How Immigrant-Owned Restaurants Shape Canadian Culture

The decision to move to a new country is made for several reasons, but regardless of what they are, the need for a little taste of home will always linger with many immigrants coming to Canada. Food can satisfy that longing to bring the best parts of home with them as they begin a new chapter of their lives.

Food is an important component of many cultures – from the ingredients that are used in recipes to the events (big and small) at which they are enjoyed, the dishes that are prepared tell stories and hold memories. Stories of historic events and of traditions long sewn into the fabric of their cultures and memories of the time spent with family.

Canada has long been known as a rich mosaic, celebrating the heritages and cultures that many immigrants bring with them when coming to settle and start a life in this great country.

Our restaurant industry is a big part of, not only embracing but celebrating their cultures and our Canadian cultural mosaic.

Enriching the Canadian Business Landscape & Contributing to the Economy

Across the country, immigrant-owned businesses have been breathing new life into small towns and adding to the ever-growing metropolises that light up our provinces and territories.

While many immigrants come to Canada with credentials in specialized fields, their degrees or certifications are not always recognized here, and so they turn to the restaurant industry to provide a stable income for their families and themselves. For those with an entrepreneurial spirit, however, their drive and ambition lead them to own their own establishments, which also provide others with jobs and income, further fuelling the economy.

Annapurna Restaurant in Penticton in the South Okanagan Valley of British Columbia is one example of two entrepreneurial chefs who set goals as high as the mountain range which shares their eatery’s name. When Keshab Sapkota and Ram Bhandari immigrated to Canada, they began by cooking in various restaurants, and ambitiously set out on their goal of owning a restaurant by connecting with the South Okanagan Immigrant and Community Services (SOICS) to increase their English language skills and build their ties to the community by participating in social events. Sapkota and Bhandari opened their restaurant in 2019, offering an aromatic menu of Nepalese and Indian cuisine, using fresh ingredients prepared from scratch and loved by locals. They are also proud to contribute to the Canadian economy by employing staff.

This is a story that echoes throughout our proudly diverse country, mirrored by other immigrant families who move to Canada, eager to begin a new life with more opportunity for their children. While they may be moving here in search of more opportunity, it is they who very often help our small rural towns stay afloat and even thrive. Very often, families will collaborate intergenerationally to help a restaurant get off the ground when it first opens, and there are some who use the entrepreneurial drive in them to own multiple establishments, employing staff, and being supported by locals whenever they can.

Creating Welcoming Communities of Cultural Diasporas

Authentic cuisine can help foster a sense of community and togetherness in a time when people need it most – such as when they are newcomers to a new country or city and during a pandemic. Many immigrants find comfort in food from their hometown, enjoying cherished memories of preparing a dish that they used to cook or bake with family back home or in their childhood, basking in the aromas and mouth-watering flavours that remind them of the most wonderful parts of their heritage and country.

As in many Canadian families, sharing a meal is an important part of life for individuals who have immigrated. It is a time for gathering, sharing stories, bonding, and being together. In Nova Scotia, Christine Allen, originally from Jamaica, co-owns a traditional Caribbean restaurant named Brawta. While it is typical of Caribbean and African people to cook at home, she is finding that immigrant students who are missing home are drawn to her restaurant.

“It was just a space for them to come and be able to chat and enjoy the food and just a welcoming space for them,” she says.

Though she is Canadian-born, Jesie Salcedo, of Filipino heritage, found that traditional foods are helping her get through the pandemic, when social distancing has been required for so long. She found that making traditional Filipino dishes that her mother makes helped her experience a sense of togetherness, and closeness with her family, despite not being able to be with them. Even before this ongoing pandemic, communities of immigrants who have settled in Canada continue to welcome newcomers, often sharing food and support networks with them to help them get started on their new chapter.

Delicious Cuisine for All

There is no denying the many delicious and unique flavours that foods from all around the world literally bring to the table. Celebrating the cultures and traditional dishes that are brought to Canada by those immigrating to our country only strengthens the colourful cultural mosaic that we claim to be – and we would be amiss not to mention that we absolutely enjoy being able to dine on traditional meals that are offered on the menus of immigrant-owned restaurants.

When it comes to fusing traditional dishes and Western world favourites, there is inspiration drawn from both sides that create the most delicious of concoctions. Toronto chef Trevor Lui remembers scouring his parents and grandparents’ pantries to experiment with ingredients that may not be found in non-immigrant homes:

“As immigrant kids, we have different things in our pantries. And when you’re left at home alone, you start to play around with some of these (ingredients) inside traditional dishes that you may not have if you’re not from an immigrant household. And I think a lot of that sings in what we see in restaurants today,” says Lui. “A lot of influences and inspirations in certain dishes chefs cook is based on this fused culture of being a child of immigrant background melded with the culture of being North American.”

A Canadian Experience

To fully enjoy Canadian cuisine, one must dive into a box of traditional Quebec-style poutine or a sweet and crunchy BeaverTail, but do not neglect to stop at the Gateway Grill if you’re ever in Blaine Lake, Saskatchewan. Remember to pop into Brawta if you find yourself in Halifax, or Annapurna Restaurant if you’re out enjoying the beautiful views in the South Okanagan Valley of British Columbia.

These are the flavours of home that many entrepreneurial Canadian immigrants enjoy so much. They are the dishes that they’ve built their lives on, here in Canada and in the memories they’ve created in their native lands.

If you’re a restaurant owner or chef who enjoys preparing authentic dishes, please feel free to shop your local Wholesale Club for fresh ingredients at great prices!

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