Travelling from the Comfort of Home; Appeasing Wanderlust Through Local International Food Markets
Like many, I’ve found myself longing for adventures in far-away places this past year. I’ve never felt such an intense feeling of wanderlust, and I dream about a time when travel abroad will be possible again. Luckily, I’ve found a way to appease the itch to travel, right in my own hometown of Calgary, Alberta.
I’ve always thought of Calgary as a very multicultural city. This diversity is highlighted through the city’s abundant international food markets. These markets ignite a sense of nostalgia that allows me to reminisce about past vacations. They also enable to me to “travel” to distant places, all without leaving my hometown. Cultural food markets allow me to experience tastes, sights and smells from abroad. They have the ability to inspire me and even emulate the sense of exploration. I often wander these markets, looking for unique ingredients, hoping to experience something new and to try recreating some exotic dishes at home. I like speaking with the people who work in these stores, asking them how they use authentic products in their own homes, or how to use ingredients which are new to me. The fact these hidden gems exist has always instilled in me a great sense of pride for my community and my city.
Cooking and food has always played a big role in my life. When I’ve travelled, it was always the local cuisine, unique ingredients, and even the culture around food that drew me into a destination. I was hungry (no pun intended) for more, to learn, to taste, to cook. I began collecting cookbooks from my travels at 16 to try and bring home a taste of the authentic with me, in hopes that I may be able to rekindle some of the memories and recreate the dishes I experienced abroad. I took cooking classes in Calgary and while travelling to foster this passion, learning all that I could and experience the food of different cultures. Eventually, I attended cooking school in Calgary at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) and became a high school foods and culinary teacher. I’m even engaged to a chef! Now, you can find me developing new recipes and writing for my food blog, working on food styling for Instagram, tasting my way through restaurants, visiting local farms, and exploring Alberta through food. I’ve compiled a short list of my favourite international food markets in Calgary, which span a wide variety of cuisines and celebrates a variety of different cultures.
This unassuming store is brimming with the foods and flavours of Japan. True World Foods is the only place I’ve ever seen hyper-local Japanese ingredients outside of Japan, from fresh yuzu citrus to real wasabi rhizomes and more. This store features an ever-changing array of products and supplies many authentic Japanese restaurants around the city. Favourite Purchases: Exotic fresh citrus, house-made onigiri lunches, authentic Wagyu beef, and Japanese teas
Basha Foods International transports me straight to the Middle East. The sights and smells of this market evoke the tastes of distant places. The store has aisles upon aisles of ingredients from varying Middle Eastern countries, fragrant spices, halal meats, traditional bread products, and exotic produce. Favourite Purchases: Locally produced labneh (like a thick plain yogurt, I use it as a base for dips), za’atar spice blends, meat pies, and dates
Visiting Edelweiss Imports feels just like wandering through a traditional European market. The store has been around since 1963 and specialize in high-quality European products. Edelweiss Imports also have an in-house café and delicatessen, which helps satisfy my cravings for German food. This store is jam-packed with gifts and housewares from Europe, features an impressive bakery and is my go-to place to get all the fixings for a traditional stay-in fondue or raclette night. Favourite Purchases: Speculoos “Cookie Butter”, fondue and raclette cheeses, house-made schnitzel, blaukraut, and spätzle from the café
Lina’s has been serving up Italian ingredients to Calgarians for the past 28 years. They source enticing ingredients from across the Mediterranean, feature a quaint café and showcase an impressive selection of cheeses, olives, and more. The in-house bakery also pumps out tons of baked goods and breads, like fresh focaccia. I’ve been impressed with Lina’s initiative to support local and have been thrilled to find high-end produce from many local producers. They just recently opened two more locations, one in Britannia and one near McKenzie Towne. Favourite Purchases: Good olive oil (I’ve seen the owner of an Italian olive grove giving samples of his oil in-store), sherry vinegar from Jerez, authentic cheeses from around the world, and fresh pizza dough to get a head start on dinner
With two locations around town, UniMarket is the place to go for Latin American food products (particularly Colombian ones). They also serve up fantastic tacos, offering a taste of authentic Latin American cuisine. While I attempt to practice my beginner-level Spanish (the remnants of it hanging by a thread from disuse), visiting UniMarket is a huge source of culinary inspiration with rows of hot sauce, fresh tortillas, fresh produce and more. Taco night is a big deal at our house, so sourcing authentic ingredients is especially important to us, and this is where we head. Favourite Purchases: Tacos, locally made alfajores (shortbread cookie sandwiches filled with dulce de leche/thick caramel), and fresh tortillas (or masa flour to make your own from scratch) Special thanks to Travel Alberta for supporting this article and to Davey Gravy for the photo shoot in Lina's Italian Market.