Flavours of the world

By Marisa Romano

My Sunday visits to the Ottawa Farmers’ Market at Lansdowne often end in a lineup at one of the food stands clustered behind the Aberdeen Pavilion. There, visitors can satisfy their cravings for street food with authentic international bites like Punjabi pakoras, Venezuelan arepas and Syrian falafels, all flavours brought to our plates by people who arrived from other corners of the world and made Canada their new home.

Canada, land of immigration, has been changing its social and economic landscape over time with large periodic influxes of diverse cultures. After colonization by French and British powers, Canada became a refuge for other people who arrived in waves, escaping the economic downturns and humanitarian crises in their native countries. The first influx was from China at the turn of the last century; from the 1940s to the 1960s, Canada continued its steady journey towards multiculturalism with the arrival of other Europeans, South Asians and Hispanics. Since the 1970s, new Canadians have overwhelmingly been from developing countries, including the boat people from Vietnam and, more recently, refugees from Syria.

They departed their native lands, leaving behind possessions and sometimes family, bringing with them courage, resilience, strength and perseverance; they arrived with the hope for opportunities and a better life, and they brought the gift of their culture.

Too often though, what we hear about those lives are only statistics and pain, devastation, war horrors and human tragedies. What we miss are the stories of human fortitude, endurance, hope and joy that define peoples’ memories and the history behind their rich and diverse cultures.

Raouf Omar, owner of the Jericho café, is very aware of all this. The book that he co-authored with Claude Weil (Light Behind the Darkness, General Store Publishing House, 2008) is all about those missed stories. A Palestinian born and raised in Balata – the largest United-Nations-administered refugee camp in the West Bank – Omar landed in Canada in 1982 looking for the opportunity to establish a good life, indulge in his passion for art and show his talent.

Shortly after arriving in Ottawa, he landed a job as a waiter at the former Glebe Café, the restaurant at 840 Bank Street. A few years later, he became its new owner. He renamed it Jericho, reworked the menu and indulged in culinary art, introducing Glebites to Palestinian flavours. Then he picked up brushes and paints and indulged in visual art, developing his own painting technique and depicting stories and culture of his beloved Palestinian homeland.

Omar’s restaurant has been listed among the best international cuisines in Ottawa (Ottawa Life Magazine 2020), and the vibrant colours of his paintings – many hanging on Jericho’s walls – are known well beyond Canada. This is his way of showing his love for his native land and sharing his culture. Customers appreciate the delightful art made by his talented hands and keep coming back.

In line at the farmers’ market, I smile with the person next to me about the food that we are about to savour and the culinary riches brought to us by new Canadians. We both acknowledge that the next influx, sadly enough, is just around the corner with the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. Beyond the sadness of the situation and the reported horrors of that peoples’ tragic history, we may be at the cusp of the discovery of yet another ancient culture, a little-known history and new flavours, a gift brought to us in exchange for opportunities and a better life in a safer and peaceful society.

Raouf Omar shares (somewhat) his recipe for Chicken and Fattoush, one of the most popular dishes on Jericho’s menu. Everything in the restaurant is made from scratch, including the pickles for the fattoush salad. The ingredients are skillfully balanced to reproduce the flavours of Omar’s childhood table.

Marisa Romano is a foodie and scientist with a sense of adventure who appreciates interesting and nutritious foods that bring people together.

Ingredients for the chicken:

Chicken breast, sliced
Olive oil
Lemon juice
Pomegranate juice

For the fattoush:

Romaine lettuce
Pickled turnip and cabbage
Toasted pitas, broken in bite-size chunks


Olive oil
Lemon juice
Dried mint


Chicken: mix the ingredients for the marinade, brush over the chicken breast and grill.
Salad dressing: mix equal parts of lemon juice and good olive oil; add mint, sumac and salt to taste
Salad: cut Romaine leaves, chop the tomato and slice the cucumber, mix with pickles and bites of toasted pitas; toss with the dressing and serve with the grilled chicken on top.

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