Toronto author Diala Canelo offers the opportunity to travel without leaving your kitchen

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“Dominican was colonized by the Spanish in 1492, and we have an African diaspora. There are so many influences when it comes to Dominican food,” says Canelo. “We’ve always struggled with a term that is being used a lot right now — with colourism — and a lot of people not fully accepting that our country was built by over 40,000 Africans who were brought into the country. That is reflected in our food. And I’ve been embracing it since the time I was born, because I was born into a family … (of) activists. The way I express my love and my support is through food, so those recipes needed to be in the book for sure.”

Montreal, her first Canadian home, was where Canelo’s love of cooking and baking began. When she arrived to study nutrition and dietetics at McGill University, she recalls, her repertoire consisted largely of lasagna. Inspired by the city’s multiculturalism, Canelo began spending her weekends at Atwater Market, experimenting with ingredients and collecting cookbooks that now number well over 600.

Blackened fish over yuca fries from Diala's Kitchen
Blackened fish over yuca fries from Diala’s Kitchen. Diala Canelo

“It was an explosion to my senses of all the vibrancy in the markets. Montreal has always been multicultural but in the mid-90s I think it was a special time. One day I would have Vietnamese food, another day I would have Italian, the next day I would have Ethiopian,” says Canelo. “That’s really where it all began for me. Without Montreal I don’t think I would be here in terms of food.”

After starting her cookbook collection upon moving to Canada, having now written her own is especially meaningful for Canelo. A reflection of how she eats at home in Toronto, she emphasizes simplicity in her vegetarian and pescatarian recipes, which evoke places near and far.

In highlighting what she’s gained from travel, she hopes to encourage readers to look outside their own culinary customs. “Even though we can’t travel right now,” says Canelo, “we can travel while we’re in our kitchens with this food.”