The smell of caramelized onions with an aromatic blend of garlic, ginger, coriander and her mom's masala spice pulls Manjot Bains back into her parents' kitchen, wherever she is.
When Bains moved from Burnaby, B.C. to Toronto for a few years, homesickness came in waves. So she rolled up her sleeves in the kitchen and attempted to replicate her mother's chickpea dahl.
"It's that connection to home," said Bains, a Vancouver-based communications specialist and editorial director of JugniStyle.com. To her, good Indian food is made-from-scratch dishes that "hit all the familiar flavour notes on your tongue."
Bains, who is in her late 20s, is part of the most diverse generation of Canadians this country has ever seen. Today, almost one in five Canadians identify with a visible minority group. By 2031, that number is expected to increase to one in three.
These children of boomer immigrants from Eastern Europe, South America and Asia are changing Canada’s food culture as we know it.
Millennials are demanding more variety made from more natural ingredients. Their tastes and meals are incredibly multicultural — just like them.
Today, just walking down Granville Street in Vancouver's entertainment strip will yield you sushi, crepes, lachmacun, and shawarma.
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"A lot of the curries, butter chicken has become very mainstream," says Graydon Lau, managing director of Toronto-based DACS Marketing & Sponsorship, of the ethnic food boom. "We didn't have Indian 20 years ago."
Lau worked on a recent Canadian frozen pizza campaign, aimed specifically at second-generation Italian consumers. "It's got all the authentic qualities of an Italian pizza. But you don't have to sit there like your momma did and knead the bread to make the dough,” he explains.
The authenticity of real pizza isn’t just for Italian descendants. Jeffery Chong, 25, enjoys the procedure of kneading dough, preparing the tomato sauce and customizing his toppings
Chong, an only child of Canadian-born Chinese parents, grew up in Vancouver's Kitsilano neighbourhood. One of his childhood favourites wasn't anything particularly spicy or exotic — it was cooked vegetables on a bed of rice smothered with Campbell's cream of mushroom soup.
Even huge multinational companies like Campbell’s are evolving along with millennials’ tastes.
In 2011, desperate to stay relevant to this new generation of consumers, the company hired a team of anthropologists to follow millennials as they shopped in grocery stores and ate in restaurants. The researchers even staked out an Urban Outfitters store to collect notes on their consumer habits, according to the Associated Press.
Their conclusions: once-upon-a-time exotic flavours like Indian and Thai are now commonplace. Also, years of dining out meant that millennials are terrible in the kitchen, especially with ethnic meals that have to be made from scratch.
With that in mind, a new line of soups called Campbell’s Go was launched this summer. They’re unabashedly designed to match where some millennials fall short in the kitchen. The metal can is replaced with a microwavable pouch. You don’t even need to add water.
And forget plain ol’ salty chicken noodle. There's Moroccan-style chicken with chickpeas, creamy red pepper with smoked gouda, and golden lentil with madras curry.
Those modern flavours resonate with Bains, who also grew up with Campbell's soup.
"It's so gross," Bains says of the old canned flavours. "You want to have diversity; you want to try new things."
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