Categories
Opinions

Which coast is the best coast?

A local’s perspective on how to eat and explore your way through two of Canada’s biggest cities in 24 hours.

One of my friends told me that I’m going to keep moving east until I end up right back in Vancouver, and that isn’t too far-fetched. I have been constantly migrating east ever since the end of high school— first Toronto, and now Montréal.

As a proud Vancouverite, I know the city like the back of my hand. Seriously, you could plop me down in the middle of Sapperton and I’d know how to get home. The same goes for Toronto. 

Any local of any city has their go-to places and I am proud to have culminated my own lists for both Vancouver and Toronto. I’ve got a lot of food and to-do recommendations; so in honour of summer plans being made, here are my *local’s* recommendations in the two cities.

Up first is my home base, Vancouver—prefacing this with the fact that I grew up in Kitsilano, which is ten minutes away from the University of British Columbia, so these recommendations are in and around that area.

Start the day off on a sweet note at Grounds for Coffee for the best cinnamon buns in the world. My mum and I have been frequenting Grounds since I was a toddler, so that should speak volumes. Alternatively, head up to Blue Chip at UBC for a bite (make sure to grab one of their iconic cookies), and explore the UBC campus. It is genuinely the most beautiful Canadian campus in my opinion and always has something new to check out. 

From there, hop on the 99 B-Line bus and get some sushi from Masa Sushi on Broadway—their Secret Garden Roll is definitely a must. If you aren’t in the mood for sushi, go to Sing Sing on Main Street and order an assortment of appetizers to nosh on. Dodge into a couple thrift stores or any of the hole-in-the-wall antique shops for some unique finds. 

For dinner, head over to Marcello Ristorante on Commercial Drive. Dubbed as Vancouver’s “Little Italy,” this area offers some pretty stellar Italian food, as well as some more thrift stores and parks. Wind down with some ice cream from Earnest Ice Cream on Quebec Street and East 2nd. They’ve always got the most unique flavours—such as whiskey hazelnut and London fog. 

That’s a pretty decent day spent in the main areas of Vancouver (excluding downtown, which is an entirely different world in and of itself ). 

Moving east to Toronto: home to big buildings and the best soup dumplings ever. These recommendations are mainly in and around the downtown neighbourhoods, with the exception of Roncesvalles. Start off your morning at Fran’s for some Toronto staple diner-style brekkie—I am partial to their College Street location. 

For lunch, head to Juicy Dumpling in Chinatown for the cheapest and best soup dumplings ever – I am forever grateful to my friend for introducing me to my now go-to. Explore the Chinatown area for some cool thrift stores and unique memorabilia finds. Or, go to Grillies on Dundas for an amazing pulled pork sandwich. 

Madras Kaapi on College is a haven for some South Indian style coffee; you can also check out the little stores in and around the area for some unique collectibles. My friend and I have spent hours there trying out the various pastries and food. Reunion Coffee Roasters in Roncesvalles is also great to grab a coffee and explore the picturesque little neighbourhood. I love poking around the main strip and wandering in the inside roads—I could easily spend all day there, especially since it’s the first place my Opa lived when he immigrated to Canada in ‘58.

Finally for dinner, check out Vivoli for some killer Italian food! After the surprise birthday party that my friends organized there for my 20th, it is forever a kindred spot for me. 

And there you have it! How to spend 24 hours in two of Canada’s biggest (and polar opposite) cities. 

Hopefully this awakened the tourist within!

Categories
Arts and Culture Community

A farewell to Momesso’s: Contemplating the void left in its wake

After 46 years serving , Paolo Momesso is retiring on top and closing shop on his own terms, a privilege that few restaurant owners are privy to in today’s financial climate.

“We would like to thank you all for your support all these years. Sadly, as of today, we will officially close our doors. Thank you!” Those were the words posted to Facebook on Jan. 22 by the official Momesso’s restaurant account. Just like that, a single post tore a hole in the fabric of the city’s culinary tapestry as one of Montreal’s iconic inns heralded its closure a week ahead of schedule. 

The owner of NDG’s renowned Italian eatery, Paolo Momesso, had publicly announced the restaurant’s impending closure two weeks prior, planning to serve their last subs on the weekend of Jan. 26-27. At that announcement, hundreds of hungry and nostalgic Montrealers came in droves to take one final bite of the diner’s legacy, emptying their final stock prematurely and shutting it down a week earlier than expected. 

It was at 5562 Upper Lachine Rd back in 1978 that Momesso’s Café served the first of their now culturally renowned subs under founding father, Alessandro Momesso. Forty-six years later, Paolo Momesso, the restaurant’s owner and older brother to Montrealer and Canadiens legend Sergio Momesso, attributed his age to the closure of their iconic café. The 68-year-old Momesso took over the family business after the passing of his father in 2006, upholding the family values that characterized the restaurant as a staple of NDG and its immigrant culture. 

Speaking on Momesso’s cultural presence within the area, NDG city councilor Peter McQueen said, “It’s really too bad that the family decided they did not want to continue operating it [the restaurant]. It’s just a huge loss. The Momessos are a huge part of the St-Raymond community.” 

As a prominent cultural beacon, Momesso stated that to preserve the restaurant’s legacy and memory within the city, he shut the place down rather than sell the business and brand to an outsider. 

Though Paolo Momesso closed shop on his own accord, the closure of such a symbolic institution of city culture is always cause for concern, even more so amidst the current state of the city’s economy, which has drastically affected Montreal’s culinary diaspora for over a decade, accentuated by the effects of the pandemic. 

According to the Association Restauration du Québec’s (ARQ) latest polls, the province has seen a decrease of over 3,000 restaurant permit holders since 2019, strongly affecting the city’s cultural and economic identity.

Restaurants are community anchors. For one, they are social hubs. After all, the point of wining and dining revolves around the communal element. Restaurants also allow for cultural blending as the culinary industry fractures barriers to immigrants who value cuisine and lack social connections in the city.

Despite the province heralding 22.4 per cent of the country’s culinary real estate, 66 per cent of total restaurant bankruptcies in the country occurred in Quebec in 2022. 

Additionally, the province is tied with British Columbia for having the highest chain-to-independent restaurant rates, with independent restaurants only-narrowly maintaining half of the market. 

The director of public and government affairs at the ARQ, Dominique Tremblay, believes that owning a restaurant is more difficult than it used to be due to inflation and that business owners are now facing twice the hurdles. She spoke to the current state of the culinary industry saying: “They’re feeling the effects of the increase in service and food prices, and on the other hand, they’re feeling the consumer’s reaction to inflation, as people have less money in their pockets to spend.” 

Amidst the challenges, city mayor Valérie Plante’s Projet Montréal is investing in the culinary industry to ease the stress plaguing the city’s restaurant and small business owners. Despite the city’s efforts, however, owners are still feeling the pressures of the fractured state of the industry. 

“We’re trying to keep businesses alive and well right here in Montreal so people can shop in their local neighborhood, walk to the businesses, and walk to eat out,” McQueen explained. Through the PME initiative (Petite et Moyenne Entreprise) the city has forwarded $37 M to help support local businesses on local arteries in Montreal. 

Victor Santopietro, part-owner of St-Leonard Italian eatery and culinary hub Milano’s Café, appreciates the city’s efforts yet remains skeptical of the efficacy of such initiatives. “Listen, if you don’t help yourself, the city doesn’t do much,” Santopietro said, stifling a laugh. “Do they help us? You know, you have to help yourself, that’s the best advice I can give.” 

According to him, the major hurdles that restaurants currently face are staff turnover and increased food prices, especially when trying to buy locally. 

Santopietro emphasizes the importance of not only buying local, but also the impact that restaurants have on their subsequent communities. “It’s not an easy business,” he said. “We have to understand that no one is invincible, there’s a beginning and an end to everything”. Milano’s Café is a staple of the St-Leonard community as it s a meeting ground for not only the older generations of Italians in the city who make their daily track for an espresso and a sub, but for the younger generations of Montrealers as well, who immerse themselves in the cultural wealth of the community through food. 

Eateries like Milano’s around the city have been adapting by cutting their schedule and simplifying their menu to save on labor and food costs. However, the responsibility of financial responsibility to preserve culturally significant restaurants lies on the shoulders of the consumer as much as it does the owners. 

“Is it their obligation [to help]? No. But it is nice if you support your local businesses,” Santopietro said. “We try to buy a lot of local products so we can make the economy roll instead of buying overseas, but at a certain point you try to do what’s best for yourself.”

There are countless long-standing culinary gems offering delicious goods and spreads at every street corner. Though times might be bleak, Montrealers play a key role in preserving the city’s culinary identity. As Santopietro said, “Just pass by for a coffee sometimes. Once a month, instead of going to a big chain restaurant, help out the regular Joe.”

Categories
Community

Dumpling Hut Review

Check out the Dumpling Hut on a break in between your classes!

Located on Clarke Street, the Dumpling Hut is almost not visible to the naked eye. If you drive past it you will probably miss it if you do not look up and see the sign.

Walking through the front door of the Dumpling Hut, you are greeted by an entrance full of post-it notes from guests who have tried the restaurant. 

Post-It note entrance at the Dumpling Hut. Photo by Dalia Nardolillo/THE CONCORDIAN

AMBIANCE:

I decided to try out the Dumpling Hut on a Friday afternoon. The restaurant itself is pretty small, but you instantly get warm and homey vibes when you walk in. Something that I found pretty interesting was a huge traffic light in the corner of the restaurant.

I was expecting the place to be packed but to my surprise, it was only my boyfriend and I in the restaurant and we got to pick our seats. 

In terms of service we got waited on pretty quick by a very friendly server.

FOOD:

The menu itself was pretty compact. The restaurant offered portions of dumplings in either 10 or 16 pieces. You can also choose to get them steamed or fried for an extra charge.

Dumpling Hut menu. Photo by Dalia Nardolillo/THE CONCORDIAN

I’ve had experience in the past with fried dumplings and whenever I ordered them, they would always sit pretty heavy in my stomach; so out of caution, I went with the steamed ones.

Out of all the filling options on the menu, the combination of lamb and coriander was speaking to me. My boyfriend and I ended up ordering the same thing. I ordered 10 dumplings and he ordered 16.

While we were waiting, we could see the chef preparing our dumplings. We could view her laying the outside dough of dumplings and carefully filling each one. 

When we got the food, we dug in. The dumplings were a delightful explosion of flavour, as the coriander in the filling brought a level of freshness to the dumplings. I absolutely loved it.

Lamb and coriander dumplings at the Dumpling Hut. Photo by Dalia Nardolillo/THE CONCORDIAN

I dipped my dumplings in the spicy sauce that they had on the table and it elevated the flavour for me. I rate the dumplings 9/10.

WAS IT WORTH IT?

I feel that for the location and the price of the dumplings, it was excellent. The other dumplings on the menu vary in price, depending on the quantity, filling and whether you get them fried or not. For $15, I got a great plate of food, great service and a very cool atmosphere.

I definitely recommend trying out the Dumpling Hut if you are in the area or even if you have a break from classes.

Categories
Community

La Poutine week kicked off

Which poutine will you be voting for?

When you think of February, what comes to mind? Valentine’s day? Superbowl? I think of La Poutine Week!

This year, La Poutine Week spans over two weeks from Feb. 1-14. I had the chance to speak with Na’eem Adam, co-founder of La Poutine Week. Adam founded La Poutine Week alongside his colleague Thierry Rassam. 

“This started off as a hobby for Thierry [Rassam] and I. Every year, this festival has grown to become more and more a Canadian festival, than [a] Montreal or Quebecois festival,” Adam said.

Adam explained that when people think of poutine, they think of Montreal or Quebec. But poutine has really been a dish that has become popularized outside the province.

“There are more than 1,000 locations all across the country that are participating in the festival. In the last 11 years, poutine has become a Canadian celebrated dish,” Adam said. 

Adam explained that the best part of La Poutine Week is the multiculturalism from the participating restaurants who offer dishes like a Thai poutine, a Piri-Piri poutine, Indian-influenced poutine, and much more. 

You can find a list of all the participating restaurants in your area on La Poutine Week’s website. 

“The mission that we have had since the beginning was to help support local restaurants. We just wanted to find something that would pull people together to try poutine guilt-free,” Adam said. 

You don’t even have to leave the comfort of your own home to participate in the festivities, as  La Poutine Week has partnered with DoorDash and Sysco. 

Adam highly recommends trying the poutines in-person and voting for your favourites on the website. 

That is exactly what I did over the past weekend.

I live near Paulo et Suzanne, a 24-hour diner located on Boul. Gouin in the Ahuntsic Cartierville borough of Montreal. The poutine that they entered in the festival was Poutine Pop’n’Hot.  

As I walked into the diner, I saw the big colourful sign that had a picture of the Pop’n’Hot. When I sat down, I immediately ordered that.

Pop’n’Hot poutine for La Poutine Week. Dalia Nardolillo/THE CONCORDIAN

When my order had arrived, I was overwhelmed to say the least. It was huge. The poutine was made up of hot peppers, popcorn chicken, SouthWest sauce, fries, cheese curds and of course gravy.

When I took the first bite it was like a flavour explosion in my mouth. The peppers provided a good source of heat to cut through all the fat from the cheese curds and gravy. The only thing I would omit would be the SouthWest sauce. I rate that poutine an 8/10.

To vote and rate poutines, you have to make an account on the La Poutine Week website.

The Pop’n’Hot was such a delicious poutine that it made me curious to know what other poutines are out there. I was able to speak with president of the Fromagerie Victoria franchise Marc-André Gosselin. He told me all about this year’s poutine.

“It’s called the Rétro. It has fried pickles, coleslaw and smoked meat,” Gosselin said. 

This year’s poutine from Fromagerie Victoria is a collective idea from all the participating franchises. 

If this hasn’t gotten your mouth watering yet, I don’t know what will. This year’s edition of the festival promises some exciting poutines.

Categories
Briefs News

Students are buzzing for the new Hive Café

The Hive Café has finally opened its doors on the Loyola campus with a fully affordable vegetarian menu

The new location of the Hive Café finally opened on Jan. 23 on the second floor of the CJ building at Loyola Campus. 

The café, which is open Monday through Friday from 8:15 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., mirrors the same menu as the downtown location with a selection of sandwiches, soups, salads and sweets, as well as coffee and cold drinks. 

The Hive Café strives to be as sustainable as possible by offering only vegetarian and vegan options and by prioritizing locally sourced ingredients. 

“We work closely with our local suppliers and producers, so we can maintain affordable food for students while keeping our costs low,” said Calvin Clarke, the café’s manager. “Within the competitive environment of restoration, that can be difficult sometimes, but that is a priority for us.” 

“They also strive to be allergen friendly,” said Clarke. “We have a nut-free kitchen both for the Hive and also the Hive free lunch.”

The Hive Café Co-op offers a membership program for users. Students can purchase a ten-dollar membership card which gives them access to ten per cent off on all products sold at the café for life. 

The café was supposed to open last semester, but did not. According to Clarke, the main reason for the delay was due to lengthy negotiations with the administration for the signing of the lease. 

“It was kind of a difficult situation for us,” he said. “We figured that the best thing was to say we’re going to open up in the winter semester, and we’ll be true to our word for that.” 

The Hive is a cooperative that strives to provide fair labour, according to Clarke. “That’s always a priority for us, and within our board of directors we do have worker member seats, right now five seats available for worker members.”

The Hive invites all of its members to an annual general meeting (AGM), which is usually in October or November. An AGM is a meeting where the status of a company or Co-op is shared with all members and they make decisions on its future.

Categories
Community Student Life

The Hive Cafe’s newest Community Fridge

A step to fight food insecurity for students.

 The Hive Cafe on Concordia’s Loyola Campus recently welcomed Megan’s Community Fridge. Students were buzzing with excitement. 

Megan’s Community Fridge is a big step in fighting food insecurity for students. Megan Clarke, a Concordia alumna, was the inspiration for this amazing project. Clarke was present at the Hive Cafe on Monday and helped set up the fridge alongside Enuf, an organization fighting the waste crisis.

Courtesy photo provided by Désirée McGraw. (From left to right: Désirée McGraw, Keroles Riad, Megan Clarke, and Alanna Silver)

The Concordian sat with Keroles Riad, the CEO of Enuf and one of the minds behind the Community Fridge. Riad explained that it wasn’t exactly simple to get the project up and running at Concordia.

“Students have been trying to convince the administration to set up a community fridge for at least 10 years, and they have consistently been stalled and eventually turned down,” he said. “We looked for spaces where community groups have a level of autonomy. The Hive Cafe was just perfect, because they already do a lot of work fighting food insecurity on campus, and so they are already reaching the people that need the additional help and they autonomously operate their own spaces on both campuses.”

With the installation of this new fridge, keeping it well-stocked is one of the challenges it currently faces. Riad explained that the fridge will be stocked from the surplus of food that is left over from events happening over the year. 

Waste ambassadors from Enuf will gather all the food and bring it to Megan’s Community Fridge. 

Clarke sat down with The Concordian and explained what the motivation to start this community fridge was. 

“When I was a teenager I found myself in a really tough situation, I was couch surfing and I used to dumpster dive,” Clarke recalled. “My friends and I noticed at a certain point that the dumpsters were being locked to stop people like myself from getting food. At the time, I didn’t have a valid ID to participate in food banks.”

Clarke worked three jobs to get herself out of that situation. Her struggles with food always lingered at the back of her mind and when she began university, she realized that not everyone could get out of the same situation like her.

“I started Food Cycle while I was at Concordia and we would take leftover food and give it to homeless shelters, women’s shelters and so on,” Clarke said.

Megan Clarke in front of the new Megan’s Community Fridge at the Hive Cafe on Concordia’s Loyola Campus. DALIA NARDOLILLO/The Concordian

That’s what kickstarted the idea for the Community Fridge. However, when the pandemic first came along, people became fearful that the virus would be pushed onto food which put a standstill on the project.

Enuf, in partnership with the Hive Cafe, finally got the project going. Working at the Hive Cafe, Alanna Silver is also an integral part of this community fridge. Silver is FoodSafe certified and acts as Enuf’s Chief Operating Officer and the Hive’s administrative coordinator. Riad explained that Silver will ensure the safety of the community being served and have the final say of what goes in the Community Fridge.


“​​I feel so grateful to have the privilege of taking part in making this project a reality,” Riad said proudly. “It is truly heartbreaking to know that 40 per cent of students in Canada say that they have to choose between paying tuition and buying enough food, at a time when we, in Canada, throw away more than half the food we produce. There is surplus food, and there are hungry student tummies. It shouldn’t have been this complicated to try to connect the two.”

Categories
Community

A look inside Montreal’s Lunar New Year Market

Did you know that the Chinese pictographic for the rabbit is 兔?

Sunday, January 22, 2023 marked the beginning of the Lunar New Year which highlights the year of the Rabbit.

In Chinese culture, people strongly believe that it is destined to influence the year and the people born in it. For reference, people born in the years 2023, 2011, 1999, 1987, 1975, 1963, 1951 and 1939 are associated with the Rabbit zodiac. Last year was the year of the Tiger. The rabbit is the fourth Chinese zodiac animal out of twelve.

You might be curious about what exactly the rabbit symbolizes in Chinese culture. Well, it embodies energy with a focus on relaxation, quietness and contemplation.

In the Gay Village, in the downtown Montreal area, Montrealers rang in the new year with a variety of activities. One of the activities was a free-to-attend, one-day-only holiday market organized by the Montreal Hong Kong Cultural Learning Society.

According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, the Lunar New Year in Asia falls after the second new moon which occurs after the winter solstice. That means the Lunar New Year can happen anytime between January 21 and February 20.

Upon entering the market space, visitors saw a decorative cherry blossom tree and a table nearby. The table had a bunch of markers and pens on it for visitors to write their wishes for the upcoming new year on cards with the purchase of an item at the market.

Wishing tree where guests could leave their wishes for the new Lunar New Year. DALIA NARDOLILLO/ The Concordian

Various sweet smells wafted throughout the market. The vendors were selling food that was being freshly made to order on-site. Some of those sweets included bubble waffles, Japanese and Tawainese wheel cakes, and much more.

The market not only offered lots of variety in terms of things to buy, but it also offered interactive booths where guests could try their hand at Chinese calligraphy. 

I was enticed to try my hand at Chinese calligraphy and learned that you begin with the horizontal strokes first, and then do the downstrokes. I gave it a couple of tries at writing down some Chinese pictograms until my hands got stained with ink.

The other interactive booth included a dice game with a Fish-Prawn-Crab.

All the vendors present at the market were bursting with energy and the excitement for the year of the Rabbit could be felt throughout the room.

If you celebrate the Lunar New Year, we wish you peace, health and prosperity for this new year!

Categories
Community

Come and take a step back in time at Wilensky’s

A sandwich shop where everything has stayed the same since 1932

Located in Montreal’s Mile End, Wilensky’s has been a local staple since 1932. Famous for its sandwich special, the restaurant was opened by husband and wife Ruth and Moe Wilensky.

I was so enticed to visit this infamous eatery. My boyfriend and I visited Wilensky’s during the first week of January. We went on a quiet Wednesday afternoon and we were able to sit at one of the bar stools at the front counter.

Stepping foot into Wilensky’s is like stepping into a time machine. I got the chance to sit down with Sharon Wilensky, the daughter of Ruth and Moe, and she discussed with me about who came up with the idea of “the special” at Wilensky’s.

“My dad, Moe Wilensky came up with the idea for the special. The restaurant started in 1932 and that’s the date that we go by. My father and uncle couldn’t find work and that’s when they started working with my grandfather,” Wilensky recalled. “My father said ‘We need to find a way to make more money and I think we need to start selling food.’”

Moe Wilensky brought in a small grill that could only cook a few hotdogs at a time, which cost a fortune because of the Great Depression. 

“Salami and bologna, which is what is in the Wilensky’s special, is something that people ate at home. My dad would be eating it for lunch and customers would come in and ask my dad if he could make it for them. They would come in again and again and say, ‘Could you make that special thing you made for me last time?’” Wilensky said.

The Wilensky’s Special. In the background, there is a cherry cola being mixed the old-fashioned way. Dalia Nardolillo/THE CONCORDIAN

That’s how the Wilensky’s special was born. For under five dollars, you can enjoy the special with either swiss or cheddar cheese. The other special thing about Wilensky’s is the rules that they have regarding their special. 

When you order it right off the bat, they serve it with only mustard and you can’t ask them to cut it in half for you. You have to enjoy it as is. 

The rules for the Special at Wilensky’s. Dalia Nardolillo/THE CONCORDIAN

I ordered the special with swiss cheese, and less than five minutes later I took my first bite of the sandwich. The combination of the two meats with the warm swiss cheese was amazing, I could see how these little sandwiches could get addicting. The mustard is a perfect accompaniment because it cuts through all the fat. 

To accompany his sandwich, my boyfriend ordered a cherry coca cola which was made the old-fashioned way by mixing it right on the spot. Before we left, he wanted to leave a tip and it came to our knowledge that they donate all of their tips to charity!

“Working with my dad is one of my favourite memories,” Wilensky said, teary-eyed. “I went to Outremont high school, which is a french adult-ed high school and I would come to work here after school. I would even remember being a child here, while working here I would see children walking along the bar of the counter and it would bring me back.”

Wilensky’s is the perfect place to stop by if you are in the Mile End area even if it’s simply to say hi to one of the original Wilensky’s! 

Categories
Opinions

The Arepa ‘Unstuffed’

Can the arepa do for Venezuela what the taco did for Mexico?

It was quite the moment, seeing an arepa on the big screen as depicted in Disney’s Encanto. It made my eyes water. It was such an important moment for me, especially as a Venezuelan woman with Colombian ancestry. Seeing an arepa with queso in a character’s hand validated my experience and belief that all Latin American cuisines deserve to be in the spotlight, explored and tasted by all.  

It’s quite interesting that food references have had to widen their perspectives from a French and European focus, but the arepa’s popularity has been blooming in the North American media. We see this with Encanto, where Colombian arepas and characters are at the centre of the story.

As an introduction to solid foods, Venezuelan babies are fed the inner fluffy dough of the arepa, making it an essential part of growing up Venezuelan. My parents weren’t any exception in raising me with an intense love for arepas.  

It’s quite common to see children bring arepas wrapped in napkins or aluminum foil in their lunchboxes. I often brought an arepa for lunch in my elementary school days, which continued into high school and even CEGEP and university. Other kids were shocked at what I was holding in my hands. Since the gesture of holding it reminded them of a sandwich, the interest would soon fade. “It’s just a sandwich,” they’d all say.

It’s much more than Venezuela’s bread; it’s such an important part of the collective Venezuelan gastronomic conscience. The arepa represents venezolanidad — it’s at the core of a Venezuelan’s DNA and identity. It’s a food that creates an identity and immediate connection. Even when outside of their motherland, Venezuelans are drawn to the arepa. I am, personally! My family buys corn flour weekly and enjoys arepas often. 

The arepa is a round, mostly flat, corn maize split in the middle and eaten like a sandwich, with any topping you like. It’s a staple meal for Venezuelans, as it has been eaten for centuries. The arepa is vegan and gluten-free. In Quebec, 13 per cent of the population is Latin American, but despite that, there aren’t many places where the arepa is celebrated.

Why is the arepa, despite being such a versatile and healthy meal, so underrated? It doesn’t make any sense at all! The arepa has been loved and eaten by millions of Venezuelans for centuries, including me. It deserves to have its own spotlight and be appreciated for its own history and flexibility. 

While Mexican cuisine remains popular in North America, I’m hopeful and optimistic that this will change in the years to come. I’m sick of people only associating Latin America with Mexican cuisine. Ignoring the fact that Latin America is filled with vibrant, colourful dishes that deserve every ounce of appreciation is wrong. It’s time to celebrate all of Latin America, not just a select few countries! 

Let’s make the arepa global, especially since it can accommodate most diets.

It’s hard not to fall in love with what the arepa represents. It’s a small portion of pre-colonization that has outlived Venezuela’s ever-changing society. Of course, the arepa has been modernized with the invention of the tostiarepa, an arepa maker, and the corn flour that has aided in making the preparation process much easier than with maize grains. Its core ingredient, maize, has not changed in the slightest.

The name arepa comes from “erepa,” which originates from the Indigenous tongue of Cumanagoto. Erepa simply means corn, showing just the humility and simplicity of what the arepa has always been. The arepa is also one of the manifestations of the importance of corn in many Latin American gastronomies.

It’s much more than what may seem a one-dimensional, one-time item. In fact, any ingredient can be used as filling, from chicken, avocado to braised beef and cheese. There’s no wrong answer when it comes to arepa — the sky’s the limit!

Although it may look simplistic in its preparation and presentation, reminding many of another iteration of a sandwich, the arepa has filled dining tables at sunrise, midday and after sunset. 

As a Venezuelan woman who has lived in Montreal since she was seven, I’m pretty sure that at least one of my DNA strands is made out of fluffy, inner-arepa dough. The arepa has such a big significance for Venezuela, showing its multicultural idiosyncrasies. 

It highlights the impact of not only the Spaniard Conquistadors or the African Slaves who left their mark on Venezuelan cuisine, but also the country’s first inhabitants. It’s also a representation of the inclusion of the many immigrants that Venezuela welcomed during its days of glory.  

What’s intriguing about arepas in other countries is how they put their own twists on the ingredients. It becomes much more than a food item; it turns into an experience. It’s interesting to note that areperas (arepa-only restaurants) weren’t being gatekept by Venezuelans and were enjoyed by many, as they welcomed migrants from all over the world. 

An important facet of globalizing the arepa is through areperas that have popped up all around the world. The importance of Venezuelan restaurants and areperas outside of Venezuela can be the key to a smooth transition in immigrating from one side of the world to another. In Montreal, we have such places where we can sense a beautiful blend of Spanish and French in the air, being reminded of the beauty and importance of embracing Montreal as a home to multiculturalism. 

I firmly believe that the arepa will help Venezuela be even more known and beloved by the masses. The future is as bright as the inner, white fluffy dough of the arepa and can take any shape like its endless list of fillings.

Categories
Community Student Life

Mushroom Workshop At le Frigo vert

On Nov 2. 2022, Le Frigo Vert hosted a mushroom workshop where participants can learn about how to use mushrooms in a variety of ways.

Workshop attendees learned to make their own mushroom tinctures from red belted conk, birch polypore, chaga, and reishi mushrooms. CATHERINE REYNOLDS/The Concordian

Different mushroom tinctures. CATHERINE REYNOLDS/The Concordian

Different herbs, spices, and mushrooms that participants can choose from. CATHERINE REYNOLDS/The Concordian

The participant is seen putting mushroom tincture into their container. CATHERINE REYNOLDS/The Concordian

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Community

Bug-eating: a whole gastronomical experience

The Montreal Insectarium recently introduced entomophagy

With the climate rapidly changing, water is becoming less and less accessible. As the need to change the way we eat becomes more and more apparent, food industries are shifting, presenting new forms of food. 

Chef-consultant Daniel Vézina, commissioned by Espace pour la vie, developed a series of edible insect snacks. Between Nov. 2 – 5 these snacks were served at a kiosk at Le Central. 

“Insects have a lot of vitamins, and proteins, it’s very relevant to make people discover them,” said Elena Zumaran Vasquez, operations coordinator for Les Amis de insectarium. 

Zumaran Vasquez explained that her organization specifically works for insect consumption, a practice known as entomophagy. It’s owing to this collaboration with David Vézina that she now believes more strongly that people are more willing to eat insects: “People don’t necessarily see them, they are presented in a different form,  where they are integrated into the food.”. 

Though insect-eating is not part of Canadian culture, it is a common snack in some countries like Thailand and South Africa. In Thailand, for instance, is it typical to eat fried grasshoppers, crickets, and even worms. 

The tasting at Le Central offered four sample foods. There were green hard candies, made from ant sugar and balsam fir. The flavour of the ant sugar was not very strong and did not taste any different from the candies we are used to. 

For salty snacks, there were seaweed chips creamed with a tomato tapenade, mixed with mealworm and seaweed dulse. Apart from being extremely salty, they were good. 

The second salty snack was the one that people most feared eating. It was caramelized lime almonds with whole grasshoppers. This was the only tasting with a whole insect in it; and despite their sour lime taste, they tasted good. Nevertheless, I’m not sure if I would eat them like I would eat a bag of chips. 

Zumaran Vasquez noted that the reactions to the tastings were quite diverse. 

“There’s a lot of positive feedback and a lot of interest. At first people are reluctant, but most of them end up trying [it].” 

The insects were so processed with the other ingredients that it was barely noticeable that one was eating insects, except for the almond snack, where the grasshopper was in its complete form. 

Despite the original idea behind the snacks being the high nutritional value of insects, these bites were so mixed in sugar and salt that it begs the question, would people even eat these if they were not processed with so many unhealthy ingredients? 

A suitable analogy would be that of vegan food industries sometimes trying hard to imitate a taste, only to end up making an extremely unhealthy product. Is the avenue of making foods universal for singular palates through imitation necessarily good, or should the food industry shift entirely to proposing foods completely different from what we know? 

The crowd of people lined around the kiosk all seemed to enjoy the snacks. Some were more reluctant at first, especially with regards to the almond and grasshopper snack, but after tasting them, many people were pleasantly surprised. 

It was only fifteen minutes subsequent to the tasting that my palate tasted strongly of insects. The unfamiliar lingering taste of grasshoppers stayed on my tongue longer than I would’ve liked. 

It is indisputable that insects offer a great nutritional value and fill you up. Perhaps our Canadian bodies merely need to adapt to changing gastronomies and the possibility of insect consumption. 

Photographs by Catherine Reynolds/THE CONCORDIAN

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Features

Concordia Food Coalition to develop new food enterprise

Following Concordia’s New Contract With Aramark, The Fight Is Still Not Over For A Food-Sovereign Campus

In April, Concordia’s board of governors signed a new contract with multinational food services corporation Aramark to return as the University’s food supplier until May of 2026, with the possibility of a two-year extension. Aramark has been notorious for its ties to the US prison system ,and offering poor working conditions. 

The University’s decision to sign a new contract with the corporation goes against a continual effort to steer Concordia away from multinational corporations and towards social enterprises or not-for-profit food suppliers instead, in an attempt to make Concordia into a food-sovereign campus. 

In 2021, it seemed as though the University was seriously considering this alternate option.  “Concordia was making an effort to explore options outside of multinational corporations,” said Shylah Wolfe, executive director of the Concordia Food Coalition (CFC). 

Oliver de Volpi, Concordia’s Food Services manager, corroborated this claim. “We investigated some other options. The one that was even presented by Concordia Food Coalition didn’t pan out. They weren’t ready to bid.” 

Ultimately, the University did sign a new contract with Aramark. But, it’s not the end of the movement for a food sovereign campus.

Currently, the CFC is drafting a business plan for what they are calling the New Food Enterprise (NFE), which will be modeled largely off of Diversity Food Services (DFS), a social enterprise providing food service at the University of Winnipeg. 

The CFC’s website states that “the NFE will be an environmentally, socially and economically sustainable social enterprise capable of becoming Concordia’s campus food service provider. We are building a coalition of community stakeholders and local food producers to supply affordable and sustainable food options at scale to the university.” 

The NFE will bring together the Concordian Student Union, the Hive Cafe, SEIZE, and collaborate with the University’s senior administration. The CFC website states that “there is already broad understanding that the NFE is the transformative model that Concordia needs. Our job is to bring it to fruition.”

The Concordia Student Union has contributed $50,000 total to the NFE project. The CFC has taken $10,000 of the aforementioned funding to contract Chief Operating Officer of DFS Ian Vickers as a consultant. The VP Student Services Office has also pledged $25,000 to the project, Wolfe told The Concordian, with the remaining funds supporting additional planning, financing and partnership development.

“They’re putting their money where their mouth is, and taking us a bit more seriously. Now that we have four years to develop an alternative that is not just lip service, it will be an actually fleshed-out plan,” said Wolfe.

The money was pledged by the University before Aramark won the Request For Proposal (RFP) bid, with the CSU’s funding coming in during the bidding period. 

Since 2020, and during the RFP period, the CFC and other student representative groups sitting on the Concordia Food Advisory Working Group (FAWG) advocated for Concordia to adopt a model similar to that of Diversity Food Services. This would include cooking from scratch, more involvement in local food economies, and providing better benefits for staff. 

“What we’re doing now is essentially taking a provenly successful model at the University of Winnipeg with Diversity, and essentially building out an offering on a silver platter to the administration that we would run it with Diversity closely consulting,” said Wolfe.

According to Wolfe, the business would be owned by stakeholders made up of the University, the CFC, and DFS.

According to the University’s sustainable food systems plan, Concordia and Aramark are making efforts to be more sustainable and improve upon their last contract, by bringing in more local products, removing Aramark’s rights to operating vending machines on campus, and making meals offered in cafeterias one-third vegetarian, one-third vegan and one-third meat by 2025. 

De Volpi further stated that while Concordia did decide to re-sign with Aramark, the decision was not motivated purely by finances. 

“75% of the criteria for coming back to campus is not financially related. It’s sustainability operations, it’s nutrition, it’s that part of it. And Aramark won the bid. They’ve made contractual obligations to be easily a leader in Canada in both sustainability and nutrition. We’re going to hold them to it as well,” he said. 

But many advocating for a new food service model feel that their current goals aren’t enough.

“I think that the goals that the University has are commendable, but they’re not transformative. I think that it is difficult for them to ever do anything transformative if they continue with the bureaucratic processes that they are using,” said Wolfe.

“That last 25 percent is weighted twice as heavily as the other 75 percent,” explained de Volpi.

Erik Chevrier, a part-time professor at Concordia who did his PhD on building food-sovereign campuses, and a Concordia FAWG member, explained why Concordia’s sustainability goals can’t be too transformative under the current RFP model. 

“If you look at the targets, they’re not too hard to meet. So the targets are somewhat written for the big food service providers to be able to meet them, because if not, they’re setting unrealistic goals. So in some way, the idea that if they make this criteria too stringent nobody could actually fit the criteria. They’ll have no food service provider,” said Chevrier.

Financial aspects are involved in the RFP process. According to Chevrier, Companies need a minimum of $5 million annual revenue in food service before being able to bid. This requirement makes it difficult for small or new food service entities to compete for a contract. This is to help ensure that the companies Concordia partners with can remain viable throughout the year, and makes it harder for smaller-scale or new companies to compete during the RFP.

“There’s a big risk for us. We bring in [a food supplier] who’s never existed before that, you know, a month in and they say we just don’t have the personnel to operate anymore. We’re going to close down. Then what do we do with 1,000 students that live here and the rest of the population that depends on us?” said de Volpi. 

Wolfe feels that the risk is on the CFC and now with the ability to develop their own business plans, when the next RFP comes around in 2026, the New Food Enterprise will be able to prove their viability.

“We’re basically taking all of the risk for them, to develop this, to garner the support, the political will and also build out the actual back-end with a supply network. We’re essentially going to build them a business that will do all the things that they said they were going to do, but give them none of the risk,” said Wolfe.

Chevrier pointed out that Concordia has a number of student-built food initiatives that have been able to remain viable for many years.

“We’ve created them in the past, or students have, like the People’s Potato,” said Chevrier. “Nobody believed that it would last 20 years when it was first incarnated.”

Across Canada, Concordia has one of the strongest student-run food economies, with seven organizations operating in 2018. 

JAMES FAY @jamesfaydraws

These economies all work together across Concordia in a way that Aramark doesn’t. 

Aramark makes half of their money off a mandatory meal plan for most students in residences. This plan provides flex dollars that can only be spent at Aramark’s other retail locations across campus. Chevrier believes that allowing flex dollars to be spent at student locations would be largely beneficial. 

EVAN LINDSAY/The Concordian

“First of all, it’ll create competition for the big food service providers, maybe get them to behave a little bit better. And second of all, it could actually provide a local economy, where students can actually choose where they want to go,” said Chevrier.

While DFS, the business the New Food Enterprise is based on, did struggle during its start-up phase,  has now yielded a better performance for the University of Winnipeg than their previous multinational supplier, Chartwells. 

“The University does better with us than they ever do with Chartwells because we sell three times what Chartwells did. People actually want to eat real, made from scratch food a lot more than they wanted to eat that processed food.” said Vickers.

The new contract with Aramark is an improvement on the last, but the problem many have with it is not Aramark themselves, but Concordia continuing to work with multinational corporations. 

“There’s a lot of evidence to show that actually, the global food industry is decimating our planet. So basically, most of these big corporations, externalized costs in that they basically externalize them to people,” said Chevrier. 

Concordia has a long history of working with multinational suppliers. Their relationship with Aramark began in 2015, and prior to that they worked with Compass-Chartwells and Sodexo, two other multinational food supply and hospitality corporations.

Combined across Canadian universities, these corporations make up 60.8 per cent of the food suppliers among universities in Canada, according to Erik Chevrier’s thesis on building food-sovereign campuses. 

“Each of these corporations really relies on supply chains that actually drive down costs as much as they can by externalizing the environmental and social costs,” said Chevrier. 

“Concordia, as an innovator, I think should actually be looking towards how we can better the world, especially in some of the industries that they’re actually partaking [in.]”

The advantage of moving away from multinational corporations and towards social enterprises like DFS is that they are able to better interact with local farmers and food producers. Currently, according to University Spokesperson Vanninia Maestracci, 43 per cent of food offered in cafeterias is local or sustainability sourced. 

JAMES FAY @jamesfaydraws

Vickers stated that last year, 72 per cent of food served by DFS was locally or sustainably sourced. Purchasing locally most of the time is naturally better for farmers, who have experienced a 31.5 per cent increase in total outstanding debt across Canada since 2017, according to Statistics Canada. 

By working with more local food suppliers, DFS is able to better manage its supply chain and from-scratch cooking is made more possible to attain.

“Our cooks come in first thing in the morning. They bring in fresh turkeys, the first thing the chef will do is throw the turkeys in the oven instead of roasting them off so that she can slice them out and then cut it down and that becomes turkey sandwiches. She takes those bones and she puts them in a pot and starts making turkey stock. Then she can make gravy for what’s going to go on the poutine, as well as make soup,” said Vickers.

According to Vickers, the cost of bringing in local food is largely the same as well.

“We tend to be between two and three per cent less expensive,” he claimed. 

Independent food suppliers have the freedom to work with as many producers as they like and don’t suffer the same turnaround times for payment as larger corporations do. 

“When it’s an independent business, being able to pay farmers for cash right at the farm gates or out of their delivery truck is more possible,” said Wolfe. “We can work with as many suppliers as Diversity does, which is sometimes up to 100 different local producers.” 

“Large corporations like Aramark or even the University would not be able to do that because they have like sometimes 90- to 120-day payment processing so they have to work with huge distributors,” she stated.

“Part of the reason Diversity is able to do this is because, while they are a for-profit business they are also a social enterprise,” explained Vickers.

“What would normally be the profit that you would pay to your owners, is invested instead in environmental, social, cultural, or local economic sustainability,” he continued.

“What [the University] charged myself and the rest of our management team with is taking the profit and reinvesting it into being a good player in the global economy. So what does that mean? It means that we buy as locally as possible every single time.”

Additionally, under this model Diversity Food Services is able to offer a living wage, benefits and pension plans to all of their employees. 

EVAN LINDSAY/The Concordian

There is a lot of money to be made in these contracts — a study by the CFC found that the food service providers who won the RFP process in 2015 stood to make a minimum of $7 million in revenue annually. 

Under the new food enterprise model, any money made by the business could then be reinvested.

“The profits, if there are any, would be in the community,” said Wolfe. 

“That money would be reinvested in the business so that it’s cheaper, so that meal plans and generally food is cheaper, or so that workers get more money or it would be donated to the community organizations that need funds to run their projects.” 

Creating a project like DFS at Concordia is ambitious, and bringing in more local food to supply the 3,000 meals a day that CFC provides is a big task. It’s one that Vickers says will need a really solid plan, but he doesn’t think its impossible.

“Your local agriculture is so much better equipped to do this than we are,” said Vickers. “It would be incredibly feasible.”

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