As the only Canadian that my host-family has ever met, I’m playing a big part in how they will perceive Canada forevermore. I have to admit, I’m not representing Canada very faithfully. Culture is difficult to describe tangibly when you don’t have your own traditions*. Our dance, food, and clothing all seem to be either generically Western, or things that have come from other cultures. I think our jumble of cultural influences is a really cool thing, but it’s tricky to explain to people who live in a country with very little diversity (in terms of international influences anyways).
To get to the point, my host-family really wants to learn more about Canadian food, and all of my explanations have been seriously inadequate. Ugandan food tends to be pretty consistent; each meal is made up of a few types of “food” – matooke, posho, rice, sweet potato, yam, Irish potatoes, or pumpkin – and “sauce” – beans, cowpeas, soupy beef, soupy chicken, soupy pork, or ground-nut sauce. In my region, matooke is the staple and people will eat it with every single meal (thankfully, my family is reasonably wealthy and likes variety, so we only eat it twice a day).
Tricky question #1: “What is the staple food in Canada?” When I say that we don’t really have one, I get blank stares. So I’ve taken to saying Irish potatoes, rice and bread, since those are fairly common here too.
Tricky question #2: “What is your favourite food back home?” Honestly, I love fresh Okanagan peaches, but my explanation using local references didn’t go so well… “Umm, well they’re sweet like a mango, but you can eat the skin like an apple, and they have a seed in the middle kind of like an avocado. And they’re covered with soft fuzz, like a baby’s head.” If my family ever encounters a real peach, they definitely won’t know it from my description. Now I just tell people about how much I love fresh bread. It’s so much easier!
These questions were immediately followed by the expected request for me to cook Canadian food. Easy, right? Well it turns out that a lot of the things I use daily at home are not so common here: countertops, cutting boards, ovens, blenders, measuring cups, etc. This limited my options, and as Caitlin (my wonderful roommate) will tell you, I like to cook in unpredictable/creative ways when my options are limited. One day I made a pancake-peanutbutter-honey-sandwich hybrid; I cooked pancakes with banana slices, then spread peanut-butter on one, and honey on another, and slapped them together like a sandwich. The family politely ate the pan-dwiches with me, and said they were “sweet”, but they haven’t asked me to make them again.
Yesterday, I made guacamole served with chapatti instead of nacho chips. This is even less Canadian than my first experiment, but the ingredients were in abundance around the house and I couldn’t resist. According to the Picky Child Test, the guacamole was a hit! Little Peter ate about a mountain-and-a-half of it, and told Irene to learn how to make it.
I think my next experiment will involve bannock and bruschetta.
I don’t have any profound messages to end this post with. I just thought I’d share that misrepresenting Canada (in innocent ways) has been fun.
*Yes, First Nations people have quite a variety of cool traditions. But I cannot claim, say, Cree culture as my own.