Searching for a taste of home

A list of Victoria restaurants that don’t just serve burgers and fries

Yasser Youssef, owner and founder of Fig Deli. Photo by Belle White, Senior Staff Photographer

If you are a person of colour who has recently moved to Victoria, you will quickly realize that you are in the minority. Perhaps you arrived recently from an Asian, African, or Central/South American country; grew up in a major city like Los Angeles or Toronto surrounded by non-white diaspora communities; or lived with family who cooked comfort foods from your heritage culture. Now you’ve found yourself in a city that is overwhelmingly “white” — people who are settlers and immigrants of British and European descent — and you’re hungering for some familiar flavour to quell the inevitable homesickness.

According to the 2016 Census by Statistics Canada, approximately 15 per cent of Victoria’s total population identify as a “visible minority,” which is defined as “persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour.” This translates to roughly 50 000 people, which is lower than the rest of British Columbia (30 per cent) and Canada (22 per cent).

Let’s not forget, however, that there is a lot of diversity within the category of “visible minority,” including people who identify as Chinese, South Asian, Black, South East Asian, Latin American, Japanese, Korean, Arab, and West Asian.

For many of us, the foods that bring us comfort or help us feel physically and mentally healthy are not British, French, or American in origin

A plate of spanakopita from Fig Deli. Photograph by Belle White, Senior Staff Photographer

The student population at UVic is actually slightly more diverse than the city itself. Of UVic’s 20 000 students, there are international students from over 100 countries who make up 18 per cent of the student body. These students are mostly from China, but also from countries in Africa, the Caribbean region, and the Middle East. And this isn’t even taking into account students who are Canadian or American but have heritage or cultural roots from outside of Canada, the British Isles, or Europe (e.g. someone who is fifth-generation Japanese-Canadian, also known as gosei — 五世).

We all know that being away from home can lead to homesickness. This is super normal. Everyone feels homesick at some point during their time at university, and this is where comfort foods come to the rescue. In the west, mac n’ cheese is generally what people think of when they talk about comfort food. But for many of us, the foods that bring us comfort or help us feel physically and mentally healthy are not British, French, or American in origin. And it can also be hard to motivate ourselves to cook these foods when we are feeling stressed, depressed, not sure where to find the right ingredients, or a little bit lazy (let’s be real).

Fear not: there are actually many delicious local restaurants owned and operated by people of various national and ethnic backgrounds in Victoria. Although this is not an exhaustive list, here are ten of my favourite places in town to get you started:

  • Tibetan Kitchen: Tucked away downtown on Broughton Street, you can spoil yourself with pan-fried momos and hearty thukpa to your heart’s delight.
  • Le Petit Dakar: Craving some maafe with fonio or yassa au poulet? Chef and owner Bintou Toure serves Senegalese soul food in her restaurant on Esquimalt Rd. six days a week.
  • Bold Butchery and Restaurant: The best shawarma in town can be found at this local butcher on Pandora Street. You may also consider buying some local, humanely-raised, grass-fed, non-GMO, hormone- and antibiotic-free halal meats while you’re there.
  • Ho Tong: They have all the Cantonese classics you remember from your childhood, whether you grew up in Hong Kong or Vancouver’s Chinatown. They provide fast service, generous portions, affordable prices, and they’re conveniently located by the Galloping Goose bike trail, so you can roll home after filling the homesick hole in your soul with chow fun and BBQ pork.

    Fig Deli’s patio. Photograph by Belle White, Senior Staff Photographer

  • Sura: If you’re craving the sizzle of Korean BBQ, why not invite your friends to Sura, located on Douglas Street downtown, and have a feast?
  • Sizzling Tandoor: You may be living on an island far from northern India, but the smell of delicious daal and fresh naan may transport you back home to your mother’s kitchen. Also, you can order as many gulab jamun as you want since she’s not here to stop or scold you.
  • Fig Deli: Delicious and affordable, they cater events too! The founder, Yasser Youssef, was born in Lebanon and holds a BSc in Environmental Sciences in addition to owning his own business.
  • Le Petit Saigon: Spicy pho is everything you need to survive a wet and dreary west coast autumn. Don’t forget to say hi and thank you to the super friendly Vietnamese-Canadian mother-daughter team who own and operate this restaurant.
  • My Thai Cafe: Great staples in a cute and cozy space on Cook Street. No one will know  if you’re crying because you’re missing home or because you ordered your larb salad at the “Thai Hot” spicy level.
  • Trini to d Bone: Hot tip: they only sell double rotis on Saturdays so it’s worth getting up early and lining up a bit before 11 a.m. (or call 24 hours ahead for orders of eight or more). A great date idea is to pop in for dinner before a movie at the SilverCity movie theatre nearby.

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