It’s dinnertime at Tea-n-Bannock, a new aboriginal restaurant on Toronto’s Gerrard Street East, and the kitchen staff are busy preparing affordable meals for a steady stream of native diners. They haven’t come for wild meat or foraged vegetables. They’re here for the deep-fried hot dogs wrapped in dough, fried baloney and Klik – a canned meat similar to Spam.
The most popular dish this evening is the Indian taco. It’s a large piece of fried bannock – a bread introduced to native communities by Scottish settlers – covered in ground beef, lettuce, cheddar cheese, tomato, sour cream and store-bought salsa. Are these highly processed foods really considered native cuisine?
Until recently, aboriginal restaurants were practically non-existent in Canada; you could only buy the cuisine at first nations events or at the odd cafe on a reserve. In the past couple years, half a dozen restaurants have opened specializing in native food. Each one faces the challenge of trying to explain the concept to non-aboriginal diners; while just about every Canadian is familiar with Chinese fried rice, tacos and sushi, few have anything but a vague notion of our own indigenous cuisine.
I am familiar with indigenous cuisine, both here in Canada and in America; I’ve had fried bologna sandwiches on a Canadian reserve:
And in the States, I have eaten bannock or ‘fry bread’:
Including as part of an ‘Indian taco’ – no pics of one, alas, but here’s a sign for a roadside stand in Arizona:
First Nations cuisine encompasses both the traditional things they ate before the Europeans came here AND things they adopted into their own cuisine, most of which are actually not very popular at all in North America amongst non-natives, today.
Good on these restaurant owners; I wish them well!