Saving and skimping in Toronto this summer

Using Ka Wei, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Caffiends to your advantage

Saving and skimping in Toronto this summer

Toronto is a city of opportunity, and with opportunity comes temptation. A 15-minute walk anywhere south of Bloor will lead you past fine dining and food trucks, cafes and bars, book stores and record shops — all of which will tax your willpower, strain your attention, and ultimately drain your wallet.

It’s a battle I know all too well; after popping off in the early days of September like some sort of pudgy, pretentious Drake, my lifestyle caught up with me, and I was forced to reform. I sought out the advice of my smarter, thriftier friends, and scraped by for the next five months on eggs, sriracha, cheap coffee, and handouts.  

That episode let me in on one of Toronto’s best-kept secrets: with some luck and resourcefulness, the city can be liveable — you just have to know the right spots.

For food, fifth-year Clara Rutherford recommends Chinatown’s big-time produce vendors: Ka Wei, Hua Sheng, and Lucky Moose. Stocking up on cheap, nutritious grub like kale, beans, and rice will keep you full throughout the day, while dashing into a hole-in-the-wall bakery, like Mashion Bakery on Baldwin and Spadina, is great for loading up on banana bread or pork buns, says Rutherford.

However, flying around these crazy, mosh-pit produce markets can be stressful. The employees blur past you, prefer cash, and have no time to chit-chat. But when you can find a kilogram of quick oats for $3, it’s a trip worth taking.  

On your way back from Hua Sheng, scoop these up and throw ‘em in the freezer: meats, bread, produce, sriracha, whatever. Each are savoury, cheap, and will let you save up some money for your nights out.  

Another food tip: after 3:00 pm, the CityMarkets across town sell ‘enjoy tonight’ products; food that they’re forced to sell because it will ‘expire tomorrow.’

If you’re planning on hitting the town, fourth-year architecture student David Suskin recommends pre-gaming with some cheap alcohol. Pabst Blue Ribbon is always in vogue, while some of the grimier Ontarian wines are sold for around $7. After loosening up, Suskin and I recommend storming into Wide Open, Sneaky Dee’s, the Madison Pub, or Ein-Stein — of meme page fame. All boast cheap beer, and the latter has free cover on Friday and Saturday.

If you’re feeling some cheap coffee after your night out, avoid hitting the more bougie Toronto areas, like Yorkville, Queen West, and King Street. Instead, slip into Caffiends. This tiny, student-run cafe, based out of a shoe closet in Old Vic, sells coffee at a dollar per mug, and offers up one of the best atmospheres in Toronto.

There are other great, inexpensive dives on campus, too. Recent graduate Arielle Mantes recommends Trinity’s The Buttery or Victoria’s Ned’s, but with a few caveats. The drinks there can be pricey, Mantes says, so make sure to bring a reusable mug and tea bag with you to skip the line and cut costs.

If you’re really down and out —think early April, trapped at Robarts, snow on the ground — you can always go to Starbucks. If you’re a Starbucks Gold member, you get a free drink on your birthday. The good news is all it takes to become a member is an email and a few spare minutes to sign up, so make sure to pop by on your birthday for that free drink.

Everyone has their own strategies on how to get by in Toronto. Maybe you sniff out free food on campus: college societies and Frosh week are especially known for this. Perhaps you budget, prep meals, and fast through breakfast. Safe to say, there are hundreds of things you can do, and even more waiting to be discovered.

Campus coffee showdown: Caffiends vs. Café 059

A non-coffee drinker compares two cafés on campus

Campus coffee showdown: Caffiends vs. Café 059

I don’t drink coffee. I mean, I do occasionally, but I don’t down three cups a day like the usual U of T student. My coffee consumption is all about looking busy or having something to do with my hands. I can stand outside a lecture hall sipping on a Tim Hortons double-double while scrolling through my Instagram and Twitter feeds and look as though I’m being productive. Walking to lecture with a coffee in your hand gives meaning to your stride. 

I like to think my taste buds are at least mildly refined, though, and that I can tell the difference between gas station sludge and a crisp Starbucks roast. But other than that, I know next to nothing about coffee. Most coffee is bad coffee to me. A good cup of coffee is dependent on factors other than just the taste. Everything from the ambience of the café where I bought the coffee, to the number of electric outlets available in the café can dictate my coffee-drinking experience. This week, I paid a visit to two student-run cafés on campus, Caffiends at Victoria College and Café 059 at the Daniels faculty. To determine which café is better, I allocated points based on a variety of factors.

The name:

Caffiends: Puns are great! 3 points.

Cafe 059: Edgy, has an aura of subtle sophistication, but it’s simply not a pun. 1 point.

Is the café popular?

Caffiends: Yes. Far too mainstream. Might even be most popular student-run café on campus. 0 points.

Cafe 059: You probably haven’t heard of it. It doesn’t seem to get much traffic either. 1 point.

Is the café pretentious?

Caffiends: Very cozy, despite its popularity. 2 points. 

Cafe 059: They don’t serve regular filtered coffee; only espresso-based coffee. Plus, their furniture consists of old coffee appliances. 0 points.

How much does it cost?

Caffiends: $1. That’s cheaper than Tim Horton’s and Starbucks. 1 point.

Cafe 059: $1. It’s a draw. 1 point.

How does it taste?

Caffiends: Not very strong, but it doesn’t leave a bitter after-taste. 1 point. 

Cafe 059: Likewise. 1 point.

How’s the temperature?

Caffiends: Just right. 1 point.

Cafe 059: Not sure — I think my tongue nerves were too damaged from the Starbucks I had the day before to feel the burn. 0 points.

Is the coffee Fair Trade?

Caffiends: Yes. 2 points.

Cafe 059: Yes. 2 points.

Barista’s political beliefs?

Caffiends: From the conversation I overheard about Donald Trump, I’d say the baristas were pretty on top of their game. 3 points.

Cafe 059: There was some chatter about Toronto and its boroughs, but nothing substantial. 1 point.

What kind of snacks did they have?

Caffiends: Their specialty is the butter croissant: cold and dense, but crisp on the outside. 3 delicious points.

Cafe 059: Bagel with Nutella. I didn’t buy one because I ran out of cash, but I already know what bagels with Nutella taste like anyways. 5 points.

Author’s reservations against café’s college affiliation:

Caffiends: I have a personal and completely biased grudge against Victoria College. Minus 3 points. But Caffiends is a student-run café, so they can have 1 point back for sympathy. 

Cafe 059: Neutral. I didn’t apply to Daniels, so they didn’t have a chance to reject me. 0 points. 

Availability of electric outlets:

Caffiends: I didn’t see any, but it was early in the day and my phone was doing just fine so I didn’t even need one. 0 points.

Cafe 059: There was one visible, but it was in use. It was also not near my table. And this time I really needed to charge my phone. Negative 1 point. 

Is there Wi-fi?

Caffiends: Yes. But it belongs to U of T. 1 point for the administration.

Cafe 059: The U of T network seems to be nonexistent here. An exclusive Daniels faculty network was available, but required Daniels credentials. This became especially frustrating when my phone died. It’s 2016, why is Wi-Fi a problem? Negative 3 points.

Final score:

Caffiends: 14 points.

Cafe 059: 8 points.

The U of T administration: 1 point. 

The winner: Caffiends

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