If Toronto is a city of neighbourhoods, then here’s my vote to recognize the underground PATH network for its own distinct quarter.
The PATH is a subterranean network that stretches over 30 kilometres and connects close to 80 buildings. In the colder months, it can provide coat-free waltzing from north of the Eaton Centre to Union Station to Rogers Centre.
During the week at peak times it can be a dizzying journey as you try to make your way from one building to another. You will experience an axial tilt.
You may even get lost.
But I think the PATH’s recent spurt in dining culture is worth that risk, if only to end up in a different corner of the Financial District with a new discovery in front of you.
And for several years now, the PATH is where I get a taste of home.
My family is from Sri Lanka, but the roots of both my parents connect us to southern India. Growing up, Indian food was part of our culinary vernacular.
On weekend mornings as kids, we expected — and looked forward to — our mom’s breakfast and lunch spreads. There would be an assortment of vegetable dishes on the table, like beans grilled with preserved sprats, spiced potatoes that were quickly tossed in a hot pan, spinach in a variety of forms, and split peas that were cooked down to an almost hummus-like texture.
Everything was accompanied by a mound of rice, and we were encouraged to create our own thali — a mixed platter where rice is the star player alongside a lineup of (mostly) vegetarian dishes.
Those fond memories are what led me to Touch Indian — entirely by chance.
I was walking along Adelaide Street one day when I caught a whiff of home in the air: aromas of Indian spices. I looked around and couldn’t find any semblance of a place that would be serving Indian food.
This continued for months. Then, one day, I followed my senses into the attached office building and asked the security guard if he knew of an Indian restaurant.
“I don’t think so,” he said, “but I hear there’s a takeout place in front of Staples.”
I spent more time than I’d like to admit trying to investigate this. There was no Indian restaurant across the street from the office supply store.
Months later, caught in the middle of a midday snow storm, I was navigating through the PATH to get as close to home as possible before being forced to surface. Through the cavernous chain of tunnels, I reached as far east as I could: the Dynamic Funds Tower.
That’s when I saw the sign.
Touch Indian is the hardest restaurant to spot in the PATH, but one you shouldn’t miss. Chef Anthony Gomes presents some of the most unbridled Indian cooking you’ll find in downtown Toronto.
A block away from Bay Street, Gomes pulls inspiration from his roots growing up in India to create a lunch menu that is spicy, traditional, and full of punchy notes. A menu on the back wall presents all the Indian classics, from butter chicken to Goan vinegar-based vindaloo curries.
For the first few meals here, I couldn’t get enough of the naan and tandoori meats. Gomes bakes naan to order, and you can dress them plain, with butter, or with butter, garlic and spices.
I recommend the latter, either on its own or with a curry.
The best way to eat at Touch Indian is to look at the specials of the day.
Gomes is known for his vegetarian thali lunches. Each day he presents an assortment of cooked vegetables in spices.
The medley of sweet potato with carrot and broccoli is my all-time favourite, though his chana (chickpeas) is also fantastic.
Gomes creates his own Indian mother sauces every few days, and I think that’s what sets his cooking apart from other places in the city.
The vindaloo is a good case. He creates an onion-based mother sauce that cooks all day, then uses that to slowly simmer cuts of beef with spices.
The vindaloo is the most pronounced dish on the menu, and it’s exactly what I was smelling for months from the street. The beef falls apart easily under a piece of naan, and brings with it a thickly-layered blessing of spices and a touch of creaminess.
To finish, I recommend you grab some mango lassi. The thick, yogurt-like drink is made in-house by one of the cooks, and it’s not as sickly sweet as the ones you normally find.
That way, if you’re lost on the way back to your desk as you navigate the PATH, at least you’ll have some lassi in hand.