Montreal may have been founded on Mohawk land, but that doesn’t mean Mohawk cuisine or other Indigenous traditions are well-represented in the city’s cuisine.
It was only in 2015 that a café with a menu of Indigenous food first opened in Montreal (there is no larger-scale restaurant committed to serving Indigenous cuisines), and nothing similar has opened since. showing that the city still has a long way to go when comes to incorporating genuinely historical food into our modern day culture.
Open through May to October, the miniature café runs out of an old vespasienne in Cabot Square, near Atwater Metro, features a number of common Indigenous foods like savoury and sweet bannock bread and Mohawk-style three sister salad.
“We try to have traditional food, but with a modern touch,” says café manager Melodie Grenier.
Some offerings also riff on items like tacos and sandwiches, but with elements of Indigenous cuisine worked into them.
“The Indian taco is definitely the most popular item on the menu,” says Grenier, who explains that when funds permit, the café makes the dish with deer or bison meat instead of the standard beef.
The city square surrounding the café is home to many of the city’s Indigenous and Inuit homeless population, and the funds raised by the café go to help them and other underprivileged individuals in Montreal. The magazine L'Itinéraire — which focuses on the issues of homeless and marginalized peoples — is behind The Roundhouse. All profits made in the café are directed to the magazine, which itself employs a number of homeless or recently homeless people.
“When [the Ville-Marie borough] decided to rebuild the park they wanted to give a new life to the vespasienne, so they asked L'Itinéraire if they wanted to take over the space for a café,” explains Grenier.
Meant to be a place more welcoming for the city’s Indigenous population, the café puts an emphasis on hiring only Indigenous and Inuit people who have either been out of work for a significant amount of time, or who have been homeless in the past. Those short on cash can also take advantage of their “pay-it-forward” system if they’re in need of a free meal.
“Many [Indigenous and Inuit people] have become stuck in the park because they don’t have access to jobs, apartments, or other services. They also have a language barrier, so many Indigenous and especially Inuit people don’t speak English, or they don’t speak French because they come from up North and have their own language. This affects their ability to integrate into society,” says Grenier. “So what happens? You stop in the park and you see someone else from your town, and you sit with them.”
Grenier’s hope is that the café will help to break down the distance between Indigenous and Inuit peoples, and rest of Montreal’s population — even if it’s slowly, and one meal at a time. She also hopes that the more these barriers are broken down, the more Indigenous food will become commonplace here.
“It’s nice to break down barriers between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people,” she says. “They are normal people, they have dreams, goals, and want to live like everybody else.”