New Places, New Palates:
Tamil Cooks in Toronto's Kitchens

Exterior of a restaurant. Over the door, the words

Staffing a third of all restaurant kitchens in Toronto, discover how Tamil refugees became the backbone of the city’s restaurant industry, and the stories of loss, resilience, and determination that have shaped this community.

Learn how Tamil kitchen staff, managers, and restaurateurs have transformed Toronto’s food scene since the 1980s.

Sri Lanka is a small island country located off the tip of southern India in the Indian Ocean. Prior to 1983, most arrivals from Sri Lanka were students and immigrants looking to pursue new opportunities in Toronto. In July 1983, also known as Black July, a series of anti-Tamil riots in Sri Lanka plunged the island into a near 26 year war. During those years, Tamils fled their homeland, and Toronto became home to one of the largest Tamil populations outside of South Asia.

Jobs in the restaurant industry often required little English or Canadian work experience, making them ideal for these early refugees. 

This digital tour was developed by emerging historian Vanessa Vigneswaramoorthy as part of our Equity Heritage Initiative.  Vanessa’s work was made possible through the generous support Andrew and Sharon Himel and family, and TD Bank and The Ready Commitment.

Published: December 1, 2022

Logo of TD Bank and their program The Ready Commitment
Andrew and Sharon Himel and family logo

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More Information

Gary Anandasangaree, “Accepting Tamils 30 years ago changed Canada“, Toronto Star (2016)

Suresh Doss, “Glass Ceylon: A look into the Sri Lankan chefs behind Toronto’s restaurant scene“, Foodism Toronto (2019)

Suresh Doss, “Sri Lankan Tamil chef the backbone of this Irish pub” CBC (2018)

Mirusha Yogarajah, “When Memory Outlives“, Briarpatch Magazine (2020)

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