The Taste of India: Lowbrow vs. Highbrow Restaurants in the GTA

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The Taste of India: Lowbrow vs. Highbrow Restaurants in the GTA

Written By Aesha Patel

Food holds a special place in our hearts is largely because it is deeply associated with our identity. Since food is important to culture, and our culture is a big part of who we are, food will always be special to us. More interesting however, is the fact that human beings socialize through food. Whether it is holidays, weddings, or celebrations, food unites us in different ways. I was 10 years old when I arrived to Canada with my parents. At that time, the only way I knew how to cope with being homesick was through Indian food. Thus, began my journey of trying food at various different kinds of Indian restaurants. Over the years, I have noticed very interesting trends among high and low brow Indian restaurants; they both depict the idea of authenticity in different ways. The following report will discuss how Bombay Bakers, a lowbrow Indian restaurant, and Avani Asian Indian Bistro, a high brow Indian restaurant, illustrate authenticity in different ways.

Bombay Bakers

First, I decided to visit Bombay Bakers in Brampton. Upon arrival, I was taken back by the location of the restaurant. It was situated in the corner of an old plaza in the middle of a residential area. The plaza itself was quite run down, comprising of an unmaintained road, and even some of the shops were shut down. Once I entered the restaurant, it was quite congested since there were way too many individuals in comparison to the seating that was available. Individuals had to order take out due to the overcrowding. It was then that I truly understood how popular this restaurant truly was. Upon glancing at their menu, which was posted on an orange wall behind the front counter, I realized that Bombay Bakers only served street food. The menu comprised of vada pav, dosas, pav bhaji, chaat, sandwiches etc. Nonetheless, I was thrilled and amazed by the prices of their dishes because they were so inexpensive. For example, ordering two vada pav cost three dollars.

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Thus, I giddily made my way to the front counter, and decided to order a vada pav dish. The girl taking orders was in her late teens, and it seemed as if she was helping her mother run the business, since her mom did not seem to understand English very well. Nonetheless, she gave me my receipt with my order number on it and asked to take a seat and wait for my order number to be yelled by another girl that looked like her younger sister. Upon waiting, I realized that there were at least two chefs in the kitchen; a middle aged man and a senior woman. It was then that I realized that Bombay Bakers was a family business in which the two daughters and their mother managed the front counter, while the father and grandmother cooked.

The ambiance of the restaurant was fairly run down with limited amenities, and uncomfortable seating arrangements with wooden and metal chairs. Moreover, the interior design of the restaurant was not aesthetically pleasing. The dining area comprised of beige walls, except one wall, which was covered in white tiles and black and white pictures on it. There was only one washroom, and it was not well maintained.  The consumer demographic of Bombay Bakers was entirely South Asian; individuals primarily came with their family members. Moreover, based on the customers’ attire and the cars that they parked outside of the restaurant, it seemed as if most of them were middle class families.

Upon having my order number called after 15 minutes, I got up and collected by order. They served the vada pav on a white disposable plate on an orange food tray. When I asked for water, the lady gave me a disposable cup with a transparent jug of water for my table. So, I went back to by table full of excitement. The vada pav was shining as the top bun had butter on it, and the red and green chutney were visible on top of the patty. I squeezed the vada pav so it could fit in my mouth, and as soon as I took my first bite, my mouth was filled with a spicy, tangy, minty, garlic taste. The vada pav was warm, and the bun was very soft. It was then that I realized, customers did not come to Bombay bakers because it is a small and cozy restaurant. They only and solely come for its affordable and incredibly delicious street food. The fact that the seating was uncomfortable, the restaurant is a little messy, and that it has little amenities did not matter when you compared it to the delicious food.

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Bombay Bakers only depicts authenticity in its food. Rather than placing emphasis on its environment, restaurant lets its dishes speak for themselves. Moreover, renovating its environment, in order to make it classier, would take away from the authenticity of Indian street food. Since even in India, street food is served on paper plates, with little to no seating arrangements or amenities. Additionally, after modifying the design of the restaurant, the owners may increase the price of their dished, which would take away from the low-brow street food characteristic of the restaurant. Similarly, upon reading the reviews on Yelp, many individuals agree as they state the following:

“They are short on the seating space however the quality of food far outweighs the cons.” – Emm E.

“Authentic Mumbai street food at reasonable prices” – Colleen J.

Avani Asian Indian Bistro

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Avani is strategically situated in a commercial area, just a block away from Heartland Town Center in Mississauga. Upon entering the restaurant, the first two things that you see are two relatively tall statues of ancient Indian doormen. Moreover, facing the entrance, there is a beautiful bar with a stone wall behind it, which has white lights and water trickling down from it. The dining area was quite large, spacious, and organized. I waited near the front until a South Asian hostess seated me. Then, another South Asian waiter came and handed me the menu and informed me that he was going to be my server for the evening. The menu comprised of a lot of options, with 12 starters, 4 soups, tandoor dishes, curries, naans, hakka dishes, naans and rotis, desserts, drinks etc.  Nonetheless, I decided to order chilli paneer, paneer tikka masala, and naan.

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While waiting for my order, I noticed a surprisingly diverse demographic of customers. There was a middle-aged African couple sitting in front of me, and a young white couple was seating next to me. There were even some mixed group of friends and colleagues. Most of these individuals seemed to belong to an upper-middle class to a high socioeconomic status. Thus, it occurred to me that Avani targeted a very different consumer demographic. Upon studying the ambiance of the restaurant, I noticed more Indian artifacts around the dining area. There were some elephant figurines since they are a symbol of good luck in Hinduism, there were also several Indian paintings placed on different walls. However, the most impressive piece of art were the murals on two opposite walls that depicted traditional Indian “abhla” art, which comprised on small mirrors that reflected light at certain angles. Additionally, there was a small transparent window in the kitchen, which provided customers with the perfect view of a chef cooking on the tandoor. A tandoor is a traditional Indian clay oven that is used to make various traditional dishes such as tandoori naan.

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After waiting for about fifteen minutes, my server delivered the food. Interestingly, I was amused by the fact that the paneer tikka was served in a traditional Indian kadhai vessel, on a tiny bronze stand with a candle burning underneath to keep it warm. The naan was served in a breadbasket, and the chilli paneer was served in a bowl. Upon cutting a piece of the chilli panner in half, and placing it in my mouth with enough hot gravy, I was filled with warmth. The paneer was very soft and moist on the inside, and the taste of garlic, ginger, onion, and spice complemented each other perfectly. The naan was very soft when I tore a piece of it, and dipped it into the paneer tikka. As soon as it placed a portion into my mouth, I tasted the creamy and spicy tomato sauce with various different spices.

I realized that while Avani does serve authentic Indian dishes, it does not simply rely on its dishes to illustrate the restaurant’s authenticity. Rather, it also creates an authentic Indian ambiance, so the customers do not simply taste the food and assume authenticity. Customers notice the various Indian artifacts that are strategically placed around the restaurant, the Indian chef cooking on the tandoor in the kitchen, the South Asian servers, and even the kadhai that is used to serve the curry. Along with the delicious food, all of the following elements tie into the experience of dining at Avani. Thus, dining at Avani becomes an opportunity for anyone that has not experienced India before to do so, which is probably why it attracts a wider and diverse demographic of customers. Additionally, Avani is a trip home for Indians like me that miss India. Reviewers on Yelp generally stated that they enjoyed the authentic Indian food, as well as the ambiance of the restaurant. Notably, this is opposite to Bombay Bakers, since Bombay Bakers simply focuses on the food that it serves in terms of illustrating authenticity. It does not comprise of any elements of authenticity in terms of artwork, details, or the environment in general.

Overall, with an increase in South Asian populations, Indian restaurants have started to appear in the Greater Toronto Area in larger numbers. While this is advantageous for foodies, since they have more options, it is important to understand how these different restaurants portray their authenticity to different demographics of consumers. For a foodie like me, they are both appealing in different ways. While they both serve equally delicious authentic dishes, Bombay Bakers is more economical, whereas Avani provides you with a very different experience of dining at an authentic Indian restaurant.

Aesha Patel is a 22-year old Criminology undergraduate student, studying at the University of Toronto. She has lived in Toronto for a very long time, but there is still a little bit of India inside.

Check out this article if you want to read more about the questions of “ethnic” restaurants and different uses of authenticity by immigrant restauranteurs:

Ray, Krishnendu. “Dreams of Pakistani grill and vada pao in Manhattan: Re-inscribing the immigrant body in metropolitan discussions of taste.” Food, Culture & Society 14.2 (2011): 243-273. 

Kensington Market: The Hunting Grounds for Fair Trade Coffee, Food, and Gentrification

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Kensington Market: The Hunting Grounds for Fair Trade Coffee, Food, and Gentrification

Written by Loki Candelma

Kensington Market, located in Toronto is an assemblage of unique shops, graffiti walls, food stands, and local art. As you walk through the market, you can see that most visible walls are adorned with vibrant paintings.  Home to what seems like weekly festivals that celebrate all corners of creativity, the marketplace is compiled of shops that range from niche vintage clothing stores, to cafes, to ethnic food joints. While many of the stores appear run down- furnished with miss-matching chairs, tables chipped and scratched at- this only deepens its charm. Customers both old and new are drawn to this corner of Toronto because of its alternative, off-beat, and diverse culture.

However, in recent years, there is a growing inclination towards refurbishing Kensington’s grungy charm. In the heart of Kensington, on the corner of Nassau and Augusta, a cold press juice bar opened a few years ago. While its woodsy and vintage vibe appeals to the aesthetic of the market place, the deliberate grunginess is really only thinly veiled gentrification. Between the small glasses of juice that are more expensive than the price of a meal a few doors down, and the low-traffic of the store, it is blaringly out of place.

Kensington Market is a crevice of Toronto that is particularly important to me. This was where I was first introduced to fair trade cafes. This was where I got my first tattoo. This was where I solidified my relationship with one of my closest friends. And this is where I feel more at home than I do in my own house, in Mississauga. These changes are something that I strongly disagree with. I believe that they are they will disrupt and possibly silence the artistry emanating from the market’s painted walls. The gentrification of Kensington is a topic that is sentimental to me. I have only been going to this place for a few years, so I can only imagine how much this means to those who work or live in the area. I thought that by comparing Yelp reviews of a family-owned Mexican restaurant with an organic juice bar and which is more successful, given the young millennial demographic that populate the market – would help me understand how the gentrification of Kensington has taken place.

The first restaurant that I visited was called El Trompo Taco Bar. It is owned by Hector and Lucero Lopez who have opened the restaurant in an attempt to provide a lively experience with authentic Mexican cuisine.  The restaurant was not particularly large, but the small room was filled with customers and busy staff. The interior design resembled a home- with whirring ceiling fans, colourful table cloths, and vibrant paintings. The waitress who served my friend and I was chipper and quick to answer our questions, she also returned with our food in the same eager manner. I ordered a vegetarian taco- filled with onion, mushroom, and fresh coriander. Instantly I understood that $7.50 was very cheap given quality of service from both the waitress and the chefs. The taco was warm and hearty, and while I was picking off traces of coriander well after my meal was wolfed down, I would be thinking about its deliciousness for the next few hours.

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The Yelp reviews for El Trompo mirror the enthusiasm I experienced, but also demonstrated a lot of criticism. Among the reviewers, there is a consensus about the livelihood of the staff and the ambience of the restaurant.  The reviewers are of varying races, unlike those who have visited the juice bar. There is a major focus on the authenticity of the tacos, in combination with their cheap pricing. “Authentic,” “Delicious,” “Reasonably Priced” are common phrases used to describe the food, as well as “Generous Portions.”  One reviewer that stood out among the others commented on how they preferred a restaurant that was more of an “American-Mexican fusion” over El Trompo’s exclusively Mexican cuisine. Another reviewer (the lowest review I could find, a two out of five stars) described the tacos as “disappointing,” but does not offer much of an explanation otherwise.

The Organic Press, a new cold juice shop that serves organic juices, while only a few stores away felt like it existed on another planet. It was a foggy Friday afternoon when I stepped foot into the juice bar. Varying succulents and cacti decorated the shack-like shop. There were a few benches that were covered in colourful knit tarps, but at the moment, I was the only one there. It took a few minutes for the cashier to realize I was there, but they were more than happy to answer any questions I had, and to offer recommendations. For the price of a taco at El Trompo, I was able to afford a small glass of their grapefruit juice. Out of personal curiosity, I also purchased a “Turmeric Lemonade.” The grapefruit was tart, and bitter as a raw grapefruit should be, and I enjoyed it- the cashier mentioned it was an acquired taste. The turmeric lemonade, however, perhaps due to the combination of turmeric and ginger, had a pungent, vinegar-like taste. While this should have been anticipated, since the ingredients were clearly labelled, I somehow convinced myself the fruits would complement one another. The experience overall was rather cold, and the shop belongs to a culture that I don’t feel entirely welcomed in. As a student working barely above minimum wage, I could not justify the prices, but I understand how the business appeals to a certain niche of upper-class health conscious folk.

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Since The Organic Press is a fairly new shop, there are few Yelp reviews, but I have used a few review-sites in order to accumulate a better understanding of the clientele. These reviews reflected my observation of the juice bar catering to a seemingly upper-class health conscious niche. All of the reviews are written by seemingly white people who are in their late twenties to mid thirties. “Nutritious,” “Healthy,” and “Tasty” are common phrases used to describe the products, and not surprisingly, the commenters deem the prices “fair” in comparison to other juice bars. A few mention the friendliness of the staff, and how they have cultivated an environment that discusses dieting and “green” foods. One comment that stood out, however, was written by a mother who was offended when an employee told her not to open a cream that was not labelled as a “tester.” Upon further investigation, I see that this “Mrs. W” consistently writes reviews to places she visits, and these places are typically labelled “vegan” or “gluten-free.” Other customers who are interested in foods that are gluten-free or vegan have also written reviews for The Organic Press.

Overall, El Trompo and The Organic Press are vastly different, and they cater to completely different demographics. The Organic Press is a little expensive, and according to the reviews on Yelp and Zomato, the clients are predominately white. Since The Organic Press is fairly new and there are few reviews to observe, this does not necessarily give a complete representation of their consumers.  El Trompo, however, is considerably cheaper, noticeably busier, and open to a broader range of customers. However, the very nature of The Organic Press caters specifically to a limited audience. While they are open to customers of all backgrounds, the high prices likely select out those earning low wages. El Trompo mirrors the lively, lower socioeconomic status, multicultural presence that Kensington is known for, which is a contributing factor to its visible success. Though the juice bar does cater to the younger, health-conscious population of Kensington Market, these people are only a small fragment of the overall demography of those who frequently visit the area. Kensington Market is an area that is known for its grunge, and its cultural history, and among all of the multicultural shops and customers, a restaurant like El Trompo is more suited for the area.

Besides The Organic Press, the only other sign of gentrification is what appears to be a small housing unit- with sleek windows and crisp architecture- that is a stark contrast against its eclectically coloured and damaged neighbours. There is a blue neon sign outside the new apartment building that says “Kensington Market” and while this is what it reads, this is certainly not what it stands for. The Kensington Market that is recognized by its citizens and regular patrons is not a place for pretentious housing and overpriced juice. I recognize that the Organic Press is a part of alternative culture (environmental consciousness, green eating), and since Kensington embodies a more conscious lifestyle, the market place will probably house the Organic Press for some time. But I do believe that its citizens will not allow more drastic changes, and that they will do what they must to preserve the culture of Kensington Market. I genuinely do not believe I am alone when I say that gentrification has no place in Kensington, and that there are others who support this sentiment.

Loki is in her fourth year, studying Criminology, Sociology, and Women and Gender Studies at UTM. She has a penchant for social justice, and art (all platforms). When she’s not at school, she’s at work, or she’s volunteering for the school’s Sexual Education Centre. In the very little time that she has for herself, she enjoys seeing her friends over coffee, and finding new places to discover in Toronto.

Please check out this photo essay on Kensington Market by U of T’s own Prof Z.

To learn more about Kensington Market as a historic site, as well as other information about events intended to preserve this space, please check out Friends of Kensington Market.

For discussion about consumer-led gentrification in New York, see

Zukin, Sharon, Scarlett Lindeman, and Laurie Hurson. 2015. “The omnivore’s neighborhood? Online restaurant reviews, race, and gentrification.” Journal of Consumer Culture.

Queen Gypsy: A Night to Remember

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Queen Gypsy: A Night to Remember

Written by Malgosia Wenderski 

Ascending the stone steps of Queen Gypsy, chimes announced my arrival out of the crisp winter evening. Immediately I see an eclectic combination of colors and barn elements in the dim setting, lit up by antique chandeliers, candles and suspended ornaments of all colors. The aroma of fried meat, and sour cream. Before digging into the great visual stimuli, I walked further to find a hostess for seating. I then met Vera, who had a smile from ear to ear. Her red hair tickled her forehead as she came to serve me. She wore a long cardigan with doc martens, simple blue jeans and a cashmere sweater. I asked her where I should sit for 1. Pointing to a table for 2, she said the rest were reserved for the night.

Sitting at one of wooden tables lined against the wall, I was captured by the details of props and patterns that symbolized gypsy culture. The wooden red tables had jewels and fortune cards on its surface encapsulated by glass. The walls were painted dark warm hues of orange, navy blue and emerald green. Mounted to the walls were giant pieces of wood, wooden windows, and portraits of fortune tellers, gypsy folk, and mobile cabins adorned in patterned blankets. A fake chicken stood on the bar, and a garlic necklace hung of a wooden pillar. The combined elements provided a spectacle for the eye, jumping everywhere to capture each selected piece. There was a clear embrace of gypsy culture that which Vera explained was inspired by dining at a gypsy restaurant in Serbia. At a younger age, she recalled one night she went into a ghetto within the city to a restaurant owned by Gypsies. While serving traditional cuisine, women singed and danced while romani music played in the background. “They were just so free spirited. It was truly beautiful. I always wanted to open up a restaurant of my own like that,” she smiled into my eyes while she half leaned against a bar stool, then returned to wrapping utensils in napkins. Motivated to create a dining spectacle with a gypsy theme, Vera’s Queen Gypsy was a type of bridge that transported her and her customers to that joyful night. It is also an example of a trickle-up effect, where Vera wanted to take immerse herself in the positive gypsy culture because it was meaningful and rich. Regardless of how these people experienced poverty and discrimination, they thrived with one another, and even found happiness. Their culture and freedom since then beckoned Vera to be apart of that symbolism.

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As the bar glowed green, and classic rock played softly in the background, I regarded the menu. With a wooden background, including a guitar, yellow and white fonts presented Serbian and Eastern European dishes with short descriptions. It offered a few popular items (bruschetta, salads, cheesecake, etc). Most compelling were the Serbian dishes with titles that were familiar to me as a European, including goulashes, perogies, cabbage rolls, and schnitzels. I wondered how Serbian food differed from the Polish food that I have grown up eating.

“Which dish is a traditional Serbian one?” I looked up with curved eyebrows. Vera tapped her finger twice on the Karadjorjeva schnitzel on the menu before me, resting on the fortune-teller table. I decided to order exactly that.

On a white plate came the dish that included rice, breaded and fried pork schnitzel that has a special Serbian cheese within it. To the side of it were beets, cabbage and carrot salad, and corn bread. I scooped rice and the vegetables together. The beet’s saltiness tingled my palette, but the unseasoned salad and rice helped to de-amplify it’s impact. The pork schnitzel was very crispy with a pickled seasoning sprinkled on it’s top. At every slice with a sturdy hold with my fork and knife, it oozed with cheese. Vera explained to me that although Serbia resisted the colonization of the Turkish Ottomans, and Germany, the influence in food was present and lively.

45 minutes in the space I was quite full. 1 other table was filled with two women who gathered to reunite and catch up with one another. Earlier, a couple with a young child in a stroller ordered stuffed bell peppers to go, who most likely lived within the neighbourhood. I was able to soak in the intricate interior of the Queen Gypsy during that quiet and charming evening. The spectacle and uniqueness of dining there would create an impression that would be distinct in memory.

Malgosia Wenderski studies psychology and sociology at the University at Toronto. She is the founder and host of the Collegiate Talkshow, and passionate about social psychology, inequality, and mental health.

 

Kenzo Ramen: Simulating an “Authentic” Japanese Experience

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Kenzo Ramen: Simulating an “Authentic” Japanese Experience

Written by Won Ki Lee

Standing outside of Kenzo Ramen, a popular Japanese restaurant located at 720 Burnhamthorpe Road West in Mississauga, I realized that I was in for a night full of surprises. By the time I arrived at Kenzo Ramen, it was 7:30PM. My experience that night began waiting at the end of a line that trailed outside the front door. My body was shivering from the cold, clouds of steam flowed from mouth, and the sky was pitch black. Through the darkness, the neon orange letters that spelled out K-E-N-Z-O seemed like a beacon of warmth for all those hoping to escape the cold. Above the bright orange Kenzo sign was an oval-shaped sign, with Japanese characters and a calligraphy drawing depicting a chef crossing his arms.

Prior to visiting Kenzo Ramen, I heard that this Japanese restaurant was Korean-owned. As I continued my wait, I looked through the restaurant windows for any sign that the restaurant was Korean-owned. However, Kenzo Ramen did a good job replicating an “authentic” Japanese atmosphere. Japanese lanterns hung from the restaurant’s ceiling and the walls were adorned with Japanese calligraphy paintings and wooden placards with traditional Japanese writing carved into them. Additionally the staff at Kenzo Ramen all wore shirts with Japanese writing on them. The atmosphere at Kenzo Ramen was warm and approachable, which made it seem like it would be a good spot for students, families, and couples to enjoy their meals.

While observing my surroundings, I accidentally stumbled across a hint of Korean in the restaurant. Above the thermostat that I found in a dimly lit corner, located near the top of a wall, was a tiny memo written in Korean. Had I not been carefully observing the restaurant’s atmosphere, I most likely would have missed discovering it.

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While walking inside, Kenzo Ramen staff shouted “irasshaimase!” (meaning “welcome” in Japanese) every time the front door opened. The buzzing of conversations filled the room and I could hear the chefs cooking up a storm from the restaurant’s open style kitchen, while the tantalizing smells of Japanese cuisine teased my nose and made my mouth water. I noticed that all of the staff members were Korean and that the chefs were all male and the servers were all female. People of all ages were enjoying their meals, however the majority of the crowd consisted of 20 to 30 year olds. Additionally, most of diners were white, while there were also some South and East Asian diners as well, mirroring the demographics of Mississauga’s population.

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The menu at Kenzo Ramen consisted of various ramen, rice bowls, and appetizers like onigiri, takoyaki, gyoza, etc. which varied in price from $6 to $30. After browsing the menu, I settled on an order of Takoyaki and a King of Kings ramen. When a waitress came to take my order, she was pleasantly surprised when I spoke to her in Korean. After finding out that I was Korean, the waitresses were even kinder to me. It felt as if we had created a shared ethnic bond that united us, regardless of the assumed Japanese identity Kenzo Ramen staff were portraying. They were merely acting out a role to create an authentic and exotic dining experience for their customers, however, backstage I knew they identified as Korean.

When my ramen arrived, it was accompanied by a set of wooden chopsticks and a wooden spoon. Visually, my ramen was very colourful. The broth was clear with a rich brown colour and had a robust smell and a very warm, umami taste. The saltiness from the nori sheets paired excellently with the freshness of the scallions. The richness of the egg paired pleasantly with the pork and chewy noodles. Then came the Takoyaki, which are round balls of batter that are baked until golden-brown on the outside and topped with a sweet and savoury brown sauce, a creamy drizzle of Japanese mayo, flecks of seaweed, and shaved bonito (fish) flakes. Inside each Takoyaki was a piece of octopus and cheese. Every bite of Takoyaki was just as good as the first and by the end of my meal, I was left craving more.

Exoticism and authenticity seem to be key ingredients for Kenzo Ramen’s success. Exoticism is about experiencing foreign foods that one would typically only experience in the country that the foods are native to. Authenticity is about food that is actually prepared by those well versed in Japanese cuisine and flavours. This exoticism and authenticity are legitimized through the successful execution of Japanese ethnic identity carried out by Korean owners and staff, which draws in customers and leads them to believe that Kenzo Ramen is a “legit” Japanese ramen restaurant.

Based on my online research and the conversation I had with the manager, I discovered that Daniel and Jane Park co-founded their first Kenzo Ramen franchise in Toronto. I was informed that the owner envisioned creating an authentic Japanese restaurant that would be popular in the Western market. Daniel and Jane Park named their restaurant after Jane’s extended family’s ramen restaurant Kenzo based in Hokkaido, Japan. By using the marketability and approachability of Japanese cuisine in the Western market, the owners wanted to target the locals near their restaurant and ensure that customers had an authentic and exotic dining experience. Their marketing strategy is so successful that Kenzo Ramen now has seven locations scattered across GTA, which attract numerous locals. On Kenzo Ramen’s Yelp review page, they have an average rating of 4.2 stars. Overall, Kenzo Ramen customers seemed to have positive things to say in their reviews. Many reviews mentioned the authenticity of the food served at Kenzo Ramen. One Yelper writes that Kenzo Ramen is “one of the best places to get authentic ramen.”

Won Ki Lee is an international student who flew over from South Korea and who is a passionate social science student at UTM.

For a similar practice of “assumed ethnicity” in restaurant work, see: Becker, Elisabeth. “Little of Italy? Assumed ethnicity in a New York City neighbourhood.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 38.1 (2015): 109-124.

 

Village Suya: Sizzling Nigerian Cuisine

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Village Suya: Sizzling Nigerian Cuisine

By Nengimote Vanessa Young-dede

On a gloomy Tuesday afternoon after it had rained, the air smelled of wet soil and the weather was just right. I was sitting outside the UofT Mississauga library trying to get some work done – because I work better when the sun is down – but I could not help myself but think about eating Suya. The cool breeze reminded me of back home in Nigeria when I would enjoy taking long walks in the evening to go and buy suya from our local mallam while enjoying the chilly feeling of the evening breeze.

Suya is a traditional Nigerian spicy cow beef kebab which is sliced horizontally into small delicate pieces, put on a stick, and decorated with scotch bonnet, onion, green pepper and a sprinkle of dried pepper mixed with kuli kuli. The mallams who made the suya did not make it in actual grilling equipment because the majority of them could not afford to buy a grill. Instead, they used a charcoal pot, a cooking grid which to place under the beef to cook it. After flipping the meat couple of times on the cooking grid to make sure it was cooked, they would then remove the meat from the stick and put it in an old newspaper, cut some onion, and sprinkle the dried pepper mixed with kuli kuli. They would then wrap it up and serve it to the customer.

Remembering my time back home, I thought about how every time the beef was placed on the cooking grid while I was waiting in line to order, the sizzling sound of the oil made me even hungrier. In these moments, I cared very little about burning my tongue because I could not wait to wait to eat the suya. The flavor from the kuli kuli pepper and onion and the lingering smell of old newspaper made it taste so extraordinary. The oily yet juiciness of the beef coupled with the crunchy onion and kuli kuli spicy pepper created such strong feels of fireworks in my brain that I would start to tear up immediately.

Back home, suya was usually sold on the roadside by Fulani and Hausa mallams who act as traders in the day and turn to suya chefs by night. They only sold it closer to the evenings when the sun was down because more people would have been done from work and would be on their way home. People sitting in the stand-still Lagos traffic with their windows could smell the burnt charcoal and hot oil that filled the air when they started preparing for the night’s grill. The food was made right in front of you and the mallam always allowed you to taste the meat after frying it, before cutting it up into smaller bits for you.

Moments after reminiscing about suya, I decided to visit a Nigerian restaurant called Village Suya that newly opened six months ago around the square one area in Mississauga. The restaurant is located on Rathburn Road, a residential area in Mississauga which is predominantly filled with a mixture of White, Asian and Black individuals. According to the owner (Obinna) the name “Village Suya” is meant to attract mostly Nigerians who are familiar with what suya is and have not had it since they left Nigeria for Canada.

Obinna aims to give African customers (especially Nigerians) a taste of home in a foreign country. Reflecting his own Nigerian heritage, he serves common Nigerian dishes such as beef suya, chicken suya (for people who do want beef), jollof rice, fried rice, stew, plantain, and pepper soup. Though he offers these authentic Nigerian cuisines, what caught my attention was that he also sold mac n’ cheese, fries and suya in a bun. In respect to these dishes, he stated that although Nigerians are the main customers he caters to, he similarly caters to a vast multicultural clientele in which he attends to on a daily basis. According to Obinna “we’re not in Nigeria so we have to merge with the clients’ needs.”

Essentially, he still wants to make it a little bit western by including easy to make western meals that anyone and everyone can eat while still serving traditional Nigerian cuisines. I ordered the beef suya with a side of Jollof rice and plantain. When I tasted the beef suya, it was different from what I was used to eating back in Nigeria in the sense that the beef used was not cow beef but regular beef and there was no kuli kuli aroma to enhanced the flavor. However, the Jollof rice and Plantain made up for it because the jollof tasted more like an African dish while the suya was a fusion of cosmopolitan and Nigerian dish.

When I asked him about the flow of business and if he was making the kind of profit he had hoped for, he indicated that it was a “hit or miss” on some days. He hoped that as time went on the business would pick up. He further stated that he was not planning to expand into a restaurant because he was still learning the ropes and understanding the clients’ food preferences from their orders. He also works with Ubereats, and finds that most of the food orders are done online instead of people actually coming into the restaurant.

The interior design of the restaurant was simple; there were no paintings or decorations that indicated it was an African Restaurant. Perhaps because most of their orders are placed online, there were only a few chairs to sit and wait for your meal. There were also no servers and the chef acted as the cashier as well. The restaurant was more like a canteen restaurant were people just go to eat lunch, spend a maximum of one hour there, and leave. The ambience did not really remind me of back home because there was nothing there that reminded me of home aside from the food.

Nengimote Vanessa Young-dede studies Criminology and Sociology at the University of Toronto Mississauga. She is part of the Peel Poverty Action Group in Mississauga and she enjoys learning about different ethnic cultures.

 

 

Bar B Q Tonite: A Piece of Pakistan

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Bar B Q Tonite: A Piece of Pakistan

Written by Mahek Basar

The first time you visit Bar B Q Tonite, you may spend a few minutes searching its entrance. The door to this house of Pakistani and Indian cuisine hides behind the makeshift tent, and around the worn-out parking lot. Located in Mississauga at the infamous 10 and 5 (Hurontario and Dundas, respectively), this Cooksville restaurant resembles the ancient buildings around it. Like its neighbouring tattoo parlor, Bar B Q Tonite too was once a small residential home.

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I hop over a puddle of melting grey ice, steering clear of the concrete pothole, as I navigate my way to the restaurant’s single door. One of the South Asian waiters, dressed in black, shows me to my seat: a wooden chair, and a long green table that I share with other customers. The family to my right looks Pakistani. The young mother scolds her son in Urdu, pointing her finger at him. As my Pakistani mother used to also do that, I smile as the nostalgia of my childhood mischief washes over me. On my left, a middle-aged couple are enjoying their date. The man greets another customer in Gujrati, who is headed for a large, boisterous group at the back of the small restaurant.

The three, large windows overlook a busy Dundas St. surrounded by blaring neon signs of “Halal Meat”. The interior of this cozy restaurant contrasts its surroundings. While its location may be defined as “ghetto” by some, its contemporary interior resembles an upscale parlor, with its pristine ivory walls, grey ceiling, and hanging chandeliers.

The menu reflects the restaurant’s name, where you can order barbecued chicken, mutton, beef and lamb. The intense smoke of charcoal wafts from the open kitchen and burns my eyes and lungs. Overlooking the customers, I note they are too loud, giving me a headache, and I regret coming here. At the same time, a waiter walks to my table and places a wooden serving tray before me. The sizzling kebabs lie in a sea of grilled onions and peppers. The smoked reshami kebab is marinated in spices, yogurt, almonds and cream before skewered over charcoal fire. I raise a hot bite of the ground chicken breast to my mouth. Traces of coriander, cumin, and white pepper mix to create a delicious tangy, spicy and sweet kebab.

Besides barbecued meat, you may want to order the mango lassi to drink. This yogurt drink, mixed with a hint of mango will cool you down on any hot day. To wrap up your dinner, order the kheer for dessert. Boiled rice is crushed and cooked in milk, sugar and cardamom to make this pudding. Once, while discussing the paleo diet, I told a coworker I could never try this diet because I could never give up drinking milk. She laughed, and responded by casually informing me, “You [Pakistanis] guys love your dairy”. Looking over my dinner, I realize we sure do love our dairy. Almost every item on the menu is prepared with some form of lactose.

If you want dinner at this restaurant, you should arrive well before dinner time. By 6 o’clock, the small foyer is packed with groups of families and friends. I had to push people aside, and shout “excuse me” many times as I struggled to make my exit through the throng of hungry customers. “They don’t take reservations anymore,” the patron sitting beside me had explained. He was a regular at Bar B Q Tonite since 1997. “Of course, back then it was called something else, and located at Gerard St. in Toronto,” the middle-aged Pakistani man had continued, “I have known Khan (the owner) for years…He used to reserve my table for me. But not anymore,” he said as he regretfully shook his greying head.

This restaurant may be located in an unappealing location, and have an unassuming entrance, but don’t let these things keep you from visiting it and devouring its wonderful food. Because, somewhere between the honking of cars and the sirens of police cruisers, the littered parking lot and broken asphalt, halal butcher shops and beauty salons, lays a small, charming piece of Pakistan. And more than its cuisine, the loud customers, the scolding mothers, and charcoal residues will transport you to the heart of Pakistani culture. Dinner at this restaurant may as well be Eid-A Azha in Pakistan.

Mahek Basar is undergraduate student at University of Toronto, majoring in sociology and molecular biology. She would like to study and practise medicine through a sociological lens by providing health care to underprivileged populations.

 

Roman Zaman: A Taste of Damascus

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Roman Zaman: A Taste of Damascus

Written by R.E.

On Friday I went to Roman Zaman, a Syrian restaurant located on central parkway in Mississauga. As we entered and sat down on an old wooden decorative antique bench, I could already smell the fresh pita bread being made in the back. The table at the entrance where our waiter came to great us was designed like an elaborate food street cart, which instantly reminded me of the food street carts I used to see in Egypt as a child. Already I had a very strong sense of Middle Eastern culture as the restaurant was designed to depict the City of Damascus, which is considered to be the oldest city in the world comprised of historical civilization, science, and art.

Knowing that “Roman Zaman” in Arabic translates to “The Oldies Pomegranate” I was not surprised to see that a big part of the restaurant’s theme was the pomegranate fruit. This made sense to me, given that the pomegranate tree has been planted and used in the homes of the people of Damascus for many years and heavily incorporated in their traditional dishes. Not only did most of their menu items incorporate pomegranate like their Fattouch, Baba ghannouj, Kubba, and Mahashi, to name some, even their interior art work had abstract depictions of the exotic fruit.

After the waiter sat us down at our table I couldn’t help but look around. Above us were coloured glass lanterns. Traditionally you would see these types of lanterns in Middle Eastern countries, hanging in people’s homes and on the streets as decorative items during the holy month of Ramadan.

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On our table there were cups and a water jug made out of copper. As I looked around I noticed that all the food was, indeed, served in copper bowls and plates. This too was expected, as copper is frequently used in the Middle East and Mediterranean due to its ability preserve food’s heat and taste.

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In the centre of the restaurant was a beautiful fountain, an imitation of the fountains that sit in the courtyards in Damascus full of roses and jasmines giving the courtyard a perfumed scent. The windows and doors were also crafted to mimic the architecture of the buildings and homes in Damascus.

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Though the majority of the people in the restaurant came from Arabic speaking backgrounds, there were other ethnicities also dining in. These customers represented the demographics in this area of Mississauga, as many of them dining together were of different ethnicities, but all appeared to be middle class. Even the workers differed in background, and though they were not all of Syrian background, they still all dressed in traditional costumes, wearing linen and cotton woven garments, shawls, and low-cut sheepskin shoes with a turned-up point in front. These customs combined with the architecture, furniture, and Arabic music playing in the background gave the feel of the oriental Damascene theme that the restaurant was successfully portraying. The food, however, is what really gave an authentic feeling. The incorporation of the pomegranate gave the dish a vibrant colour and a refreshing sweet and sour taste to food that is essentially salty, which was unusual but delicious.

Though Roman Zaman worked towards creating a Damascene ambiance, they made their dining experience accessible to a wider variety of cultural backgrounds by giving customers cutlery to eat the food instead of pita bread to dip and scoop it.  Overall Roman Zaman brings their guests the whole Middle Eastern/Mediterranean feel, starting with the name down the copper pots, wooden trays, chairs and tables, antiques, crafted windows and doors, colorful glass lanterns, and warm hospitality. Their architecture, food, and specifically their incorporation of the pomegranate bring authentic Damascene traditions and cuisines to the western world.

R.E. was born in Egypt, raised in California, and settled down in Mississauga at the age of 10. She is an open-minded student who loves to meet new people and learn about different cultures.

Leela’s Roti and Doubles

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Just minutes away from Square One in Mississauga, Leela’s Roti and Doubles is a hot spot for Trinidadian food. Located on Rathburn Road West in Mississauga, the Trinidadian restaurant sits on the corner of a little plaza called Rathburn Square. Their logo, “Always Served Fresh and Spicy,” does not mislead.

Upon entrance, the scent of curry fills the restaurant. Looking at the menu, it is no wonder! The main dishes include curry chicken, curry goat, curry duck, curry shrimp, curry channa (chickpeas), and curry fish. They are all served with the choice of rice or roti. Other menu items include stew chicken, a veggie platter, aloo (potato) pie, and doubles. Doubles is their most popular menu item and is a dish invented in Trinidad and Tobago: curry channa (chickpeas) being sandwiched between two baras (fried dough).

Leela’s Roti and Doubles is a family-run restaurant, owned by an immigrant family from Trinidad and Tobago. Leela is a wife, mother, employee, and part-owner of the restaurant. Her husband, who is also the owner of the restaurant, works alongside her within the restaurant. Their daughter is also an employee at the restaurant. They all take turns being the order-taker as there is only one register, but it tends to be their daughter who engages in this duty most of the time. They all tend to be in the restaurant working the same hours, helping out where they can such as in the kitchen.

The décor of Leela’s Roti and Doubles screams Caribbean culture. The walls are painted a soft yellow and there are multiple leafy plants. Upon entrance, one can either go straight to wooden doors with restrooms behind them, or turn right to follow a narrow path which leads to the counter where food can be ordered. A large window occupies an entire wall of the restaurant, making the space full of sunlight. Beside the window are a series of of four-seat wooden tables. On the wall behind the counter are menu boards, and to the right of the counter are snacks and CD’s on display that can be purchased. The snacks include ones that could be found in Trinidad, such as sugar cake, fried plantain chips, fried channa (chickpeas), and fried peanuts. The CDs being sold are that of genres attractive to Trinidadians or those from the Caribbean, including remixed Soca, Reggae and Bollywood CDs. Loud Soca music is also played to add to the Caribbean vibe.

The décor also includes hints of history and religion. Located at the entrance of the restaurant is a large statue of the Hindu God named Ganesh, who is the remover of obstacles. Located on the marble front counter is a medium statue of Buddha. The yellow walls contain historic paintings of African and Indian slaves and indentured servants. This reflects the history of Trinidad and Tobago where Africans and Indians were brought by the British to the island of Trinidad and Tobago.

There is rarely a time when there are no customers at Leela’s Roti and Doubles. The line and tables are always full with mainly Trinidadian or Guyanese customers. However, white, Asian, and Black customers can always be spotted within the restaurant, reflecting Mississauga’s diversity. There is no dish over ten dollars, a feature of the restaurant which likely influences its largely working-class customer base. Also, customers of all ages flow in and out the restaurant. Some bring their entire family, while others choose to come alone.

Now finally, you may be wondering what the food tastes like! I ordered the stew chicken dish, which comes with rice, a side of salad, and a small container of pepper sauce (or hot sauce). I also ordered one doubles with a medium pepper level. The stew chicken was juicy and flavourful, both sweet and spicy. The gravy from the chicken covered the entire plate of rice, turning every rice grain a rich brown/red colour. On the side was shredded lettuce topped with cucumbers and tomatoes to help calm down the spice. The doubles, although very messy to eat, contained a rich curry taste with a hint of a pepper flavour. It left my hands greasy, but it was well worth it! Fresh and spicy is definitely the way to describe this Trinidadian venue.

Nerissa Harrypersad is currently a senior student at the University of Toronto- Mississauga, completing a Specialist in Sociology and a Major in Criminology. Raised by Trinidadian parents and coming from a rich Trinidadian culture, she is particularly intrigued by other cultures, while consistently learning something new about her own culture every day. She loves the study of culture and what it means to come from a particular ethnic background.

Please check out her Diaspora Food Memorie Blog: Doubles: The First Taste of Trinidad.

Check out this short film on doubles, Doubles With Slight Pepper, by Ian Harnarine. (Harnarine, Ian. 2011. Doubles With Slight Pepper. Couberg, ON: Canada).