Foods that celebrate all holidays

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by Andrew Coppolino | November 2021

Christmas isn’t the only holiday, festival or celebration that includes festive foods that people celebrate in Waterloo Region. Here are a few other festivals to look forward to and share.

Kwanzaa:  December 6-January 1

Essentially a 20th-century festival, Kwanzaa is an annual celebration of African-American culture with a feast called “Karamu.” The festival’s name is translated from an East African phrase meaning “the first fruits of harvest.” Kwanzaa draws on harvest celebrations from various west and southeast African countries.

When it comes to food, traditional Kwanzaa tables are loaded with the harvest’s bounty of fruits and vegetables, many of which are available from the region’s specialty African, Caribbean and Ethiopian stores, as well as select chain grocery stores like Food Basics.

African-American dishes – sometimes referred to as “soul food” – can include many dishes from the African diaspora, such as groundnut stew, curry dishes and pepper pot like those found at Ellison’s Bistro in downtown Kitchener.

The African disapora is the basis for many southern U.S. dishes such as “rice and peas” and jambalaya and gumbo, the latter two of which are available at Lancaster Smokehouse.

Dinner by Derek chef Derek Hines has prepared West African rice jollof with goat, with a touch of Scotch Bonnet peppers and allspice.

Otherwise, look for dishes like yams, cous cous, plantain fritters and the Ethiopian pancake-like flatbread injera, which is available at Muya Restaurant, East African Cafe, Damera Restaurant in Kitchener and KW African Cuisine in Waterloo.

Hanukkah: November 28-December 6

A Jewish celebration also known as the festival of lights, in the Hanukkah story tells the miracle of the earthenware container of oil after the liberation of the Temple in Jerusalem and the Maccabean Revolt (2nd century BCE) and how enough fuel for a day’s worth of light burned for eight days.

“At Hanukkah, Jews eat donuts and latkes, but it’s all about the oil,” says Aura Hertzog.

Visit Ambrosia Corner Bakery for their wide range of baked goods, like babka, and their new bake at home line, including Hertzog’s famous kouign-amann pastries.

You can also check out Sweets by Merav for traditional sufganiyot doughnuts.

“The tradition on Hanukkah is to eat food that is fried in oil to resemble the oil that was used to light the Menorah,” according to Merav Levene.

“The best-known fried food for Hanukkah is the sufganiya (the plural is sufganiyot). These are fluffy rich doughnuts made with a yeast dough that rises to its distinctive round shape. After the second rise, the dough is deep fried, cooled and piped with filling,” says Levene, a graduate of Conestoga College’s baking and pastry program in Conestoga’s culinary arts school.

Levene makes both a dairy version and a Parve (non-dairy) version. “Classic sufganiyot are filled with strawberry jam and get dusted with powder sugar. In the modern days, there are no limits for flavours and decorations,” she adds.

Visit the Sweets by Merav on Facebook or Instagram to order classic strawberry jam, chocolate, vanilla and caramel sufganiyot. She also takes special requests for Hanukkah cookies and meringues for kids that are candle or dreidel shaped.


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German Christmas Celebrations

According to Monica Reid, President of the Christkindl Market Leadership Committee, German holiday celebrations are all about reawakening the child within, and feeling the joy of Christmas. It’s that spirit people discover each year during the Christkindl Market in downtown Kitchener, which celebrates its 25th annual festival this year.

“On Nikolausabend (the eve of Nikolaustag, which this year is  Dec. 6th), children leave out their shoes out in anticipation of waking up and finding treats in them,” explains Reid. Favourite German holiday fair includes stollen, schnitzel, strudel and zimt sterne – traditional German cinnamon cookies – all of which you’ll find at Christkindl. While some vendors will be back in person at the outdoor festival on Gaukel Street this year, you can also find lots of shops and artisans, including food vendors, online at the Christkindl Virtual Marketplace. which begins Dec. 1st.

“The tastes, aromas, sounds and feelings experienced – these are the reasons visitors tell us they keep coming back to the Christkindl Market,” says Reid. “If you want to enjoy the scents and tastes of a traditional German Christmas from the comfort of your own home, you can order Christkindl-in-a-Box. It’s a great way to share a traditional German Christmas experience with family and friends.”

Chinese New Year: February 1

Kung hei fat choy!

It’s a way off yet, but the year of the tiger lies in wait.

A significant festive time for Waterloo Region residents, the year of the tiger promises to be a good one with restaurants fully open once again. As a public holiday in China, people take the seven days from January 31 to February 6, 2022, off work in order to celebrate what is also known as Lunar New Year.

Spring rolls and egg rolls are part of all Chinese restaurant menus. They can have added meaning as symbols of “gold bars” and prosperity at Lunar New Year. Cameron Seafood Kitchener, Kam Yin Waterloo and Hakka Hut Cambridge are just three examples out of dozens of venues.

One particular dumpling that is quintessentially Lunar New Year dish can be interpreted as “money bags:” they are known as “gam cin gau” in Cantonese, or “jin dian jiao” in Mandarin.

At just about every Chinese restaurant in the region, you can partake of dumplings (for wealth and prosperity), spring rolls, niangao (a glutinous rice cake) and especially long noodles for long life.

Choose round and moon-shaped dumplings, with their various delicious stuffings, symbolize the new moon and the changing year. You can also try your hand at cooking them at home (easy to follow directions on the packaging for a number of cooking techniques): visit the massive T & T Supermarket in Waterloo and New City Supermarket and Ben Thanh Supermarket in downtown Kitchener to name a few that have a wide selection of frozen dumplings.

a bamboo steamer basket filled with Chinese dumplings
Chinese Dumplings from King Tin in Waterloo (Photo: Andrew Coppolino)


Andrew Coppolino is a writer-broadcaster, and is a food columnist with CBC Radio in Waterloo Region. Following a stint as a cook at a restaurant in Kitchener, Andrew chose to work with food from the other side of the kitchen pass. As a food writer, he is dedicated to promoting and nurturing culinary businesses and advocating for local chefs and restaurants. Andrew’s work has been published in newspapers and magazines across Canada, the United States and England. Follow him on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.


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