Toronto

New taco at Pow Wow Cafe helps preserve Indigenous culture

Ojibway chef Shawn Adler is putting his own spin on the taco craze sweeping through Toronto. His Objiway-style tacos sold at Pow Wow Cafe combine tradition and flavour.

Shawn Adler's tacos go beyond the taco craze by educating Torontonians about Ojibway culture

Shawn Adler slices the bannock so it can absorb the flavour of the meat chili, lettuce, cheddar cheese, tomatoes and cumin sour cream. (Oliver Walters/CBC)

Ojibway chef Shawn Adler is putting his own spin on the taco craze sweeping through Toronto. His so-called "Indian tacos" sold at Pow Wow Cafe combine tradition and flavour.  

Last week, Pow Wow Cafe opened its doors for the first time in Kensington Market — an area known for its tacos and culinary diversity. Despite Adler's neighbours, including Mexican style taquerias, he is bringing his own twist to what he calls the Indian taco, which includes bannock, a kind of Indigenous bread.

Ojibway chef Shawn Adler is putting his own spin on the taco craze sweeping through Toronto. His Objiway-style tacos sold at Pow Wow Cafe combine tradition and flavour. 0:46
"I knew Torontonians loved the taco," said Adler, who has been selling his take on this Indigenous cuisine that's also a powwow staple in a food truck at local music festivals.

Adler secured the space along Augusta Avenue three weeks before opening on Oct. 27. He says he wanted to add this culinary experience and heritage to Toronto's cultural food menu after noticing a lack of places to eat Ojibway style tacos in the city.  

Indigenous influence

Chef Shawn Adler said "the crunch in the bannock" sets his Ojibway-style Indian taco apart from other tacos. (Amara McLaughlin/CBC)

Adler is no stranger to the kitchen. He's been cooking since he was 16 and opened The Flying Chestnut, a bistro-style restaurant where he first started serving Indian tacos, six years ago in Eugenia, Ont. 

His Indigenous heritage continues to inspire his cooking and influence his menu. The 37-year-old says his mother taught him to make bannock.

"I think it's important to know where you came from to know where you're going," he said.  

Although he graduated from Stratford Chef School in 1999, he took Indigenous studies at Trent University prior to that. 

"I grew up going to powwows every weekend in summer with my family so it really made sense to get onto the taco and really bring it to the forefront of my cooking," said Adler, who grew up in Orangeville, Ont., but spent time in the summer as a member of Lac des Mille Lacs First Nation outside Thunder Bay, Ont. 

Ojibway style Indian taco

Pow Wow Cafe opened its doors Oct. 27, three weeks after chef Shawn Alder rented the space. (Amara McLaughlin/CBC)

Most know a taco made from a flour tortilla, but an Indian taco replaces the soft tortilla shell with bannock and incorporates different fillings, including chili, cheddar cheese, lettuce and tomato.  

"We've taken it a bit further here at Pow Wow Cafe, adding different varieties like a vegetarian one, a smoked pork shoulder and a jerk chicken," said Adler, who offers four different renditions of the Indian taco on his menu — beef chili, veggie chili, pulled pork and jerk chicken.

He also told CBC News that "the crunch in the bannock sets it apart."  

Bannock is also known as fry bread because of its crunchy exterior.   

"Fry bread developed out of rations," he said. "People were systematically taken off their land, they had nothing to eat. So what was given to them by the Canadian government was flour, lard, sugar, eggs and what came out of them was [bannock]." 

The Ojibway style Indian taco draws on this influence.

But it doesn't stop there. Adler is planning to continue pushing the boundaries of what can go into an Indian taco with a vegetarian variety, a gluten free option made with chickpea flour. He also wants to draw on other ethnic flavours, such as a curry goat taco.    

"Anything on fry bread is good," he said. 

Pow Wow Cafe is open Thursday to Monday along Augusta Avenue in Kensington Market and offers an Indigenous style brunch on the weekend.