I was telling a friend about a new café in Kensington Market the other week. The vibe of the place was new-Nordic, I said – bright, clean lines, pale wood floors and crafty, modernist touches, so that it felt like something out of Dwell magazine or Kinfolk. They had butter tarts from the pastry chef at Splendido restaurant, killer ice-cream sandwiches and ginger snaps that were shaped like show horses.
It even had a craft table where young, pretty moms in yoga gear could sit around doing jigsaw puzzles, sipping loose leaf tea.
My friend, looking more and more alarmed as I continued, interrupted. "That's not the real Kensington," she told me. Which is a pretty common reaction when Torontonians talk to Torontonians about Kensington Market.
The neighbourhood, shaped over the last 130-odd years by wave after wave of new residents, has never been just one thing, because it has never stopped changing. The real Kensington, whatever that is, means something completely different in nearly every Torontonian's mind.
And yet for chefs and food lovers the world over, that near-constant flux has made it one of the most unique, most infinitely assorted, most densely packed urban grocery and eating districts on the planet. Nowhere else can you buy a proper Chilean empanada stuffed with beef and boiled egg and raisins a few doors down from a Salvadoran grocer and a sustainability-minded fishmonger and a Hungarian palacsinta crepe spot, and a vegan soup joint, and a Jamaican-Italian shop that serves tri-colour pasta with Parmesan cheese and coconut milk. Keeping up with it all can be a full-time job.
Whatever it means, the market is an unbelievably tasty place to wander.
Here are five of Kensington's best new(ish) spots to eat and drink – for now at least.
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