June 14, 2024


Simply The Best Food

‘When I make food items, I think about it’s filling your soul’: Former refugees share tales and recipes in UNHCR cookbook

6 min read

For Yasmen De Leon, making and ingesting Mexican food stuff has been a relationship to her roots that she and her spouse and children carry wherever they go.

Born in Mexico, the Toronto lady migrated to the United States with her relatives when she was 4 several years old, moving from city to city in search of a secure refuge, just before they inevitably made it to Canada to come across asylum in 1986.

All they experienced was the fond recollections of their people back home — and the recipes that experienced been handed on orally to her mom, Josefina Martinez, by her relatives.

“Often situations, the only factor refugees and displaced people have are their culinary heritage, the recipes you are ready to hand down and instruct to younger generations,” states De Leon, 43, operator of Comal y Canela, a Mexican cafe in Toronto.

“You may possibly have just the garments on your back. You have no photographs, no mementoes and practically nothing. You are in a new region attempting to recreate the bread, the soups and stews from back again house. I was in a position to know my grandmother and great-grandmother by their recipes. That is all I have of my household and extended relatives: these recipes.”

De Leon’s tale and recipes are aspect of a cookbook released by the United Nations Significant Commissioner for Refugees in Canada to mark the refugee agency’s 70th anniversary.

Founded on Dec. 14, 1950, to support displaced people today in Europe right after the 2nd World War, the agency was initially supplied a 3-year mandate to complete its do the job. But a long time afterwards, not only has the perform not concluded, but its mandate now handles far more than 80 million victims of displacement this year by yourself, which include 29.6 million refugees.

Titled “Tastes from House: Recipes from the Refugee Neighborhood,” the no cost electronic ebook capabilities a lot more than 30 recipes and private stories from 14 former refugees, which includes current federal minister Ahmed Hussen and previous Governor Normal of Canada Adrienne Clarkson.

“Food represents a lot more than just nourishment. It symbolizes sharing of tradition, culture and generating treasured recollections around household dinners, festive gatherings and other significant occasions,” suggests UNHCR Canada spokesperson Lauren La Rose.

Tamale is a signature dish Yasmen De Leon, a former refugee from Mexico, would like to introduce to Canadians

“As we solution the holidays, men and women will probably be preparing distinctive meals or dishes as aspect of that family tradition. We hope that folks will be inspired to not only try these recipes but to learn a bit much more about the journeys and the people who produced them.”

De Leon’s family fled violence in Mexico in the early 1980s for the U.S., the place they remained undocumented before arriving in Toronto for asylum. Owing to a six-yr-prolonged asylum backlog, her father brought the family members back to Mexico, hoping that the problems had subsided. He was murdered just months following their return in 1990.

With 5 youngsters in tow, De Leon’s widowed mother begged the Canadian embassy to permit them back to Canada. They were refused for the reason that they experienced already deserted their assert. Desperate to uncover security, she drove back to the U.S. and stayed briefly in advance of sneaking again into the region.

In the U.S., the relatives survived on the food stuff stamps dispensed to two of the youngest kids, who were born there and are American citizens.

After resettling in Toronto, Martinez labored shifts in factories to guidance her younger loved ones. The household eventually acquired everlasting home in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

Martinez had generally wished to open a loved ones restaurant here, a desire that De Leon made transpire in 2017.

“Food is very critical to me. I have a solid connection with food. That’s how I discovered about my loved ones that I never ever met. I have also been feeding people today since I was a baby and commenced getting care of my brothers and sisters. I would be remaining on your own with them when my parents ended up doing work,” suggests De Leon, now a mother of two boys.

“I get pleasure from looking at individuals … when they turn into satisfied with the food I feed them. When I make food items, I picture it’s filling your soul.”



When De Leon was invited previously this yr to be profiled in the UN refugee agency’s cookbook, she gladly recognized the supply.

Aya Wadi

“I would like people to have an understanding of that this country is produced up of people today from different backgrounds. Even although we may possibly come with absolutely nothing, we are equipped to give back to our local community,” states De Leon, who’s been functioning a food financial institution out of her small business to feed the needy in the course of the pandemic. “Refugees have a good deal to supply to this nation.”

Syrian newcomer Aya Wadi resettled in Thunder Bay with her loved ones in 2017 right after arriving from Turkey as governing administration-sponsored refugees. Two many years right after arrival, the 24-calendar year-outdated and her mothers and fathers started off a catering small business and, in June, opened a retail store-front cafe called Royal Aleppo Food items.

Ouzi is wrap with rice and meat that is a popular comfort food in Aya Wadi's household.

Whilst she would like people today to take pleasure in the book’s international recipes, such as hers on a traditional cookie made with dates and pistachio and ouzi, a wrap with rice and meat inside of, she also hopes that readers will take absent the resilience of the refugees showcased in the book.

The bombings have been so close to their residence through the Syrian civil war that her relatives fled in 2014 for Turkey, in which they labored for very very little money just to get by.

“We ended up not welcomed and people would say to us, ‘Go back to Syria.’ They have been not happy with so several refugees in their state,” states Wadi, who wasn’t capable to go to faculty and labored as a labourer in a garment factory in Turkey. “We struggled a good deal.”

Aya Wadi and her mother, Duha Shaar, started a catering business in Thunder Bay in the summer of 2019 and opened a small store-front restaurant Royal Aleppo Foods in June.

The spouse and children arrived in Thunder Bay in the center of a snow storm, in November 2017, considering they had landed in the North Pole.

“We have been frightened. It’s also a new language and new society,” says Wadi, who, along with her mom, later attended Society Kitchen area, a totally free software by a local company that allows newcomer females use their culinary abilities to accomplish financial independence.

Based mostly on the success of their catering company, the mother and daughter duo signed a lease past December. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit just right before their scheduled opening.

“It’s tough. These are challenging situations,” Wadi admits. “But persons here really like our food items. We are managing this cafe in honour of Aleppo, the town wherever we’re born and really like.”

For every single duplicate of the cookbook downloaded, a group of anonymous donors have fully commited to earning a full donation of as considerably as $50,000 to UNHCR to aid deal with food stuff insecurity in refugee communities.

Clarification – Dec. 21, 2020: This posting was edited from a past variation to make very clear that a group of anonymous donors, not just two donors, have fully commited to building a donation for every single copy that is downloaded. As effectively, the total donation amount of money is $50,000, not $65,000.

Nicholas Keung
Nicholas Keung is a Toronto-primarily based reporter masking immigration for the Star. Comply with him on Twitter: @nkeung

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