Growing up in small-town Ontario, there was very little opportunity for me as a youngster to try a variety of ethnic foods. There were less than 3 grocery stores in my home town, and meat and potatoes were pretty much the staple meal in our home, and the homes of all my relatives and peers. That all changed when I left home, and moved to Toronto to go to University. I lived in a very culturally diverse area of the city, and the apartment building we lived in, was always a hub of activity. There were often amazing and sometimes *interesting* cooking smells in the halls, and living there I became immersed in the wonderful world of ethnic cuisine.
Even though both of my parents were great at cooking and baking respectively, they didn’t cook with some of the spices or ingredients that have since become important additions to my spice cupboard today. In fact, in our home growing up, even rice wasn’t something that we ate very often, and now as an adult, I can’t imagine *not* eating it at least once or twice a week.
One of my favorite things about living in a city, was the ability to get foods of the world. I love Asian and Indian Grocery stores, and the countless types of sauces and mixes available. Some of the best dishes I have ever made, were with sauces bought from the Asian Market – there is one Pad Thai sauce that is simply phenomenal. I’d tell you what it’s called, but since the bottle is written in Chinese and I only recognize it by the colour of the label, I’m afraid that’s not much help!
Another favorite food experience I had while living in Toronto, was tasting the best Jerk Chicken ever. Hot? YES! Flavourful? YES Delicious? Oh YES! It was at a multi-cultural festival at the waterfront, and it was served alongside a delicious plantain dish, purely blissful!
Some of the cultural festivals and events in the city were the best places to sample such delights, and even better, were the tiny family-owned restaurants, where experienced cooks would make their own delicious homemade recipes. A friend and I once ate in such a place, and had the best Indian food I’ve ever tasted. I only wish I could remember exactly where that was and go back again!
All of these experiences have shaped my cooking style, my preferences and the dishes I make often and serve to my own family. I simply love that food can connect people, with such a strong presence in our lives, and an importance in terms of not only nourishment, but also as a foundation of great family experiences, conversations and bonding. Is it any wonder we all love food so much?
If you’re not “brave” when it comes to trying new things, make it your goal in the coming weeks to be a little more adventurous by trying something new. There are countless sources of great recipes on-line, and international cooking need not be complicated. Experiment with new spices, or try something completely outside of your normal routine. I delved into ethnic cooking over a dozen years ago, and while I still have my meat and potatoes days, the new flavours and tastes I’ve discovered in this time have left me with no regrets!