“Me faltan cuatro manzanas!” says a grey-haired Cuban woman to Hussein Bernardo Silva as he enters the industrial-sized kitchen at The Stop Community Food Centre in Toronto’s west end. He tells her not to worry, he will go get the four apples she needs for tonight’s dessert.
Every Thursday is “Sabor Latino” at the Stop. Spanish speakers living in the city come to cook, eat and dance together. They connect with others from their countries and get a chance to speak their native language. And they can also find out about services available in the community.
In the main kitchen, more than 20 people — from teenagers to seniors — are peeling, chopping, rinsing, and stirring. In groups, they’re following the recipe to make Mondongo, which is a soup made from a cow’s stomach, which every country in Latin America seems to claim as its own. Another 15 people work on the appetizer, a spinach mix in filo pastry, in an adjoining kitchen. Everyone sports a brown hairnet and a white apron.
Except for Silva. The Stop’s food and community development worker, who prepared tonight’s recipe and shopped for the ingredients, wears a black apron and cap, a red plaid shirt and black and white striped pants. He’s Colombian, but looks like a French chef.
“Food is my hobby,” he tells me. He’s a social worker with a passion for haute cuisine. He explains that while the group is cooking, a volunteer does outreach and asks participants about their needs. The day after the cooking, eating and dancing, Silva will help refer them to services.
Many are newcomers and are looking for affordable housing, information on schools for their children and practical things like where to find cheap coats for the winter. Others have been living in the city for decades, but still haven’t mastered English, or learned to navigate the city.
As we sit down to eat, someone asks what type of music to put on — dancing music or romantic ballads. The elderly Cuban woman shouts out in Spanish, “Dance music! You can listen to romantic music at home!” She’s a regular at Sabor Latino. She’s lived here for 20 years, but her English isn’t strong.
A middle-aged Colombian man tells me he’s lived here for three years and isn’t able to work in his profession as a veterinarian because he can’t get the certification. A Mexican woman is here to get out of the house and share time with others — her three kids were playing with others in another room while she cooked, but now they’re with her to enjoy the meal.
For the Sabor Latinos, the evening is about more than the meal. It offers some warmth of home, in a city that’s sometimes cold, regardless of the weather. And I have to say, cow’s stomach soup may not sound appealing, but it’s actually quite tasty.
– Read more of Carolyn Morris’ columns at www.metronews.ca/carolynmorris