I’m biting into my first-ever taste of camel meat — a burger, of course. I mean camel is not likely to be introduced for its most famous delicacy, the thick white fat stored in its hump.As it is, all those I invited to share the burger sampling at Casbah, a food stall in the cluster of packing cases outside Scadding Court Community Centre at Dundas and Bathurst, replied with a disgusted “No.” This isn’t a rejection of the camel as authentic Middle Eastern scoff, but as Lawrence of Arabia’s transport, a baroque antique swaying across infinite desert in a drunken waltz.
Cut. This burger isn’t from the Middle East. It’s from Australia! Great idea gone awry. Camels were originally imported to help tame the sandy Outback. Mission accomplished, the humpies went off-message. Now a million feral camels are laying waste to the Northern territory. A couple of dromedaries (single hump) can denude a kilometre in no time flat. Aboriginal sacred sites are made into a shambles, lakes are fouled, even houses are being ripped up as the camels search for water. Of course they can be shot but then what to do with the ginormous carcasses littering the landscape? Eat ‘em.
Ozzies are stepping up to the plate. An Alice Springs abattoir is now killing 150 camels daily. Camel lasagne is a hit with the locals.Exports of frozen meat to the Middle East is briskly promoted. The Western market of insatiable eaters seeking out the inedible is being tapped. Tired of croc from Lake Land Meats in St. Catherine’s, how about a pack of four quarter-pounders, made from the meat of baby camels, for $12.75.
The Oz burger, $10, arrived with the opening of Casbah three months ago. Urban legend insists that patients from Western Hospital opposite are now wobbling across Dundas , drawn by the enticing smells of the ethnic food stalls, everything Kanto’s Filipino to Salvador’s Pupusas, not to mention the grilled cheeses at the Monforte Cheese stall.Dali Chehimi , Casbah’s owner/cook, cooks the patty to a tasty bronze, garnishes it with a honey/ cinnamon ketchup and caramelized onions, packs it in a plain bun – $10. Not bad at all. Not beef of course. But then beef hasn’t always been ox. It had to be industrialized, entirely redesigned so it yielded lots of steaks and chops, before it became the most desired meat on the planet.
Camel may be the headline, but the back story is its venue. Market 707, the stalls’ official name, underlines the accelerating Toronto gustatory vibe – street food. Doesn’t matter that we can eat out only four months a year while Singapore, the epicentre of street food, has a year round low temperature of 20C, the idea of a people’s cuisine, food trucks and pop up restos, is getting a grip on the local psyche. Nobody knows this better than the restaurant establishment, struggling to keep loyal diners in the face of recession and je m’en fiche youth -Poutine, steaks, lobster mac’n’cheese replacing classic cartes.
Now comes word that The Fifth Grill and Terrace, once the nosebag for the gilded Torontonian but gone downmarket for the past couple of years, jazz and prix fixe, has returned to the gold standard. By which I mean, this rooftop resto , gleaming glass, white tablecloths, has a new chef, Brad Livergant (former sous-chef at Air Canada Centre) and a new menu which would have tempted the jaded palates of those who patronized spas like Marienbad at the turn of the century.
Bon Vivant and I eat like the one percent. East Coast Oysters of course, $18 for six, followed by lobster cocktail $24, half a little lobster loosened in its shell, poised on ice, a spritzer of lemon, rosy dipping cream.. Seared foie gras, a riposte to California, the killjoy Savonarola of haute cuisine, comes as a slider with truffle butter quince compote,oozing brix (sugar content)$24. A 10 ounce flat iron steak $28 – Bon Vivant picked Medium from the old-fashioned guide provided, and said camels have their work cut out. Slight downer with Jumbo Shrimp $36, too big/bland for discerning palate despite Thai Green Curry and Shaved Coconut. Dish can do with more shallot quinoa.
No celebration is complete without Olympics fireworks. Accordingly we order a blazing Baked Alaska, $24, quite enough for four. We take the only lift in town still operated by a human and order a carriage before we remember it’s the 21st century. Casbah, 707 Dundas W. 416 258 4195 Burger $10
Casbah, 707 Dundas W. 416 258 4195. Burger: $10
one and half stars for food, service, vibe, out of four
The Fifth Grill & Terrace, 225 Richmond W 416 979 300
Dinner for two plus tax: $175
*** for food, service,vibe out of four.