Around the world via 10 ethnic neighbourhoods in Toronto, Canada

With international travel plans still on hold, I have not been doing the trip planning that I normally would at the start of a new year. Instead, I’ve been looking for places to discover locally, and what better way to substitute travel abroad than exploring the cultures of Toronto?

Toronto, Ontario is the most diverse city in Canada and one of the most multicultural in the world. In the 2016 census, 51.5% of its 2.9 million residents identified as belonging to visible minority groups and over 180 different dialects are spoken. It is not just the demographic diversity that makes Toronto unique; it is known for embracing its cross-cultural nature, perhaps best reflected by the mosaic of thriving ethnic neighbourhoods that make up the city. Here are a few notable ones that are worth visiting if you find yourself in the area.


Jump ahead…

Chinatown | Little Tokyo | Koreatown | Little Tibet | Little Poland | Little Italy | Portugal Village | Greektown | Little India | Kensington Market


Chinatown

📍Nearest subway station: Spadina

Downtown Chinatown (Source)

Centred at the intersection of Spadina Avenue and Dundas Street West in the downtown core, Toronto’s oldest existing Chinatown was established in the late 1950s. The area developed as a consequence of the government expropriating the first Chinatown which had been set in the area that now houses New City Hall and Nathan Phillip’s Square, thereby pushing its native residents and businesses westward. The current Chinatown was previously a Jewish district, later becoming an enclave primarily made up of immigrants from southern China and Hong Kong. There is also a small but significant population from Vietnam, who have opened eateries here and serve some of the best Vietnamese food in Toronto.

Since the 1990s, downtown Chinatown has been redefining itself in the face of changing demographics and gentrification. Once an intensely busy pocket of the city, I have personally noticed the decline in foot traffic and business development in the area. In fact, most Torontonians in the know will advise visitors to venture out to the suburban Chinatowns of Scarborough and Markham for more extensive options in Chinese cuisine.

Little Tokyo

📍 Nearest subway station: Dundas

Uncle Tetsu Japanese Cheesecake (Source)

Little Tokyo is an unofficial ethnic neighbourhood, referring to a short stretch of Dundas West between Bay Street and University Avenue. In recent years, it has become home to an abundance of Japanese restaurants, notably Japango for sushi; Uncle Tetsu’s Angel Cafe for Japanese desserts; Don Don Izakaya for small plates; and Sansotei Ramen for noodles. It doesn’t compare to the Japantowns found in other major cities like San Francisco, but is at least a centrally located area that serves as a good start to a Japanese culinary journey around the city.

Koreatown

📍 Nearest subway station: Christie

Seaton Village Koreatown (Source)

Koreatown in Seaton Village is another historic Asian ethnic enclave in Toronto. Initially populated by people from Central and South America, an influx of Korean immigrants in the 1960s and 1970s led to the development of Koreatown in this area northwest of the downtown core, running along Bloor Street West between Christie and Bathurst Streets. In recent decades, the Korean population of Toronto has grown and extended into the district of North York, leading to establishment of a Koreatown North as well.

I spend more time in the Seaton Village Koreatown, where I enjoy trips to P.A.T Central, Toronto’s first Korean supermarket; The Fry, for Korean fried chicken; Buk Chang Dong, for soon tofu; and Hodo Kwaja, for walnut cakes. Oh, and don’t forget about Korean BBQ! This is also the neighbourhood to go for a well-priced and nice haircut, as there are several salons with stylists who actually know how to properly handle Asian hair.

Little Tibet

📍 Nearest subway station: Dundas West

Little Tibet (Source)

Within the neighbourhood of Parkdale in west Toronto, you will find Little Tibet. Between 1998 and 2008, nearly 3000 Tibetans immigrated to Toronto, making it the largest Tibetan Canadian community in North America. Since then, a concentration of Tibetan restaurants has opened in the area, serving such regional specialties as momos and butter tea. In the summer, the Students for a Free Tibet hosts a Momo Crawl, where participants get the chance to taste a selection of these steam filled dumplings from the restaurants around Little Tibet. It’s one of my favourite annual food events in Toronto.

Little Tibet and surrounding Parkdale are another part of the city facing the consequences of rapid gentrification. For decades, Parkdale has been been the site of low income housing and settlement for recent immigrants. With the rise of new condo developments, trendy shops, and their accompanying rent increases, the most vulnerable members of this community are at risk of being pushed out and further marginalized.

Little Poland

📍 Nearest subway station: Dundas West

Roncesvalles Polish Festival (Source)

West of Parkdale lies the neighbourhood of Roncesvalles Village, culturally known as Little Poland. If you have an appetite for Eastern European delicacies, this is the place to be. A walk through the streets of Roncesvalles will bring you to delicatessens and restaurants serving hand-made pierogies, juicy sausages, sauerkraut, cabbage rolls, and traditional soups. In September each year, the area is host to the Roncesvalles Polish Festival, North America’s largest celebration of Polish culture. In 2019, I went to the festival for the pierogies and incidentally had the chance to meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as well.

Little Italy

📍 Nearest subway station: Ossington

Little Italy (Source)

Toronto’s Little Italy is centred on College Street, approximately on a stretch between Harbord Street and Dundas Street and extending east-west from Bathurst Street to Ossington Avenue. Italians first arrived in Toronto in large numbers during the early 20th century, initially settling in the area then known as The Ward on University Avenue and College Street. Following World War I, several thousand more Italians came to Canada and by the 1920s, many had moved west of Bathurst Street and into the Palmerston neighbourhood, establishing the first official Little Italy.

Today, you can find a plethora of Italian owned businesses and restaurants here. Also, in keeping with its Catholic tradition, the city’s largest Good Friday procession takes place here along College Street. The annual Taste of Little Italy celebrates the city’s Italian gastronomy, although I still haven’t found a place with tiramisu that compares to the ones we had in Rome. The neighbourhood continues to evolve and has now attracted an influx of Portuguese, Chinese, and Vietnamese residents — making it one of the most multicultural communities in Toronto.

Portugal Village

📍 Nearest subway station: Dufferin

World Cup celebrations in Portugal Village, 2016 (Source)

Just west of Little Italy is Portugal Village, bounded by Lansdowne Avenue to the west and Bathurst Street to the east. Although there are several businesses along Dundas Street West and College Street, the area is mostly residential. My most vivid memories of this neighbourhood while growing up in Toronto were passing through during high stakes football matches. If the Portuguese team wins, be prepared to be met by excited crowds revelling on the streets.

In terms of food recommendations, trying Portuguese-style peri peri chicken and potatoes is a must. 🤤

Greektown

📍 Nearest subway station: Pape

Taste of the Danforth

The Danforth in east Toronto has been an ethnic enclave of Greek immigrants since the period following World War I. Later on in the 1960s, the area saw an influx of Greek immigrants who were fleeing political and economic unrest that eventually culminated in seizure of power by the Greek military junta. By the 1970s and 1980s, the Danforth became known as the largest Greektown in North America.

Greektown boasts one of the highest concentrations of restaurants per kilometre in the world, highlighted during the Taste of the Danforth food festival that takes place annually in mid-August. I would actually recommend visiting outside of festival week so that you can properly enjoy the experience without the packed crowds.

Little India

📍 Nearest subway station: Greenwood

Little India (Source)

Also known as the Gerrard India Bazaar, Little India is located in the Leslieville neighbourhood east of downtown Toronto. It is situated along a portion of Gerrard Street between Greenwood Avenue and Coxwell Avenue, initially established in 1972 with opening of the Naaz Theatre which screened Bollywood and Pakistani films. This attracted large numbers of Indo-Canadian visitors to the area, leading to rapid expansion and development of hundreds of stores and restaurants. Little India is now ranked as the seventh largest South Asian marketplace in North America.

Since the late 2000s, Toronto’s South Asian population has expanded into other parts of the city, including multiple neighbourhoods within the suburban districts of Etobicoke and Scarborough. Although Little India has lost its central position in South Asian commerce, it remains an important part of Toronto’s cultural history.

The melting pot: Kensington Market

📍 Nearest subway station: Spadina

Kensington Market

If you want to find a place that offers a diverse experience of Toronto’s various cultures, Kensington Market is probably the city’s best example of a melting pot. This distinctive neighbourhood in downtown Toronto adjacent to Chinatown has been designated a National Historic Site of Canada, known for its eclectic shops, cafes, and attractions.

In the early 1900s, the area was flooded with Jewish immigrants mostly from Eastern Europe, turning it into an “old world marketplace” that continued to flourish for the next 30 years. Since the late 1960s, Kensington has become an highly diverse area, hosting immigrants with backgrounds ranging from Eastern Europe, Portugal, Italy, China, East India, and Afro-Caribbean. Of course, the best way to enjoy this melding of cultures is to eat! I recommend Seven Lives for tacos; Golden Patty for Jamaican patties; Rasta Pasta for jerk chicken; Blackbird Baking Co. for bread and French pastries; and Daan Go for cute Asian flavour inspired cakes. During normal summers through to mid-autumn, Kensington Market hosts Pedestrian Sundays, where the neighbourhood goes car-free and vendors and artists line the streets with their wares.


I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip around the world, within Toronto!

33 responses to “Around the world via 10 ethnic neighbourhoods in Toronto, Canada”

  1. I find your observation of Toronto very accurate, the diversity of origins is still very visible.I always wonder whether this is a good or a bad thing, as communitarianism also has its pitfalls and dangers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You make a good point. It can be a delicate balance between assimilation and preserving cultural heritage.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You are right, both are important, I don’t know how to find the right balance.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow! Those sound like amazing places! I have to make sure I go there when I visit Toronto 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I knew that Toronto was a multicultural city, but I had no idea just how INCREDIBLY diverse it was! Coming from Los Angeles, my hometown has most neighborhoods like in Toronto, but we’re sorely lacking in a Little Tibet or Little Poland (two cuisines which I LOVE). But we have Little Ethiopia and Historic Filipinotown, so it really pays to live in a large city! Thanks for sharing your list. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh, I would have a good time in Little Ethiopia. We have a few Ethiopian restaurants around here; tibs is so delicious. It sure does pay off to live in a large city.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ohh I got to visit Little Tibet And India! There’s also a belt along the finch east subway, full of asian cuisine and community. Had my first taste of korean food from there, so damn good!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds like Koreatown North, another great part of the city for food!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Definitely! They even have very specific Chinese cuisine there. It’s mind boggling the options! When this ends….. 😔

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow! I honestly had no idea Toronto was so culturally diverse! Someday when we upgrade our Bobbie we’ll get over that way. Taylor Coach, the maker of our beloved RV, is in Millgrove, so not too far away! We’ll have to make a point to spend time in Toronto.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. So much to see and do in Toronto. My sister lives there and I hope to return soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There is; maybe not so much these days but eventually when this pandemic clears up…

      Like

  7. So interesting to see such a variety of cultures all within one city! And what a great way to travel abroad without going abroad. Excellent post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad you learned something about my home city. Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Nice little tour! My brother lives in Greektown and the restaurants are wonderful. Many new Middle Eastern foods last time I was there. Toronto is a welcoming place for so many immigrant groups.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Admittedly, I have not spent much time in Greektown. Need to get back there sometime; I would love to try some new Middle Eastern places.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. jasonlikestotravel Avatar
    jasonlikestotravel

    Really interesting to see how many international options you’ve got in Toronto, can’t imagine there are too many ‘Little Tibet’s’ around the world. Cool you got to meet Trudeau too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Little Tibet is the most interesting to me. The people are so lovely and the food is great!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. So much food diversity in this post! I need to come up there sometime and eat my way through all these neighborhoods

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You could spend at least a week doing that!

      Like

  11. I love the diversity that international communities bring to the new world. It’s not just the food, it’s the traditions – also a big sucker for some good Pierogi

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, love those pierogis 😛

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Wow, nice excursion around Toronto! I had no idea how multifaceted the city is. The neighborhoods are all fascinating, but Little Tibet is the most alluring in my book. So any visit to Toronto should be well timed to coincide with the Momo Crawl Food Festival. Thanks for sharing, Jess.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your comment inspired me to order momos for dinner tonight! Yum 😛

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I used to hang out in Greektown growing up and we lived there for a few years. Great neighbourhood, but then again, there are so many awesome ones in Toronto!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I honestly haven’t had a chance to visit Greektown very often. There are so many interesting neighbourhoods in Toronto!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. You’ve included some great Toronto neighborhoods, but there are so many more! I’ve been coming to Toronto for meetings since the ‘90’s and try to discover a new/different neighborhood each time I visit- thanks to some wonderful Toronto-based friends.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, definitely so many interesting neighbourhoods to explore in Toronto. I probably spend most of my time within only a tiny fraction of the city.

      Like

  15. so cool this post, I know there is a huge portuguese community in Toronto and it was fun to confirm they keep the tradition of celebrating every football match ahah we are a bit addicted to footbal… it was also lovely to discover the other comunities in your city 🙂 thanks for sharing, would love to discover Toronto some day 🙂 cheers from Lisbon, PedroL

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Portuguese community here is full of character, that’s for sure! Hope you get a chance to see Portugal Village and more in Toronto some day.

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      1. I hope too 🙂 thanks for your feedback 🙂 regards, PedroL

        Liked by 1 person

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