Eating in Toronto

I’ve lived in Toronto for the past 5 years. Today, I’m sharing a few of my favourite budget-friendly places to quell your hunger if you happen to be in the city. Click on the names to open a link to their Yelp/Tripadvisor pages.

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Taken from my instagram page: mumubechy

1. Jerk Chicken from Rap’s Authentic Jamaican – Eglinton & Marlee (Midtown). As of this writing, your CDN10 will be more than enough for 2 people at this place. They grill the chicken outside. They’re not the only spot that has jerk chicken. This particular strip of Eglinton West smells like jerk chicken in the evenings. I don’t mind it because that smell is delicious. Sometimes the wait can be too long but it’s worth it. Cash only.

2. Samosas from Samosa King – Finch & Middlefield (Scarborough). There’s always a lineup at this place. Samosas, if not done well, can be very dry inside while very oily outside. NOT AT THIS PLACE. They don’t cheap out on the filling too. Sometimes, when you grab Indian food, it’s excessively spiced that the heat no longer feels like a little kick but a full-on assault on the tastebuds. NOT AT THIS PLACE. The samosas here are very well-seasoned; you can taste layers of flavours past the heat. IIRC, you can get 5 samosas per dollar. Cash and debit only.

3. Turkish Pizza from Mustafa’s – Wilson & Dufferin (Downsview Area) If you’re looking for a different kind of pizza, Turkish is the way to go. It has a thin crust and it’s shaped differently. The meat is mildly spiced. The tomato sauce-cheese combo highlighted in regular pizza is not really a big thing here. Mustafa’s is a proper sit-down restaurant. The restaurant looks like the inside of a cave though. But this was a good dining experience nonetheless. Credit cards accepted.

4. Burgers from Harry’s Drive In – Lawrence & Kennedy (Scarborough). This is burger without fuss, hipsters or heavy marketing. It’s a good burger for a good price. And, Harry’s is a family-owned business that’s been open since 1964. My mom was born that year. Talk about longevity! Cash only.

5. Fried dumplings from Dumpling House Restaurant – Spadina & Dundas (Chinatown). My bf introduced me to this place. He only has 2 favourites in a Chinese restaurant: dumplings and beef in black bean sauce. He only gets his fried dumplings at this place. We enjoy breaking the fried batter that holds the dumplings together. Because I’m Filipino, I dip my dumplings in a soy sauce-vinegar mixture. If they had calamansi, I’d use that instead of vinegar. Cash only.

6. Anything from Sunrise House – Bloor & Christie (Koreatown). The thing I like about Korean restaurants is the bottomless sides. I think my favourite side was the seaweed, followed by kimchi. My brother introduced me and our mother to this place. I paid less than CDN30 for all of us. That was our first time trying anything Korean that isn’t Korean BBQ. This place is always packed. They don’t do reservations. So, come during odd hours, I guess. Cash only.

I’ll update as soon as I remember the others. A couple of the places listed may seem like hole-in-the-wall types. But, TBH, I’m deliberately looking for these kinds of places. They seem to concern themselves more on the quality of the food over decor. As long as you pass health inspections, we’re good.

I’m getting hungry just thinking about fried dumplings.

When you do come to Toronto, feel free to ask me questions. I’m happy to help. If you want me to write about some Toronto-isms on this page, let me know in the comments below.

xo Bessy

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Back To School

I know I owe you guys a playlist but between OSAP woes, ratemyprofessors and the long queues at the university bookstore, I’ve no time to polish a playlist. But, it’ll come, I promise.

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Have you ever felt unmotivated when you need motivation the most? I feel like I’ve been living a kind of irony lately. I should be excited for school but I’m so tempted to go back to sleep. I haven’t given in to temptation… so far. I should be pumped with excitement but I find myself just soullessly passing by the halls from one class to the next. Am I alone in this? Maybe I’ve become too accustomed to the freedom I felt during summer. I’m sure , though, this will be over soon.

My band and I jammed this weekend. It’s been a while and we were clearly rusty. I don’t really get a lot of opportunities to sing. So I really appreciate getting the opportunity to jam. I like karaoke but who goes there alone? I don’t play any instruments. I often tell myself I will but I’m too lazy. Also, I don’t like saying I will unless I’ve done it. To me, that’s a self-inflicted jinx. So, very often, I don’t share the details of my very recent project. If it fails spectacularly, at least no one else knows unless I divulge it.

Do you find yourself writing better at night? I’m writing this at 12:50am. I have a different and, quite frankly, a better vocabulary at night. If this was written in the morning, this post would be shorter, or it wouldn’t have anything at all because I will write nothing. Nothing. I will be too busy pushing the snooze button every 10 minutes.

Roadtrip: New York City

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As promised, here is the separate account of our 3 days in New York City. That photo above is not stock photo. That’s my photo and I added the text through Adobe Spark (because I’m fancy like that).

New York City was quite overwhelming at first. If you decide to go one day, take the bus. But, if you are taking a car because this is one leg of your trip, like us, use the Park & Ride services in New Jersey. We stationed our car at the North Bergen Park & Ride for 2 nights. You take a ticket at the gate and insert it at a pay station. You’ll be paying for a round trip ticket. If you have an extra passenger, you can also get a ticket at the same pay station. We only paid $10 for parking (with round trip ticket for bf) and $6.50 for the round trip bus ticket (my ticket). We were initially scared that our car will be broken into but we saw a security person patrolling the area. Most parking lots in NYC will cost you at least $40 a night. $10 is a great bargain! I mean, park at your own risk, still. Our risk paid off. We were just too frugal to take that risk. Wait for the 320 bus to New York. When you hop on the bus, the driver will take one half of your ticket. Don’t ever lose the other half. The bus will stop at 42 St – Port Authority Bus Terminal (PABT) Station. From there, get yourself a MetroCard. The MetroCard will give you access to the New York City subway.

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The Defenders on my MetroCard.

NYC streets are flooded with commercial establishments from food to technology to anything you can think of. Our favourites included the Comedy Cellar at the Village Underground. For $8-14, you can get a seat at one of the best comedy shows in town. We even saw Hasan Minhaj in person! Across the street is the Blue Note Jazz Club. A 2-minute walk will lead you to the $2.75 slice of Joe’s Pizza. OMG! That pizza is unforgettable! Bleecker St has Pasticceria Rocco with the best slice of American cheesecake one will ever have. On Christopher St, you’ll find Fat Cat. You’ll be surprised at what $3 could get you at this place. We enjoyed the performances of Troy Roberts’ Nu Jive 5. Watch for their drummer and bassist. The band is good but those 2 are outstanding. Basically, what I’m trying to tell you is our stay revolved around Greenwich Village. We didn’t cover everything because NYC is ENORMOUS!

To avoid crowds, we decided to check out some buildings at night. Behind the One World Trade Center is the Silverstein Family Park. It’s not much of a park but there’s a Jeff Koons sculpture there. The Oculus across the street is something out of science fiction. This is the architecture of the future. From inside it, take the path towards the Brookfield Place. The atrium at Brookfield Place is decorated with palm trees and a lovely view of the Hudson River.

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Silverstein Family Park with Jeff Koons’ sculpture. Instagram: mumubechy.
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The Oculus. Instagram: mumubechy

On our last day, we decided to check the High Line. There were just too many people there but we loved the concept. We both agreed that Toronto should adopt something like this very soon. It’s a very good use of space. We really need more spaces like this. Some NIMBYs may not agree with a new infrastructure in the area but it can bring business to the neighbourhood.

The 9/11 Memorial is a must-see as well. You can’t access it at night. Come during the day and expect a crowd. I don’t understand some people smiling while having their photos taken at this place. Over 2,000 people died there. I almost cried just seeing the names of those who perished on that day. Some names will have a flag or a rose placed on their name. These people left families. There’s no better tribute than this memorial.

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9/11 Memorial. Instagram: mumubechy

One thing happens when you come back from an NYC vacation: People who have been there ask you if you’ve been to places they’ve been. And the answer is NO. Haha. But I make mental notes for the next time I go. NYC is one of those places that you cannot only experience once. It’s a huge place with varying cultural experiences among neighbourhoods that one visit won’t do it justice.┬áSo, next time, I really wanna check out more live comedy. Maybe a live taping of Stephen Colbert or John Oliver’s show. At least one musical on Broadway. More pizza at Joe’s. See Starry Night at MoMA. Pass by the Guggenheim. Watch Nightgowns by Sasha Velour (because you have to support drag queens by going to their shows and buying their merch, y’all).

I noticed, too, that New York is a city of hustling. On top of the big box stores lining each street, there are tons of food carts or any cart. There was no shortage of people trying to sketch you, or sell you bottled water, or anything. There’s nothing bad about that. That’s part of what makes the city dynamic. And it’s a strong evidence that the American Dream lives on. NYC, as I’ve experienced before I visited, is portrayed by the media as the place ‘dreams are made of’ (you know the song I lifted this quote from). New Yorkers are dreamweavers and they’re damn good at it. This is the reason everyone around the world aspires to make it here, or visit it at least.

If you have experienced NYC, what do you think should I check out next time?

Roadtrip: New England

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Before I tell the lengthy account of my week-long vacation, please enjoy the songs I loved from playing my song library during the trip!

I went on a roadtrip with my boyfriend. It was a good mix of nature and city. We went from Toronto to upstate New York to Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and, finally, New York City.

When it comes to lengthy roadtrips like this, it’s always advisable to get a second driver. You can cover more area and save energy for more activities if you can distribute the driving to more than 1 person.

If you know someone working at a hotel, ask whether you can get discounts as their relative or friend. Big hotel chains may have those kinds of benefits for their employees. Take advantage of it, especially when you’re going to a place like New York City. It’s a good place to pig out, and your hotel savings can open your wallet up to more food cravings, and gifts!

We didn’t really plan every little thing in this trip. We just decided to go away for a certain number of days and decided which spots to check out. We booked our hotel stays usually a night or two before we arrived at our destination. It usually freaks me out when there are no plans laid out. My boyfriend enjoys going with the flow. I now realize the value of his spontaneity. Vacations cannot be too regimented. There’s no specific time to enjoy yourself. You just have to enjoy now, wherever you are. Of course, this comes with the risk of spending more. But, this is why we save for vacations. Vacations are not the time to be uber-stingy. You can be thrifty but live a little.

There were times that really tried me during the trip. I have very high standards when it comes to toilets. One of the inns we stayed in at one of the small towns we visited gave me nightmares. I may be exaggerating but I clean my own washroom – a less than immaculate washroom irks me! That’s why I’m writing a paragraph about it. It offends me that I’m given a service as if I didn’t pay for it. We found a cheaper inn where the people were nicer and the place spotless, the following night. Thank the lawdddddd!

We wanted to set aside the biggest chunk of our budget in New York City. So, we ate a lot of turkey sandwiches from upstate NY to Rhode Island. We were amazed at how cheap ready-made food were. We were more amazed that fruit was very expensive. For a country that has plenty of arable land, this didn’t make sense. But, damn, I learnt to love turkey sandwiches. I’ve become an expert at making them. The recipe is easy: sourdough bread, hummus (preferably with tomato and basil), pepper jack cheese slices and turkey slices. The entire thing costs less than $10 and makes 4-6 sandwiches. Bring a water canteen with you. Buying bottled water can really become expensive. If you like your water cold, hotels have ice machines on each floor.

I’ll write about the New York City leg of our trip in the next post because NYC is an experience of its own.

We needed a vacation and we got what we needed. Traveling always gives one some perspective into the goings on in their life. There was a point in this trip where I started to miss Toronto. It’s not perfect here but I am proud to live in this city.

Coincidentally, this trip is the first trip I made as a Canadian. I am proud to bring that identity with me everywhere I go now. And I make sure that people think of us as good tourists. We signal before we turn or change lanes. We don’t litter nor spit. We don’t talk loudly because we don’t own the space. We treat locals kindly because it’s their home and we’re guests. We don’t trample on vegetation because ecosystems are fragile. I’m not writing these to brag. I’m writing these to remind fellow tourists that the places we visit are the places some people call home. Please respect their home.

Shoutout to the people of Vermont. Your towns are clean and you have good driving habits. Drivers in Vermont actually give way to emergency vehicles, and drive on the slow lane when they’re slow, fast lane when they’re fast. Plus, we like Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Bernie Sanders. We also liked the double cheeseburger at Al’s French Frys in South Burlington.

And while you’re on the interstate roads, check for an IHOP nearby. The mozzarella sticks are worth the stop. Also, I’d like to mention the abundance of Dunkin Donuts branches during the trip. The last time I ate at a Dunkin, I was probably 16 or younger. It was such a 90’s thing to get doughnuts from Dunkin. Before we left the US, I had to get the munchkins. I know we have Timbits in Canada but my childhood can only identify with Dunkin Donuts munchkins. I’m usually an emotional mess when it comes to these things but I held myself together while eating a piece of little nostalgia.

We’ve done California before and it was a paradise. We have New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut (briefly) on our list now. The US is an exciting place, I must say. The terrain is varied across states and there’s all sorts of interesting things and people within those states worth discovering. I actually wanna experience the music scenes in Nashville, Memphis, New Orleans and Chicago next time. I’m always game for another roadtrip!

Awesome Blogger Award!

Warning: This post will be heavily peppered with Tagalog.

Jolina girl, thanks for the nomination. Mabangis na kung mabangis ang taste sa indie music. Kaka-flatter, ‘kala ko ako lang may trip sa sarili kong playlists. HAHA.

THE RULES:
1. Thank the person who nominated you.
2. Tag it under #awesomebloggeraward in the Reader.
3. Answer the questions your nominator gave you.
4. Nominate at least 5 awesome bloggers.
5. Give your nominees 10 new questions to answer.
6. Let your nominees know they’ve been nominated.

QUESTIONS:
1. Excluding social media and blogging platforms, is there any other website that you constantly visit?
Yes, very rarely though. Almost everything I do online is connected to social media. But, if there’s one website that I really took a liking to all these years, it’s Project Gutenberg. It’s a collection of books for which copyrights have expired, meaning old but very much FREE books. Back in uni, I read a copy of Japanese Fairy Tales from here.

2. Let’s say I want to start a twee pop band. Raw guitar sound, anti-folkish vibe, and tamad-tamaran school of singing a la Zooey Deschanel – care to suggest a band name?
LOL at ‘tamad-tamaran school of singing.’ Twee pop like The Pains of Being Pure at Heart pero antifolk din like The Moldy Peaches. Then Zooey’s She&Him.

Buffering…

My Maudlin Career, after a song by Camera Obscura.

3. If I were to visit your city, would you meet up with me so we could make chika chika in person?
Yes, girl! DE-FI-NITE-LY. Let’s have mango lassi and make lakad through the trail or the rich people houses at Rosedale Valley. Or Distillery District to chibog-chibog while making lakad on cobblestone alleys.

4. Do you identify as a feminist? Why or why not?
I identify as one because I believe in the equality of opportunity and outcome for all sexes. I seriously think we can become a better society if these were available to everyone, cases in point: Scandinavian and Nordic countries.

5. Would you ever consider going vegetarian?
I have and I tried it for a week. I felt less bloated and I ate more often without feeling disgusted about myself afterwards. I should be vegetarian but BACON, salami, prosciutto, oysters and bangus.

6. What do you think about President Duterte’s term so far?
Biased ako girl ’cause I was raised in Davao City and I’m a proud Mindanaoan. I lived what he did for my city and I’m forever thankful. He’s more productive than other presidents, I’d say. Because of his ‘antics,’ we’re no longer an afterthought in international politics. Dati nahihiya ako every time previous administrations kissed US’s ass. Akala ko apathetic na tayong lahat pero, when he started campaigning, nakita ko na interesado pala talaga sa pagbabago ang mga Pilipino. Whether people agree with his politics or not, no one can deny that he initiated a lot of conversations around Filipino history and what that means for us now.

7. Favorite book?
I read nonfiction and poetry, mostly. I enjoyed reading The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind The Myth of The Scandinavian Utopia.

8. What’s the last song that got stuck in your head?
Rule My World by Kings of Convenience.

9. Do you ever get hit by a sudden feeling of loneliness? How do you deal with it?
Yes. I tell myself: ‘At the end of the day, we’re all alone. Start getting comfortable with it.’ It sounds depressing, I know, but it’s the truth. The best thing you can do with that truth is make peace with it.

10. Anything you want to achieve before the year ends?
Be a good, if not better, student. Ang expensive maging student tapos ‘di gagalingan. Sayang ang time and money, ‘di ba?

I can’t nominate anyone yet because I’m quite new here. Siguro pag matagal-tagal na ‘ko dito, I will.

Salamat sa nomination, Jolens.

Newcomer Pt. 3

One phrase: Show up.

When you move to another country, it’s a given that everything will become unfamiliar. But, give it time. I’ve been in Canada for 5 years now and I only really started to have friends around 2-3 years ago. Before that, it was a blur of acquaintances and coworkers that stop communicating after you or they leave the job.

In my first few jobs, I noticed that people bonded over attending the same university. Now, I’m in university, I notice that people bond over attending the same program or the same classes. Because you’re a newcomer, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll meet someone at work who went to the same university.

So, I did a few things to (1) socialize and (2) practice my spoken English:

I volunteered for a couple of film festivals. Growing up, I used to watch international films on Saturday nights. There was this one TV channel that would feature them late at night. They were really obscure in my home country. It was quite difficult to discuss “Farewell My Concubine,” “Postmen In The Mountains,” and “Not One Less” with people I knew. I continued watching what I used to call “offbeat” films in university (back in the Philippines). I met a few people who shared my enthusiasm for these things. I even found a personal bootlegger to get me weird films for a lower price because we both knew no one would buy those. That’s how I learnt about “Volver,” “Where Is The Friend’s Home?,” and “Welcome” (2009). In Canada, volunteering was a nice way to talk to people from different walks of life who had the same love for film. I also enjoyed the freebies that came with volunteering.

Whenever I got invited to a party, I showed up. I didn’t care if the only person I knew in that party was the person who invited me. I’m pretty comfortable in my own skin that being a wallflower is not something I find negative at all. Sometimes, people do approach and make small talk. You don’t have to force rapport. If it’s there, it’s there and you’ve made yourself a new friend. If it’s not there, that’s perfectly fine too.

I enrolled in some hobby classes. The Toronto District School Board has this program called Learn 4 Life and it has seasonal evening classes. It can be anywhere from basic French to sewing. Community Centres have sports facilities that may be free to use. The Art Gallery of Ontario has art classes too. Or, go to Meetup or Eventbrite to find your niche.

Some nights, especially in your first couple of years, will be lonely. But, if you put yourself out there, you’ll find your tribe… or tribes. Sometimes, you won’t even need a tribe to just do what you want to do. Grab a pint at a local pub because you can. I go there for the Irish music. I often go to art galleries and museums alone because I enjoy looking at artworks in silence.

The opportunities are there, you just have to show up.

I used to feel homesick a lot. I still do, from time to time. It’s still very important to keep in touch with your friends from your home country. But, I’m sure you have room for new friends and new experiences. You have a new home here in Canada, so start feeling comfortable.

In the next part of this series, I’ll write about future plans; because everyone needs to have at least one.

Other parts of the Newcomer series are available here:
Part 1
Part 2

Newcomer Pt. 2

Disclaimer: I’m not a legal or policy expert. I’m writing based on my own experience and I recognise that this may be different from another person’s experience, especially if that person lives outside Ontario.

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I’m assuming that before you arrived in Canada, you are well-educated and most likely the best in your field in your home country. Unless you came here as a skilled worker (like a caregiver), it will be challenging to find work in the same field.

You’ll hear the phrase ‘Canadian experience’ in your job search. 100%! This means having work experience in Canada. So, regardless of your expertise, say being an engineer for 20 years plus with several projects under your name in your home country, Canadian firms in that field will be hesitant about hiring you. I’ve met several people in Toronto who’ve had successful careers in their home country but moved here because they wanted something better for their family, only to find themselves driving an Uber, cleaning toilets or delivering pizza.

The Canadian government made some initiatives to address this underemployment. Universities offer bridging programs, as in the case of foreign-educated nurses and doctors. I think Canada will benefit greatly from the talents of immigrants. I personally find it unfair that highly experienced people are stuck in service jobs when there are several sectors in the job market that barely have any applicants, and the only thing stopping these people from applying is ‘Canadian experience.’

So, what did I do?

I started in service jobs, from fastfood restaurants to hotels. I looked for tasks and acquired skills that I can transfer in the next best job I could find. I used my customer service experience to land a position in the mailroom. My boss sent me to different assignments outside the mailroom too and that gave me experience with reception. Reception led me to office administration work. The entire process took me 3-4 years.

My heart is in health and science, though. So, I went back to university last fall. But, that’s an entirely different blog post.

So, here are some things to keep in mind. Determine whether your occupation is regulated in Canada. If it is, regulatory bodies will let you know what you need to practice in your field here. It might involve some schooling. If it does, make sure you have enough money to fulfill your basic needs while you are in school. Do the math. You might need to work for a few years or maybe 6 months, depends on how long you’ll stay in school. If there’s no regulatory body for your occupation, some of my older friends suggest getting your foot in the door. It may mean starting as a cleaner, mailroom guy or volunteer. In this case, networking will be your friend.

It’s hard work, I know. Sometimes, you’ll feel worthless. I did. Other times, you’ll find yourself questioning whether you made the right decision on moving here. You made the right decision, I’m sure. Canada is a great country for so many reasons (that may need its own blog post too). I can tell you one thing: if you work hard enough, you’ll see the fruit of that hard work.

Next time, I’ll write about homesickness, making friends and going back to school in Canada.

For Part 1, click here.