Like you, Aashim Aggarwal and Amaara Dhanji are living under a stay-at-home order, but they’ve found a way to travel around the world at dinner time.
That’s when the foodie couple orders takeout, seeking out cuisine from a different country in the GTA every week.
They say food and travel were a big part of their childhood, and this shared connection was initially what brought them together. Now, they’ve started a blog and filmed TikTok videos from every country they’ve “visited,” gaining up to 500,000 views on some of their most popular videos.
“We can’t travel because of COVID, so we said, ‘Let’s try to travel through food and find a restaurant that serves each country’s cuisine,'” Aggarwal told CBC Toronto.
Getting takeout from many different restaurants may seem like a small thing, but with so many struggling through the pandemic, the couple’s challenge could be a lifeline for local eateries. James Rilett of Restaurants Canada says up to half of them could be forced to shut their doors before the pandemic is over.
He says if more people did what Aggarwal and Dhanji are doing, more restaurants could stay in business.
“If you like your local restaurant, you should support it. Knowing that the community and their neighbours are supportive of them will go a long way,” he said.
The first country on their list was Chile, and so they set their sights on Completo, a tiny operation in East Chinatown serving Chilean-style hot dogs and empanadas.
Shortly after their first video, they had already quadrupled their TikTok followers. The best part for them? Seeing a community coming together from all over the world in the comments section.
In response to their first video, one comment reads: “I’m Chilean and I feel like we never get representation for our amazing food. I’m so happy you tried it and enjoyed.”
Next up was our home and native land — Canada. The couple decided to steer away from the obvious choices like poutine or Montreal smoked meat and went for an Indigenous option instead.
They visited Tea-N-Bannock, one of the only Indigenous restaurants in the city, where they tried bannock, a form of fried bread, and elk for the first time.
“Something we actually learned from the comments is that a lot of Indigenous people don’t actually view Canada as their country.” Aggarwal said.
Aggarwal says that particular video started a powerful conversation and helped give them perspective and the chance to educate themselves and others.
Aggarwal and Dhanji, who are both of Indian heritage, told CBC Toronto that visiting Milan in Brampton, a restaurant that specializes in Indian street food, was one of their favourite stops.
“My family moved to Canada when I was seven, so it was just like a wave of nostalgia to go back. And when you’re trying so many different cuisines, it’s really nice to have one familiar spot to stop at,” Aggarwal said.
The couple has visited restaurants from 14 countries so far, including Malta, Sudan, Belgium and Finland. But with so many countries in the world, would Aggarwal and Dhanji be able to find them all in Toronto?
“He made a giant excel spreadsheet that has every country in the world, we managed to get up to 130.” Dhanji told CBC Toronto.
The couple says the project went from a fun hobby to something they’ve become really passionate about and plan to continue on as long as they can.
“The impact is really bringing awareness to unknown cuisines or just generally creating a sense of appreciation of different cultures through food,” Aggarwal said.