Hybrid food culture seeing both Vancouver residents, newcomers indulge

Both the newly-immigrated and long-standing are expanding their taste palates in Vancouver

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As migration to Vancouver has increased with the rising tide of globalization, so has the diversity of foods available here.

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A new study finds both long-standing and naturalized citizens have been indulging in new cuisines, creating what researchers say are “hybrid food cultures.”

The phenomenon is the focus of a study published in the journal appetite. It examined the diets of the two largest population groups in Vancouver, Chinese Canadians and European Canadians, ages 19 to 70, some born outside of Canada and others whose families have deep roots in the country.

“Our major finding was a trend of diversification on both sides of the spectrum,” said Colin Dring, a UBC researcher and co-author of the study. Although the number of residents surveyed was modest, researchers found a majority had indulged in new cultural cuisines.

Of the 16 residents interviewed, 13 reported diversifying their diet because the food was readily available in their environment. Seven said the change was due to recommendations from friends or family.

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The opening of shops and restaurants dedicated to ethnic foods in parts of the city where these foods were not previously available and the increasing availability of ethnic foods in ‘mainstream’ stores were recognized as significant influences.

“One of my best friends from elementary school, she’s from Korea. I actually got introduced to Korean food at her house de ella, ”said a resident of European descent in her 30s.

The report did not name people the researchers interviewed.

Kevin Huang and his mom Julia Wang prepare traditional Taiwanese dishes at Wang's home in North Vancouver.
Kevin Huang and his mom Julia Wang prepare traditional Taiwanese dishes at Wang’s home in North Vancouver. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

Although trying different cuisines was common, incorporating those new foods into everyday eating varied for each individual. Some residents said they ate new foods only at restaurants, others said they started cooking them at home.

“For our family, we eat a whole variety of cultural-influenced foods, but it’s not something that’s homemade. And that’s just a time constraint,” said a European Canadian in her 40s.

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Almost all of the participants involved in the Vancouver study reported that younger generations of their families were more willing to try new foods and had more diverse diets.

“A couple of years ago, my mother tried pizza for the first time and that was a bit of a struggle for her,” said a Chinese Canadian resident in her 40s. “It’s cheesy, and that’s not a flavor she can wrap around her head. Ella she’ll prefer to stick with the soups and tofu, stuff she’s familiar with. ”

The study found that older generations often encouraged younger family members to acculturate to western foods.

“Pressuring loved ones to adopt Canada’s cultivated food identity can be a coping mechanism,” said Dring. “They want to see their family integrated into society.”

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But Chinese Canadian study participants who adopted western diets expressed a sense of loss that they had not learned how to cook traditional Chinese food.

The findings came as no surprise to Kevin Huang, 36, who migrated from Taiwan to West Vancouver with his family at age seven.

He recalls the day he first asked his mother to prepare his school lunch with sandwiches instead of fried rice. “I wanted to fit in,” he said.

Growing up, Huang said, his mother — who cooked three traditional Chinese meals a day — steered him away from the kitchen and towards studying to get good grades.

That all changed when the son, in his mid-20s, returned from a nine-month trip to Taiwan.

“Being there made me realize how much of my own culture I was shaming and pushing away,” Huang said. “I got to spend time with relatives. Coming back to Vancouver, I vowed to reconnect.”

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In 2013, Huang founded the Hua Foundation, a non-profit that works to tackle food insecurity for Vancouver’s diverse populations. Some of its programs deliver culturally appropriate foods to seniors and arrange traditional cooking classes for second-generation Chinese Canadians.

“I was influenced by my mom,” Huang said. “Everything she cooks tastes like home. I’ve come to realize that food is beyond science, there’s an emotional and social part just as critical.”

Since then, Huang has learned — through trial and error — how to cook most of the traditional Taiwanese dishes his mother makes.

A rare exception was Thanksgiving this year when Huang and his parents cooked a turkey together with Asian fixings, including soy sauce flavouring.

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“Food is an accessible way to access the joy of my culture,” he said. “I cook and eat exclusively Asian dishes at home now.”

UBC’s Dring, whose family originates from China, felt a similar pressure to adapt his eating habits to the large majority of his Canadian peers.

“There were moments when I would bring Chinese food to school and someone would make a negative comment about the smell,” he said about growing up in Richmond in the 1980s.

Nowadays, increased immigration has brought about restaurants of all kinds — including Hungarian, Italian, Korean and Chinese — to Richmond.

“It’s likely cities across Canada have similar diverse food environments with both newcomers and longtime residents exposed to and incorporating the new cuisines,” Dring said.

Like Huang, Dring still prefers to cook the traditional foods of his culture.

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