Despairing Americans often threaten to move to Canada, but how many even know what it's like now? Many liberals assume that our northern neighbor is more progressive, while those on the right might think that it's, ah, whiter. Ask your average American to name ten Canadians, and it's likely that nine will be white guys who can deftly handle a puck, with the tenth, the ultra-vanilla Justin Bieber.
According to Statistics Canada, 28% of Canada's population will be foreign-born by 2031. In 2011, 4.53% of its residents were already Chinese, and on three visits to Toronto since, I've seen many more Han faces on the streets. Chinatown is pushing east into downtown, and west into Trinity Bellwoods, Little Portugal and Little Italy.
Outside Dragon City Mall in the heart of Toronto's Chinatown, an old man played the erhu while another peddled rat traps from a cart. Within sight, Scotia Bank and National Bank had signs in Chinese.
With such an influx of immigrants and refugees, Toronto now touts itself as the most multicultural city on earth, even more so than London, New York or Paris. Its inhabitants, then, can sample not just a vast array of international dishes, but also hybrids such as sushi burritos at Rolltation or Dr. Pepper-flavored Jamaican pulled pork on a Belgian waffle, at Junked Food Co. In Kensington Market, there's an eatery called Hungary Thai. Sticking to the basics, Ian and I chowed on banh mi, then, for dessert, Colombian candied crickets, bought from a street kiosk.
Within the shadow of Notre Dame Cathedral in Montreal is New-Agey Boutique Lotus, and two doors down is Ming Tao Xuan, as astonishing a Chinese tea house as you'll find outside Asia. With its many display cases filled with teapots, buddhas, sculpted animals, crystals, necklaces and bracelets, it's also a museum. Tea choices range from the White Hair Silver Needle, Golden Beautiful Eyebrow, Black Tartary Buckwheat to Chun Jian Raw Pu'er, with everything served in clay tea pots on bamboo trays.
It's been in business for decade. As my friend Ian and I sipped from aromatic cups at a rosewood Ming table, the middle-aged proprietor stood by the counter and crooned along to a recorded ballad, chuckling every so often at its lyrics.
Outside the large picture window, a white, female beggar in a yellow windbreaker stood at the corner of Bressole and Saint Sulpice. Streaming by, foreign and domestic tourists mostly ignored her. Leaving Ming Tao Xuan, we could hear her singing "Que Sera, Sera."
At Dunn's Downtown Diner, we ate the confounding poutine to Bollywood music. As I struggled through my mess of French fries and curd cheese smothered in brown gravy, I lamented to Ian, "I can't believe any French population could come up with this!"