Eating all over the world

Karsten Saunders / The Brunswickan
Photo Karsten Saunders / The Brunswickan

You’ve packed your bags, bade goodbye to loved ones with a heavy heart, and boarded that first flight. You cross two or three continents, one vast bright bluish Atlantic Ocean, and then you experience eating new kinds of food for the first time. You feel like puking, but you don’t.

The way we react to different kinds of food varies: we just cannot eat it at all, or maybe consume small portions of it, or we adapt to it. The differing reactions are because of our upbringing and the kinds of food we’re exposed to. Taste has its own roots, but it can evolve.

I knew before coming to Canada that this second largest nation was a multicultural one. I did not think that food would be of any concern. For me, like many in Kathmandu, I knew a few things about Canada: Toronto was the capital (prior to checking on Google) and food was American-like.

Generally we tend to stereotype people based on someone’s skin colour – especially with regards to the type of food they eat. Unknowingly, all of us do it in some point of our lives. I am brown, hence, it is assumed that I eat Indian curry.

Unfortunately many people don’t know that India is so diverse that every state has its own delicacies. And, sadly, Nepali food, on which I grew up, is not close to the food of our southern neighbour. We go to eat it in restaurants, but not at home. Furthermore, globalization has changed the world so drastically that it is hard to predict someone’s eating habits simply by looking at them.

My first transition to western food was in England: fish and chips, apple pie, beef with gravy sauce, Polish sausages, boiled potatoes and vegetables, pudding, lamb meat. Even before going to Northampton I had lived in Hyderabad, southern India, where I had the best taste of idlis, dosas, birayanis, rasam, and every hot and spicy food.

Hyderabadi birayani was my favourite delicacy and I tried it in several parts of India but couldn’t find the original taste. Once a food crosses its territory the taste changes, and is often modified according to the eating habits of the people. The majority often wins, and the dish is altered from the original.

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In London, I tried Nepali food but the taste wasn’t same, and then I realised that it was ignorant of me to expect it to be so. I have often heard from my spiritual father that food tastes different depending on the climate, and weather. I think he is right.

So, the first time I got into Air Canada, besides being amused by seeing rather old airhostesses and cabin crews, I found the food to be peculiarly Canadian. It was too sweet for me. I do not like sweetness, perhaps because I grew up consuming spices and chillies.

Now in my fifth month in Fredericton, I have learned to make a balance between Canadian and other food. Fortunately, I’ve got chance to taste Canadian food in one of my friend’s home. He is elderly, but young in heart, and his wife often invites me for dinner. I like the way they eat – simple food, but spiritual food. My favourite has been moose meat, beef soup, rare beef, pork pie, blueberry muffins, stir fries and boiled vegetables.

I feel calm when I eat with them, a feeling like sitting on a cliff, and feeling the fresh wind stroking your hair, gently taking away your grief and pain. When I eat the food I cook I feel like a revolutionary, an activist, a fighter in the midst of a dystopic world. I try to balance these two feelings with equal consumption of the varied food.

Also, I try to go international by trying Korean, Japanese, Mexican and Lebanese food available downtown. I can use chopsticks, thanks to my Chinese friends during UK years, and often Southeast Asians in the restaurants watch me curiously. I find meaning, culture, philosophy, nature, life, and purpose in all of their food. If language, culture, religion and skin colour divide people, then I believe food helps to bind people in harmony.

I buy food from Victory Meat Market and discover cheese, shrimps, salmons, scallops, sardines and vegetables that make me feel connected to this land, its people, and culture. One thing I am certain is that people in the Maritimes are laid back and friendly, and perhaps it is because of the food they consume. The food here has deep ties to the history of farming and agriculture, the bonding of family, and community. This kind of food I will cherish forever.