First annual Toronto Black Vegan Festival brings community together

By Severina Chu

The first annual Toronto Black Vegan Festival was a chance for the black Canadian vegan community to connect. (CanCulture/Severina Chu)

The first annual Toronto Black Vegan Festival was a chance for the black Canadian vegan community to connect. (CanCulture/Severina Chu)

The black Canadian vegan community came together to feast in celebration at the first ever Toronto Black Vegan Festival on Sunday at Artscape Wychwood Barns.

Hosted by the Black Vegans of Toronto, a support group for black Canadians looking to make the switch to a plant-based diet, the festival featured various black vendors selling vegan products, including food, clothes, and cosmetics.

“The idea came to me to present vegan options to traditional African and Caribbean foods in an exciting cultural setting,” said festival manager Joe Thomas in an email statement. The festival aimed to not only bring together the black vegan community, but to also expose others to a new lifestyle.

“When people like us are already educated in the vegan world, festivals like this help to enlighten people who are not in this world,” said Jacqueline Taffe, vegan chef and creator of Natures Butter.

Vegan chef Jacqueline Taffe created a vegan and gluten-free butter that she hopes she’ll be able to get into stores in the future. (CanCulture/Severina Chu)

Vegan chef Jacqueline Taffe created a vegan and gluten-free butter that she hopes she’ll be able to get into stores in the future. (CanCulture/Severina Chu)

Taffe believes that a better awareness about food can help some make the switch to a plant-based lifestyle, especially with so many Caribbean diets being so dependent on meat.

“We were never actually supposed to be eating this much meat. So when people like us say that we’re vegan, we can teach others the same thing,” she said.

Creating a Cultural Connection

Melissa James, founder of Eastend Vegan, echoed the sentiment and emphasized the importance of being open to a healthier diet, especially within the black community. She said she hopes that more people will broaden their tastes and try to have a better understanding of the connections they have with food.

The Eastend Vegan’s almond cheese came as a result of founder Melissa James’ lactose sensitivity. She said that it is a light and healthy alternative to regular cheese. (CanCulture/Severina Chu)

The Eastend Vegan’s almond cheese came as a result of founder Melissa James’ lactose sensitivity. She said that it is a light and healthy alternative to regular cheese. (CanCulture/Severina Chu)

“What people don’t realize is that the impact of not just slavery, but just leaving home takes away a lot of connections,” said James.

According to James, many immigrants try to recreate tastes of home with what they have.

“You start to adopt a new culture and you no longer have the connection the way you would back at home,” she said.

In order to maintain these connections, people like Owyna Alexander, founder of Caribbubble, wanted to create a product that managed to tie a part of their culture into a vegan diet.

“I love bubble tea and I was looking for more relatable flavours to my culture,” she said. Alexander offers the popular drink in various traditional Caribbean flavours, including sorrel and ginger beer.

Owyna Alexander wanted to create her own version of bubble tea that included flavours from her culture. (CanCulture/Severina Chu)

Owyna Alexander wanted to create her own version of bubble tea that included flavours from her culture. (CanCulture/Severina Chu)

She said she aims to provide a more accessible version of the drink, in terms of both flavours and dietary needs.

“I wanted to be able to provide it to everyone, and I didn’t want the vegans to be left out,” said Alexander.

Fighting the Misconceptions

With the variety of innovative and flavourful products available at the festival, many vendors wanted to combat the stereotypes and misconceptions about vegan food, such as the supposed lack of flavour and food options.

“Flavour’s the biggest [misconception], just because people are so used to eating a certain way,” said James. While it is possible for people to emulate their favourite foods while eating vegan, she said that people need to realize that there will have to be some adjustments made to a recipe and that a change in flavour doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of flavour.

“It’s a first step towards health, so you have to understand that there will naturally be less salt and it’s going to change the flavour because you’re not putting in the same things you used before,” she said.

With this being the first event of its kind in Toronto, many vendors hope that this will encourage more black Canadians to become more open to a vegan lifestyle and prove that it is doable for people in all communities.

“A misconception is that veganism is mainly for white people because that’s what you see in the media,” said Shaleena McGregor, owner of The Sweet Tooth Vegan.

In order to make healthier versions of normal baked goods, Shaleena McGregor swaps out sugar for ingredients like coconut sugar and maple syrup. (CanCulture/Severina Chu)

In order to make healthier versions of normal baked goods, Shaleena McGregor swaps out sugar for ingredients like coconut sugar and maple syrup. (CanCulture/Severina Chu)

McGregor personally went vegan after doing research into the dairy industry and finding out the impact it had on animals. She now strives to provide healthier alternatives to normal baked goods and reach out to more of the black vegan community on her podcast.

“You don’t really see much diversity, so I’m glad that this event is showing that veganism goes across all races,” she said.

Hopes for the Future

With the event’s success, the Black Vegans of Toronto are planning for more events, starting with a Fall Harvest Festival in September. The hope is that these kind of events will educate more black Canadians on a vegan lifestyle and encourage them to make the changes to their diet.

“In all communities, and especially the black community, we’ll start to see that we actually have a connection to this food,” said James.

“We can create it, we can make something new from it, and we can grow from it and become healthier. The black community is really coming together.”

Don't Forget the Food Stands

By Keisha Balatbat

Crumbs Patties, Choco Churros, and La Marquesita along Gould Street. (CanCulture/Keisha Balatbat)

Crumbs Patties, Choco Churros, and La Marquesita along Gould Street. (CanCulture/Keisha Balatbat)

The endless food options surrounding the Ryerson University campus can be seen as either an advantage or a daunting task. With so many choices, it can be difficult to narrow down exactly what you want to eat.

While most students opt for big name fast food chains, some head over to the often overlooked food stands, located across from the Student Learning Centre, for a delicious meal or dessert.

Among the cluster of food stands and trucks, you’ll find Crumbs Patties, Choco Churros, and La Marquesita.

Crumbs Patties is a stand that sells patties, which are pastries that contain different kinds of fillings, most commonly beef.

“What makes us different is the options,” said Pierre St. Rose, founder of Crumbs.

Customers at Crumbs Patties love ordering the beef, curry chicken, or their signature beef and cheese patty. Apart from these, Crumbs also offers vegetarian options.

“We do a stuffed patty and a deluxe patty so it’s not just your standard patty shop. We have modernized it,” said St. Rose.

He believes in giving each customer great service. He enjoys talking to customers, asking how they’re doing and ending each interaction with a ‘pound’, also known as a fist bump.

“A thank you is one thing but also giving the pound is saying much respect, just from a culture standpoint,” said St. Rose, who is Jamaican and Trinidadian.

“Yes, in reality I’m a business and you’re a customer, but it should be more than just that.”

He typically runs the stand with his cousin and a few other employees. They were once located just across the street, but after a big restaurant bought the building, they decided to temporarily move over to the stand that they have now.

“It’s working but it’s small for the operation we have,” he said. He is currently working on opportunities to expand Crumbs.

This sentiment is something that is shared between the stands in this area. At Choco Churros, they are also hoping to expand the business. Sergio Herrera, one of the employees, said that they want to have a place with an actual cafeteria and provide more places for people to sit in.

The stand opened up in downtown Toronto in October of last year, but the business was actually started by Herrera’s cousin in the 80s in New York.

“What makes us special around this area is that no one else is selling this kind of dessert,” said Herrera.

Churros are fried sticks of dough covered in cinnamon sugar. This stand also offers different sauces on top, the most popular being caramel and chocolate.

Making sure their churros are affordable is one of the philosophies of the business. “You can get three big churros for less than $10,” said Herrera.

Their other philosophies include providing good customer service and ensuring that the food is always fresh.

“I come one hour before opening so I can make fresh dough for you guys. They’re actually the freshest churros in town and what’s a churro if it’s not fresh?” said Herrera.

Sergio Herrera making fresh churros inside of the Choco Churros stand. (CanCulture/Keisha Balatbat)

Sergio Herrera making fresh churros inside of the Choco Churros stand. (CanCulture/Keisha Balatbat)

Like Choco Churros, La Marquesita, the newest food stand to open up, also values fresh food.

Making authentic Mexican food is something that La Marquesita believes in. As many other places downtown lean towards Tex-Mex, Pablo Morales, one of La Marquesita’s employees, said they aim to “make everything fresh and create authentic Mexican street food.”

La Marquesita’s most popular dish are the taquitos, which are a tortilla rolled up around fillings like beef or cheese. Rather than the hard shell tacos that people are used to buying, the use of 100 per cent corn tortillas indicate that the food is authentically Mexican and not Tex-Mex, the Americanized version of Mexican food.

“In Mexico, we eat taquitos all the time - in the morning, brunch, dinner, every time - and we wanted to bring that to Toronto,” said Morales.

Their visible corner spot is an asset according to Morales, but like Crumbs and Choco Churros, La Marquesita also struggles with the small space.

“Sometimes many people come to eat but we don’t have too much space to get more people in,” said Morales.

Pablo Morales greeting customers at La Marquesita. La Marquesita hopes to become a franchise and open more stores downtown. (CanCulture/Keisha Balatbat)

Pablo Morales greeting customers at La Marquesita. La Marquesita hopes to become a franchise and open more stores downtown. (CanCulture/Keisha Balatbat)

Apart from the small space, the cold weather is also something that causes some difficulty for these food stands as people do not want to spend too much time outside during the winter.

This forces vendors to get creative with their stands. “We don’t have an indoor spot so sometimes I put the heater out here so people can get warm,” said Herrera, referring to a small heater that attaches to the counter of the stand.

“Being around a school, yes you have the traffic, but at the same time when there’s weather issues like the cold, you don’t have the opportunity to have people funnel into somewhere like a mall,” said St. Rose.

Food vendors and their relationship with Ryerson students

The Choco Churros stand which is open on weekdays from 12 to 8 p.m. (CanCulture/Keisha Balatbat)

The Choco Churros stand which is open on weekdays from 12 to 8 p.m. (CanCulture/Keisha Balatbat)

The convenience and closeness of the location brings a lot of Ryerson students to these businesses.

“I love this business because everyone is happy when they come get churros,” said Herrera.

He says students love sweets and the quickness of the service. “It helps them have better performances in their classes because of all the sweets,” he jokes.

“This is our first spot and you’ll be part of our story if you get churros from here,” said Herrera.

Despite the convenience of the location, bringing in new customers can be a challenge for these businesses.

“You just have to find ways to interact with the student body as far as just marketing from the same old spot or with social media,” said St. Rose. He said marketing on social media can be difficult.

“You have to be very constant, and how many times can I really say patties?”

However, he encourages students to try new things. “We offer a modernized food item that’s been around for so long and provide an option that has been remixed, along with other creations,” said St. Rose.

Students get 10 per cent off at La Marquesita, but they’re working on expanding the menu and creating new discounts that will be exclusive to Ryerson students.

“Many students have a budget for food and they don’t want to spend more money than that, so that’s why we want to do many specials for students,” said Morales.

The next time you need to satisfy a food craving, consider supporting these local businesses as they offer a great variety of food options for affordable prices.  

Winterlicious at Fonda Lola

By Sophie Chong

General Manager Rafael Bastidas said they tried to incorporate things inside Fonda Lola that referenced Mexico. Included in the decorations are also memorabilia of the owner’s late grandmother, whom the name of the restaurant was inspired from. (CanCulture/Sophie Chong)

General Manager Rafael Bastidas said they tried to incorporate things inside Fonda Lola that referenced Mexico. Included in the decorations are also memorabilia of the owner’s late grandmother, whom the name of the restaurant was inspired from. (CanCulture/Sophie Chong)

Nestled along the edge of Little Portugal in Toronto, Fonda Lola has brought traditional Mexican cuisine to the west end of Toronto for the past five years.

This year, Fonda Lola is participating in one of Toronto’s most anticipated food events, Winterlicious.

Rafael Bastidas, general manager of the restaurant, said Winterlicious has given them the opportunity to explore with their menu based on what their chef has available at the time.

“We want to experiment with our menu in Winterlicious to see how people are reacting to our food and if we have to promote some dishes more than others,” he said.

Rafael Bastidas, who immigrated to Canada from Venezuela, currently works as the general manager of Fonda Lola. He is in charge of the front of house operations, and is also the in-house mixologist. (CanCulture/Sophie Chong)

Rafael Bastidas, who immigrated to Canada from Venezuela, currently works as the general manager of Fonda Lola. He is in charge of the front of house operations, and is also the in-house mixologist. (CanCulture/Sophie Chong)

Fonda Lola serves a plethora of mexican-style alcoholic beverages including fusion cocktails, margaritas, tequila, mojitos, and beers. (CanCulture/Sophie Chong)

Fonda Lola serves a plethora of mexican-style alcoholic beverages including fusion cocktails, margaritas, tequila, mojitos, and beers. (CanCulture/Sophie Chong)

For a fixed price of $33 plus tax and gratuities, Fonda Lola offers a prix fixe menu of a select number of appetizers, entrées, and desserts.

Fonda Lola offers the staple dish of chips and salsa as an appetizer (usually $12), made with house-made corn tortilla chips, and pico de gallo that is seasoned with red onion, lime, and cilantro. The tomato salsa is tangy but not overly sweet like many store-bought salsas. The tortilla chips are light, not too salty, and adds a great crunch to the house-made salsa.

Fonda Lola boasts house-made and handcrafted ingredients in all of their drinks and food that they serve. All ingredients used in dishes are locally sourced within the Toronto area, and they offer vegan and vegetarian options. (CanCulture/Sophie Chong)

Fonda Lola boasts house-made and handcrafted ingredients in all of their drinks and food that they serve. All ingredients used in dishes are locally sourced within the Toronto area, and they offer vegan and vegetarian options. (CanCulture/Sophie Chong)

For the main course, they have Carnitas Tacos (usually $16), which contains Mexican pork confit topped with red onion and cilantro. The pork is tender and moist and pairs nicely with red onion and cilantro. Fonda Lola also sources their pork meat from a local Portuguese supermarket in Toronto.

However, if customers are looking for vegan or vegetarian options, they also serve Cauliflower Tacos (usually $16). The dish includes cauliflower sautéed with garlic and guajillo pepper, topped with cilantro, red onion, and house chipotle and aioli.

Bastidas recommended the Cauliflower Tacos, made with sautéed cauliflower with garlic and guajillo sauce, topped with cilantro, red onion, and house chipotle aioli. (CanCulture/Sophie Chong)

Bastidas recommended the Cauliflower Tacos, made with sautéed cauliflower with garlic and guajillo sauce, topped with cilantro, red onion, and house chipotle aioli. (CanCulture/Sophie Chong)

Desserts at Fonda Lola typically range from $8-$15. On their Winterlicious menu, they featured the Tequila Flan (vegetarian), which is not a regular item on their menu. It’s made up of a sweet custard infused with tequila and cream cheese, baked with a layer of house-made caramel. It has a smooth, creamy, light texture with a slight taste of alcohol, the sweetness of the caramel adding depth to the tangy tequila and the cream cheese.

What is Winterlicious?

Winterlicious has made its 16th annual appearance in Toronto this year, with reportedly over 200 participating restaurants. From January 25 to February 7, Torontonians are encouraged to explore the city’s diverse culture through the food scene.

“They showcase diverse cuisine, they’re talented chefs. This is an opportunity for people to dine out and explore Toronto’s food culture,” said Eirine Papaioannou, event support supervisor at the Toronto Office of Partnerships.

Hosted by the city, customers and avid food lovers get a chance to grab a taste of Toronto’s ever-changing restaurant industry. The event allows both newcomers and native Torontonians to expand their taste buds at cuisines for a reasonable price. Fixed prices for three course meals vary from restaurant to restaurant. There are three fixed prices for both lunch and dinner includes: lunch for $23, $28, $33, and dinner for $33, $43, $53.

“The event is open to everyone who lives here, or is visiting here, and because of the price points it is accessible at different levels,” said Papaioannou.

At toronto.ca, interested customers can customize their search for the type of cuisines, neighbourhood, and price point in order to find exactly what they’re looking for. The search engine also allows for visitors to easily find information on which restaurants offer vegan, vegetarian, and accessibility options.

“Toronto has one of the best culinary scenes, such as diversity of food types...this is a way for people to explore the world in their hometown,” she said.

Is it worth it?

Winterlicous can be a way to narrow down possible food options for customers who have a hard time deciding on what to order from a new restaurant. Prix fixe menus give them a taste of the restaurant, and a new culinary experience that can seemingly be five to eight dollars cheaper than ordering from the regular prices. They may also be pleasantly surprised by great hospitality, the atmosphere of the restaurant, and other aspects that could drive them to visit again.

Some customers may be disappointed that even with the set prices, their bill can almost amount to the same price as if customers had ordered from the regular menu. This is because the prix fixe does not cover alcohol, taxes and gratuity.

For students on a budget, Winterlicious would be a great option if they're willing to; spend some money to try something new, go out for a date night, a special family function, or a night out with friends. However, students should be wary that even with the fixed prices, their overall meal can still cost four times more than your everyday Big Mac combo at McDonald’s.

How to eat healthy at Toronto Eaton Centre

By Ashley Alagurajah

Eating healthy can be a daunting resolution while in the big city of Toronto. With so many delicious foods and smells, it’s hard to resist the temptations all around you, especially in the Toronto Eaton Centre. We took a trip to the food court and found three unique options if you are looking for some healthy choices while you’re out and about.

Urban Herbivore is a plant-based food spot that makes delicious vegetarian meals. Options like sandwiches, salads, and bowls are not only tasty, but they are good for you too. Today we tried the Moroccan Stew ($10.84 CAD) which is a “mild Mediterranean stew with root vegetables and chickpeas served on choice of grain.” We substituted the rice base for quinoa and turned this into an extra nutritious lunchtime meal.

Mucho Burrito was next on the list. The build-your-own Mexican spot was perfect for creating a bowl that has exactly what you crave. We ditched the tortilla and went for a Build Your Own Bowl ($11.25 CAD) instead of a burrito, and once again switched out rice for quinoa. The rest of the bowl was beef, beans, salsa, and cheese – a spicy and delicious meal that your body will thank you for.

Last, but certainly not least, was Jimmy The Greek. Although rice and potatoes can be alluring, we went for the Chicken Fillet Greek Salad ($10.99 CAD). The salad had lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onions, olives, feta cheese, and delicious Greek dressing, topped with a grilled chicken fillet for protein and souvlaki sauce.

We hope this gave you an idea of what you can do to avoid the grease and focus on nutritious eats in the tempting setting of the Toronto Eaton Centre food court.

New food options available for commuters as Union Food Court opens

By Severina Chu

Commuters now have a variety of new and tasty meal options with the opening of the Union Food Court at Toronto’s Union Station.

Part of the Union Station revitalization project, construction for the food court was first approved in 2009 and originally scheduled to be completed by 2015. Several delays later, the food court finally opened in late November of 2018.

It is located on the lower level of the GO York Concourse and offers 10 new food retailers and seating for up to 600 people. Many of the food vendors offer meals that cost $15 or less which allows students to grab a bite to eat before class, work, or on their way home.

The Union Food Court offers food from local vendors around the city. While commuters can still buy from familiar chains like McDonald’s, Tim Hortons, and Pizza Pizza, they now have the option of choosing healthier and more culturally diverse meals. Here’s a closer look at what’s on the menu.

Loaded Pierogi

In its newest Toronto location, this retailer serves the traditional Polish dumpling dish with a twist. Customers can get pierogies, either fried or boiled, loaded with various meat and vegetable toppings.

One of Loaded Pierogi's vegetarian options, Baba's Classic ($9) is topped with caramelized onions, sour cream, and green onions. (CanCulture/Severina Chu)

One of Loaded Pierogi's vegetarian options, Baba's Classic ($9) is topped with caramelized onions, sour cream, and green onions. (CanCulture/Severina Chu)

Bangkok Buri

Inspired by the street food served in Bangkok, Bangkok Buri serves traditional Thai cuisine with a modern influence. The menu includes noodles, rice, and salad dishes, as well as gluten-free and vegetarian choices.

Roywoods

Known for being an authentic taste of the Caribbean, this established Toronto business has now made its way to Union Station. They are well-known for their jerk chicken, which they offer either in a platter meal or on a sandwich with Jamaican coco bread.

The jerk chicken sandwich ($10) is served on Jamaican coco bread and comes with a beverage. (CanCulture/Severina Chu)

The jerk chicken sandwich ($10) is served on Jamaican coco bread and comes with a beverage. (CanCulture/Severina Chu)

Paramount Fine Foods

Paramount Fine Foods is serving up authentic Lebanese cuisine, including classics like shawarma and falafel served in a wrap, on rice, or on salad. The Union Station location also offers fresh bread and house-made sweets.

Scaccia

A family-owned and operated Italian restaurant in Toronto, Scaccia has expanded its brand to a quick service location. The scaccia, a stuffed flat bread from Sicily, is made with various combinations of meats, vegetables, and cheeses that makes for the perfect meal on-the-go.

Scaccia has a wide range of good eats, from hearty meat and cheese sandwiches to lighter vegetarian options. (CanCulture/Severina Chu)

Scaccia has a wide range of good eats, from hearty meat and cheese sandwiches to lighter vegetarian options. (CanCulture/Severina Chu)

Shanghai 360°

Shanghai 360° serves dishes typical of northern Chinese cuisine. With familiar Chinese takeout favourites such as fried rice and dumplings, the Union Station location also offers a noodle bar with your choice of noodle and soup base.

Sushi Shop

Despite the simple name, Sushi Shop is not your traditional Japanese menu. Here you can get sushi in creative forms, such as burgers, tacos, and burritos, along with unique flavour combinations.

The Union Food Court is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekends.

Toronto Cafés for Every Occasion

By: Kayla Zhu

Does your mood fluctuate as much as Toronto's weather? We've narrowed down a short list of cozy cafes in the downtown core that serve different purposes depending on what it is you're looking for, check it out!

Jimmy’s Coffee (84 Gerrard St. West)

Great for: Everything! Meetings, studying or even just chatting with friends

Jimmy’s is a veteran face in Toronto’s café scene, with eight locations scattered across the city. What makes the Gerrard Street location especially appealing is its spacious three-floor interior, reminiscent of a cozy, Victorian house. The first floor is great for chats over coffee while the third floor doubles as a rental space for meetings.

The second floor is the study hub, with spacious tables and single booth spots lined along the walls. An abundance of outlets, comfy cushions and a quiet but diligent ambiance make it the perfect spot to sip various “Jimmy”-named blends (including Dean, Hendrix and Hoffa) and grind through some assignments. Jimmy’s also offers an impressive assortment of pastries and finger food for your mid-study snack fix.  

The Black Canary Espresso Bar (329 Yonge St.)

Great for: Studying, people watching and reading

The Black Canary Espresso Bar is somewhat of a hidden spot, making up a small corner of the beloved Silver Snail comic bookstore. They’ve got a few tables and single bar stools along the window, making it the perfect spot to get some work done while gazing out onto the hustle and bustle of Yonge Street. There’s something cozy and a little special about being tucked away in a secret corner of the lively Yonge and Dundas area that really gets those productive juices flowing. Also, the expansive windows give the space lots of natural light, perfect for leisure reading or journalling.

Their menu consists of classic espressos, Americanos and macchiatos while incorporating some more eclectic recipes like banana hot chocolate and Nutella lattés. They’ve also got a few food options for hungry comic book perusers and hardworking students.

And, if you’re into life-sized character figures, you’ll encounter plenty of those at this establishment.







Dineen Coffee (140 Yonge St.)

Great for: Casual meetups, catching up with friends

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Within the café-goer scene, Dineen Coffee has a bit of an upscale reputation. But don’t let that scare you off! The Yonge location is super warm and welcoming and offers a generous amount of seating for chatting and working. However, the café is known to be constantly packed with business people, so make sure to grab a seat early.

They offer an impressive range of drinks, with one of their seasonal fall drinks being the delicious Turmeric Gold latte pictured above. They offer a seemingly endless assortment of finger sandwiches, pastries, croissants and more—perfect for sharing with a friend.

If you’re looking for somewhere with a nice mood, along with a bit of background noise to reduce those awkward silences, Dineen Coffee is your best bet. The gold accented decor, vested employees and classic, yet modern interior design really brings that timeless, fall ambience.

Thanksgiving traditions across Canada

By: Sukaina Jamil

Although Thanksgiving enjoys a celebrated history  in Canada spanning hundreds of years, what’s often lost is how this festive holiday is observed from coast to coast. It’s an official statutory holiday in every province and territory, but it may come as a surprise that in four provinces, namely, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, Thanksgiving does not hold that statutory holiday status. What’s more, not every region chooses to serve the seemingly requisite turkey and mashed potatoes as the main dish.

Now that the long weekend has come to an end, let’s talk about the different spreads on tables across Canada, and try not to salivate as we go.

Let’s be real, the year-long hype that comes with Thanksgiving season is largely due to its staple fare: turkey, roasted season vegetables, some variant of potatoes and of course, pumpkin spice and everything nice.

Although you might assume that these dishes are executed in the same way across the country, most Thanksgiving dinner spreads contain some features that are unique to their region.

Residents of Prince Edward Island often spruce up their Thanksgiving starches with some lobster mashed potatoes, infusing two of the province’s most beloved ingredients. Nova Scotians opt to not mash their potatoes, but rather throw them in a stew with a bunch of other vegetables to create Nova Scotian Hodge Podge (most intriguing name ever - a must try).  

Taking a sweeter turn, pumpkin pie has become the lifeblood  of the Thanksgiving season. After all, it is fall, and what feature speaks more to our country’s love of the harvest season than the delectably saccharine pumpkin? However, no Thanksgiving spread is complete with just one dessert, which is where each province’s character emerges. Ontarians delve into decadent butter tarts, while Nanaimo bars are spruced up and served by the dozens in British Columbia. Ever heard of Saskatoon Berry Pie? It competes fiercely with its pumpkin counterpart on dessert tables across Saskatchewan.

You didn’t think we’d forget about the bread, did you? While American Thanksgiving feasts are traditionally served with cornbread, Canadians in Manitoba and Yukon combat with their bannock and sourdough bread, providing a variety tastes and textures for your palette.

Bannock can be served in many different forms, and is a traditional Métis food. Thanksgiving traditions in Canada trace back to long before European settlers came to the land to when Indigenous people would hold feasts in celebration of the fall harvest. Manitobans still include traditional Aboriginal foods in their Thanksgiving meals as a way to honour this piece of history.  

From stews and starches to pies of all kinds, no two tables in Canada are likely to look the same on Thanksgiving.

If you’re getting the urge to travel across the country and divulge in some Thanksgiving leftovers from different provinces and territories, we don’t blame you. In fact, let us know if you need some eating buddies!

Hip Hip Halal! Three halal burger joints taking Toronto by storm

By: Sukaina Jamil

The Burgernator

Photo courtesy of The Burgernator

Photo courtesy of The Burgernator

Perhaps the most well-known halal burger joint in Toronto, The Burgernator is located in Kensington Market on Augusta Avenue. Although the restaurant opened back in 2013, they recently revamped their menu in early March of this year. They introduced newer, bolder flavour combinations that emphasize their identity as a one-of-a-kind stop for adventurous halal burgers.

The Burgernator has broken down its menu into four different sections: B.M.D. Burgers of Mass Destruction, Classic Arsenal, Vegetarian and Sides. The Classic Arsenal section consists of four burgers with seemingly military style names such as the Sergeant Burger, which consists of a beef patty, burgernator sauce, lettuce, tomato and pickles, falling just under $6.

Although these options are easier on your wallet, it’s not a true Burgernator party until you take a visit to the B.M.D. section of the menu. Selections range from The Bazooka Junior: beef patty, fried egg, sautéed hot peppers, cheese and spicy chipotle aioli, to the Drop Down and Give Me Spicy: double beef patty, chipotle barbecue sauce, cheese, onion rings and sautéed jalapeños. However, if you’re like me and are scared of the lasting effects of red meat (hello pimples, yes I’m talking to you), then never fear, The Resistance is here! A burger stuffed with grilled cajun chicken, cheese, hot pepper salsa and chipotle aioli all ready to hop into my tummy.

Photo courtesy of Dine Halal

Photo courtesy of Dine Halal

The Burgernator caters to vegetarian diets as well, which is hard to believe after reading the contents of their self-named burger - I’m talking three beef patties with caramelized onions and sautéed mushrooms tucked in between two grilled cheese sandwiches. If these contents initiate your gag reflexes, for either diet or health reasons, take a trip to the Battlefields, a burger with a crusted portobello mushroom stuffed with cheese and fresh herbs, topped with veggies, roasted garlic and rosemary aioli.

Cool down with some chocolate or salted caramel milkshakes, or take your meal to the next step by ordering Burgernator Fries: a bed of fries topped with beef chilli, cheese, chives and sour cream. Whatever you choose, it’s obvious that this restaurant isn’t joking in their mission statement when they say “The burger is our weapon. Toronto, our battlefield.”

Jackson’s Burger

Photo courtesy of Jackson Burger

Photo courtesy of Jackson Burger

Located just steps away from Ryerson University, Jackson’s Burger has been serving Torontonians with their unique menu of halal burgers since January 2014. This burger joint is perhaps the least well known of all the restaurants on this list, however what they may lack in popularity, they make up for in taste and quality. Their beef is hormone and antibiotic free, with the patties made fresh at the time of order. The quality is evident in the flavour, when you bite into a burger you can clearly tell has no old or previously frozen ingredients.

The menu at Jackson’s Burger differs from that of other restaurants, as they have an “Internationals” section, consisting of burgers that highlight special ingredients from different countries around the world. The “Effin’ Jerk” burger consists of jerk chicken covered in jerk mayo, with a pineapple salsa garnish. “Canada Eh!” is a classic Canadian burger stuffed with grass-fed beef, bacon, egg and fried cheese. The seemingly weirdest burger on the menu? “Damn Skippy” has a beef patty that’s garnished with peanut butter and strawberry jam.

For those looking for more traditional burgers, the restaurant does have a classics menu that lists anything from a regular cheeseburger to a fish and chips burger, crispy chicken or a vegetarian patty. These can be topped with your choice of free sauces and toppings, or, if you’re willing to pay a little extra, a range of premium toppings including caramelized onions and sautéed mushrooms is available for you. These are all conveniently laid out on a screen at the cash register for customers to browse through as they order.

My favourite thing about Jackson’s Burger? Their loaded fries. The “Effin’ Poutine” comes with fries, jerk chicken, cheese, gravy and jerk mayo. It might sound like a weird combination, but after one bite my mind seemed to leave my body and I scarfed the rest down before I could even tell what was happening. Suffice to say, it was not my best day (even though it felt like it was). This section of the menu also offers the “Shroom Daddy,” which is just regular poutine topped with sautéed mushrooms and onions, along with Chipotle and Sriracha Poutines.

And, like any good burger joint, they offer delicious cold milkshakes to cool you down in order to maybe forget the hot, greasy food you just stuffed down your gullet.


Ozzy’s Burgers

The youngest burger place on this list is quickly rising up through the ranks of Toronto’s burger game as its handmade patties and sauces win the hearts of almost anyone who walks in the door. Ozzy’s Burgers is owned by Ozgur Sekar, who formerly worked at another halal burger joint in Kensington Market, Top Gun Steaks and Burgers. Sekar opened Ozzy’s and made it his mission to develop a menu filled with unique burgers with risky flavour combinations, each dripping with cheeses and sauces that make your mouth water just by looking at them.

Although the restaurant does not have a website yet, their marketing is mainly done through their social media platforms that showcase how they make their burger patties fresh in-house everyday. The beef is ground daily and formed into 6 ounce patties as needed. Their menu consists of both built-up burgers and large steak sandwiches, such as the Son of a Bun, a beef patty topped with chicken strips, caramelized onions, jalapeno, cheese and garlic and chipotle sauces. The Ozzy-licious Sandwich bursts apart at its seams, stuffed with Canadian ribeye steak slices, onions, mushrooms, hot peppers, cheeses and of course, is then drowned with sauce.

Perhaps the best thing about Ozzy’s, aside from how each of their burgers seemingly fall apart due to how loaded they are, is that they employ members of both the refugee and LGBTQ+ communities.

This piece was edited by Julia Nowicki

Chicken Fingers of Toronto: Top 3 Con-Tenders

By Kelly Skjerven

You know that feeling you get when you go out to eat and hate almost everything on the menu? I have always been a picky eater, and I have a pro tip for you: chicken fingers are my holy grail (unless you’re vegetarian of course, in which tofu nuggets are great). I’ve always been a picky eater, so chances are I’m ordering chicken fingers almost any time I go out to a bar or restaurant. After my many travels as a chicken finger connoisseur, I've come up with a list of three bars and restaurants that have Toronto’s tastiest tenders!

1. Duke’s Refresher + Bar

Photo: Duke's Refresher + Bar

Photo: Duke's Refresher + Bar

The atmosphere of this bar is amazing. Great music is always blasting, the drinks are delicious and the chicken fingers are of the highest stature. One day, I told my friend I was craving greasy pub fingers and we set off on a journey. We were in the downtown core and I had always wanted to try Duke’s, as it was recommended to me on countless occasions. I was not disappointed, to say the least. The menu describes the meal as “fresh, never frozen and breaded to order” and I believe it. The breading was so flavourful, and the chicken is so tender that the breading fell off of the meat completely.

2. Fran’s Restaurant and Bar

You can never go wrong with Fran’s. Or chicken fingers. Fran’s serves up some classic deep-fried chicken fingers whose flavours are only amplified when dipped in tangy plum sauce. There’s also an option to have them tossed in different sauces such as barbeque, honey garlic, hot and extra hot, which are an awesome way to vamp up your meal!. Whatever your preferred eating approach, you’ll definitely be licking the plate clean.

3. Imperial Pub

Photo: Kiara Julien

Photo: Kiara Julien

Last but not least, the ‘campus’ pub. Imperial is a great place to kick back after a long of day of lectures and labs. They’re known for offering up some of the best comfort food, such as burgers, nachos, fish and chips and much more. Their chicken fingers are the perfect amount of greasy that you’ll want to soak up after a long day. You can get them with golden-crisp fries or on a combo platter which also includes mozzarella sticks, onion rings, fries and a cheese quesadilla. You might want to bring a few friends to share with you if you’re going to opt for the platter, or eat it all on your own, no judgement here!

All three of these restaurants are perfect spots to satisfy any fried chicken craving. With individual elements that make each place’s chicken fingers unique to their menu, it’s hard to pick just one to go to! I hope you give all three of these diners and pubs a try, you’ll thank me when you’re fighting the urge to lick your fingers after.

This piece was edited by Sukaina Jamil.

Here's How to Order Vegan at Your Fave Fast Food Restaurants

By: Natalie Michie

Many vegans might agree that fast food restaurants aren’t their first choice when it comes to getting a proper meal. However, sometimes these pit stops are unavoidable. My shift to a vegan lifestyle has certainly not stepped in the way of my love for junk food, so I can relate first-hand to having moments when you just want to go to your favourite drive-thru, burger joint or sandwich shop and pig out.

If you’re vegan and are at a loss at the fast food counter (because let’s face it - it’s a stereotype that all vegans are healthy), go ahead and try out some, or all, of the items listed below!

Taco Bell

The Crunchwrap Supreme made vegan (PopSugar)

The Crunchwrap Supreme made vegan (PopSugar)

Taco Bell has a wide range of vegan options. If you’re looking for a quick bite, they do a great job of accommodating plant-based diets. Although there aren’t many meals on the Taco Bell menu that are originally made vegan, it is very easy to “veganize” most items.

For any items with beef or chicken, you can easily swap out the meat for hardy black or refried beans. Plus, for any meal that has cheese or a dairy-based sauce, you can ask for it to be made “fresco-style,” and Taco Bell will replace the dairy with guacamole or pico de gallo.  Add to this any of their salsas and their vegan seasoned rice, and you’re good to go. This method will allow you to stay ethical without feeling like you are losing out on the substance of the meal.

Along with swapping out animal products for vegan substitutes, Taco Bell also has some delicious items that are accidentally vegan, such as the chips, fries and cinnamon twists! The Mexican restaurant chain also added a “How to eat vegan at Taco Bell” section to their website, so props to you for thinking of us, Taco Bell.

Starbucks

Starbucks Green Tea Soy Frappuccino (Urban Tastebud)

Starbucks Green Tea Soy Frappuccino (Urban Tastebud)

As a frequent consumer of overpriced specialty coffee drinks, the vegan options offered at Starbucks are of great importance to me. Not only do they offer dairy-free milk alternatives like soy, almond and coconut, as well as vegan syrups like vanilla, caramel, hazelnut and mocha,, but if you’re looking to grab a snack or even a quick meal, they’ve got you covered.

Most bagels at Starbucks are vegan, like multigrain, plain and cinnamon raisin. My all-time favourite snack to get when I’m on the go is a multigrain bagel with a packet of the organic jalapeno avocado spread. It’s delicious!

If you’re looking for a hot breakfast to go with your coffee, you can also opt for their whole grain oatmeal with any of the topping choices. One of my favourite treats from the coffee company are Justin’s Peanut Butter Cups. Don’t let the “contains milk” message on the back of the package steer you away - the company added that to their packaging a few years ago because they process their chocolate in a facility that processes products with dairy as well. Although the peanut butter cups are dairy-free, the company included this as a precautionary message to help customers who are severely allergic to dairy.

In August 2017, Starbucks came out with a more substantial meal option for vegans, which was a welcome change. The baby greens and brown rice protein bowl has 15 grams of protein, and I can assure you that it will fill you up.

Tim Hortons

Tim Horton's Harvest Vegetable Soup (Tim Hortons) 

Tim Horton's Harvest Vegetable Soup (Tim Hortons) 

Being that Tim Hortons is the staple fast food restaurant in Canada, they’ve got to have some vegan options, right? Fortunately, the renowned doughnut chain has a vast selection of vegan-friendly items! Although they have not yet hopped on the dairy-free milk bandwagon for their coffee and teas, they do have a pretty good selection of vegan food options if you’re looking for something to eat with your (black) drink.

Similar to Starbucks, Timmies offers some helpful breakfast options for those who follow a plant-based diet. Their menu offers oatmeal with two different flavours to pick from, maple or mixed berry. Plus, most of their bagels are vegan, including plain, blueberry, everything, cinnamon raisin, sesame seed, poppy seed, and pretzel. For spreads, you can opt for jam or peanut butter. I recommend trying the cinnamon raisin bagel with peanut butter, it’s amazing!

If you want to get some in your five a day, the harvest vegetable soup is a warm, hearty option that is perfect for a cold Canadian winter day.day. They also have a vegan garden salad, which you can eat on its own or on a roll for a makeshift sandwich. Just make sure you steer clear of the specialty bagels, 12 grain bagel and any croissants, as they have animal products in them, according to the company’s Ingredient Information guide.

If you’re a carb addict like me, you’ll be pleased to know that both the savoury potato wedges and the hash browns made at Tims are vegan-friendly. This is ideal when paired with a salad or coffee, or even juston their own. And for those who argue that a meal can’t solely consist of potatoes, to that I say, who hurt you?

Subway

Subway's Veggie Delite (Subway) 

Subway's Veggie Delite (Subway) 

Subway is definitely my favourite fast-food restaurant if I’m looking for a satisfying quick meal. With the bread options ranging from hearty Italian bread to wraps and ciabatta, stopping at Subway for a veggie sub is always a good option when you’re on the go.

Go ahead and pile on any of the vegetable toppings, and then top it with your choice of sauces. Options include yellow mustard, oil, vinegar, sweet onion sauce, Italian dressing and Buffalo sauce. You want to avoid any dairy-based sauces, so just keep an eye out for sauces that look creamy. Don’t be afraid to clarify with employees which sauces have dairy and which don’t. You also want to avoid sauces that have animal products other than dairy, such as the honey mustard sauce.

My favourite is a veggie sub on toasted Italian bread with sub sauce and salt and pepper, simple but so tasty!. If you’re a first-time Subway visitor and you don’t know what veggies you want, you can make it easy by ordering the Veggie Delite, which is just an assortment of vegetables with your choice of sauce.

Specific options vary per location, so feel free to visit your favourite fast food restaurant and ask what options they have that suit your diet. Most places have vegan bread and non-dairy spreads that you can order if you’re in a pinch. No matter how meat-based a restaurant seems, there is almost always something you can find to eat, even if it’s just grabbing a salad and some bread and passing it off as a sandwich.

Point is, it’s not as hard as you might think to find vegan options at any food joint. I hope you found this helpful, and I encourage you to go out and try "veganizing" menu items at a fast food franchise near you!

At the end of the day, despite our differences, junk food holds a special place in all of our hearts!

This piece was edited by Sukaina Jamil. 

What Distinguishes Canada’s West Coast Cuisine?

By Isabelle Kirkwood

(Tourism Vancouver) 

(Tourism Vancouver) 

I think Ontarians often feel cocooned by their province’s vast population in comparison to the rest of Canada. However, as a Vancouverite and avid West Coast Best Coast flag-bearer, I’d like to take a bit of time to bring light to a distinguished yet often overlooked subculture of Canadian cuisine. This neck of the woods has crafted a distinctive chow in a corner of the world where you don’t need to worry about the temperature, where the great Pacific meets the coastal temperate rainforests of beautiful British Columbia.

Our food scene isn’t too dissimilar to that of Ontario, as Chef Makoto Ono of Pidgin restaurant in Vancouver says, “There’s no east vs. west, there are no egos. It’s the only way to make Canadian cuisine happen.”

Now, mind you, that’s a very pacifist, Canadian response to the frank question: “Who does it best, east or west?” And although every corner of the country has its own culinary magnum opus, I’d like to take some of your time to sample my own turf’s gastronomy. That’s right, the best eats from the saltwater hub, the city of glass, the Hollywood north, Vancouver, B.C.  

It saddens me that Vancouver is now widely known as the “No Fun City.” Besides the endless supply of ocean and wilderness at your fingertips, let it be known that we come with some pretty good grub. Also, eh hem, it doesn’t always rain. We have actually have mostly sunny days.

I’ve learned that Vancouver cuisine, although ever-evolving, comes down to three principle F’s: Fish, Freshness and Fare to Share.

1. Fish

salmon.jpg

Many of Canada’s major cities lie quite far inland, which makes fresh fish hard to come by. Vancouver lies at the mouth of some seriously lucrative wild salmon migration routes; from Chinook to Coho, to Sockeye and a medley of other subspecies. Let’s also not forget the mussels, oysters, Dungeness crab and spot prawns that are local to the area. Now, my ex-vegan conscience weighs heavy on me here, but I’d be fibbing if I didn’t say fish is a staple of West Coast Canadian cuisine.

Actually, one of the first restaurants I worked at was The Salmon House; a fine dining establishment overlooking the whole Fraser Valley all the way to Mt. Baker, serving salmon in any form you could imagine; in an omelet, a spring roll, even in a cobb salad. Give us a fillet and we’ll find a way.

Many of Vancouver’s top Michelin-star restaurants make fresh-caught fish the cornerstone of their menus. Our cuisine is also heavily-influenced by east-Asian dishes; believe me, even Tokyo doesn’t consume as much sushi as we do in Vancity. Whether you like it sashimi-style, grilled, poached or pan-fried, you’re at no shortage of fresh and delicious fish when you’re out west.

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2. Freshness

I think most Canadians hold the view that Vancouverites are snooty, so hopefully, I’m not indulging that stereotype too much here. West coast cuisine is without a doubt committed to organic, local and responsibly sourced ingredients. Menus will often list the farm, fishery, artisan or butcher responsible for the elements on your plate at any given eatery.

Maybe it’s because we’re surrounded by impressive mountains, lush rainforests and briny ocean, but whatever it is, we’re pretty environmentally-conscious here on the west coast. This means that we like to make sure our nosh isn’t hurting the planet. Vegetables are often grown in the Fraser Valley, seafood is accompanied by an Ocean Wise mark of sustainability and our meat is nose-to-tail. So, whether I’m humouring the health-nut sugar mommies of West Van or the hippie-vegans of the Island, I think it’s pretty fair to say that the Canadian West Coast prides itself on fresh and sustainable food.

Top Chef Canada finalist Trevor Bird is the head chef and owner of Fable  - a restaurant donned by a catchy take on the term “farm to table.” Fable makes sourcing local products and delivering great flavours in a fun and non-pretentious setting its main mission.

“I like to think ‘farm to table’ is not a trend anymore,” Bird says. “Nobody wants to go into these big chain restaurants anymore, everyone wants independent restaurants, and each of those independent restaurants has their own unique style. Nobody wants the norm.”

pexels-photo-415373.jpeg

3. Fare to Share

This has been a new and exciting discovery for me as a West Coaster, as Vancouver is often known for not really having a distinctive “culture” like Toronto and Montreal do. But to my surprise, share plates, charcuteries and tapas are slowly becoming hallmarks of Vancouver fare.

What this city does best is polished food with chill vibes. Our most upscale restaurants, such as Nightingale, owned by celebrated chef David Hawksworth, zeroes in on the combination of fresh ingredients on shared plates. Vancouver is a hub for business magnates and laissez-faire millennials alike, and you’ll find that these two worlds often collide in the laid-back yet chic dining rooms of our restaurants.

Hong Kong native Curtis Luk is chef at Vancouver’s Mission Kitsilano.

“I like the diversity of sharing,” he says. “You can have a lot of tastes without feeling the need to commit to a single plate of food, and, obviously, if you want more, you can always order more. You can try a bit of everything.”

bc.jpg

I’m proud to say that Vancouver is a pretty international city, so we borrow much of our own cuisine from those abroad by integrating the best of the nations around us into the heart of our own diverse yet budding dining culture.

There are many reasons why you need to venture out to the west coast if you haven’t already: world-class skiing, hiking, biking and surfing, the unforgettably gorgeous landscape, the coastal mountains, the wildlife. But don’t forget the delicious food while you’re here… be sure to make it a part of the journey!

This post was edited by Sukaina Jamil.

Veganism and Health: The Big Myth

By: Julia Mastroianni

When you picture a vegan breakfast, I’m sure all you see are fruit bowls and green smoothies. My mornings look a little bit different. By 12 p.m., I’ve eaten one Clif bar and a peanut butter cookie. The plan for lunch is whatever I find in the fridge, but I usually wake up too late to pack my lunch so I have to wait until I get home to eat.

“Whatever I find in the fridge” depends on the week, but usually there’s half an avocado, some hummus or if I’m really lucky, leftovers -- which means I won’t have to actually make anything. I’m living at home this year, so dinner is mostly whatever my parents are making. Luckily, I have parents who go out of their way to make food that is suited to my diet.

Exhibit A: The picture below is of my mom’s pizza twists, which is essentially pizza dough twisted with sausage and olives and then cooked.

pizza rolls.jpg

She’s nice enough to not only now make my pizza twists with just olives, but also to make my sister’s with just sausage because she hates olives.

And then there are regular ones for everyone else. This is the life of luxury I’ve been living since I decided to go vegan.

Well, sort of. My parents are good humans and therefore do their best to provide me well-balanced and delicious meals when they’re cooking for me. But when I’m feeding myself, which is less frequent now but was every day last year when I was living on my own, my meals look a bit different. These generally involve peanut butter out of the jar, frozen bananas and buckets of pasta. And don’t forget the Clif bars. Lots and lots of Clif bars.

clif.jpg

Because I chose veganism for purely ethical and moral reasons, health never really factored into the equation. In what ended up being a slight miscalculation, I jumped into veganism knowing very little about how to sustain myself. I kept eating what I always ate, but with some modifications. I found out pretty quickly that a lot of the regular food I used to eat was easy to change with some milk and egg substitutes.

See? Sometimes I eat actual food. Risotto--no cream-- and Brussels sprouts with mushrooms (I guess part of why veganism wasn’t so hard for me was because I’ve always been the weird kid who loves vegetables).

bs.jpg

But I also realized that a lot of the junk food I used to eat still fit my new lifestyle perfectly. Turns out the best junk food is so processed that there are no real animal products left in them. Fries? Oreos? Chips? All fair game. So for someone like me, who wasn’t really thinking about the healthfulness of the foods I consumed, that stuff turned out to make up a large portion of what I was eating. Sure, I could’ve theoretically made healthier versions of everything, but on a student budget—actually, on any budget, healthy veganism is still not the most affordable option.

I never understood why so many of the people I speak to about veganism assume that I’m healthier. I actually didn’t know until I moved to Ryerson that people went vegan for health reasons alone because every vegan I knew was just concerned about the ethics of their food.

It’s cool that people have chosen a more eco-friendly lifestyle to improve their health, especially when there are so many conflicting ideas out there about what a healthy lifestyle looks like. For me, health-based messages have often been riddled with a lot of judgement that accomplishes nothing for people’s self-esteem, so I like to stay away from being swayed by the “healthiness” of particular movements.

Risotto.jpg

I realize it’s objectively not great to be consuming large amounts of processed sugar or packaged foods, but for vegans who care about the earth, health will often come secondary. This applies in particular to individuals with varying identities and access to different resources—someone who doesn’t live in a city, for example, or someone coming from a low-income family will face different challenges in accessing vegan-friendly food.

Recently, my dad found me this vegan cookbook that focuses on uncomplicated recipes with ingredients anyone might have in their kitchen, and I’ve decided to try to make my way through it little by little. I haven’t had Oreos in a while, but there is always a bag of all dressed chips in the cupboard and I’m always game to finish them off. I still haven’t figured out the best way to be vegan yet, and I suspect that’s because there isn’t one way to do it. I guess you just have to find what works for you—Clif bars and all.

This piece was edited by Sukaina Jamil. 

 

Is Toronto’s famous sushi burrito a symbol of cultural appropriation?

By Sarah Chew

 

Usage rights: Wikimedia Commons

Usage rights: Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been a fan of sushi burrito since it first came to the city through Rolltation, a rapidly growing joint at Dundas Street West and University Avenue.

My Instagram and Facebook feeds were filled with the innovative food creation, which I saw garnered mixed reviews from Torontonians—so I decided to try it out for myself.

As an avid sushi lover, I enjoyed the Japanese-Mexican fusion of raw salmon and assorted veggies with the convenient, wrapped packaging of the whole product.

But as I watched multiple videos advertising the product on Facebook, I noticed some comments saying things like, “this isn’t real sushi,” and “I’m offended by this product.” These comments were later deleted, but they didn’t lose their effect as I continued to ponder the significance of those accusations.

The comments echoed sentiments expressed in the case of Kooks Burritos, a taco truck run by two white women that was shut down. Owners Liz Connelly and Kali Wilgus of Portland, Ore. admitted to “peeking into the windows of every kitchen” on a trip to Puerto Nuevo, Mexico. They returned to the U.S. to create their own (short-lived) venture, inspired by the ideas they saw on vacation.

Their story received a great deal of public outrage, as reported by multiple news organizations. The one thing I kept seeing littered throughout every piece was the term “cultural appropriation”.

For those who don’t know, cultural appropriation, paraphrased from the Oxford Dictionary, is the unconsented and inappropriate taking of the cultural symbols, customs or ideas of one group and using it for another culture’s gain.

If that definition translates to the food industry, restaurants that take the food from a culture that isn’t native to their owners’ and profit from that difference are guilty of cultural appropriation.

Is it really so simple, though?

In an interview, Day Wong, a co-founder of Rolltation, said that the company was inspired by New York’s creation of the sushi burrito. Wong said he and the other co-founders saw potential in the interesting concept, and thought it would do well in downtown Toronto.

“What we are doing right now is creating a new form of food that combines the burrito size with the sushi taste,” said Wong. “The sushi burrito is one of its kind in the market right now.”

Wong also mentioned that of Rolltation’s four co-founders, none are of Japanese descent.

“That doesn’t mean the group isn’t knowledgeable about sushi,” said Wong.

Rather, because he’s been working in the sushi industry for 10 years, Wong said, “I know sushi.”

I wondered how traditional Japanese restaurants viewed the invention, so I spoke to Kei Hashimoto, who is the assistant manager of Kaiseki Yu-zen Hashimoto and the son of the owner.

Hashimoto explained that the goal of the restaurant is to “promote an authentic experience” of what it’s like to eat at formal restaurants in Japan.

Hashimoto described Kaiseki as “the most cultural cuisine to find in Japan that focuses on all of the cooking by Japanese culinary techniques to the highest levels.”

When asked about his feelings toward the sushi burrito, which mixes Japanese and Mexican cultures, Hashimoto said he took no offence.

“There needs to be a gateway into a culture. [To help others] understand a particular culture, [cultural restaurants] need a way to entice their interest, in terms of where things have developed from,” said Hashimoto.

He went so far as to call the Rolltation enterprise “helpful”, because they it lessens the load on his restaurants to explain the origins of the food.

So there appears to be no beef (so to speak) between Rolltation and traditional Japanese restaurants. However, that lead me to the question: do cultures own their food? If they don’t own their food, is it even possible to appropriate their dishes?

Sarah B. Hood, a member of the board of the Culinary Historians of Canada, said that the issue is more complicated than that.

“It is in the nature of food to be shared, and it’s in the nature of food to change. In most cases, even a home cook who cooks the same meal over and over again is likely to try new things every time they make a dish,” said Hood.

Hood stated that she doesn’t think it’s possible for a culture to own a dish, using spaghetti as an example.

“I would say that the Italians of the world don’t own spaghetti — I mean, after all, the noodles came from China, originally. It didn’t originate in Italy,” said Hood. “Tomatoes didn’t come to Italy until after European contact with Mexico and South America.”

She went on to say that the origins of “traditional foods” are so diverse that “it’s almost impossible to establish what is authentic of a dish, and therefore [it’s] almost impossible to appropriate.”

Ruth Tam, a Washington-based writer, believes that it is possible to appropriate food from a culture. She wrote a Washington Post piece entitled “how it feels when white people shame your culture’s food — then make it trendy” which was based on her personal feelings in reaction to the rise of Asian food in American restaurants.

In her article, Tam described her problem was with the way some American restaurants treated immigrant cuisine like “discount tourism”, and as “a stylish way for American chefs to use other cultures’ cuisines to reap profit.”

I asked her where the lines were between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation of food. She said it all went back to giving acknowledgement to the cultures and techniques chefs source their food from.

“If you take food and you say, ‘Here it is, this is all my work,’ and you don’t explain where you got it from or what techniques are being used, then it verges on cultural appropriation — especially if you get capital for that,” said Tam.

She continued on to say, “If you get funding for the restaurant, if you get press for that restaurant and if you get attention because you happen to be someone who’s outside of that culture, then it verges on cultural appropriation.”

“Cultural appreciation is when you show your work and show your relationship to it as opposed to taking ownership over it without citing your sources,” said Tam.

So is the sushi burrito a symbol of cultural appropriation?

Wong was transparent with me about its New York origins, but I don’t remember seeing anything about that on any of its social media.

They have clear glass windows separating their customers from the food preparation, showing them the sushi burrito-making process in front of their eyes. Does that constitute “showing their work”?

Hood sums it up nicely: “Food is culture. A primary part of what food does to culture is that it gives people a way to show their love for others, protect others, nurture others, to comfort others and, secondarily, it gives us a way to share and learn about each other.”

Perhaps if we start being open and honest with our food as we share it with people, the question of cultural appropriation in food won’t exist anymore.  

This piece was edited by Emerald Bensadoun.