My first food and other experiences in Canada

by Percy Toriro

I am in Canada as a Postdoctoral fellow having undertaken my PhD at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. I am a Zimbabwean citizen. I consider myself more of a practitioner than an academic having practiced as an Urban Planner for twenty years in several cities in different countries across Africa. I was motivated to pursue doctoral studies after observing the gap between academia and practice. My mission is to close the divide between the two and the QE Scholarship provided me with the big breakthrough to start that journey. I imagine academics undertaking research in areas that concern practitioners so that policy makers and practitioners can come up with evidence-based policies and strategies.

My PhD focussed on the interplay between informality, food and planning. Having been a migrant in most of the cities I worked, it is appropriate that my current work at Balsillie School brings together migration, informality, food and the regulatory framework in Cape Town. This blog shares my initial experiences in Canada and my journey to locate sources of appropriate food that I am familiar with and my general impressions on food in Canada. I am also keen to observe how cities are managed here, but for now I will focus on my initial experiences and food.

I landed in Toronto on the 3rd of August and thus started my experience in Canada. Having travelled extensively in many countries including Britain, Kenya, United Arab Emirates, Holland, Lebanon and almost all the countries in my Southern African region, I found the immigration process very friendly and fast. I managed to get off the plane, pass through immigration, collect my luggage and go through customs in less than thirty minutes. I arrived at the Balsillie School in Waterloo in an hour and since it was a weekend, I was received by security and taken to fellow QE Scholar Mary Caesar’s office. I knew Mary from Cape Town and it was good to see her again after about a decade. She took me to my apartment and attended to the other administrative aspects that ensured I quickly settled in.

She introduced me to another scholar, Lovemore Zuze, who immediately started me on the journey to finding appropriate food in Canada. Fortunately for me, I arrived just when Lovemore had an appointment with Amanda Joynt, another QE Scholar, who was taking him to buy food at a large supermarket (Amanda has been to Africa and knew what we would be looking for). It was significant that the place sold mealie-meal, a key ingredient to my home staple food known as sadza. The supermarket also stocked different varieties of leaf vegetables that we traditionally mix with meat and without which meat doesn’t taste as good. This was a beginning made in heaven! One of my biggest fears prior to coming to Canada was whether I would find familiar food. It had not been easy during my early days in Cape Town, but after a few months I had managed to locate restaurants that sold traditional food as well as fresh food markets that supplied food types that I would miss from home. Day one had barely started in Canada and I had already been exposed to some of the most important determinants for a comfortable stay in a foreign land.

A week later I went to Toronto. Knowing there was a significant number of Zimbabwean and other migrants I asked to be taken to food markets. The most significant market I was shown is the St Lawrence Market; a large market that sells more than food. It was well-stocked with different types of food. I was also taken to different restaurants in downtown Toronto. Staying in Waterloo, which is a small laid-back city and having been to the large city that Toronto is, I now have a fair idea of life and food in Canada. And my initial impressions are that it is a beautiful country with friendly race relations. There are limited preferred prepared food options in my city, but there are several options where I can get ingredients to prepare my own dishes. Whilst costs are certainly higher than in most parts of Africa, they are reasonable. It is only a month yet, and I have a lot more to see and learn.