First Nations fare love affair
Despite being a city that’s brimming with food from all corners of the globe, until recently there were few places to get First Nations food in Toronto. Now with three new restaurants — plus a long-standing classic — the indigenous foodscape is on fire.
Kū-kŭm’s Arctic starter with Arctic char, seal and salmon
IMAGE: CJ BAEK
When placing the words “tasting menu” in a scratchy thought bubble, French cuisine tends to fill the void. But at uptown’s brand new indigenous restaurant, French-trained chef Joseph Shawana is making it far more personal. Chef Shawana, who was raised on the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve No. 26 on Manitoulin Island, presents items inspired by what he grew up eating. An Arctic trio starter includes wild Newfoundland seal tartare, which has a slightly metallic taste: blend with the quail egg yolk and roe and scoop onto bannock crostini. Mains include the juniper and spruce tip-crusted elk, sourced from southern Ontario, with a buttery magenta centre. Lacking any gamy flavour and served in a jus, this could be mistaken for French. But rest assured, it isn’t.
581 Mount Pleasant Rd., 416-519-2638
POW WOW CAFÉ
Kensington Market’s very packed indigenous eatery has a low-key party vibe, and you just know that the staff is having a time. But that doesn’t mean that Ojibwa chef-owner Shawn Adler is all about fun and games. Having made Indian tacos — powwow fare that he would tuck into every summer — since 2003, Adler’s goal is to educate Torontonians on contemporary indigenous food. Patrons — half of whom are indigenous — sit on the patio and order up heaping plates of Ojibwa tacos that have been jazzed up slightly from what you’d find at a powwow. A family recipe for bannock (or fry bread) is chopped up and loaded with beef chili, corn shoots, cumin sour cream plus Mexican toppings. It’s a feast.
213 Augusta Ave., 416-551-7717
When this casual eatery opened shop in the Annex, Torontonians flocked to get their hands on Anishinabe fare. With his catering background, Anishinabe chef Johl Whiteduck Ringuette has experienced crowds before, but this is his first brick-and-mortar space. He’s on a mission (or “Nishion”) to bring traditional cuisine back to the indigenous community. Sourcing ingredients from First Nations producers as much as possible, chef Ringuette’s midday eats range from veg-based (hominy soup) to fish (Arctic char) to game meats (bison). Venison stew comes with roasted root veg flavoured with sage and juniper. For dessert? A huge mound of apple berry crumble.
690 Bloor St. W., 416-855-4085
With its sign crafted out of birch branches, Leslieville’s First Nations café has been doing its thing since 2012. Manager Tina Ottereyes oversees a menu that highlights staff members’ favourite dishes, serving both traditional food and fare that came about as necessity due to colonizers’ rations. Three Sisters soup boasts a trio of beans, corn and squash — known as the Three Sisters — a combo oft grown and eaten by North American indigenous tribes. The bison burger features farmed meat and is hugged by a duo of fried bannock patties. The eatery also serves up stews featuring smoked elk, bison or deer and a medley of carrots, potatoes and First Nations–grown wild rice.
1294 Gerrard St. E., 416-220-2915