We’re thrilled to share writing pieces completed during the 2021 My Roots Writing Workshop for Immigrants that was led by Doretta Lau.
Keeping a Taste of Home
Written by Rizalina Guilatco Carr
You can bring it with you—the memories, souvenirs, customs, even the taste of your motherland—while calling Vancouver your new home! More than forty years ago, I arrived here from the Philippines. I visited the downtown area and was captured by the beauty of the surroundings. False Creek still had a few industrial buildings operating as it slowly transformed itself into what is now a beautiful, vibrant and desirable community. I couldn’t believe, back then, that downtown Vancouver would be a place I would one day call home. The long road to get to where I am now, proved the line from a famous movie: “Life is like a box of chocolates—you never know what you are going to get.” For me, a journey from the small city of San Pablo, Philippines, to the international metropolis of Vancouver, a city now known around the world!
In the first few years after immigrating, I missed the Philippines terribly—my parents, siblings, relatives and friends. Oftentimes, I would cry and cry in private, longing for many things once familiar. The food I grew up with was among what I missed the most. Luckily, there were a few Filipino grocery stores where I could find specific products used in our cuisine. And as our Filipino-Canadian community continued to grow, the products I searched for became easier to find. Vancouver’s expanding internationalism not only made the task easier, but it also enticed me into other worlds. If I looked for an herb or spice from another ethnic cuisine, I could easily find it!
One of the things that drew me to settle in downtown Vancouver was the easy access to public transportation—the Skytrain, Canada Line and buses. And the ability to easily explore led me to Chinatown. The New Town Bakery and Restaurant on Pender Street was one of the first places I discovered that catered to my Asian taste and kept me in touch with the food from my past. It had opened in Chinatown in 1980, the same year I arrived, and it immediately became my anchor. It later changed ownership to a Filipino-Chinese woman, and just like that, I became one of the loyal customers of this restaurant that CNN once declared “a must visit.” The other day, the owner was heading out when I talked with her and explained my long-standing loyalty to her establishment. She was delighted to hear from me, and we ended up talking about many things, including the current pandemic and how it had affected her business.
T&T (downtown) is an Asian Supermarket nestled among Costco, BC Place, Rogers Arena, International Village, the dizzying array of high-rise condos, and the historic Chinatown. Shopping there is an adventure! My Caucasian husband was at first overwhelmed by products not seen in typical North American grocery stores, but he now enjoys discovering the distinctive and wildly varying flavours brought to the table from products that come from all parts of this planet.
You don’t have to travel around the world to experience the food of Italy, France, Greece, China, Vietnam, Korea, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, or the Philippines. Vancouver offers restaurant cuisines from almost every country, brought by immigrants that now call Canada home. In many of these restaurants, the recipes are handed down from generation to generation. I am reminded of the Vietnamese boat people who came to Canada with only the clothes on their backs. But what they did have was the memory of their grandmother’s recipes, which many relied on to open successful restaurant businesses here. As more countries became represented in Vancouver’s culinary offerings, diversity appeared even within each nationality. For instance, in several Filipino restaurants a dish called “pansit” would have a different taste, ingredients and presentation, depending on what province the cook was from.
As concerns for health, the environment, and compassion to animals have become more dominant in our awareness, the influence of my Caucasian husband, who has long been a vegetarian, has been a welcome bonus. Most of the meals I make now are Filipino dishes without the meat, but with meat substitutes. My “arroz caldo,” usually made with chicken, is substituted with “sei-tan,” which offers a high protein meat-like taste and texture made from wheat flour. I recently served it to our Korean friend, and he was impressed!
Two of my three children were born in Canada, and their food preference has matured as they have. While they have been exposed to many ethnic cuisines, often enjoying the more popular ones like Chinese or Italian dishes, my second son is also becoming a vegetarian, preferring pansit noodles without the meat.
Inside our condo are memorabilia of my motherland – bookcases made of narra wood, cooking paraphernalia, native gifts from family and friends from my motherland. My favourite is the clay pot that sits in my kitchen. Inside the pot are herbs and spices in small Ziploc bags, onions, garlic and ginger. The pot is very handy and always reminds me of an old dish that I want to make for the next meal.
Now fully assimilated in the Canadian culture, I still visit the old country regularly. But the once persistent longings to return and retire there are no longer on my mind. I could never really contemplate going back for good, especially when my extended family and friends, those I cherish the most, are now here! My humble advice for new immigrants? Be patient when you come to Canada. Wait for a few years. Allow yourself to grow as a person, while keeping with you what you can from your homeland. You may find that your personal growth will bring you closer to your new home. Canada allowed me to make a life for my children and myself, and I am forever grateful.