A new exhibition on Jewish eateries in Toronto, past and present, illustrates the growing importance of Israeli-style food in the city’s restaurant scene. Little surprise given how the Israeli-Canadian community has expanded over the past decade in Toronto which today is home to some 65,000 expatriate Israelis.
Now on view at the Reuben & Helene Dennis Museum at the Beth Tzedec Congregation, Canada’s largest synagogue, the installation showcases how Toronto’s many Jewish eateries have been offering comfort and sustenance to residents for more than a century.
If much of the content concentrates on late, lamented Jewish restaurants from the city’s past, it also highlights current ones that many people see as part of a resurgence of Jewish food in Canada. With a spate of new eateries in recent years, many serving Israeli-style food – including Fat Pasha, Caplansky’s, Dr. Laffa, Schmaltz Appetizing, Aish Tanoor, Mika Fresh, Ba-Li Laffa, Café Landwer – the future of Toronto’s Jewish restaurant scene seems bright, especially as the community, in contrast to most in the Diaspora, is growing.
“I’m optimistic,” says Dorion Liebgott, Curator of the museum. “In the last five years, there’s been a real upsurge and greater interest in the arrival of new Jewish restaurants in Toronto, many of them kosher, many serving Israeli-style food.”
Nearly a year in the making, the exhibition is divided into seven categories, presented in chronological order. It spotlights 75 eateries – current and long gone, kosher and treif, dairy and meat-based, Ashkenazi and Sephardic, downtown and suburban, those serving breakfast and lunch, others lunch and dinner; restaurants, delis and diners.
“Food has always occupied a central and delicious part of Jewish culture,” states the introductory panel. “In some respects, it has served as the glue or schmaltz that binds families and communities together… It’s been a common practice to deride Toronto’s Jewish culinary offerings compared to other major North American cities such as Montreal, New York and Chicago. The intent of this exhibition is to address these misconceptions by recounting the extensive, extraordinary and compelling story of Jewish Toronto’s restaurants.”
In 1912, a year after their wedding, Aaron and Sarah Ladovsky, both immigrants from Poland, opened a bakery/coffee shop downtown with the desire to recapture the flavors of the life they left behind in the old country. They called their business United Bakers where they sold coffee for 5 cents a cup.
Today, 105 years later, United Bakers Dairy Restaurant is an institution in Toronto’s Jewish community and one of the oldest family-owned restaurants in Canada. Aaron and Sarah’s grandchildren Philip and Ruthie Ladovsky are at the helm in much larger premises, far removed geographically from the two initial downtown locations, having moved north in 1984. Its menu has also expanded, now including Israeli dishes such as shakshuka, humus, falafel and Israeli salad.
With a substantial, and constantly growing, local Israeli community, its influence is increasingly felt in Toronto’s restaurant scene, hence the “laffas” in the name of the exhibition. In recent years, various Israeli-style eateries have opened along with several places specializing in laffas. Not to mention two Israeli imports, the Aroma coffee chain which now operates 38 locations in the Toronto area and Café Landwer which opened its first local branch earlier this year, with a second one already in the cards.
“It’s wonderful to see the growing presence of Israeli-style food served in Toronto restaurants,” says Galya Sarner. “It shows the appeal and heightened awareness of Israeli fare beyond simply the city’s large Israeli community. I hope this trend of Israeli restaurants or Israeli-style food in Toronto continues.”
– From Latkes to Laffas until March 30, 2018 at Beth Tzedec Congregation, Reuben & Helene Dennis Museum, 1700 Bathurst Street, Toronto. Tel: 416-781-3511 http://www.beth-tzedec.org