Black business owners bring flavours of Africa, Caribbean to Northern Canada
YELLOWKNIFE — Inside an eye-catching building with bright green siding and yellow trim in downtown Whitehorse, diners are being whisked away to Jamaica.
At Pickapeppa restaurant, named after a popular Jamaican sauce, patrons can enjoy Caribbean dishes such as jerk chicken, oxtail and fried plantains, among the brightly coloured walls decorated with beach scenes.
Owner and chef Andrea Reti, who is from Jamaica but has lived in Canada since the 1980s, opened the restaurant in 2009.
"I've always wanted to start a Caribbean restaurant here," she says. "I thought I'd bring a little bit of Jamaica to the North."
Reti says she enjoys sharing her heritage with others, describing Jamaican food as tasty, spicy and flavourful with lots of seasonings.
"All the dishes that I make are dishes that I grew up with," she says.
It may be thousands of kilometres away, but the tastes and smells of the Caribbean and Africa are alive and well in Canada's North.
It's a busy Wednesday lunch hour at Zehabesha, a popular Ethiopian restaurant in Yellowknife, owned by couple Eline Baye and Dinku Tadesse since 2014.
It's a gathering place for locals and tourists alike to meet over curried goat, red lentils and injera — a traditional sour, spongy flatbread — among other dishes.
Zehabesha has earned several certificates of excellence from TripAdvisor, and rave reviews on the travel information website.
Not far away is Safari Foods Family Restaurant, offering a blend of Indian and Ugandan fare including a staple plantain called matooke, butter chicken, samosas and chapati, a type of flatbread.
Sureya Luyombo opened the restaurant last year, taking over the space that formerly housed her friend's East African establishment, Savannah's Family Restaurant, after they moved to Edmonton.
"We kind of got used to 'OK we have a restaurant where we can go and eat food, like home food,'" she says.
Luyombo, who is originally from Uganda, says her mother is half Indian and many people with Indian backgrounds live in Africa. She says the dishes she serves reflect the cuisine she ate back home.
"To me, I don't like to say Indian and African food. Food is food," she explains.
"I'm trying to bring my culture here."
Also in Yellowknife, Aminata Konate cooks up Western African dishes for takeout and catering through My African Cuisine YK.
Originally from Mali, Konate lived in Morocco and France before moving to Canada. She says she began selling juices that are popular in Mali, such as ginger and pineapple or hibiscus flower and mint, before expanding to meals.
"I said, 'yeah probably they will be interested in something new, different,'" she says of Yellowknifers.
"It is very much cultural, too. So I just say let's share Malian food, West African food and also promote my culture."
Konate, who said she learned to cook from her grandmother, sells her wares at the Yellowknife Farmer's Market in the summer and is hoping to sell her juices in stores. She recently hosted a cooking class with N.W.T. Black advocacy group BACUpNorth as part of Black History Month events in the city.
Camille Browder of Down Home Cookin' also sells food at the farmer's market, cooking Southern U.S. fare such as macaroni and cheese, and barbecue.
"It's the food I grew up eating," she says, adding she's been cooking since childhood.
"Sometimes I get homesick and, you know, you can't really get this type of food in Yellowknife. ... It's sharing who I am and who my family is."
Browder says the paternal side of her family comes from Mississippi and her maternal side from Georgia and Alabama. She says her grandfather's maternal family owned a newspaper in Alabama, while his father fought in the Spanish-American War as a Buffalo Soldier.
"I've always been taught to be proud of the legacy passed down by other members of my family," she says.
"Our family has accomplished so much post-slavery and I'm really proud of that."
Other hidden gems in Yellowknife include Taste of the Islands and Afro Bites YK, which offer Jamaican and Caribbean, and West African food, respectively, for takeout.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 27, 2023.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Emily Blake, The Canadian Press