Canada: Bon appétit!

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017 - 11:00 am (CET/MEZ) Berlin | Author/Destination:
Category/Kategorie: Editorial, General

© George F.G. Stanley

© George F.G. Stanley

Canadian cuisine varies widely depending on the regions of the nation. The three earliest cuisines of Canada have First Nations, English, Scottish and French roots, with the traditional cuisine of English Canada closely related to British cuisine, while the traditional cuisine of French Canada has evolved from French cuisine and the winter provisions of fur traders. With subsequent waves of immigration in the 19th and 20th century from Western, Central and Southern European, and Eastern Europe, South Asia, East Asia, and the Caribbean, the regional cuisines were subsequently augmented.


A poutine in Montreal © 0x010C/cc-by-sa-4.0

A poutine in Montreal © 0x010C/cc-by-sa-4.0

Canadian food has been shaped and impacted by continual waves of immigration, with the types of foods and from different regions and periods of Canada reflecting this immigration.

Aboriginal peoples
The traditional aboriginal cuisine of Canada was based on a mixture of wild game, foraged foods, and farmed agricultural products. Each region of Canada with its own First Nations and Inuit people used their local resources and own food preparation techniques for their cuisines. Maple syrup was first collected and used by aboriginal people of Eastern Canada and North Eastern US. Canada is the world’s largest producer of maple syrup. The origins of maple syrup production are not clear though the first syrups were made by repeatedly freezing the collected maple sap and removing the ice to concentrate the sugar in the remaining sap. Maple syrup is one of the most commonly consumed Canadian foods of Aboriginal origins. In most of the Canadian West Coast and Pacific Northwest, Pacific salmon was an important food resource to the First Nations peoples, along with certain marine mammals. Salmon were consumed fresh when spawning or smoked dry to create a jerky-like food that could be stored year-round. The latter food is commonly known and sold as “salmon jerky”. Whipped Soapberry, known as xoosum (HOO-shum, “Indian ice cream”) in the Interior Salish languages of British Columbia, is consumed similarly to ice cream or as a cranberry-cocktail-like drink. It is known for being a kidney tonic, which are called agutak in arctic Canada (with animal/fish fat). In the arctic, Inuit traditionally survived on a diet consisting of land and marine mammals, fish, and foraged plant products. Meats were consumed fresh but also often prepared, cached, and allowed to ferment into igunaq or kiviak. These fermented meats have the consistency and smell of certain soft aged cheeses. Snacks such as muktuk, which consist of whale skin and blubber is eaten plain, though sometimes dipped in soy sauce. Chunks of muktuk are sliced with an ulu prior to or during consumption. Fish are eaten boiled, fried, and prior to today’s settlements, often in dried forms. The so-called Eskimo potato and other mousefoods are some of the plants consumed in the arctic. Foods such as bannock, popular with First Nations and Inuit, reflect the historic exchange of these cultures with French fur traders, who brought with them new ingredients and foods. Common contemporary consumption of bannock, powdered milk, and bologna by aboriginal Canadians reflects the legacy of Canadian colonialism in the prohibition of hunting and fishing, and the institutional food rations provided to Indian reserves. Due to similarities in treatment under colonialism, many Native American communities throughout the continent consume similar food items with some emphasis on local ingredients.

Settlers and traders from the British Isles account for the culinary influences of early English Canada in the Maritimes and Southern Ontario (Upper Canada), while French settlers account for the cuisine of southern Quebec (Lower Canada), Northern Ontario, and New Brunswick. Southwestern regions of Ontario have strong Dutch and Scandinavian influences. In Canada’s Prairie provinces, which saw massive immigration from Eastern and Northern Europe in the pre-WW1 era, Ukrainian, German, and Polish cuisines are strong culinary influences. Also noteworthy in some areas of the British Columbia Interior and the Prairies is the cuisine of the Doukhobors, Russian-descended vegetarians. The Waterloo, Ontario, region and the southern portion of the Province of Manitoba have traditions of Mennonite and Germanic cookery. The cuisines of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Maritime provinces derive mainly from British and Irish cooking, with a preference for salt-cured fish, beef, and pork. Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia also maintain strong British cuisine traditions. Jewish immigrants to Canada during the late 1800s played a significant culinary role within Canada, chiefly renowned for Montreal-style bagels and Montreal-style smoked meat. A regional variation of both emerged within Winnipeg, Manitoba‘s Jewish community, which also derived Winnipeg-style Cheesecake from New York recipes. Winnipeg has given birth to numerous other unique dishes, such as the schmoo torte and “co-op style” rye bread and cream cheese.

East Asian
Much of what are considered “Chinese dishes” in Canada are more likely to be Canadian or North American inventions, with the Chinese restaurants of each region tailoring their traditional cuisine to local tastes. This “Canadian Chinese cuisine” is widespread across the country, with great variation from place to place. The Chinese buffet, although found in the United States and other parts of Canada, had its origins in early Gastown, Vancouver, c.1870. This serving setup came out of the practice of the many Scandinavians working in the woods and mills around the shantytown getting the Chinese cook to put out a steam table on a sideboard. In Toronto, a style of medium-thick crust margarita pizza topped with garlic and basil oil topping is popular, which combines Italian pizza with the Vietnamese tradition of using herbed oil toppings in food.

Maple syrup © - Ano Lobb/cc-by-2.0

Maple syrup © – Ano Lobb/cc-by-2.0

Canadian cuisine
Although certain dishes may be identified as “Canadian” due to the ingredients used or the origin of its inception, an overarching style of Canadian cuisine is more difficult to define. Some Canadians such as the former Canadian prime minister Joe Clark believe that Canadian cuisine is a collage of dishes from the cuisines of other cultures. Clark himself has been paraphrased to have noted: “Canada has a cuisine of cuisines. Not a stew pot, but a smorgasbord.”. Some define Canadian cuisine by the foods native to North America, now used worldwide, such as squash, beans, peppers, berries, wild rice, salmon, and large claw lobster. Some define Canadian cuisine by recipes altered due to lack of ingredients of the original dish found elsewhere, such as tourtière made with pork not pigeon, sushi made with salmon not tuna, candy made with maple syrup instead of molasses. Some have sought to define Canadian cuisine along the line of how Claus Meyer defined Nordic cuisine in his Manifesto for the New Nordic Kitchen; namely that dishes in Canadian cuisine should reflect Canadian seasons, that they should use locally sourced ingredients that thrive in the Canadian climate, and that they are combined with good taste and health in mind. Others believe that Canadian cuisine is still in the process of being defined from the cuisines of the numerous cultures that have influenced it, and that being a culture of many cultures, Canada and its cuisine is less about a particular dish but rather how the ingredients are combined.

Regional: While many ingredients are commonly found throughout Canada, each region with its own history and local population has unique ingredients, which are used to define unique dishes.

Wild game of all sorts is still hunted and eaten by many Canadians, though not commonly in urban centres. Venison, from white-tailed deer, moose, elk (wapiti) or caribou, is eaten across the country and is considered quite important to many First Nations cultures. Seal meat is eaten, particularly in the Canadian North, the Maritimes, and Newfoundland and Labrador. Wild fowl like ducks and geese, grouse (commonly called partridge) and ptarmigan are also regularly hunted. Other animals like bear and beaver may be eaten by dedicated hunters or indigenous people, but are not generally consumed by much of the population. West-Coast salmon varieties include Sockeye, Coho, Tyee a.k.a. Chinook or King, and Pink. Wild chanterelle, pine, morel, lobster, puffball, and other mushrooms are commonly consumed. Canada produces good cheeses and many successful beers, and is known for its excellent ice wines and ice ciders. Gooseberries, salmonberries, pearberries, cranberries and strawberries are gathered wild or grown.

Savoury foods: Although there are considerable overlaps between Canadian food and the rest of the cuisine in North America, many unique dishes (or versions of certain dishes) are found and available only in the country. Some are more commonly eaten than others.

Sweets and snacks


Street food
While most major cities in Canada offer a variety of street food, regional “specialties” are notable. While poutine is available in most of the country, it is far more common in Quebec. Similarly, sausage stands can be found across Canada, but are far more common in Ontario (often sold from mobile canteen trucks, usually referred to as “fry trucks” or “chip trucks” and the sausages “street meat”) than in Vancouver or Victoria (where the “Mr. Tube Steak” franchise is notable and the term “smokies” or “smokeys” refers to Ukrainian sausage rather than frankfurters). Montreal offers a number of specialties including shish taouk, the Montreal hot dog, and dollar falafels. Although falafel is widespread in Vancouver, pizza slices are much more popular. Vancouver also has many sushi establishments. Shawarma is quite prevalent in Ottawa, and Windsor, while Halifax offers its own unique version of the döner kebab called the donair, which features a distinctive sauce made from condensed milk, sugar, garlic and vinegar. Ice cream trucks can be seen (and often heard due to a jingle being broadcast on loudspeakers) nationwide during the summer months. Recently, the city of Toronto has encouraged street vendors from around the world to sell their food. Read more on Wikipedia Canadian cuisine.

Montreal - Schwartzs smoked meat medium fat © chensiyuan/cc-by-sa-4.0

Montreal – Schwartzs smoked meat medium fat © chensiyuan/cc-by-sa-4.0

Cuisine of Quebec
Quebec’s traditional cuisine is as rich and diverse as the province of Quebec itself. The historical context of ‘traditional’ Quebec cuisine is from the fur trade period, and many dishes have a high fat content through the use of ingredients such as lard.

Quebec is most famous for its poutine, tourtières (meat pies), pâté chinois, pea soup, baked beans, cretons, ham dishes, maple desserts such as Grand-Pères and molasses treats such as “tire Ste-Catherine” (St. Catherine’s taffy). The strongest influences on traditional Quebec cuisine come from the cuisines of France and Ireland, as the two largest ethnic groups in the province are French and Irish, although many aspects of Canadian aboriginal cuisine have also had a significant impact on Quebec cuisine. The sugar season (temps des sucres) is one of the oldest of Quebec culinary traditions. During springtime, many Québécois go to sugar shacks (cabanes à sucre) for a traditional meal that features eggs, baked beans, ham, oreilles de crisse, and bacon, which they then cover in maple syrup. Associated activities are a horse-drawn sleigh ride in the woods and sugar on snow (tire sur la neige) — boiled maple tree sap dribbled over snow, which then hardens, and is eaten as a treat. Many traditional dishes are intrinsic to holidays. Réveillon, the Christmas Eve (or New Year’s Eve) feast, usually features items like a bûche de Noël (Yule log) and tourtière. Spruce beer is a traditional beverage.

Poutine is widely considered to be Quebec’s signature food. The messy pile of fries, gravy, and cheese curds isn’t new, but in recent years it’s experienced a renaissance, spreading across Canada and beyond. Gourmet versions have appeared in trendy gastro-diners and even the New York Times has jumped on board, celebrating poutine’s arrival in Manhattan. The Montreal-style bagel is wood-fired, and many of the city’s bagel joints do their baking within view of the seating area. Tire sur la neige, or sometimes simply tire d’érable, is a taffy formed by pouring still hot, boiled maple sap directly onto fresh snow. The result is a soft, flexible candy that begs to be eaten immediately. Tire sur la neige is available at most sugar shacks. These visitor-friendly maple syrup production outfits are found across southern Quebec, with the highest concentration in the Montérégie region (on the south shore of the St. Lawrence, near Montreal) and the Laurentians. Quebec’s cheese scene is so vibrant that there is an entire route des fromages designed for cheese tourists. Part of the reason for the province’s thriving dairies is its legalization of young, raw-milk cheeses—the production of soft cheeses that have been aged less than 60 days is banned in much of North America. Drawing its roots from French cuisine, Québec’s cuisine was largely shaped by the difficult early years after it was settled. Today, many traditional dishes take pride of place at Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. Read more on Wikipedia Cuisine of Quebec.

Lobster Roll © - Lee Coursey/cc-by-2.0

Lobster Roll © – Lee Coursey/cc-by-2.0

Cuisine of the Maritimes
The Maritimes region of Canada has some unique foods; the region has foodstuffs that are indigenous to the area and cultural phenomena has brought non-native foods to the area. The region is in Eastern Canada, and comprises three provinces: New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. On the Atlantic coast, the Maritimes are a subregion of Atlantic Canada. Some of the cuisine has its origins in the foods of the indigenous peoples of Nova Scotia.

Poutine râpée, an Acadian pork-potato dish, and rapée/rappie pie, an Acadian poultry dish, are Maritime-based. Seafood is of great importance in the Maritimes and it is prepared in many ways, probably limited only by the number of cooks. Lobster rolls are to be found wherever tourists go, but the locals love them too; these can be found in the United States as well, particularly in Maine, which adjoins the Province of New Brunswick, the only province with two official languages, French and English, which is an indication of the cultures one will find in this province between Quebec and Nova Scotia. No one who has visited the homes of Maritimers who go back a few generations is likely to forget dulse; dulse is seaweed of a certain type and grows along the New Brunswick and Nova Scotia coasts. Some Maritimers crunch on dried dulse, a reddish-purple-to-black salty-tasting snack, rather as others would munch potato chips and one usually sees a small dish on a side table somewhere near where family members are sitting. The popular Dulse, Lettuce and Tomato (DLT) sandwich is a local favorite found at the historic Saint John City Market. Potatoes being a mainstay crop in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, are also a staple in Maritime cuisine. Hashbrown Casserole made with potato, cheese and cream dish and potato pancakes similar to Irish Boxty are very popular breakfast dishes. Maple sugar, in many forms, from maple syrup (sirop d’érable) to little maple-leaf-shaped crunchy candies is an important sweet in Eastern Canada, where sugaring-off excursions (involving ‘tire d’érable sur la neige,’ when the hot syrup is poured onto snow to crystallize) are one of the better winter activities. It is also an important export, economically. On Prince Edward Island, Cow’s Ice Cream is an important purveyor of a local favourite, and dairy products in various forms are important to residents of the Maritimes. A popular variety of ice cream in the Maritimes, and also New England, is grape nut ice cream. Wild blueberries grow in abundance in the Maritimes and are there for the picking for anyone willing to take the time, which is considerable because they are small. They can be made into the Acadian dumpling dessert called blueberry grunt, among others. Seal flippers and seal flipper pie, various bean dishes, usually flavored with pork, any fish found in the many rivers, and many other foods are not to be forgotten. In Nova Scotia, there is a dish that is widely eaten in the Annapolis Valley known as Hodge Podge or Hodegy Podegy. This dish is a stew or soup containing fresh vegetables such as small baby potatoes or new potatoes, fresh peas, green beans and wax beans as well as carrots. These vegetables are cooked in a milk broth that contains butter, pepper and salt. Commonly, this dish is accompanied by corned beef either from a can or prepared separately from the dish. Hodge Podge is generally consumed during the months of July and August when these vegetables are in season.

A lot of the restaurants and pubs in the Maritimes feature British and Irish dishes such as Corned beef and cabbage, Bacon and cabbage, Bangers and mash, and Fish and chips. But they will also have their own specialities such as Jiggs dinner. Donair and garlic fingers are Maritime specialities, and are difficult to find in other parts of Canada. There are many small craft breweries in the Maritimes as well as the flagship Maritime breweries of Nova Scotia’s Alexander Keith’s, which was established in 1820 by Keith himself later bought by Anheuser-Busch InBev and the Moosehead Brewery in New Brunswick established in 1867 and still independently-owned by the Oland family of Saint John. Read more on Wikipedia Cuisine of the Maritimes.

Roasted Peameal Bacon Sandwich ©

Roasted Peameal Bacon Sandwich ©

Cuisine of Toronto
The cuisine of Toronto reflects Toronto’s size and multicultural diversity. Different ethnic neighbourhoods throughout the city focus on specific cuisines, such as authentic Chinese and Vietnamese found in the city’s six Chinatowns, Korean in Koreatown, Greek on The Danforth, Italian cuisine in Little Italy and Corso Italia, and Indian in Little India. Numerous other world cuisines are available throughout the city, including Portuguese, Hungarian, other Western and Central European and Eastern European cuisines, Japanese, and Caribbean. Toronto’s large Jewish population has also ensured a variety of Jewish restaurants and delis, with varying adherence to kosher rules. In addition to ethnic cuisines, Toronto is also home to many fine dining establishments and chain restaurants ranging from fast food to casual or upscale dining. Among the culinary festivals Vegetarian Food Festival, Summerlicious and Winterlicious and Taste of the Danforth.

Toronto has a long history of beer brewing. Eugene O’Keefe, founder of O’Keefe Brewing Company, grew up in Toronto, to which his family had emigrated from Ireland in 1832. O’Keefe was the first to produce lager beer in Canada along with the traditional ale and porter (Canadian beer). The Toronto Beer Festival is an annual event that showcases local craft beers. There are several breweries in the city, many of which are microbreweries. Toronto’s surrounding region has many wineries. The Sante Wine Festival is an annual festival which features vintages, noted winemakers and celebrity chefs.

Toronto is not known for a diversity of foods from street vendors, however, there are numerous take-out restaurants. There are numerous food trucks around downtown Toronto, including in front of Toronto City Hall that sell french fries, hot dogs and pre-cooked sausages. Food trucks on the University of Toronto campus offer Chinese food. Along Dundas Street West, just east of Bathurst Street, a range of international street foods are sold from shipping containers converted to food stands. The stands are known collectively as Market 707. There are also several food trucks, serving food that is more specialized, that can be found at special events. In the summer months, ice cream and popsicles are sold from vendors on bicycles while ice cream trucks ply the city streets. Frozen yogurt, although not found in street vendors, are popular and increasingly so, with many shops opening recently. The coffee culture in Toronto is also highly developed, with many independent cafes especially in areas like Queen West and Kensington Market.

Perhaps one of the most iconic and distinct Toronto offerings is the peameal bacon sandwich, normally on a Kaiser. Peameal bacon was originally developed by William Davies at the St. Lawrence Market. Some notable offerings of the sandwich are Paddington’s Pump, Sausage King, and Carousel Bakery; coincidentally enough, all are located at St. Lawrence Market. Further east in Leslieville is Rashers, billed as North America’s only bacon sandwich shop, recently opened and sells a peameal bacon sandwich that Toronto Life describes as “Toronto’s iconic sandwich done right”.

Another distinct Toronto offering is the “East Indian Roti”, a variation on the stuffed Roti from the West Indies. Owing to Toronto’s considerable immigrant populations from both South Asia and the Caribbean, a hybrid dish has been developed, using South Asian bread and curries as stuffing, for the otherwise West Indian dish. The best known purveyor of the East Indian Roti is Gandhi Roti on Queen Street West. Read more on Wikipedia Cuisine of Toronto (Smart Traveler App by U.S. Department of State). Photos by Wikimedia Commons. If you have a suggestion, critique, review or comment to this blog entry, we are looking forward to receive your e-mail at Please name the headline of the blog post to which your e-mail refers to in the subject line.

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