Dispatch from Detroit: Diverse City

As Canadians, we can get a little smug about our great mosaic of ethnicities, especially those of us who live in Toronto, where just crossing the street can take you from Italy to Portugal. But other North American cities certainly have a strong claim on ethnic diversity, especially Detroit. Throughout the twentieth century, populations from around the world have been pulled to the Motor City by the excellent wages paid by the Ford, GM and Chrysler plants here, creating whole neighbourhoods and even cities filled with one nationality or another.

The author helps out in the kitchen at Polonia, in Hamtramck.

Take Hamtramck, an independent city completely surrounded by Detroit that as recently as 1970 was 90 percent Polish. You can still get a great taste of the old country by spending a few hours here. Start out with coffee and paczkis (delicious cream or fruit filled doughnuts) at the New Palace Bakery, browse at the Polish Art Center (where, if you call ahead, they will teach the whole family the art of Polish paper cutting), snack at the Kowalski family deli (serving some of the best Polish sausage in the world), stop by the Pope’s Park, which commemorates John Paul II’s 1987 visit with a statue of the pontiff and a huge mural of Polish dancers in traditional garb. Then finish off with a hearty meal of homemade pierogies, stuffed cabbage and other Polish delicacies at Polonia Restaurant (where the food is bardzo dobrze!—that is, very good—and there’s plenty of selection for your picky eater).

Drawn by Ford’s Rouge plant, Dearborn, a city just  southwest of Detroit, contains one of the largest concentrations of Arab Americans outside the Middle East. Tour the excellent Arab American National Museum, browse one of the largest olive bars anywhere at the Super Greenland Market, visit the Islamic Center of America, which is the largest mosque in North America, and wrap it all up with heaping plates of chicken and lamb at Al Ameer Restaurant. Kid-friendly tours of the area can be pre-arranged through an organization called Access.

The Islamic Center of America, largest mosque on the continent.

And right in the heart of Detroit, visit Greektown, a lively street of bars and restaurants that includes Pegasus Taverna, which serves up excellent souvlaki, moussaka and saganaki—the last of which is set aflame tableside with an exuberant “Opa!”

— Tim Johnson, CF‘s contributing editor

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