in the park with some drinks.”
In addition to being a bad cook, Kashi was also the former art editor at the Varsity––the University of Toronto's student news publication. When asked if she had ever experienced a moment when she took a bite and wanted to call it art, she pointed towards a tucked away corner in Ossington––a self-effacing neighbourhood cafe called Manita.
“They have the yummiest little pickled peppers made in-house and bread from Blackbird Bakery,” she says. "If you have lived in Toronto for over a year, you must have heard of Blackbird Bakery. As a sucker for rustic bread and pickled everything, I’ve already booked my own lunch slot for next Saturday."
While studying for exams though, Kashi speaks highly of the “poutine from the brown food truck at 4 a.m.” regarding it as the “best poutine in the city.” The heightened stress of exam season mixed with the lack of sleep is the perfect excuse to eat your heart out––and some foods comfort the soul more-so than others. For an “immediate dopamine boost” after an all nighter, Kashi also recommends “ginger milk tea with lychee jelly from Icha Tea."
When asked if she would recommend a restaurant for a first date, she confessed that instead of dining, she would usually have “a pack of crisps before the date,” and pints at Ronnie’s in Kensington during the date. While some foods indeed fosters communal feasting, eating can also be a lone act that hungers for privacy. But in case testing your date with table manners is your game, word on the street is that Cafe Diplomatico on College is the best spot for a first date.
To new beginnings and four (or more) years of good eats––be sure to try as many foods as you meet as many people. While some may suck, others, exceptional. Either way, you can only hope to still call upon those who made you laugh at the restaurants whose names you’ve forgotten, many years from now. And hopefully, they’ll remind you.