Saturday, was the second edition of the Toronto Underground Market. We bought our tickets back in September and we were quite anxious to go! We are thankful we bought our tickets so early because they sold out very quickly. It is difficult to determine how many people actually attended this event but let’s just say that some line-ups were over 2hrs long and by 9pm, some vendors/exhibitors were completely sold out.
When the doors opened, we rushed over to the famous and elitist La Carnita stand as we wanted to experience the hype.
For those who do not know, La Carnita… the concept was started by a marketer, who ventured to see the effects of social media, especially Twitter. The concept is simple: set-up a pop-up kitchen but only warn your clientele via twitter the day of; this creates a sentiment of exclusivity which has proven to grow La Carnita’s business exponentially. At the time selling food (aside from street meat) was prohibited in Toronto, so they thought of selling art pieces and as a token of appreciation for your purchase, you could receive 2 tacos… the so-called best tacos you’ve ever tasted…
After waiting for 30 minutes or so at La Carnita, we sent out missionaries (we could as a group of 4) to get an overview of the event’s installations and to bring back some food (we were hungry!!!). Another 20 minutes later, we were finally served our cochinita and the celebrity Voltron fish tacos ($4 each), along with our post-card-sized artwork. The Voltron fish taco was served with a spicy sauce and purple cabbage… good for those who enjoy battered deep fried fish (à la English fish and chips), not so great in our opinion, although the tortilla itself was one of the best – ever. The cochinita taco was essentially pulled pork dressed with a mango-apple salsa and marinated onion. This taco was definitely better tasting although the pork could have used more seasoning (the sweet salsa was overpowering the pork flavour). To be honest, we were expecting more from La Carnita… Guess that’s the double-edged sword of celebrity status, people (like us) fantasize about that first encounter… and it wasn’t quite the hot steamy costarricense experience that I knew, once upon a time…
While waiting for these famous tacos, one of our missionaries brought back a chou-paste gougère stuffed with porketta and beignets composed with goat cheese, fig and walnut from Popover Girl. The porketta flavours were interesting and the gougère slightly too big ($5). The beignet was a good idea and had the potential to taste nice if it were more flavourful (4 pieces/$5). The Popover Girl experience was a satisfying nibble before La Carnita.
Once we devoured our tacos, we headed back to the main of the event where hundreds (>thousand?) more people were now crowding the space.
We lined up at La Comida del Mundo for a good 2hrs… while in line we missioned to obtain other goodies… we first tried Mama Nashi’s Indian-style chicken, ground beef and vegetarian samosas (3/$5). It is unfortunate that the samosas were deep-fried as they were very oily and a lot of the flavours were ‘washed out’. We tried Hawaiian lager which was awful!!! Sweet beers are not a given for everyone, fine… but there are some combinations like apricot or apple beer that are good… pineapple is not one of those great combinations! We also tried the flying monkey beers which were decent, nothing special but definitely a better choice over the pineapple beer. At West Side Beef company, we got pulled pork (tiny portion for the bun!) sliders with an apple coleslaw ($5 portion). These sliders were not bad but could have been more generous for the price.
Finally, at La Comida del Mundo’s stand, we ordered one of each item on the menu: jalapeño corn bread grilled cheese topped with a swirl of bland guacamole and a tinier swirl of sour cream, a super sweet water buffalo empanada, an unpleasant deep-fried sweet and spicy banana-cream dessert (for which we didn’t get the name). With all this food, we grew thirsty and caved in to the Picnic Society’s watermelon-basil lemonade which was hyper-diluted and tasted terrible (no sugar, barely any lemon…) ($5/glass).
To finish off our savoury journey, we decided to try pan-fried mushroom risotto balls stuffed with mozzarella served with a bit of tomato sauce by a group of highschool students ($4/plate). This was by far the most respectful stand in our professional opinion. Seeing highschoolers devoted to making and serving fresh pasta, made to the order, for a few hundred people was an impressive show… their goal was to fundraise for a trip to Italy but their passion and hard work is an encouragement for our industry.
Sadly, the end of our evening was dedicated to the only two sweets stands present… A macaron stand, which were a lame excuse for a specialty as they were hard, chunky, and did not contain very much filling (3/$6). Then, a cupcake stand with cupcakes so stiff, we wished we hadn’t drank all of that awful watermelon-basil lemonade just so we could wash these down (2/$4).
We did not visit all the exhibitors present at TUM, such as the Romanian, Pilipino, Caribbean and Indian food stands (although we should have gone to the Indian one which smelled soooooo yummy!!!!), or the multiple coffee stands, spice vendors and many other brewers. Contrary to the event’s advertisement, there weren’t any home cooks present… maybe next time! We’ll definitely give it another try!
Cost of the evening for 3 people: $130 all included.
Old brick factory – interesting architecture Poppver girl’s pork in a gougère
La Carnita’s exhibit One of the bosses, making tacos for the growing line-up La cochinita taco
Voltron fish taco The crowd Mushroom Risotto Cookies and cream, Oreo, and Smores cupcakes