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FRESH OFF THE PLANE: Home truths about Canada’s culinary diversity

Walking to the parking lot the other day, I was reminded  of the time I used to have my lunch in my car. This was many years ago, during our first winter in Canada, in fact.

My first job, like that of many other newcomers who are IT professionals or engineers, was at a store that sold electronics.

And my first car was a beat up old car but it was better than having to wait for a bus in the cold.

It also served as a refrigerator! How? Well, there’s a story behind that!

I worked long shifts and eating out, even grabbing just a coffee and a muffin or a burger, cost money. It was an expense that I felt I could ill afford.

My wife used to pack lunch or dinner for me, based on my shift, and also a banana or an apple. But since our food was unfamiliar to my colleagues and I had heard people say that they found immigrants’ food smelly, I was a little self-conscious about eating roti-sabzi in the common room where people gathered on their break.

So I would leave my lunch box in the car – it was so cold that it was like leaving it in the fridge, no fear of food spoiling!

And on my break, I’d walk up to the car, turn it on, eat while listening to old Hindi songs or reading the newspaper, and then walk back for the rest of my shift.

A couple of times someone or the other asked me to join them for lunch, but I came up with an excuse, a reason for why I was not eating right then.

One day, while I was sitting in my car, windows left open a crack for air, someone tapped on the window.

I looked up from the newspaper to see my colleague Jose standing outside.

“Hey, what are you doing in your car?” he asked.

For a second, I felt almost guilty, like a child caught in the act. But there was nowhere to hide the food he had obviously seen me eating and plus it was too cold to leave him standing outside.

I unlocked the door and he slid into the passenger seat.

“Mmm, smells good!” he said appreciatively.

I thought he was just being polite, but courtesy demanded I offer him some.

“Would you like to try it?” I asked, pointing to the remaining roti roll in the lunch box.

He did, and consumed it with much appreciation.

We sat quietly for a few minutes after eating. I was wondering what to say, when he came right out and asked.

“So. Why don’t you eat with the rest of us? You can leave your food in the fridge, you know?”

I had to confess that I had avoided doing that in order to avoid drawing attention to how different I was, how different our food from the sandwiches I expected everyone else brought.

Jose began to laugh.

“Have you even looked inside the fridge? There are a few sandwiches, sure, but there’s also noodles, rice-and-beans. Some of it super smelly, but also super nice!”

He said some of them had concluded that I was a loner, that I didn’t want to share my lunch and hadn’t wanted to force me when I declined their invitations to join them.

We walked back inside and he made me promise to bring an extra roti for him the next day.

                                                                                                                                           – Hari Thakur


What’s your story? Every newcomer, no matter how savvy or where he or she comes from, has a Fresh Off the Plane (FOP) story to share about their early days in Canada. Do you want to share your story? E-mail it to us at canadaboundimmigrant@rogers.com.

Posted: Jan 4, 2015

May 2020

Centennial College

Immigration Peel Canada

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