A big difference for Mary and Len when they came in 1975 was the style of shopping. Mary said “In England we would shop every day, in the corner stores, as they called them. At the end of each row of houses would be a shop. We never used to get pieces of cheese wrapped. We would just get a slab of cheese. They would cut off a pound of bacon. It actually was nice at the corner store. It was more personal. Except for the produce. They wouldn’t let you help yourself, so they would slip you some mouldy ones.” Len says “I had never heard of a perogie or a cabbage roll. The funny thing I found with food here was to have something sweet as part of a meal, like a fruit salad with jelly. To me that was dessert, or what we would call ‘afters’. In England food was placed on a plate for you. In Canada so much food would be put on the table and you would help yourself. Each plate would be enough for one person and there would be 10 of them on the table. In England the host would give you your plate without even asking if you liked it or not.” Mary remembers “The first time we went to the Safeway in Alberta it was funny. The people would have their shopping carts all piled up and we whispered to each other that they all must be from out of town and stocking up for 6 months. Then we found out that they were only shopping for the week!” Len adds “And I couldn’t believe how ‘spicy’ the food was. Those days in England they didn’t put any spices in the food. I had never even tasted garlic! I had no idea. The first time I tasted a wiener I couldn’t believe anyone could eat anything that spicy! I got to enjoy it though. We couldn’t believe the variety of cooked meats at the grocery, the kinds of hams and all these things I had never heard of. In England we just had ham, and that’s it. The variety of food was really incredible. I used to go down to Woodward’s to the delicatessen and I would just wander around a look at the food. It’s not like we couldn’t afford it in England. We just didn’t have it. Very, very plain. It’s not like that in England any longer though.” Susan and Jeff remember that beef was very expensive when they lived in Britain, so they relied on chicken more. When they moved to Canada they found that chicken, cereal, cookies and dog food were much more expensive than they were in the U.K. When they moved to Canada they liked to buy the Hutterite chicken and bacon from vendors who would come to Jeff’s work place. They didn’t mind paying more for the chicken because it was so nice.
The thing Ruback misses most about Pakistan is his mother’s cooking. He fondly remembers typical weekend breakfasts in Pakistan “We would have fried potatoes, okra, halwa poori, which is a parata version of bread that we made at home. Also the pita is different, softer than you find it here. We made it fresh daily. Sometimes we had it with butter, sometimes with honey. In the summer we would have mangoes. The mangoes at home were plentiful and very good.” Fatiha agrees “The mangoes you get here do not resemble the mangoes we would grow back home. At home they were much bigger and more flavourful. I miss those mangoes a lot. Cheesecake was new to us, certain desserts here are not like desserts we would eat at home.” Azi says “Spices in Iran are different from here, the taste of Canadian food is different. Ham and sausage in Iran would be saltier than here, here it is sweeter. Pickles in Iran are just salty, never sweet. The first time I tried pickles here that were sweet it was very surprising. We cook with saffron a lot. Here it is not popular, and very expensive, so when anybody goes home to Iran for a visit I get them to bring me some saffron.” Ruback remembers that fried goat brain was an occasional treat that his father liked. Len says that before they moved to Canada that pig’s brain was his young son’s favourite breakfast. “He probably wouldn’t eat that now. We ate all parts of the animal, the kidneys and the liver and the heart, even head cheese.” Although they personally don’t care for them, Reza and Azi say that sheep heads and sheep legs are very popular in Iran.
Sally from South Africa misses their version of beef jerky. “We call it biltong, and it is dried strips of seasoned beef, but it’s not like the beef jerky here. We use different spices. We love it. There are a couple of South African butchers in Calgary, so we can get it here but it’s really expensive.” Sally also finds that the variety of food here is huge. Sue says that when they left the U.K. in 1998 there were no big grocers like Costco or Super Store and no one was using coupons.
Bo says “The thing I miss the most about the Netherlands is the food. Although there is a Dutch store in Calgary (and I go often, they could probably live on just my business) there are just certain treats that aren’t the same here. The red stuff that they call licorice here is not licorice, it’s just candy. I like real licorice, and it doesn’t have to be the salty stuff. There are certain things that I have for breakfast and if I run out of them I don’t know what to do. There is a breakfast cake, kind of ginger spice cake – there’s a lot of fiber in it and it fills you up. It’s very healthy. There are certain sweets that you put on bread called hagel slag or fruit hagel, which are like sprinkles. Stroopwafels are wafer cookies with syrup in between. When I am in Amsterdam I go to the market and they make it fresh. I insist it be very fresh. All slippery and syrupy and messy to compensate for the dry ones that you get in Canada. We think we have the best peanut butter in the Netherlands but now when I go home I bring 2 big jars of peanut butter to my friends in the Netherlands. My nephew ate a 2 litre jar of it in a week and a half!”
For Mirzada and Senad the differences were much more drastic. They had both lived for many years in refugee camps and food was very scarce. Sometimes it was 3 months in between food supply deliveries, and even then it was just a certain allotment for each family that had no chance of lasting three months. To come to Canada where food was plentiful and affordable was a huge, but very welcome, adjustment. Senad is open about having used the food bank. “We used to use the food bank. But I didn’t give up on my life. Before long we had a baby. We used to go and get the powdered milk. We didn’t fight about things like I couldn’t buy her a Louis Vuitton purse.” They are able to have celebrations here in the manner of their homeland and it reminds them of the good times before the war. “Three times a year we roast a lamb and have a big gathering, like we would in the old country. And if you are coming to my house, you do not bring anything. You do not bring your own wine, your own beer. This would be unheard of where we come from.” Mirzada explains “You bring a gift, but not something that will be consumed during the gathering. Something special, something different. Flowers, or a crystal vase, a pot you can cook in, some glasses for your house. ” Senad continues “But that’s a gift. Not bringing beer that you are going to drink. No way. That’s what was hard for me to get used to. We offer our tradition, our food, especially our drink. And if I asked you to go to a bar, I would pay. Here, everyone is getting their money out” Senad mimics the gesture of reaching into his pants pocket which makes Mirzada laugh at the absurdity of the gesture from their point of view. Mirzada says “Even at work, people bring their own lunch, but I always bring extra. Just try it and see if you like it. Sometimes the people at work offer to pay for me for the food! But it’s our way to make a lot and share it.”
Photos courtesy of The Dutch Store, 3815 16 St. SE, Calgary, Alberta and SA Meats, 2120 Kensington Rd. NW, Calgary, Alberta