Sharing Culture

How Those Who Come to Canada Shape Our Culinary Scene

Story by Matt Prokopchuk, Photos by Paul Krasauskas



Superior Outdoors


When Pawani Kode and her husband Abhinav Korrapati started Indian Bistro in Thunder Bay’s downtown north core in 2019, they already knew there was a local demand for authentic Indian cuisine. They had previous experience owning a small restaurant in Terrace Bay, and one dish, especially, was a huge hit. “Chicken dum biryani. We used to make it, and people from here, the students, they used to travel on the weekends to have it,” Kode says of international students studying in Thunder Bay who were looking for a familiar dish. “They used to come to Terrace Bay for that biryani.” She adds that her husband came here in 2012 for college, so “he knows how it is, and how the students want something from home.” Kode and Korrapati sold Indian Bistro last December, but the business was quickly bought by another international student. The new owner, Naveen Kavuru, first came to Thunder Bay in 2018 as an international student and, after graduating and spending two years in Toronto, he jumped at the opportunity to buy the business and return to the Lakehead. “I took this opportunity, basically, to come to Thunder Bay and to live here, but I always [had] that interest to set up a business,” he says, adding that his goal, while in southern Ontario, was to return to Thunder Bay. And while he doesn’t have a formal culinary background (he does help in the kitchen alongside his chefs and prep cooks), he’s no stranger to cooking. “I know all those flavours,” he says. “All those four years [since coming to Canada], I was the one who cooked for almost five to six people every day.” Indian Bistro has always featured food from the south of India, and Kavuru says he intends to keep the popular menu, and uphold the restaurant’s reputation for fresh ingredients. Butter chicken, various types of pakora (vegetables like onion, potato, and gobi—or cauliflower— coated in seasoned chickpea flour), and dishes like biryani featuring chicken done in a tandoor—or clay oven—are staples, Kavuru says. Three other international students have also seen success with their culinary venture, although they’ve gone about it differently. Abu Hena Mostofa Kamal, Mohammad Faisal, and Souvik Mukherjee are the trio behind The Outsiders, a fresh, late-night take-out food business that operated out of another local restaurant’s kitchen when it was closed (that restaurant has now closed permanently and the trio is currently regrouping and planning their business’s future). “One of the things we noticed during the pandemic was there was no late-night food options,” Kamal says. “We thought it would be a good opportunity for us to fill that gap. At the same time […] there is no better way to be part of the community [than] sharing our food.” Kamal and Faisal are from Bangladesh and Mukherjee is from India, and while the menu had a decidedly North American gastropub theme (featuring many local suppliers), items like a butter chicken poutine and butter chicken burger show they were also enjoying bridging culinary cultures. “One of the things we liked was experimenting with food,” Kamal says. “Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t work, but that’s the whole fun [of it], right?” Other international culinary delights in Thunder Bay come from people’s certified home kitchens. Petra Catering and Bakery is owned by Fatima Bani Hani (who is also the chef) and her husband Mohannad Almousa, and is run out of their home. They came to Thunder Bay in 2012 from Jordan and launched the business roughly four years later. Almousa says they started out doing individual meals, but pivoted to catering for larger gatherings and events because it’s more efficient time-wise, easier to plan for, and “it’s easier on the house,” although COVID19’s cancellation of gatherings forced them to adapt to do family-sized orders as well. The cuisine is largely Middle Eastern, with the core menu consisting of traditional Jordanian dishes, along with Syrian and Palestinian influences, Almousa says, and the food is halal (permissible under Islamic dietary rules). Favourites include things like mansaf (thin bread, rice, and lamb topped with almonds and minced beef, served with a side of a yogurt-based sauce), and maqluba (literally meaning “upside-down,” Almousa says, as the layers of tomatoes, other vegetables, chicken, and rice are prepared in a pot in reverse order and flipped). “It’s very nice to actually present the culture that we come from,” he says, adding that it’s also evident in their name—Petra, the ancient city and one of the seven wonders of the world for which the business is named, is in Jordan. “Presenting that name and also the food, it’s very fascinating to offer or share our culture, our food, our kitchen here in Thunder Bay, and in Canada in general.” In the case of Lubaba Shesho—who, along with her son Waleed Shasho, came to Canada in 2016 from Turkey— she got her training through a program with Roots to Harvest and home kitchen certifications and started helping the Thunder Bay Multicultural Association by periodically catering familiar foods for newcomers when they came to the city. “We’ve always had a close relationship with the Thunder Bay Multicultural Association,” Shesho says through Waleed Shasho’s translation, adding that it was a way to help the organization, especially during the onset of COVID-19 and during other times when she could help. “She enjoys the fact that she gets to help a friend,” Shasho says, adding that his mom loves to cook. “Not for the money, […] as they have helped us before, right? It is out of love.”