Arepas, Fufu, and Gado Gado

Immigration and Canada’s Changing Culinary Landscape

Last spring, as I was strolling through my local farmer’s market in Kitchener, Ontario, I had a sudden craving for pupusas, Salvadoran grilled corn cakes stuffed with beans and cheese. Glancing around at the food stalls while waiting for my fix, I saw another item on the menu that that I hankered for: Chevaps, a Balkan kind of caseless sausage. I realized that I had never eaten either of these delectables before moving to Kitchener, a city with a significant population of Salvadorans, Croatians, and Serbians. Maybe the mix of pungent aromas made me sentimental, but, oddly enough, I thought for a moment that I could smell amazing pho and shawarma that the Vietnamese and Lebanese immigrants made in Ottawa, my hometown. My senses were talking; they were telling me that yes, immigrants certainly do have a major influence on the eating habits of Canadians.

As I spread hot sauce on my fresh-off-the-griddle pupusa, I began thinking about the global wealth of foods that I get to experience every day in Canada. While some Canadians lament the lack of distinct food culture here (beyond clichés like poutine and Nanaimo bars), I believe the open-mindedness to explore foods from other cultures is what makes Canada’s culinary landscape exciting. And, as exemplified by my vastly different food experiences in Ottawa and Kitchener – cities that are just five hours apart – immigrant groups play a key role in influencing the food of all Canadians.

As a foresight practitioner, my mind naturally began to wander to the future. From which countries, I asked myself, would immigrants come to Canada five years down the road? Or, what sort of foods might I be eating in this same market 15 years from now? If the eyes are the window into a person’s soul, so too is food to a country. As travel writer Deborah Cater put it, “…you have to taste a culture to understand it.” So how might immigrants 5 or 15 years from now influence what and how Canadians will eat? I decided to pursue this topic as my major research project for my Master’s in Strategic Foresight and Innovation at OCAD University, which unearthed many tasty discoveries, some of which I hope to share with you here.

Locating Migration Hotspots

While an in-depth examination of Canada’s immigration isn’t necessary, we do need to know a few basic facts in order to understand its influence on the future. Canada’s immigration policy is highly fluid, and, while the numbers of immigrants admitted each year may change, those who are admitted fall into one of three categories:

/ Economic: Those entering Canada for the purpose of work.

/ Social: Those entering Canada for the purpose of family reunification.

/ Humanitarian: Those entering Canada as refugees or asylum seekers.

While the number of immigrants may vary depending on Canada’s needs, workplace trends, and global political events (for example, asylum seekers), the three pillars of immigration policies are a constant. The map below shows where immigrants to Canada may come from in five years, depending on the relative priority of each pillar in immigration policy. These were established by examining factors such as economic growth, international student populations, remittances, areas of global instability and persecution, as well as areas particularly vulnerable to climate change.

Scenario 1: Canada increases economic immigration
/ Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria, Turkey, Bangladesh, Indonesia.

Scenario 2: Canada increases social immigration
/ Nigeria

Scenario 3: Canada increases humanitarian immigration
/ Venezuela, Nigeria, Turkey, Syria, Bangladesh, Myanmar

de Jong map
Credit: Janice de Jong

Finding Emerging Food Trends

Like people in other countries in the developed world, Canadians’ eating habits have changed over the years. And, not coincidentally, those habits reflect the universal search for food that is nourishing and healthy, and for food that reflects certain universal realities, such as climate change. In my own research, I had to look for and understand which foods Canadians might adopt in fifteen years and how, if at all, they might adapt a particular food to their palette. I looked fifteen years ahead – ten years after immigration – as it generally takes a newcomer ten years to become established in Canada.

Four themes dominate the developed world’s focus on healthy, nutritional food: the search for sustainable proteins; designing a resilient food system that can withstand climate change; leveraging high-technology food production, and optimizing and personalizing nutrition for well-being.

When I combined these trends with the hotspot cuisines above, I found that it acted as a sort of “filter” to determine which foods might become commonplace in Canada.

Credit: Janice de Jong

Developing Recipes from the Future

While any new foods would have to incorporate the four universal themes above, I knew that the individual recipes would have to acknowledge the unique characteristics of the particular local cuisine as well as reflect trends in Canadians’ eating habits.

While making a list of the recipes would be fun, I also knew that – regretfully – I would have to set aside some signature dishes from certain hotspots for more unusual yet trend-appropriate dishes. For example, I didn’t include Brazil’s famously meat-laden dish, feijoada. Instead, I replaced it with a more obscure fried-fish skin recipe from the Amazon, as it captured how we might react (favorably) in an animal-protein scarce world.

So, just what foods might Canadians find on a stroll through their local markets in 15 years? Well, let your imagination wander as you scroll through the list of recipes below.

/ Elote perogies, a mash up of a classic Ukrainian dish and Mexican street corn, made with cricket flour dough for extra protein.

/  Arepas, a grilled corn cake that is a staple in Venezuelan food.

/ Lahmacun, a Turkish pizza topped with a delicious spiced meat paste (made of lab grown meat, of course).

/ Laphet thoke, a fermented green tea salad from Myanmar, prepared with a personalized probiotic culture for a gut-flora friendly treat.   

/ “Canadian Harvest” Gado gado, an Indonesian salad topped with peanut sauce, and given a Canadian twist with butternut squash and red kale.

/ Mashed Cassava and Avocado “Fufu” inspired by the Nigerian staple made of mashed cassava, this dish is fancied up with a new strain of avocados designed to use less water.

the author

Janice de Jong

Janice de Jong is a foresight practitioner and design strategist. Her research on the future of food in Canada can be found on OCADU’s Open Research Repository at openresearch.ocadu.ca.