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A cultural food market with produce on sale
All Communities Diaspora Diaries

Appreciating food away from home

By Marilyn Saad

When the hustle and bustle of Toronto’s city life begins to feel overwhelming for some Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) students, they can find comfort in the food that reminds them of their homes. The city’s vibrant ethnic neighbourhoods allow for countless food spots that offer an escape for nostalgic, homesick students or an adventure for curious foodies.

For first-year public administration and governance student Iana Tsurkan, home can be found all across the city—in both food spots and the familiar ingredients she’s able to source.

Tsurkan is originally from Chișinău, Moldova but hasn’t been back to her hometown in approximately eight years.

“I haven’t been back home since 2016, so it’s been quite a while since [I’ve] tasted authenticity,” she said. 

However, one of her favourite local eateries, Cafe Polonez, is “one of the true Balkan restaurants here,” with dishes that range from perogies to soups to sandwiches—all of which remind her of home. 

“There are plenty of places that serve food from these countries authentically”

Though Toronto has a reputation for diverse culinary spots, Tsurkan feels that some of the food lacks the same satisfaction it provided back home, even in ingredients as simple as tomatoes.

“The Republic of Moldova is known for its very fertile soil,” she said. “That’s why it’s called black gold…it really gives juiciness to everything there.”

Enjoying food is an experience, especially when the foods we eat are so closely associated with familiar memories. These memories allow foodies like Tsurkan to reminisce about home, even when she’s far away from it. 

Tsurkan reminisced on having Moldovan tomatoes. “I haven’t had one in so long,” she said. “I just remember the juiciness of it.” 

First-year social work student Abrahim Ahmad was born in Ahwaz, Iran but currently lives in Scarborough. Living in Toronto has given him access to a lot of the food he had while growing up across the globe, living in countries such as China and the Philippines. 

“There are plenty of places that serve food from these countries authentically,” he said. “So I don’t feel like I’m missing out.”

“[They weren’t] the same as the ones my dad makes”

Ahmad finds solace in his homeland’s colourful palette at Khorak Supermarket—often referred to as Super Khorak by Iranians. The supermarket is a Persian grocery store with fresh produce, freshly cooked meals and a variety of Iranian and Middle Eastern cuisines. 

Though Ahmad is satisfied with Toronto’s versions of his favourite foods, he said some dishes can’t compare to how they taste back home. Regardless, a replica is always a delicious delight.

“Just trying to find a place that serves kebab was nice, but [they weren’t] the same as the ones my dad makes,” Ahmad said. “After years and years of [cooking kebabs], he’s perfected the recipe.”

Despite common stereotypes about Western foods being bland, there is merit in identifying the smaller victories such as Tsurkan finding sour cherries in a local Metro or Ahmad discovering his love for dry noodles upon moving to Toronto.

Whether a person is finding these moments of nostalgia in a city restaurant or a ripe, red tomato, familiar flavours could just be around the corner in Toronto’s street kebabs or the beef patties at Bathurst Station. 

After all, who needs a plane ticket when a Presto card and an appetite for adventure can go so far? 

As you would say in Arabic to invite others for a meal—Sahtayn!

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