Black Lives Here: Pattylicious on Kingston Road and the sharing and adaptation of culinary cultural traditions

Roy Huang is the co-owner of Pattylicious on Kingston Road near Victoria Park Avenue. Photo by Mimi Liliefeldt.

By MIMI LILIEFELDT

Toronto is a city overflowing with tantalizing food options from around the world. And almost every culture has some type of meat “pocket”. The variations of meat wrapped in dough are delicious and seemingly endless: samosas, dumplings, empanadas, gyoza, pierogies, tortellini… the list goes on and on.

One snack that has always been a convenient favourite for many on the go is the Jamaican patty. With its flaky crust, and hot and spicy meat filling it satisfies most savoury cravings.

In 1985, the Jamaican patty was involved in some unexpected controversy. Essentially Canada’s Meat Inspection Act classified a “patty” as the meat part of a hamburger and so the Jamaican “patty” didn’t qualify.

The story was so remarkable that the CBC actually made a documentary about the “Toronto Patty Wars” called Patty vs. Patty. Spoiler alert, the opposing parties eventually came to a compromise and the “patty” was to be called a “Jamaican Patty” henceforth.

Roy Huang, co-owner of Pattylicious on Kingston Road just east of Victoria Park Avenue has also faced some controversy over the authenticity of his Caribbean restaurant.

He said, “When I started my business, I found out not everybody especially Black people, they don’t like Asians to do this business . . . they say, ‘since you’re Asian, your food is not authentic’ . . . If you go onto our Google (reviews), you will see a lot of people will complain about, ‘Why are Asian people making this? You’re a cultural insult to us. You’re doing something you’re not supposed to do, you’re Asian.’”

This is a delicate and important subject that has come up more recently as the world becomes more socially conscious.

Where does appreciation of a culture’s cuisine end and appropriation of that culture’s cuisine start? Is fusion food cultural appropriation? Not only do I not have a precise answer for you, but there are differing and very personal opinions on the matter.

What I can say is this, when you take the time to learn, appreciate and respect the culture whose food you are cooking, it is a step in the right direction.

Another undeniable aspect is who is profiting and how? The best example and explanation of this is the real story behind Taco Bell.

In 1937, Salvador and Lucia Rodriguez, immigrants from Jalisco, Mexico, opened a restaurant in San Bernadino, California called Mitla Café. Across the street from them was a man named Glen Bell who owned a flagging burger business. Everyday he would look across and see the long lines of the Mexican restaurant. Curiosity brought him into Mitla Café and over time he asked a lot of questions about making the tacos and was eventually shown how.

He then took this knowledge and reproduced it at his own spot and after a few different names settled on calling his new venture, Taco Bell. The most astonishing part of this story is not that Bell exploited his well-intentioned immigrant neighbours but that more remarkably, the Rodriguez family (who still run the restaurant to this day after eight decades) don’t seem to hold any resentment. They understood what Bell was up to, but they wanted to help him; they were running a successful business. What they are happy about is that now their story is part of the fabric of Mexican American history.

Which brings us back to the present and how we reconcile the sharing of culinary traditions with modern day adaptations.

What Roy and his partner Ian wanted to do was honour Jamaican food and bring back the clean, unadulterated flavours of original homestyle cooking.

Having said all that, what most people don’t realize is that Roy’s business partner Ian, is Jamaican. Ian was the one who introduced Roy to Caribbean cuisine when they became friends after meeting at one of Roy’s previous restaurants.

Roy shared a little of Ian’s history: “He and his family have been making patties for over 40 years. They are the first generation that made patties back in Jamaica. They moved to England and then Toronto. The patties they make are the authentic recipe.”

Roy himself came to Canada in 1999 on a student visa to study business when he was 19 years old. Though he didn’t know exactly what he wanted to do when he left his home city of Guangzhou in China, he knew going out of the country to gain more experience was a good move.

He said, “Especially at the time, if you go out of the country to study, you can get we call it, ‘Golden Diploma’ that will help you to get a better job in China. That was the plan . . . most of the companies in China they like new technology, English (the ability to speak it) that’s what I saw when I was 19. But then I chose to stay here. I like the lifestyle. There was less competition (the city of Guangzhou has a population of over 15 million) and also, it’s peaceful and you can really have a diversified life. In China it’s 9 to 9. And yes, I’m doing that here now, but it’s different, that’s for myself.”

For many years post-graduation, Roy worked at various restaurants. He did everything from waiting tables, to managing popular food chains and eventually owned two large and very busy restaurants. He did this right up until COVID-19 hit and shut everything down.

Though it was difficult to be unable to work, the timing worked in Roy’s favour.

“During that year, I found that there was a different mindset to the business, my partner (in his previous restaurant) and I had separate ideas or goals for the business. That’s why we separated. So, I decided to partner with my friend (Ian) who makes the patties.”

When Ian and Roy met, Ian took him to various Caribbean restaurants.

“He taught me about the history of Caribbean food and how it’s supposed to be natural and clean. It’s supposed to be flavourful . . . Also, at that time I was working on my smoked meat project. I tried Texas BBQ in Toronto; it was crazy busy. . .

“People lined up for it. Once I tasted it, it was like ‘Oh my god! This is the way to go.’ It’s so good and so popular. Everybody loves it and the food itself; they turned cheap food into tasty food. And with a lot of flavour, so I decided to study that.”

Together Ian and Roy worked to create a healthier, less salty smoking process which they use in their jerk chicken and beef ribs. After three years of research and development, they opened Pattylicious in 2022. Keeping their food healthy and clean is very important to Roy.

“My partner (Ian) is Jamaican, his dream was to fulfill his father’s dream to have a restaurant that does good jerk chicken, and jerk meat, and also the patties. We put the healthy concept throughout the whole restaurant, because we use less salt, we don’t use refined sugar, we don’t add oil, and we don’t use fire (their meats are cold smoked). There are no artificial flavours.”

The time, energy and care that has been put into delivering healthier Jamaican food is reflective in their product. But more importantly the relationship between Roy and his partner and mentor Ian is one of great respect and trust. When you create anything, whether it be a friendship, business, or a cultural dish, there should always be trust in knowing that it is handled with great respect.

— Mimi Liliefeldt is a Beach resident and business owner. She can be reached at mimi@missfit.ca


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