Story by Ofelia Legaspi
TORONTO — For three weeks each December, the Distillery District’s Hollywood-famous cobblestone roads and mid-1800’s Victorian industrial buildings are the fitting backdrop to something even older: a traditional 700-year-old German Christmas Market.
Since its inception centuries ago, the Christmas market has spread globally, but Toronto’s version, in only its second year, is a curious fusion of the authentic Old World with the new, and even the fantastic. The atmosphere is unmistakable: smoke swirls from live, spitting fire pits, steam rises from coffee mugs and faces glow in haloes of soft half-moons. The air is infused with scents and sounds – from hotdogs to hymns.
While tradition resonates in the market’s festive décor, there are charming, modern touches that separate the Toronto Christmas Market from those in the rest of the world. Examples of this city’s famed diversity that you might enjoy include an authentic Japanese Sake bar and Christmas carols sung to a reggae beat by a West Indian church group. The Distillery setting also offers a curious futuristic element, placing the classic Christmas scene in a sort of fantastical world. Dennis Oppenheim’s “Still Dancing,” a 38-foot sculpture reminiscent of a chimney, stands in the middle of the district’s Trinity Square, starkly contrasting the rustic wooden stalls that line the market. The juxtaposition creates an eerie, whimsical ambience. Though the design is contemporary, “Still Dancing” actually traces its design from an alchemical apparatus used in the distillery process.
Sweets guide – bacon and chocolate and other sweet pairings
Another modern addition, though less futuristic and more gastronomic, is the beckoning bacon. It’s a food trend that’s been happening for a quite a while, pairing bacon with chocolate, and it’s as natural and complementary as salt on caramel. Artist Michelle Krasny mans the Market’s “Pig Candy” booth, tempting passersby with warm Belgian milk chocolate dripping from a strip of bacon. But the stand is not just there to enable the sweet-toothed carnivores with chocolate bacon barks. Krasny also offers another trendy food item: cake pops made by her cousin, Shannon Kang, who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and whose baked custom-cakes range from a realistic burger cake to a smart phone cake. They offer the cake pops in red velvet, Tahitian vanilla and sour cream chocolate fudge. Kang’s favourite, however, is the ginger cake, which she says is “to die for.” “We use the real thing,” she adds, “not ginger powder, so the cake is really moist.”
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What does the Toronto Christmas Market offer to tots besides a Ferris wheel, carousel, and Santa and reindeers? Children can immerse themselves in the colours and artisanship of the traditional wooden toys from Euroliving as well as the quirky and slightly terrifying handmade plush toys from Blythe. You can also extend the family fun by picking up some chocolate-covered apples and popcorn balls from the Candy Hut to be enjoyed with a classic Christmas movie from RetroFestive.
The German Christmas Market guide
You can make this an adventure back in time and make it as authentically Old World German as possible. Wash down your lunch of fried veal schnitzel or Oktoberfest sausage with mulled wine (spiced warm wine) from Snack Hütte. Try something new at Stickling’s Bakery and pick up some German marzipan (a confection made with almond meal and sugar) and the festive German loaf, Stollen, filled with dried fruits and dusted in icing sugar.
The charm of a Christmas market is its regional twist, so why not pick up a local sugar pie or tourtieres (French pork pie) from A Taste of Quebec? There’s also maple taffy cones from Boivin Hastings Maple Products, French Canadian poutine and Maple Leaf fudge. You can also indulge your long-harboured desire to play an instrument and pick up something different: a handmade resophonic tin-can banjo from a local vendor, Rosbilt.
ABOUT THE LOWE’S TORONTO CHRISTMAS MARKET
When: December 1 to 18, 2011
Hours of operation: Saturdays and Sundays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Monday-Friday, Noon to 9 p.m.
Cost: Free to enter and some vendors also offer free samples of beer, wine and treats
Parking: $10 and up for all-day parking in the nearby vicinity
Public transportation: Take the King Street streetcar to Parliament Street and walk three blocks south to Mill Street and the Distillery District.
MAP OF THE DISTILLERY DISTRICT