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Three Sisters Soup and other Indigenous food


When you hear someone talk about Indigenous food, you might think of the kinds of things you might find at a powwow (a traditional dance celebration).

an Indian taco on a plate

Indian taco. (Photo by fling 93 licensed CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

You might have heard of bannock, baked or fried to a golden brown and slathered in wild strawberry jam.

Or maybe you've eaten Indian tacos. All the same ingredients as a regular taco, but piled up on Ojibwa frybread. But there’s a lot more to traditional Indigenous food.

Three Sisters Soup — corn, beans and squash

There is an Iroquois legend about the three sisters who were very different but who relied on each other to grow:

a boy plants beans in a Three Sisters garden

A middle school student plants beans in the Three Sisters Garden at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA's) People’s Garden in Washington, DC, 2014. (Photo credit: USDAgov on Visualhunt.com)

In a three sisters garden, corn, beans and squash are planted together to help each other grow strong.

  • The first sister — beans — takes nitrogen from the air and uses it to keep the other sisters healthy.
  • The next sister — corn — grows tall stalks that the beans can climb, holding the plants together.
  • And the last sister — squash — grows big leaves that cover the ground, keeping weeds from growing and making the ground moist. The spiny squash also keeps away any animals that would eat the sisters.

different types of squash, corn and corn kernels and white beans

Corn, beans and squash. (grandbrothers/123RF Stock Photos)

A garden of these three plants could provide a First Nations family with enough food to survive the winter. The traditional Three Sisters Soup is made with all three of these ingredients.

Bring on the berries

Fresh raspberries on the vine

Fresh raspberries are picked off the vine. (Pixabay)

Berries can be super expensive in city stores. But they grow wild in many First Nation communities. Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and cranberries can be used fresh, frozen or dried. They play a big part in Indigenous diets.

And just think of all the things you can make with berries: tea, pie, pancakes, smoothies… yum!

Whoa, hold the milk!

a herd of cows looking at you

Did you know that many Indigenous people who live in remote communities are lactose intolerant? People who have lactose intolerance can't fully digest the sugar in milk and it can make them sick.

We take dairy foods like cheese and milk for granted in the city. These aren’t as easy to get in some of the more remote Indigenous communities. So it's not a common ingredient in a lot of Indigenous foods. 

Traditional food in the city

a herd of bison

A big herd of bison. (Pixabay)

Wild animal meat like bison, elk and venison make up a traditional Indigenous menu. In the city it can be very hard to get this food.

Some wild meat are not allowed because of food regulations. And some types of meat are very expensive. This makes it difficult to get enough of it for everyone.

Food on the go

bison burger

You can get Indigenous food, like this bison burger, from food trucks in bigger cities in Canada. This food truck is a collaboration between the Songhees Nation in Victoria, BC, and chef David Roger. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

Canda has a lot of options for places to eat, from Indian food to Italian. But it's still rare to see Indigenous restaurants in the big cities. But, there are more and more places you can go to eat fancy meals made by Indigenous chefs using traditional ingredients. Or just get a quick Indian taco to go.

There was even an Aboriginal food truck. It was the first one in Toronto! It toured around during the Pan Am Games and served curried elk!