Originally focused on traditional Greek food, the Taste of the Danforth festival has become a mixture of the wide variety of cuisines that the neighbourhood offers. On my first visit to the festival this summer, I was unsure about whether I would be able to find something vegetarian for myself to eat. There were many Greek restaurants set up on the street selling spanikopita, and an Indian restaurant offering samosas.
I knew that most of the Greek restaurants in the area serve vegetarian dishes on their menus, but I didn’t see that being offered to the street crowd. I ended up going into a Greek takeout place to get a veggie pita and Greek fries. It was good, but not really worth waiting in line for.
Marissa, a recent vegan and long-time vegetarian, had a similar experience when she attended the festival this summer: “I only really got to see what was available on the Friday evening, but there was very little choice that I found. Everybody has souvlaki and spanikopita, which I’m sure are great, but I’m also sure that they’re not vegan. I wound up getting a table at The Friendly Greek. They had a vegetarian meal on their menu – it was rice, roasted potatoes, and salad. Decent, but I felt like I was missing out on the “Greek” part of the meal.”
When asked if she would go back, she said that she would because she enjoyed the atmosphere and it was still something fun to do on the weekend.
Something that both Marissa and I wondered was why the vegetarian restaurants on the street weren’t participating, or if they were, where were they? To answer these questions, I spoke to three vegetarian-friendly businesses: The Big Carrot, Dukem Ethiopian Restaurant, and Tea Tree Cafe & Eatery. All of these businesses are listed with the Toronto Vegetarian Association.
The Big Carrot
According to The Big Carrot, their business has always participated in the festival. In the beginning they tried to offer their own unique vegetarian street fare but they found that, although popular, mini pizzas and shrimp kebabs took more effort than they were worth. More recently they have been selling organic smoothies and ice cream cones. “We find that while our store sales suffer over that weekend due to no parking and crowding issues, it is still important to participate and take advantage of the street presence and let the masses know that we exist, otherwise your business gets lost in the crowds. We just don’t do the labour intensive stuff anymore. It’s not worth it.”
Tea Tree Cafe
Erin Pim, the proprietor of Tea Tree Cafe, had a slightly different experience with the festival. Because her restaurant is located east of Jones Avenue it is not within the festival limits, but this did not prevent her from benefitting from the increased traffic. She used this to her advantage by offering discounts and free vegan cupcakes with purchases to get people to try her fare.
Outside of the festival, people come to her cafe because they are looking for a healthy alternative on the Danforth. When I asked why she chose to start her business in the area, she explained that it was a good space in a good neighbourhood. The Danforth community was the place that best fit her criteria.
Dukem Ethiopian Restaurant
Despite its strong Greek roots, the neighbourhood supports new businesses that find their niche and participate in the festival. Such was the case with Dukem Ethiopian restaurant. After opening six years ago, Dukem has made the Danforth their home. Dukem invites festival-goers to their open house where they can experience authentic Ethiopian cuisine and the famous coffee ceremony. They find that people at the festival are often looking for a variety of cuisines and are open to more than just Greek food.
As in many cultures, Greek celebrations are heavy on the meat, so it isn’t exactly realistic to expect Greek restaurants to cater to vegans and vegetarians at the festival. But for those who still wish to participate without eating meat or animal by-products, options are there, though you may have to look beyond Greek food to find them. Next summer, I plan to try out the full range of what the Danforth has to offer, and won’t limit myself by seeing the area as exclusively Greek.