This year’s Christmas was spent with an inner-city bus and tram system. However, the edible parts of the occasion proved so magically sweet that perhaps no winter food prepared for the holidays deserved more attention than latkes.
A true Yiddish heritage dish with an Anglicized name, latkes are the rolled-up pancakes that give Hanukkah its unique flouriness. They appear on the Hanukkah menu and are celebrated throughout the Jewish year, but often more as an end-of-year snack than as a holiday food, which is why so many Ukrainian and Russian Jewish neighbourhoods in Toronto proudly showcase the iconic dish as part of a mezze dinner that also includes hard-boiled eggs, potato salad and pickles.
1. Latke on St. Clair Avenue
When Bill Burlingame moved to Toronto from Chicago in the late 70s, he walked down St. Clair Avenue in search of Jewish delis to help his fledgling restaurant business. An oasis of warm family-run Jewish restaurants served standbys such as latkes and brisket, and, because they were baked on site, the atmosphere was best described as cheerful if not some shades of ye olde – or perhaps New York-ish – New York. However, the best latke in town for me was at the only known West Indian eatery in the new world – Kokomo’s. The name, which rhymes with “pinkie roll”, was inspired by the West Indian soldiers – from there, the tortilla wrap can be assumed, if not fondly. Between 1976 and 1989, Kokomo’s was one of the city’s last bastions of the Jewish and West Indian culinary communities, and its annual Christmas party is just as tightly knit and uniquely Jewish as the Hanukkah party. Its version of a latke recipe comes from somebody in Bermuda.
LIMO Chicago, 614 Wabash Avenue
The Asian food phenomenon of restaurants serving the decidedly unexciting classic Chinese dish dim sum has sprouted in many unexpected places across the country in recent years, such as the Montreal and Chicago chapters of Shanghai Boy. Cleveland may be known for hot dogs and beers, but the locals may be familiar with Chinchilla, a Honduran restaurant that specializes in pot stickers, which, as their name suggests, resemble potato fries. With rare exceptions, dim sum shops are usually conveniently found in every one of the three busses and large trams that make their way through City Hall every day – so you’re sure to find something to satisfy your craving.
Kokomo’s Restaurant. Photograph: Dave Moyer
2. Niko’s Jewish Deli
While I had no plans to visit Jewish delis during my visit to Toronto on one of the hottest weekends of 2018, I relished a last minute opportunity to cram on the subway from downtown to Pearson International Airport for an anticipated flight to New York City. As I got off at Bay Street Station, the area was abuzz with holiday travellers and the modern JCC was one block away – which, as it turned out, allowed me to find little indication of the festive cheer amongst the tiny mounds of hot dogs and bagels, but a giant ceramic man eating a hot dog on one of the main beams. The man, which according to the many remarks made by fellow travellers around me, is the symbol of the roast goose that is often prepared for Hanukkah, is by no means the world’s biggest of these types of food-related public sculptures, but it was one of the first to come to my mind, and certainly the first to grab my attention.
3. Ricky’s Kosher Deli
The Canadian headquarters of the Orthodox Jewish population in Toronto is more about biryani and lox than latkes, but I’m not suggesting Ricky’s is a certain type of establishment. It’s a somewhat chic take on a traditional Jewish deli in a commercial strip where you might see would-be rockers and deejays alike about to get one on the night before a live show in hopes of turning their day into something way more than a day.
Reservations are notoriously hard to come by at Babiatas, which operates a tiny takeout-only sushi business in the former home of the Rusty Nickel Theatre.