— by Camille DePutter
I really believe that variety is the spice of life. Literally.
What drives my passion for food in many ways is my desire to try new things; to experience not only new flavours, but new perspectives and new possibilities. Travel is a wonderful way to achieve that. But when going to another city or country isn’t possible, a different cuisine can help take you there.
Many years ago I bonded with my father-in-law, Philip, over our similar desire to try everything. We are notorious in our family for taking forever with a menu. Deciding is agony – we are curious and easily intrigued by different dishes and ingredients, and want to try it all, and we carefully consider and imagine each option.
I remember when I was fairly new to Toronto, and he would take me and my now husband out for dinner. Inevitably he had some hole-in-the-wall spot lined up, which he mysteriously heard about that from some source, and he would take us there to try something new. Sometimes even I was skeptical, not knowing the city and being brought into strange neighbourhoods – but it always paid off, whether it was a tiny Japanese joint at the city limits, or an Ethiopian restaurant in a sketchy part of town. (The Ethiopian place, by the way, is Addis Ababa in trendy West Queen West… at the time, it was not considered a safe area, and was generally foreign to me. The neighbourhood has totally changed but thankfully, Addis Ababa is still there, and I’ve brought other friends there – including visiting guests from other countries.)
A couple weeks ago, in honour of Philip’s birthday I got together with my sister-in-law, Julia, and mother-in-law, Janet, and we cooked up a meal that took us ‘around the world’ – giving Philip and the family an opportunity to try some new dishes, and some that we’d perhaps had long ago.
Here were the dishes we prepared:
– Coulibiach – Russia. A brioche pastry that is stuffed with salmon and rice and baked.
– Roumaki – Polynesia. Chicken livers and water chestnuts wrapped in bacon and broiled till crispy.
– Peameal Sliders – Canada. An ode to the peameal sandwich – fried peameal bacon slathered with a maple-mustard sauce served in mini burger buns with a little red onion.
– BBQ Pork Lettuce Wraps – China. Yummy barbecue pork from a great little spot in Chinatown with crisp Boston lettuce, slivered scallions, and a homemade creamy hoisin-spiked sauce – everything is served on a platter so people can make their own little wraps from the lettuce leaves.
– Warm tomato salad – Israel. A sautéed dish of tomatoes, roasted red peppers, garlic and cumin, served with pita chips.
– Flatbread with Proscuitto, Parmesan & Arugula – Italy. Just like it sounds.
… And if that weren’t enough, we served a variety of cheeses and pates, some veggie sides, and of course, beers from around the world, and an assortment of treats for dessert.
It was a joy to try some new (and old) recipes, to cook together, and to celebrate that wonderful thing: curiosity. A desire and willingness to try something new, to be transported, inspired, and somehow changed by the foods we eat, the people who cooked them, and just as importantly, the people we share them with.