By Si Sun
The basis of Indigenous culture encourages people to cherish and appreciate all parts of the animal in one way or the other. This means that the entire animal is either consumed or has a utilitarian purpose to it. Often inspired by the preservation of balance within nature, wasting is considered an insult to Mother Earth (Mother Nature). Bringing age old Indigenous traditions and culinary customs to the modern day, VIBE 105 has the top 5 Indigenous Restaurants in Toronto.
Chef Joseph Shawana pays homage to his Indigenous culture at Kūkŭm Kitchen by passing on traditional flavours through his methods of diversifying the use of his ingredients. Inspired by his childhood experiences of foraging the forests on Manitoulin Island, he ensures that “every ingredient is carefully selected and entirely respected.” While the menu includes items that may be foreign to the average person, it is not without opportunity to begin appreciating simplicity and wholeness of an ingredient. Covering all basis of Indigenous food, you can find a variety of meats such as elk, venison, seal, arctic char (type of salmon), caribou and goose. It is not surprising that most of the produce is also wild and includes blueberries, beets, mushrooms, asparagus and squashes. You can enjoy these flavourful endeavours any time of the day as a variety of items are served for brunch, lunch and dinner.
Tea & Bannock
If you don’t know what Bannock is, it’s a round Apache flatbread that is fried and cut into pieces. While Tea & Bannock seeks out to give Torontonians a “taste of Aboriginal Canada”, their menu isn’t short of options. From Bison burgers to Wild Blueberry dumplings, there’s something for everyone. If you ever find yourself in Little India but not entirely craving Indian food, Tea and Bannock would be ideal for a snack or a filling meal.
Pow Wow Café
Have you ever heard of Indigenous tacos? Shawn Adler (who is an Ojibway chef) is responsible for the fusion as he brings awareness to Indigenous inspired foods in the form of tacos. While tortilla flatbread is substituted with bannock, there is no shortage of substitution with the filling either. Instead of keeping to traditional Mexican taco recipe, he adds other ingredients such as jerk chicken, pulled pork, curry goat and chili. Don’t be surprised that Pow Wow Café is nestled in between the narrow streets of Kensington Market. If you’re not in the mood for tacos, brunch has menu items like sweet potato pancakes, apple pumpkin seed pancakes or smoked salmon and duck eggs.
Get your Anishnawbe culinary experience here! Nish Dish is more than meets the eye as you can get more than just traditional Indigenous meals; you can also shop for Indigenous products and cultural books. Successful in catering, they specialize in a quick service style experience. There truly is something for everyone as they cater to a variety of dietary choices such as vegan, game meats and gluten-free dishes. Enjoy all day brunch on weekends and a hardy start to the day with their Early Bird Breakfast. Otherwise, indulge in dandelion greens salad, hominy corn soup or smokey mountain elk.
While Boralia is more like KuKum Kitchen in terms of dining style, they specialize in more of an early settler diet with notes of Aboriginal cuisine. Here, you can enjoy decadent meals that include venison liver and foie gras (which is essentially deer and goose liver), grilled whelk (sea snail), beef cheek or even pigeon pie. Least to say, it’s not for the faint of heart but more for the natural adventurer foodie. If there are too many options that make it hard to choose, you can always leave it to the chef to surprise you (for a fee of course).
From no frills fast service to fancy refined dining experiences, there is no shortage of Indigenous cultural tradition. Whether you’re looking for your next foodie adventure or if you’re simply curious about cultural food that is not your own, these 5 Indigenous inspired venues are sure to provide goodness in every bite.