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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Tea-n-Bannock serves up aboriginal home cooking

Toronto is chock full of restaurants that serve food from all corners of the world, but have you sampled Canada's own traditional recipes? A brand new Eastside restaurant, Tea-n-Bannock, offers up meals that are popular in Canadian aboriginal communities. Unlike the aboriginal-French hybrid restaurant Keriwa Cafe in Parkdale, or the trendy Oliver & Bonacini's Bannock, this food is intended primarily for First Nations customers seeking a taste of home. 

 
 

Tea-N-Bannock opened just three weeks ago at 1294 Gerrard Street East (see map below), just a few blocks west of Little India. Stepping in from the street, it feels like you've walked into a tranquil oasis—the room is decorated with birch tree branches and snowshoes, and a recording of birds cooing in the wilderness is playing. 

The menu, posted up on a stretched out animal hide, consists of classic staples of aboriginal communities. Health food it ain't, but it'll keep you going if you're trekking around in the bush. "You can't get any more Canadian than this," explains staffer Timothy Peltier (below), an aboriginal from Manitoulin Island. 

The restaurant sells fried bannock—a traditional native bread with Scottish roots—as well as a baked version, which is more common in northern Ontario. The bannock forms the base for dishes such as the blanket dog (a fried hot dog in bannock) and Indian tacos (fried bannock served with ground beef, chili spice, lettuce, cheese and tomato).

 
 
The corn soup ($4, above left) is a heavy, tasty meal, with gravy-like broth full of hominy (dried, processed maize kernels), beans, tender flakes of pork and chunky potatoes. The trapper's snack ($3.50, above right) is two airy, fresh pieces of baked bannock topped with slices of Klik, a spam-like processed meat that tastes like a super-salty hot dog. 

Around three quarters of Tea-n-Bannock's patrons are aboriginal, and the restaurant also serves as a gathering space for native events on the weekends. The restaurant is only open until 7pm right now, but there are plans to create a full dinner menu and add new items such as smoked deer wild rice soup. 

 
Tea-n-Bannock is located at 1294 Gerrard Street East. Telephone: 416 220 2915. Hours are Tuesday to Friday 11 to 7; Saturday 12 to 7. 

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    19 comments:

    1. This is very strange... I expected to see wild game, lots of veggies on the menu but Klik, Indian Tacos? This is weird....just weird....

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      1. It's weird that you would assume wild game and veggies on an urban Aboriginal cafe menu (and no doubt expected the game shot with a bow and arrow). It's weird that you would assume that colonization and the forced removal from our land hasn't altered our diet. It's weird that you don't understand what comfort food is because that is exactly what Tea 'n' Bannock serve, post-contact comfort food. Not one ingredient on the menu is Indigenous to this county (at least not until they start serving deer and wild rice stew) but the people who cook it are and THAT is what makes it authentic Aboriginal food.

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      2. Well said Janine. I like how this restaurant defies the convention of what people think aboriginal food should be.

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      3. Hey there Anonymous... Don't judge.

        I invite you to visit Tea n Bannock every week... as well as attend some First Nations events going on in and outside of the city... meet and talk with some good First Nations peoples...

        This food screams HOME for many of us. I now don't have to wait for the powwow season for an indian taco! LOVE.

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      4. I was thinking the same thing...We don't have to wait for Pow Wow season for an Indian Taco. I have so been craving. So looking forward to going to this restaurant.'

        :)

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      5. Not the same anonymous as the original poster, but I get their comment. I don't think that person was being judgmental at all, just never having encountered this kind of food was expressing how it is different then imagined. Frankly, Klik on bannock in a restaurant is kinda weird (but tasty) and why would a non-native not think Tacos in a Aboriginal restaurant sound a bit out of place unless they've been hangin at powwows? Unfortunately, many of us jumped at a perceived slight. I gotta go and get one of those tacos soon, missing them big time.

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    2. I am delighted (or was until I read the above Anonymous comment) to find your coverage of Tea 'n' Bannock. I took my family there today and we are very pleased with the execution of the menu and the hospitality under which it was served. Toronto has an Aboriginal population of approximately 70,000 people and Tea 'n' Bannock is definitely catering to a demographic which is under represented in the food and restaurant industry, however, you do not have to be Aboriginal to appreciate the food (Anonymous excluded). I will be taking my family back again, and again, thankfully it is only one short streetcar ride for us and I encourage others to make the trip. Tea 'n' Bannock is authentic Aboriginal post-contact comfort food at its finest.

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    3. I think it is what it is, probably not a destination for me, but then I'm not their target market. Not really much different than a greasy spoon, or seeing 'rappie pie' on menus out east. Frankly I'm glad they got the financing to get it off the ground and hope it succeeds, more variety the better.

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      1. you should try a few of their items before writing it off.

        the indian taco is unreal. corn soup and bannock are tasty and fresh.

        and the people... always friendly.

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    4. you should include wild rice soup or casseroles

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    5. It is wonder that our people have a restaurant to go to that has comfort foods. Comfort food brings back good memories of family time and camping. I look forward to visiting this restaurant and hope to see buffalo, elk, moose, deer and rabbit on the menu.
      Support this restaurant to introduce our natural foods to our non-aboriginal brothers and sisters in the Greater City of Toronto. Perhaps cedar tea will be on the menu, maple sap as a refreshing drink, wild licorice in the spring etc....
      from Pajiin,Anishinabe Kwe of the Loon Clan

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    6. Our menu has expanded! We now serve, Wild Rice Salad, Smoked Elk Soup, Blueberry Dumplings, Strawberry drink as well as our usual favorites are still here : ) Meegwetch for all the support we are getting from the Native community as well as out Non-Native brothers!

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      1. Can't wait to try out Tea'N Bannock this weekend with my daughter. We tried making bannock for our camping trip; it was pretty good, but I'd love to taste it made by an expert. Also can't wait to try the blueberry dumplings and the strawberry drink. (OK...I have a sweet tooth). Hope to see you this weekend.

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    7. its awesome what you have started. Love all the food.
      But being anishinaabe myself, I dont agree with promoting it as traditional food, because its not.

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    8. I agree with Anonymous... I love it, but it's not my traditional food. More like powwow food with a smattering of food we ate when we went camping or had guests... But, whatever - I hope everyone goes in for a taste!

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    9. All the best with the restaurant! I think it's fantastic. I love bannock, but it's been a long time since I've had any. I'm vegetarian now. Is your bannock made with butter/marg or with animal fat?

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      1. Our bannock has flour, water, oil, salt. (no fat or Butter) Staff member

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    10. I had the wild rice salad, with tea n bannock it was soooo good! mmmmmmmmm.

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    11. Many Thanks to Tea-N-Bannock for a very lovely afternoon yesterday. The Restaurant is cozy and charming, the Staff is very friendly and helpful, and the Food is absolutely Delicious!! We will definitely be going back again soon.

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