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North Shore restaurants host free dinners for new immigrants
Serving up traditional Persian food, Cazba Restaurant kicked off a round of free dinners for new North Shore immigrants on Monday, Feb. 3.
The evening dialogues, put on through North Shore CommUNITY, are hosted by restaurants owned and operated by immigrants.
During the dinner, immigrants learn ways to transition successfully into their new lives in Canada, while long-term residents gain experience in making newcomers feel welcome.
Nader Sigari, owner of Cazba Restaurant near 16th and Lonsdale, is the pinnacle of success.
A former teacher, he moved to the North Shore from Iran during the late-1980s with no restaurant experience.
But he dove right in and, after six months of running a restaurant, he bought it from the owner.
Sigari transformed the establishment into one of the North Shore’s first Persian restaurants.
He now employs 75 people in a wide range of businesses he owns, including a food truck on Robson Street and Vanak Market & Deli located a few blocks from Cazba.
“Knowing English before I came here helped a lot,” he advises the crowd of new immigrants from China, the U.K., Iran and other countries.
His other top tips for success include gaining experience before opening a business and finding a prime location.
Over the next month, Sushi Nami in central Lonsdale and Shanghai Village in Ambleside will also welcome new immigrants to sample traditional food and learn ways to make their lives in Canada easier. The series is funded by the Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training.
This evening many people are trying Persian food for the first time. They look at the menu to identify each dish as speakers give presentations.
“New census data tells us that immigrants account for 36 per cent of the North Shore’s population,” says Jody Johnson, North Shore CommUNITY project coordinator.
“Unfortunately a large percentage of our community is being left out... meaning we are losing out on new business, new staff and even new ideas and ways of thinking.”
The dinners are meant to stimulate discussion on how North Shore residents can change this.
For appetizers, Cazba serves three dips with bread: kas-e bademja (tangy deep fried eggplant), mast-o moosir (yogurt with shallots) and garlic homus.
Then comes the main course, which includes chelo kabob barg (beef steak skewers) and fesenjoon (vegetable stew with walnut and pomegranate purée).
And for dessert, tea and bamieh, a Persian-style Timbit made with honey and rose water.
For the decade from 2001 to 2011, nearly 19,000 immigrants arrived on the North Shore, according to the North Shore Multicultural Society.
Iranian immigrants account for 22 per cent, making them the largest newcomer population. Other common countries of origin include China, Hong Kong and Taiwan (grouped together under Chinese), South Korea and the Philippines.
To the surprise of many guests that evening, American immigrants account for around five per cent.
In total, more than a quarter (27 per cent) of people on the North Shore don’t speak English as their first language.
Johnson says stories like Sigari’s venture into the restaurant business help breakdown the misconception that immigrants need a lot of help to become productive members of society.
“We need immigration because of our falling birthrate,” she says, pointing out that Canada’s rate of 1.68 births per women is one of the lowest in the world.
While immigrants try to transition into B.C., she adds, it’s important for longterm residents to make them feel comfortable.
“One-third of people we interact with every day are immigrants — that’s a huge per cent.”
Future Dinner and Dialogue evenings will be held at Sushi Nami, 1315 Lonsdale Avenue, on Feb. 24 and at Shanghai Village, 1479 Clyde Avenue, on March 4.
Visit surveymonkey.com/s/DialogueBuildingNSCommunity to register of call Cheryl McBride at North Shore Neighbourhood House, 604-724-1504.