What are Canadian Mennonites eating?
Sharing meals with family
Behta Darya Asian Church, Toronto
Like the church in the book of Acts, Behta Darya Asian Church places strong emphasis on fellowship.
Every Sunday after our service, we gather in the fellowship room to have tea and usually samosas (see recipe). For more than an hour, we sit around, talking, sharing, laughing – just spending time together.
At monthly prayer meetings, 30 to 50 people (including kids) gather in a home for worship, prayer, and Scripture, followed by dinner. We place sheets on the floor for people to sit. Most of our families live in apartments, so it can get very tight, but that’s how we gathered in our countries of origin, so we bring these traditions here with us. It’s not a hassle or inconvenience; we do this because it glorifies our heavenly Father when we show hospitality. For dinner, we usually have rice, roti, a meat dish (chicken or goat curry), a vegetable dish, and a salad. This meal is followed by a sweet dish and, of course, tea.
In addition to celebrating birthdays and anniversaries with a meal called a food sacrifice of thanksgiving to God, our congregation makes an event of celebrating all occasions together – Christmas, Easter, Good Friday, New Year’s, etc.
Because many of the people in our church have been shunned by their Sikh, Hindu, and Muslim relatives once they accepted Christ, we consider the church our family and are in constant fellowship with each other.
The act of breaking bread together gives us a sense of unity and love towards our brothers and sisters in Christ. We give thanks to our heavenly Father, whom we now have in common. Though we are from different families and different faith backgrounds, we’ve accepted Christ as our Saviour, and are called to be his children. The sharing of food is part of the bond that brings us together.
Ingredients – pastry crust:
1 cup all-purpose flour
Water to knead dough
2 Tbsp oil
Pinch of salt
Ingredients – filling:
3-4 potatoes (boiled, peeled, & mashed)
½ cup green peas (boiled)
1-2 green chilies (finely chopped)
½ tsp ginger (crushed)
1 Tbsp coriander (finely chopped)
½ tsp garam masala
Salt to taste
Red chili powder to taste
Mix all dry ingredients together. Add water a little at a time. Pat and knead well several times into a soft pliable dough. Cover with a moist muslin cloth and keep aside for 15 minutes.
In a bowl, add mashed potatoes, salt, chili powder, garam masala, chilies, and ginger. Mix well. Add green peas. Mix well. Add coriander.
Make small balls of dough and roll each into a 4–5” diameter circle. Cut into two parts (semi-circles). Take one semi-circle and fold it like a cone. Use water while doing so. Place a spoon of filling in the cone and seal the third side using a drop of water. Heat oil in a frying pan and deep fry till golden brown (medium heat). Serve samosas hot with tamarind chutney.
The power of the oatcake
The Agora, Halifax
As a single guy, I used to bring oatcakes (see recipe) to various potlucks. They were such a hit it seemed some women wouldn’t attend unless they knew I was bringing them! Although I was frequently asked for the recipe, I kept it a secret because I didn’t want to lose the oatcakes’ power to draw women into my company.
I got married last fall and along with many things, I gave my wife rights to the recipe and she’s been making them regularly for us and for friends ever since. A newly married couple enjoyed a batch during their honeymoon in Cape Breton; portions have circled within the Agora community for years. Friends who unexpectedly drop in for a chat receive them alongside fresh perked coffee or homemade chai.
You’ll find countless versions of the oatcake on the East Coast: plain, unsweetened, scone-like, and sandwich cookie with peanut butter in between. I adapted the Pictou County Oatcake recipe from a cookbook called Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens (Marie Nightingale, 1970). Experimenting over a decade, I introduced healthier ingredients, natural peanut butter, and chocolate chips for a satisfying, high-energy snack. Interestingly, my Scottish forebears first arrived in the New World at Pictou, N.S. Thus, I maintain my Scottish link to oats and sow my own tamed ones.
Glenn Fraser’s Oatcakes
Ingredients – dry:
2 cups whole wheat flour
5 cups rolled oats
1 cup packed brown or yellow sugar
2 tsp salt
¾ cup good quality, semi-sweet chocolate chips
Ingredients – wet:
10 oz (1 ¼ cup) canola oil (increase to 1 2/3 cup for peanut free oatcakes)
½ cup organic, natural peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
½ tsp baking soda (dissolve in warm water)
½ cup warm water
In a large, deep mixing bowl, combine all dry ingredients, making sure sugar is evenly dispersed. In a small bowl or 2-cup measure, combine oil, peanut butter, and vanilla with a fork. Add wet mixture to dry and stir with a large steel spoon. Once combined, add soda dissolved in water and combine again. Press mixture into a shallow baking sheet, first with the steel spoon, then with a fork, spreading evenly to edges. You may want to make the corners thicker as they get most of the heat. Bake in an 350 F oven for 20 min., or until golden brown at edges. Remove and let cool. Cut into squares and store in an airtight container.
Attracting others to Christ
International Revival Church, Winnipeg
As Africans, we are taught from early childhood to share food with others. Eating together brings solidarity among families and friends as we share gifts of what we possess. It promotes closer relationships. It gives a sense of respect and openness. It facilitates communication.
Meal-sharing provides opportunity to taste different recipes and learn from each other: we exchange love, express joy, and make new friends. Food can facilitate reconciliation of broken relationships.
The Bible teaches that eating a meal together with other believers contributes to building the church. Acts 2:42–47 tells us, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer… They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
Taking the example of the believers in Jerusalem, we share meals together not only for fellowship but also for evangelism. People do not always respond to words, but they respond when a meal is shared. Therefore, eating together has been an effective strategy to reach out to our community with the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Eating round the table
Port Moody Pacific Grace MB Church, Vancouver
Food has always been an important part of Chinese culture, and in a Chinese congregation, food serves an important role in the life of the church. Just as feasts are important to Jewish culture, the Chinese also like to celebrate festivals with distinct foods for each one, like Sweet Cake for Chinese New Year, and Rice Dumpling for the dragon boat festival.
A Chinese-style dinner table is round, and this says a lot about us connecting meals with relationship building. Many a business deal is made at a meal table, and many of our ministries use food as a connection point: senior ministry has a luncheon after their gathering; women’s ministry has cooking time; refreshments are served after evangelistic gatherings and baptisms; newcomer luncheons assimilate new friends into our church life; and love feasts strengthen communication between members. We hold special gatherings at festival times to show Christ’s love, like a dinner gathering for international students near winter solstice and Chinese New Year, and Christmas dinner for lower income neighbours.
The congregation also gives each other festive foods as an expression of care and hospitality. When members are sick, the congregation helps cook for the family: a bowl of Long Boiled Soup represents care and love in action; new parents share their joy with friends by making Ginger and Vinegar Drink and Red-dyed Egg. The Chinese are well known for dim sum and tea. Whether it’s bubble tea (a fruit and milk drink with tapioca pearls, especially popular with the younger generation), or traditional Chinese tea, having tea together is a good context for relational evangelism.
In 7 Elements to Revival Growth (in Chinese), David Y.P. Wang uses the basic ingredients of a Chinese kitchen (firewood, rice, oil, salt, sauce, vinegar, tea) to represent the 7 elements needed for the revival of the church. The food and culture connection reminds us how the body of Christ is bound together.
Sweet Pumpkin Dumplings
80 g pumpkin (use leftover pumpkin from Thanksgiving, or Japanese pumpkin for best result)
50 g glutinous rice flour
¼ cup water
3 Tbsp red bean paste
Remove pumpkin peel, slice thinly and place in bowl, cover with plastic wrap. Microwave on high heat for 2–3 min. until soft. Use fork to mash pumpkin. Add glutinous flour. Stir until well combined. Add water a little at a time to form a soft and smooth dough. Divide into several equal portions. Press flat and spoon in red bean paste. Wrap well and shape into balls. In a large pot, bring water to a boil, place dumplings in and cook until dumplings float. Drain and rinse in cold water. Place on plate and serve with syrup.
Bringing food and faith together
One of Herald Press’s perennial bestsellers is a recipe book that combines insights on faith, fellowship, and social practice with instructions on food. More-With-Less by Doris Janzen Longacre was first published in 1976 and is still selling strongly 33 years later, having spawned two follow-up volumes, Extending the Table by Joetta Handrich Schlabach, and Simply in Season by Mary Beth Lind and Cathleen Hockman-Wert. A companion leader’s guide to Simply in Season gives Bible references, discussion questions, and group activities on food and justice issues in a biblical perspective, and a children’s version introduces young ones to seasonal cooking.
In B.C., a group of largely MB women from Northview, Central Heights, Central, Broadway, and Greendale churches in Abbotsford and Chilliwack, created a blog to extend their hospitality by sharing recipes and inspiration. They post recipes ranging from the historical European Mennonite tradition to gluten-free foods, holiday treats, and dishes for entertaining. See www.mennonitegirlscancook.blogspot.com.