This Black History Month, it is increasingly important to support our local Black-owned businesses. As a first-generation Canadian, I often made the trip to Toronto to get authentic Jamaican food. Since the pandemic started, over 140 bars and restaurants in the East end have reportedly closed, including some iconic staples. Luckily, some delicious and authentic tastes right here in Oshawa have continued to feed us despite economic challenges.
One of my personal favourites is Champs Caribbean Restaurant, located at 1288 Ritson Road North. It’s never “just” rice and peas, and the chefs at Champs strike the perfect balance of Caribbean flare for this winter weather. I also recommend their stew pea special, which is sometimes sold out – a sign of a surely delicious treat for the senses. Get their spicy chicken roti (the spice is more flavour than fire), but note that this bright curry is wrapped in a skin made of flour instead of the traditional chickpeas.
Not far away is Mama D’s, a well-decorated locale on Simcoe that serves up great portions worth the price. For a taste of authentic Jamaican cuisine, I recommend going when they are grilling outside.
If you are looking for catering options, look no further than Elyon African Kitchen. With rich egusi soup, traditional jollof rice, and layered ayamase, there is food for the whole family available here.
For a light snack, check out City Patties or Caribbean Flavah. These fresh takes on Caribbean staples are necessary pillars in the Oshawa community and offer an unintimidating initiation into food from around the West Indies.
Why is supporting Black-owned businesses so important? It is well-documented that food is a major mainstay in many Black cultures and that it was Black chefs who influenced several other cuisines (such as Korean fried chicken, the introduction of American eaters to European-style macaroni and cheese and creme brûlée). What is “comfort food” to some is “soul food” to others, and that delicious difference adds to the diversity of Oshawa’s palate.
As was said by JJ Johnson, “collard greens have worked harder than kale but has got no street cred.” There is an ongoing need to learn more about the food that nourishes our minds, bodies, and spirits. Do a food crawl of all of Oshawa’s Black-owned food businesses for a day of learning and flavour. When the weather gets its act together, pick up some of Neale’s Sweet N' Nice Ice Cream or stop at Ryan’s Roti and Jerk. Feeling adventurous? Try an ice cream float using Durham-region beer (we recommend a Saison with Neale’s chocolate-banana flavour). While there are no Black-owned breweries nearby (Mascot Brewing is in Etobicoke), you can see which local breweries have supported the work of Ren Navarro. Navarro educates and consults with brewery owners on barriers to diversity in their industry and often collaborates to make delicious brews.
If you enjoy the warm seasonings of India, you will be amused by the palate offered in roti, doubles, and curries of Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, and Guyana. If you want to experiment with replicating these delicious dishes, visit JD Best Afro-Carib Market. Offering online shopping and delivery throughout the Durham Region, you can find several speciality ingredients ranging from dried spices and legumes to frozen meat and everything in between. I am especially excited by the range of Maggi seasoning options.
These restaurants show demand for Black food in Oshawa, leading me to advocate for culturally appropriate grocery stores and more community gardens. Now owner and head farmer at Foragers Farms based in Cobourg, Tyler, a Black farmer helped form We Grow Food, still operating in Oshawa. We Grow Food brings “folks from around the neighbourhood… together to help each other help each other start backyard gardens and create a support group for people starting their first garden". The work of organizations like We Grow Food is vital in addressing urban poverty and food insecurity, exasperated by food apartheid which disproportionately affects Black communities.
It was through decades of forced migration of Black people, who often endured transports in the Middle Passage with rice and beans braided into their hair so they could survive in North America with food from home. Generations later, that food is right in our own backyards.