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Finding Love and Serenity Through Food

Instagrammer Siffat Haider on the best places to relax, connect and ‘just breathe’ over meals in Toronto.

With a near-obsessive and rapidly growing family of 61,000 followers on Instagram, Toronto-based lifestyle influencer/blogger Siffat Haider travels the planet — and the city — sharing all things beautiful and delicious in a curated visual diary, @icingandglitter.

Haider has been featured on numerous blogs, news outlets and commercial sites and is founder/host of the popular Dream Bigger podcast, which inspires people to live their best life and attain wellness and well-being. She describes herself as a fashion-loving, globe-trotting brunch enthusiast. She was moved to create her blog while studying at the prestigious Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design, London, and her following has grown organically — one aspirational post at a time. Like fashion, Haider says, good (tasting and looking) food not only makes you feel good, it feeds the soul.

Haider has seen herself as a citizen of the world from a very young age. She’s split her life between Bangladesh and Toronto, where she attended university. Her travel-loving parents taught her the value of experiencing other countries and cultures. Especially through food. Having spent time in Europe, Haider enjoys finding authentic European eateries in Toronto — from Spanish to Italian.

She keeps up with Toronto’s buzzy culinary scene not just for her own epicurean enjoyment but to show it off to the steady stream of friends and relatives who visit from near and far.

How has food been a part of your life, your travels and relationships?

S.H.: My family and I love to travel and eat together. It’s a running joke that we spend our time running from table to table, no matter where we are in the world, whenever we’re together. And all of us — my parents and two brothers — are obsessed with truffles. If anything truffle is on the menu — from pasta to fries to pizza — everyone orders it. My boyfriend and I both love to eat, and we have a standing date night every week where we try a new restaurant. I feel like we get to know each other better through every meal, just like I get to know countries through their food.

Do you have any special food connections with your siblings?

S.H.: My youngest brother is my best friend. We do everything together, and we bond over a good burger. I would never make one for myself — I only cook really healthy at home — but I’ll always splurge with my brother. We just had an amazing burger with Gruyère that was so solid, with such good meat and cooked so perfectly, and we can’t stop talking about it.

What’s special for you about eating with people?

S.H.: Food is such a bonding experience, especially in the fall. There’s something about the cooler weather that makes me want to get cozy and spend time with friends, cooking and eating together — it’s grounding, and it fights the sadness that summer is going. They say a meal tastes better when shared with loved ones, and I find that to be true.

Favorite comfort food?

S.H.: If a friend is having a hard time, I’ll take her out for ice cream. Ice cream always puts people in a good mood. Personally, a good coffee always helps me clear my head. My favorite is Americano or cappuccino with nut milk. I’ll never have drip coffee, or instant — that’s like a sin. Don’t even bring it near me.

What’s your favorite place to eat on a regular, run-of-the-mill day?

S.H.: Bluestone Lane on King East is super chill. It’s Australian-inspired, with delicious healthy eats like almond butter on banana toast. I go there with my laptop and sit there for hours. The staff is lovely, the decor is stylish but relaxed, and there’s a comfy windowsill with pillows. It’s very Instagrammable.

What’s your favorite place for brunch?

S.H.: I cannot even begin to say how phenomenal the brunch is at Shook Kitchen. It’s vegetarian Middle Eastern, with a twist. The restaurant is stunning, with an exposed ceiling, really pretty hanging lamps, wooden accents, an entryway filled with plants. It’s got a homey, warm vibe, and it’s like me — stylish but comfortable. You can dress up or go in sweatpants. I’ll go there with friends, for a meeting or just to sit there alone with my laptop. I recommend the Israeli Fry Up or khachapuri.

Do you have a favorite place to shop for food?

S.H.: When I’m planning to cook for friends, my boyfriend and I spend the morning shopping at St. Lawrence Market. It’s a place I hung out a lot after returning from London and I really missed Europe. It reminds me of an outdoor European food market where everything is fresh. I can spend hours walking, admiring the fresh produce, talking to the vendors about the quality of their food. It’s a great interactive experience, which in itself is good for my well-being, not to mention that when I shop there I know that what I’m putting into my body is of the highest quality. I don’t like to compromise.s

Any other Toronto spots that transport you to someplace else?

S.H.: Bar Raval is a tapas place that is so authentically Spanish. You eat the way they do in Spain, standing in front of tables made of barrels. It’s also set within a pocket of restaurants, so if you don’t want to stand for your whole meal, you can eat your appetizers there and then move on to a different place. But I’m happy to stand all night to eat that food.

What’s your favorite romantic spot?

S.H.: My boyfriend and I recently discovered The Cloak Bar. If you want to impress someone, that’s the place. It’s like a hidden speakeasy from Prohibition era. On the front door, there’s a phone number that you call, and then they take you in. Walking down the stairs it looks super shady, but when the door opens, it’s like, “Where am I?” It’s a really vibey, intimate place, with dim lighting, moody music, and great cocktails with creative mixes of liqueurs.

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