Kitchener-Waterloo

International cuisine finds a home in Waterloo region: Andrew Coppolino

Oktoberfest's meat and potatoes are popular Waterloo region dishes in the fall. But it's a wide wide world of food out there. Whether it's southeast Asia, various regions of China, Ethiopia and Latin America, international cuisine has found a home here.

Asking about particular dishes and their traditions can yield good information

The growth of the population and the astounding cultural diversity has evolved over several decades in Waterloo region, along with the food. (Julie van Rosendaal)

Meat and potatoes have been a tradition in Waterloo region since its early Germanic settlers, but thanks to population growth and the astounding cultural diversity that has evolved over several decades, you can now eat different and delicious dishes from around the world. All it takes is a bit of exploration. 

First off, most cuisines have basically the same "parts:" some sort of soup or salad, meats and proteins with sauces and vegetables, a starch or bread, and some sort of sweet that follows.

In just about any restaurant, asking about particular dishes and their traditions can yield good information, because no matter what their country of origin, people love to talk about food.

As well, if you go somewhere like Sam's Kitchen and there is a Chinese menu, ask staff to help you order something from it.

Shawarma

While the amount of shawarma served locally is significant, menus such as those at Al Madina, Arabesque and Shawarma Plus can yield some interesting dishes aside from the ubiquitous shaved meat in a pita.

Waterloo's Shawerma Plus , for instance, often serves Syrian dishes like dawood basha meatballs. Look for their special menus.

Latin American

While it is arguable that Kitchener is an epicenter for pupusas — the Salvadoran corn "pancake" street food — try a ranchero breakfast at Pupuseria Latinos on Eby Street.

That's eggs, creamy refried beans and pico de gallo — or whole plantain — with sour cream. Just check their hours of opening for later breakfast times, however.

Across from the bus terminal at Charles and Ontario streets, visit Mi Tienda Latina. There's a small kitchen and one communal table inside the grocery store.

If you hit them on the right day, you can get fried fish, oxtail soup (sopa de cola de buey) with cilantro and chunks of chayote squash, tamales, crispy fried chicken or just a simply delicious chicken soup, perfect for fall.  

Vietnamese

Thai-Vietnamese restaurants pop up regularly in downtowns and in plazas.

Pho noodle soup is the go to, but try something like the vermicelli bowls, too. They are basically noodles with vegetables, with or without meat. A light, fish-based sauce is optional, but the bowl is essentially a big noodle salad.

A delicious dish at the new Pho Vietnam & K-W on Cedar Street and King is hue tieu my. Tapioca noodles are a different texture than pho rice noodles and they are served with pork broth, fried shallots, lemongrass, fish sauce, chives, scallions, cilantro and shallot oil.

There's also a rice flour flatbread with turmeric and shrimp. The shrimp will likely have a head, mind you.

Another very good dish is bun bo hue at Pho Tran: it's noodles in a mixture of beef broth and spicy shrimp paste, but it does have blood pudding too.  

Chinese

Chinese is a well-travelled path — it is simply one of the world's great cuisines. Slightly less well known is the idea of hot pot: it's basically a Chinese fondue.

You get a big pot of boiling broth and plates of raw ingredients. You dunk the ingredients into the hot pot, cook them and eat. Hot pot restaurants include Rolling Pepper in Waterloo and Leung Hot Pot Kitchener.

A chain operation, Morals Village hot pot in the University Plaza, is northern-style and quite good. It is all-you-can-eat and costs about $26 per person. Again, good meatless options exist and there are about a dozen broths to choose from.

Bogda Restaurant near Wilfrid Laurier University is an example of Uyghur food from Xinjiang in western China, a region and people in political conflict.

You can try lamb with a dry seasoning and hand-made laghman noodles served with spicy chicken and potatoes. There is a Russian salad and several vegetarian dishes.

I love the Chinese dish congee, essentially a rice porridge. It's another great dish for fall and can include chicken, beef and often the classic Chinese preserved (and very dark) egg.

The congee at Jia Jia Lok, a small restaurant  serving students on King Street near University Avenue, is smooth and light with a good injection of ginger.

East African

While one popular Ethiopian restaurant closed this past summer, there are two in Kitchener: Muya Restaurant on Highland and East Africa Café and Market in downtown.

The literal foundation of the cuisine is injera, a spongy, fermented dough that is bubbly and like a big pancake.

The injera is used as your utensil to eat the array of meats, vegetables, lentils and legumes that are prepared. It's a good choice for vegetarian dining too.

Caribbean

To return to the western hemisphere, another popular food and cooking technique is jerk.

Kevin Thomas's parents sold Rainbow Caribbean Cuisine a couple of years ago, and he now operates Big Jerk Catering and Bakery.

He smokes chicken, pork, oxtail and goat low and slow in traditional pimento and sarsaparilla out of his commercial kitchen in the Bridgeport neighbourhood of Kitchener.

Try the goat: it's a classic Jamaican dish and is succulent and tender and served with rice and peas and coleslaw.

This list isn't exhaustive: there are more and more varied cuisines in the area. Enjoy exploring!

About the Author

Andrew Coppolino

Food columnist, CBC Kitchener-Waterloo

Andrew Coppolino is a food columnist for CBC Radio in Waterloo Region. He was formerly restaurant reviewer with The Waterloo Region Record. He also contributes to Culinary Trends and Restaurant Report magazines in the U.S. and is the co-author of Cooking with Shakespeare. A couple of years of cooking as an apprentice chef in a restaurant kitchen helped him decide he wanted to work with food from the other side of the stove.

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