Heading to Toronto, Canada? Check out this guide of what to eat, international stores to shop in, and great places to dance.
This past week I had the pleasure of going (back) to Canada to visit some family and experience Caribana weekend for the second time! Caribana is always a fun time for me because my family is largely Jamaican.
For those who may not be familiar with the event, Caribana (or Toronto Caribbean Carnival) is a festival celebrating Caribbean culture and traditions. Although the festival itself is always on the Saturday of “Caribana weekend”, there are plenty of events surrounding it!
In addition to those events, I ended up shopping at FOUR different malls on three different days – including the day that I arrived! All of this, combined with some delicious food (some of which I can’t find in Cincinnati) made for a fantastic week. Without further ado, read below to find my recommendations/recap of what to eat, where to shop, and where to dance during Caribana weekend!
Ali’s West Indian Roti Shop + Leela’s Roti & Doubles: Both of these eateries are home to a heavenly food called Roti! The easiest way for me to describe roti is that it’s a style of flatbread that originated in India and made its way to West Indies islands such as Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago. A popular type of roti – a.k.a., my favorite – is Dhal Puri, which typically incorporates curried meats or seafood, potatoes, and a powder made from ground split peas. It is DELICIOUS. You can find Ali’s Roti on Queen Street, a long strip that is home to a ton of unique food shops and boutiques; and Leela’s Roti can be found in Mississauga, a suburban area 30 minutes outside of Toronto.
King Taps: I absolutely LOVED King Taps. This sweet spot is located on a rooftop in downtown Cincinnati, and boasts an artsy interior that opens to a breezy patio – with a DJ on the weekends, of course. We got more food here than I could finish, but my favorites were the calamari starter and my main course of salmon + shrimp risotto. Their frozen guava margarita was delicious as well!
George’s Greek Grill: George’s was a cute little place located in Mississauga Valley. This place had all the typical Greek fare that I’m used to, BUT unlike restaurants in Cincinnati, I was able to find my elusive saganaki (fried cheese, sometimes served to the table on-fire). Yum!
New York Fries: POUTINE! Fries, cheese curds, and hot gravy, all mixed together. ‘Nuff said.
The shopping centers that we went to were scattered around the city, but the cool thing that each had in common was their mix of both high-end and affordable brands.
– Eaton Centre is massive, crowded, and right in the heart of downtown. This is a mall for which you’d want to bring comfortable shoes and a high level of patience.
– Yorkdale Shopping Centre is located slightly outside of downtown, but it’s pretty big as well. We went there on two different weekday afternoons, and the parking lots were still jam-packed. Yorkdale has a more organized layout, with a particular section that is dedicated to its luxury brands (think Gucci, Chanel, etc.).
– Sherway Gardens is a much calmer shopping center located closer to Mississauga, and it has a figure-eight type of layout that’s a bit more walkable. It also has a nice mix of high-end and affordable shops.
– Square One Shopping Centre is not for the faint of heart. Located in Mississauga, it was very crowded, and unfortunately the shoppers that frequent the mall often leave the clothing racks in disarray (depending on what store you shop in). However, you can definitely find some gems here!
Between visiting all four of these malls, I was able to shop brands that I’m usually unable to find either in Ohio or in (the majority of) the U.S. in general:
– L’Intervalle* (a boutique that originated in Montreal and features high-quality European shoes)
*As a sidenote, check out these shoes that I got from L’Intervalle (below). I’m in love!
Latin Wednesdays at &Company Resto Bar: This cool venue doubles as a restaurant and lounge, as it has a sizable dance floor and table service on its first level; plus an indoor dance floor and outdoor patio with a second bar. Salsa lessons took place on the main level as the night began, and Caribbean music was played on the second floor. Overall, their Latin Wednesday did not disappoint!
Friday Night Mas + Jab Jab J’ouvert: Our Friday night was action-packed! First up was “Friday Night Mas”, which was allowed us to travel a mini parade route with tons of music, drinks, and light-up hats. Following this event, we headed to J’ouvert. J’ouvert is traditionally an event with – you guessed it – lots of music and bacchanal…plus paint. Lots of paint. Thrown on and around you. Basically, don’t wear anything that you care about getting dirty!
Caribbean Carnival Parade (Caribana) + Veld Music Festival: Since we got home so late on Friday night/Saturday morning, we didn’t head out until around 3pm later that day. But, once we did – more action! We stopped by the Caribana parade first, which consists of lots of people in gorgeous costumes (called “playing mas” or being in a “band”) dancing and celebrating. If you’re lucky, you can join the parade for a bit if you time it just right – but, don’t try to join in when each band goes to the judging panel. They don’t take too kindly to the interruption!
Veld Music Festival, while not officially part of Caribana weekend, was also an experience in and of itself. It was my first time getting a true “music festival experience”, and let’s just say that I now know what a mosh pit feels like! It was super-crowded, and my cousins wanted to get as close to the front as possible for the two artists that we ended up seeing. It was a great time, but word of caution: if you bring a bandana, wear it over your nose and mouth instead of just wrapping it around your arm (like me)! Those festival grounds can get dusty.
Caribana Sunday at Fiction Club: Our Caribana weekend rounded off nicely with one last event at Fiction Club, a nightclub in downtown Toronto (a few blocks away from King Taps). The DJs at this event definitely kept the crowd going with a mix of hip hop and Caribbean music, and there are tables available for bottle service if you so choose.
As you can see, there is plenty to do/see/taste in Toronto – and this was just a tiny sample of all that the city has to offer! I hope that some of these recommendations come in handy for you when you make your own trip to experience Caribana weekend – a trip that I highly recommend.
Until next time!