Coney Island hot dogs? That’s American. Pad Thai… Thailand. Sunday roast with Yorkshire pudding? British for sure. You can go through all of your favourite countries and pick them out by the food that represents them: burritos in Mexico, cheese paskas in Ukraine, steamed dumplings in China, and so on.
But then you come to Canada. What’s your favourite Canadian dish? Ever been to a Canadian restaurant? Most people, including Canadians, never really have.
Many people don’t even believe that Canadians have their own dishes and only eat dishes that are offshoots of American, British, and French cuisine. Moreover, there is seldom obvious Canadian food options in restaurants, both within Canada and outside of it. But Canada is a big country and, while it’s not as well-known on a global scale, has its own unique variety of dishes that have been enjoyed by locals and visitors.
Here are some of the popular ones:
Bannock dates back to the when the first colonists came to Canada to partake in the fur trade. It’s an easy-to-make bread that many outdoors travelers ate as breakfast. Later, its dough recipe was used to make scones and pancakes.
Canada is routinely identified by its vast supply of maple trees and its Eastern maple syrup industry. Many people think that maple syrup is just a sweet additive to pancakes or waffles. In fact, it’s also used in cakes, ice cream, and sweets like taffy, which people enjoy as a snack.
A popular Sunday meal that is rumoured to be named after a comic character, Jiggs dinner comes from the eastern province of Newfoundland-Labrador. It combines a mix of potatoes, cabbage, carrots, turnip, and salt or corned beef. While it sounds simple, it’s tasty and enjoyable on a cold day.
There is a rich amount of wild plants in Canada that are eatable, including lambs quarters and wild onions. ‘Fiddlehead’ is the name attributed to the early stage of the sprouting green fern. Once the fern reaches a certain premature height, it is picked, cleaned, and boiled or steamed to be eaten with dinner. It’s a very healthy seasonal food option for Canadians.
When the eastern colonists from France, called Acadians, arrived in Canada, they created a beef stew with potatoes and onions paired with dumplings. When times were tough for the Acadians, they often substituted beef in fricot with chicken or whatever game animal they could find.
Canada is surrounded by a lot of Ocean water and seafood has long been part of its national cuisine. In the north, prawns are in abundance and the communities there have developed a soup based with prawns instead of clams or fish.
The province of Quebec is notable for its many dishes that are enjoyed both within Quebec and across North America. Tourtière is one of those dishes. It’s a pork, veal, or beef-based meat pie that’s often enjoyed by Quebecers for Christmas or New Year’s Eve. However, it’s also popular in parts of New England and available in grocery stores across Canada.
Red River cereal
A lot of countries enjoy porridges made from oats or corn. In Canada, Red River cereal is a similar concoction made from blended rye, wheat, and flax all grown in Canada. Named after Manitoba’s Red River, it was eventually branded in Ontario and is now sold across Canada.
Montreal smoked meat
Another Quebec concoction, smoked meat came of age in Montreal thanks to its growing Jewish population that immigrated there from parts of Europe and Russia around the time of the industrial revolution. While many have noted the similarities between Montreal smoked meat and the smoked meats of New York (such as pastrami), Montreal smoked meat has its own spice and curing recipe that is now being produced in other cities like Ottawa and Toronto.
A favourite of many Canadians as a ‘fast food’ option, poutine is a mixture of French fries, cheese curds, and gravy that reportedly originated accidentally in a Quebec diner when a patron asked for something to eat but was unsure what he wanted. Most people can only eat poutine in small portions in one sitting but they always come back for more. It’s too tasty to ignore.
It’s important to note that Canada is a younger nation than most and is now beginning to define itself and its cuisine. But what’s more important is that Canada is evolving, taking on new influences from those that continue to immigrate there. That said, there will likely be more notable Canadian dishes that will define the nation in the future.
Hungry? Want to learn more about Canadian cuisine and customs? Consider registering for The Language Galley’s Canadian Culture elective at its Toronto campus. You’ll get a chance to learn more about these food options while learning about other great aspects of Canadian society.