Gala invites Toronto cultures to explore new foods

Sarah Bakri recently accomplished something she considered quite courageous.

At the annual Middle Eastern gala in Toronto, she tried eating some food she’d never tasted before. The taste of ‘bolma,’ an Iraqi appetizer, made Sarah’s taste buds explode, she said.

“I never imagined myself enjoying the taste of new food or even having the courage to do so,” she said. “I guess I was motivated by everyone else doing the same,” she said.

As a Lebanese woman, Bakri discovered that she enjoyed appreciating different cultures for the night. All evening long, everyone gathered over great food and good company. Everybody learned what people have in common, she said, not what sets them apart.

“It’s just nice to see the cultural unity,” Bakri said.

The Middle Eastern Student Association (MESA) organizes this gala every year for participants to experience the co-operation, co-existence and pride among the middle-eastern cultures that live together in Toronto. Each year, about 600 people gather at a banquet hall to sample food and dance, and as Sarah Bakri put it “(to) open my mind up to a lot of other cultures around us.

“Everyone was experiencing new tastes,” she said. “I wanted to know (what) they taste like, so I decided to give it shot,” she said.

Sarah Bakri found herself adapting to openness and trying all kinds of food.

“That’s why the dinner was so special to me. I’m really proud of myself,” Bakri said.

Umberto Namca works at CHIN Radio, the first multicultural/multilingual radio station in Ontario. He explained the significance of the MESA dinner.

“Canadians like to try different kinds of food because of the multiculturalism we have,” Namca said. “We always have a variety in our cuisines where in other places they feel afraid of changing. But Canadians can eat any type of food and feel good about it.”

The night was full of experiences for everyone who got to appreciate the cultures in Canada, and have more respect and openness to everyone.

Zahraa Kadhum, whose heritage is Iraqi, described how her night inspired her to build new relationships, and try new cultural food.

“After the night was over, I found myself eating new food every day that I had never even thought of. Like the sushi I was always afraid to taste; now it’s one of my favourite,” Kadhum said. “I guess it’s all about discovering each other.”

Kadhum talked about her acceptance of other cultures as a result of the gala.

“I felt more connected to the people around me. I mean why stick to one cuisine when you can have more and maybe even introduce it to others too,” she said.

With the new friendships she made, with Palestinian and Syrian acquaintances at the gala, Zahraa Kadhum realized the opportunity people have in Canada.

“We live in a multicultural land where we’re taught to respect diverse cultures,” Kadhum said. “You never really understand what it’s like to feel connected with others unless you discover it yourself.”

Namca described multiculturalism as “the beauty of Canada.” He said that CHIN Radio organizes diverse activities throughout the year.

“We have the largest picnic gathering in the world,” Namca said. “It’s the CHIN summer picnic where more than 300,000 people coming from different countries, religions and customs gather around.”

Namca added that in Canada one can maintain a celebration of culture, language and foods along side other world cultures.

“That’s the beauty of Canada, the possibility of tasting different food, making new friends, and just enjoying life together,” Namca said. “It’s simply all about accepting each other.”