'Variety is the spice of life': As Regina diversifies, so does its ethnic food scene
Queen City now home to dozens of ethnic grocers
At the Rosemond African Foods and Market, the smell of the food reaches to the door. The shelves are packed with everything from yams and yam flour to hair extensions and lotions.
The store east of Regina's downtown sells palm oil, specialty bread, soup stock, cassava flakes (similar to corn flakes) and lotions made for darker skin.
Babatunde Raji and Oluwakemi Raji-Oyewole arrived from Nigeria in 2014 and opened the store in 2015.
"We discovered that quite a lot of Africans, they find it difficult to get the basic foods with the African needs," Raji said.
Some people travelled hundreds of kilometres for simple foods.
"And when you take food out of life," he said, "life is nothing."
As the population of Regina grows and diversifies, so does the demand for specialty items from other countries.
When Italian Star Deli opened in 1966, it was one of the only ethnic food stores in the city. Now there are more than 30.
"I think they see the opportunity," said Carlo Giambattista, owner of Italian Star. "Somebody moves to Regina, they bring the whole rest of their family, and it's a big family — they need to get their food and they need to get happy again.
"It's a sense of their entity," he continued. "The memories that they had when you were a kid or if you were a teenager when they left their culture, (food) just brings it back to them. Food is that important."
Rosemond caters to people from Africa and the Caribbean as Raji said their cultural foods are similar. As well, it helps for people to see themselves reflected in the community.
"When people come to the store, some of them they will come saying, 'OK, I want to spend like five minutes.' But the moment you see our fellow Africans, you won't realize that you will spend several hours."
Raji said people come into the store and chat about everything from the weather to political and economic issues in Africa.
"There are certain things to which you cannot take away from people. Your upbringing matters most," Raji said.
"Their country food, their home food — we want them to get it at the doorstep very close to them at the grassroots. That was why we established this place."
Within the last 10 years, several stores have opened in Regina catering to countries as far reaching as the Philippines, Bangladesh and Argentina.
One of the largest ethnic food stores in Regina is the Kuya Wayne's Sari Sari Store.
After starting at a small place in a mini mall, it has since expanded into a bigger building on Albert Street North, and has branches in Weyburn and Moose Jaw, Sask.
Wayne Ast started the business in 2014 along with his wife and sister-in-law.
"We're all about the fish: fish is our driving force around here," Ast said. "We have a bunch of junk foods and beverages — stuff like that — but everything starts with fish."
Ast said the fish goes quickly as the Philippines is an island nation and it's what people from there are used to. As well, the store sells drinks and snacks, such as chips and cake.
Most of Kuya Wayne's customers are from the Philippines — the country with the highest percentage of immigrants in Regina, according to the last census — but they are trying to reach out to others in Regina and introduce them to the food. Ast said they want to provide variety and bring in traditional dishes.
Since opening in 2014, Ast said he's seen the ethnic food store scene in Regina grow.
"Overall the marketplace over the last decade has really exploded with the amount of variety out there and that's important to have variety," he said. "Variety is the spice of life. So the more we can have of various things, try different things, the better we are."
One newer store is hoping to fill the gap for people of Latin-American decent.
Productos Latinos is currently run out of the home of Iliama Roman and Alex Bautista. It first launched online near the end of 2017.
All stock is kept in a heated garage, which they have it set up to look like a store. Colourful products line wooden shelves and music plays on a small speaker.
The spices are displayed first, and hot sauces are organized on the shelves, labelled mild to dangerous.
"Since we came here 28 years ago, I never saw a store for Latin products. We were always missing that," said Roman.
"If we wanted to get something to make a special meal, we had to travel out of the province or into the States to get it, or go to your country and get it."
Roman, originally from El Salvador, saw an increase in more Latino people arriving in Regina, including her husband, who landed in 2014.
"We were lacking this kind of food," she said. "We need this."
Their products range from countries such as Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Peru and Argentina.
"There are some spices that you can't find here and they just give you that special favour from home," she said. "You just feel like home."
Roman said they've had orders from Yorkton, Swift Current and other towns.
Currently people order online or over the phone, but in the future, Bautista said they hope to expand.
"Here in Regina now we have a lot of different kind of food. It's good for us because we can try with different flavour, different countries and that's good for everybody," he said.
"But I think that one of the best is Mexican and Latino food," he added with a laugh.