C/O Maarten van den Heuvel

The importance of food and the culinary arts for reclaiming culture

By: Ahlam Yassien, contributor

Whether it be during times of holidays and happiness or in times of grief and sorrow, food has long since been instrumental in bringing people together for centuries. Culture is at the core of cooking. As such, cooking also has the potential to unify different cultures through differences and similarities in their food. Engaging in the culinary arts as a person of colour can play an integral role in reclaiming culture and reconciling different aspects of one’s identity. 

For first generation immigrants, cooking can also serve as a connection to one's homeland, foster a sense of belonging and offer comfort in times when a community may not be established or be missing. 

When Hana and Bobby Saputra, founders of Indonesian’s Flavour, a catering business in Hamilton, moved to Canada in 2014, finding authentic Indonesian food was a challenge. This inspired them to start their business.

“We first started our business in 2019. As new immigrants in Canada, we all always feel homesick and our backhome-foods is one of the things that can heal our feelings . . . Bobby, the owner and chef of Indonesian's Flavour, tends to do his own experiments and cook Indonesian cuisine at home. People always love and praise the food [and the] authenticity of the taste. It happened for a couple years until, one day, we decided to make it as a business,” said Hana in an email statement.

However, at times it can be difficult to find certain ingredients and in this case cooking becomes useful in not only helping ease homesickness, but also in bringing together similar cultures, as you might experiment with more common ingredients here to recreate beloved dishes. 

Indonesian’s Flavour is taking their culture from home and into the community of Hamilton. As a result, it has not only been able to bridge these cultural gaps, but also further strengthen the relationships between marginalised communities through food.

“Maintaining the culture is important to keep the taste authentic . . . Understanding the culture for each area demographically is very important. Through our foods, we would love to introduce our country Indonesia and our culture to the Canadian market so people can experience the diversity of Indonesia through our foods,” explained Hana in an email statement. 

Furthermore, in the case of second generation immigrants, particularly in a westernized society, cooking and food offer an opportunity to reclaim a connection to culture and identity. Growing up, second generation immigrants may have been subject to insensitive or tactless comments, or even bullying, because of what they bring for lunch, resulting in embarrassment and shame. 

“I often loved bringing Pakistani food to school for lunch, as I believed it was a beautiful representation of my culture. However, I quickly realized at a young age how my culture’s food was considered “gross,” “weird” and “unappetizing” among my classmates,” explained Ayesha Arshad, a second-year electrical engineering student and a second generation immigrant.

In the face of these experiences, cooking and maintaining a sense of connection to culture through food can be seen as a form of advocacy and direct resistance to westernization. It can also be a way of reconciling one’s culture with their Canadian identity.

“As I attended more cultural events, I realized how food played a pivotal role in maintaining a sense of my culture while living in western society. Food is a beautiful way of expressing one’s culture and makes me feel connected to my family and Pakistani roots all while being a Canadian citizen,” said Arshad.

As a student studying away from home, food can be a way to connect with family and friends in times of loneliness. By cooking beloved dishes from home or trying a new recipe with friends, there are opportunities to reclaim and explore cultures and to create new memories and connections.

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