Food and festivals are the remnants of culture that follow paths of immigration across the world. When a new diaspora lands amongst the first things the new community does is often establish a beach-head or restaurants or grocers shops that carry the items from the old country. These develop into popular destinations: China Town. Little Italy. Little India. Little Portugal etc., etc., that you find in many western cities in both the new and old worlds.
When I first landed in Canada, almost 18 years ago, high on my list of comestibles to remind me of home was Marmite or Chocolate Digestives. When I couldn’t find the actual commodity (A Christmas Pudding or a Mince Pie) I made them from scratch.
Food laws in California have been relaxed to allow food entrepreneurs to cook and sell from their own home kitchens, something I’m sure happened on the black or grey market. Offering a taste of home, or something new depending on the punter.
One of the big changes I noticed in Toronto and Barcelona since 2016 has been in the provision of food. In Toronto the number of Mexican restaurants, authentic ones not Tex-Mex taco shops, seems to have grown extensively. I’m not sure that you can put this boon for Toronto down to Trump, but there seems to be a correlation, if not a direct causation.
Conversely, in Barcelona, I have been having a devil of a job finding British Tea. I’ve been coming to the city regularly since 2014 and can honestly say that PG Tips and even Clipper (two of my preferred brands) used to be everywhere. Now, the shelves that hold them have an empty space, or the brands have disappeared altogether. I cannot place this change directly at the feet of Brexit, but I have my suspicions.
Of course in all of this there is a paradox. We have a tendency to look down on ex-pats who club together and create enclaves in various parts of the world. Or we look down on the little Englanders or Heartland Americans who want to cling to a mono-cultural traditions. While celebrating the same tendencies that bring mutli-cultural experiences to our great cities. Toronto, London, Barcelona have a fantastic array of cuisine because of the tendency of communities to seek solace in the familiar. The second and third generations, with feet in both the new and old culture, often go on to create incredible fusion cuisines.
And maybe that’s the point. When it comes to integration it is up to us, the people already here, to offer up the hand of friendship. Visit the communities and restaurants. Engage in Cultural exchanges. Celebrate the new. Become the neighbours who take a metaphorical cup of sugar or flour, or a tray of cookies around to the new folks on the block to make them feel at home, rather than be suspicious of the change that such new neighbours can bring.
The flow of culture, the dissemination of ideas, arrived on the back of trade, and food and commodities, and immigration. Western philosophy was kept secure in the western dark-ages under the light of Islam. There is a reason so many mathematical terms start with the prefix ‘al’. The food of Persia, became, under the Mughals, some of the most celebrated Indian dishes. Dishes that were conscripted, in turn, by the British. Culture spreading through food and community. Through experience.
This week, in my new, temporary home in Barcelona, they celebrated La Mercè. This celebration is not just peculiar to Catalunya, it is peculiar to the city. A five day long extravaganza of fire, frolicking, giant moving statues, old school cornet and trumpet playing. Like most of our first few weeks here we felt welcomed into the throng. Meeting old and new friends along the way.Then, when the crowds became too much, we sought solace in a Plaça or the beach, again bumping into new school friends and their parents. Our kids are learning Spanish and Catalan and sharing a pride in Toronto, Canada, the US and Britain. While learning about the incredible history of Spain, Catalunya and Europe.
Now, I have to explore and find a good curry house… somewhere that does a good Chicken Tikka Masla, you know, real British cuisine!