Looking Back: Toronto on rye

One of the city’s first multicultural food experiences could be had in 1900 at a Jewish delicatessen


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Switzer’s Deli on Spadina Avenue north of Dundas

Toronto has long been hailed as one of the multicultural capitals of the world, and residents have benefited in many ways, but perhaps none quite so satisfying as the array of restaurants and food shops celebrating culture after delicious culture. 

And one of Toronto’s first multicultural eateries was a modest Jewish delicatessen opened by Sam and Sarah Harris in 1900, near the intersection of Queen and Simcoe streets.The first Chinese café opened in 1901.

Since the Harris Delicatessen paved the way, there has been an abundance of delis to make sure the locals get their fill of smoked meat sandwiches and latkes. 

Now, the museum at Beth Tzedec Synagogue is hosting an exhibition called From Latkes to Laffas, celebrating the humble deli, which opened last month and continues until March 30, 2018.

Toronto artist Ian Leventhal contributed six art panels to the exhibition, which tracks Jewish migration in the city from the historic Ward neighbourhood to Kensington Market, eventually moving northward through Forest Hill, North York and Thornhill, leaving a trail of delicious pastrami on rye sandwiches in its wake. 

There is also a slew of photographs and other historical materials, providing a window into a unique part of Toronto.

There have been many memorable delis in the city, from the now-shuttered Switzer’s and and Weltz’s, both former Kensington Market-area staples, to Moe Pancer’s original Bathurst outpost, to current longtime faves including the venerable Yitz’s on Eglinton Avenue in Forest Hill and Centre Street Deli in Thornhill. Today a new generation led by Caplansky’s (and, newly, Anthony Rose’s Schmaltz Appetizing) tend to add their own own modern touch.

The exhibition also features guest talks including one by noted author David Sax on Oct. 19 on Heymish & Hip: Eating Jewish in Toronto. Take in the exhibition then craft your own delicious foodie tour.

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