A report by Karon Liu for The Toronto Star.
We’re seven months into the pandemic and surely most of us need new recipe ideas or a new place to get takeout from by now.
Running until Sept. 27, the inaugural Black Foodie Week is a free virtual event promoting Afro-Caribbean cooking in the city with the goal of getting people to eat good food, and support Black-owned businesses while they’re at it.
“A lot of people in the hospitality industry are suffering because of COVID and we want to bring joy to the city and support these businesses in a way that’s practical,” says organizer Eden Hagos, a Toronto-based food writer and founder of the Black Foodie food site. “We saw a shift to a lot of Black-owned restaurants appearing on lists in recent months, but if someone doesn’t know what Nigerian food is or what to order, what are the chances they’d go there?”
Rather than just compiling lists of Black-owned businesses without much context, Hagos wants to offer diners an opportunity to also learn more about the ingredients and flavour profiles of regional Afro-Caribbean cooking as well as understand underlying issues that many Black communities in the city face when it comes to food such as racism within the restaurant industry as well as food insecurity disproportionally affecting Black people.
“We wanted to go deeper and understand the people who make the food, and learn more about how Black food culture is tied to social justice,” Hagos said. “It’s a big learning process for everyone and I have so much to learn about the diversity of Black food culture.”
Part of Black Foodie Week includes panel discussions and livestreamed cooking lessons covering food from countries like Jamaica, Nigeria and Somalia. There are also lessons on wine and beer pairings, cocktail classes and a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony.
Virtual attendees can also enter their address to find takeout options nearby.
On Tuesday, at the Discover Somalia event, George Brown College culinary instructor chef Bashir Munye will be demonstrating how to make his take on panzanella, using injera in place of bread and topping it with roasted okra, tomatoes and onions.
“I’m showcasing my heritage as a Somali person,” Munye said. “There’s so much complexity in every cuisine and it’s constantly evolving so this dish reflects the movement of the nomads and how food evolves in the diaspora. It’s based on an ingredient often used in Somali cooking, okra, but I grew up in Italy where panzanella is a common dish, and my mom used to take leftover injera and turn them into crackers. It represents my Somali DNA, my time in Italy and moving to Canada by using ingredients grown here, but still being able to make food that’s culturally appropriate to me.”
For Munye, an event like Black Foodie Week provides the chance for everyone to celebrate Afro-Caribbean food culture while at the same time giving those within the diaspora a platform to raise the issues important to them.
“We never really had an event that speaks to the experience of Black people in the food industry so this gives us the opportunity to amplify them,” he said.
Hagos hopes that the event can continue next year and looks forward to hosting in-person events once it’s safe to gather again.
“We’re centring the event on Black food and Black talent, but this event is for everybody and we want everyone to eat really good food and make some good cocktails,” Hagos said. “I hope that what we’re doing goes beyond this week and we hope people will continue that journey along with us.”