How do you define Canadian cuisine? You could say it is multi-cultural because there are so many different ethnic groups living in the country. If you want to drill down, focus on dishes made from food that has been historically grown and produced here.
Canadian cuisine, in that case, could be described as multi-regional and ever evolving.
The second largest country in the world at almost 10 million square kilometers, Canada has a population of 37 million. A nation so widespread has a lot of different taste buds to account for.
The first inhabitants, indigenous peoples who have been here for thousands of years, have dishes that have been handed down through generations, derived from what is plentiful in their regions. For instance, salmon cooked in various ways is important to British Columbia’s coastal First Nations. In parts of Nunavut, caribou is a staple while in other parts of the territory seal is essential. On the East Coast, the traditional Mi’kmaq diet includes moose, lobster, and eel.
Colonizers who came later brought dishes from their countries of origin and many were modified to reflect the ingredients available in their new homes. Early settlers from France made hearty dishes such as pea soup while pioneers from England and Scotland relied on recipes for simple stews, breads, and potatoes.
As various agricultural practices flourished, regions became known for the excellent food stuffs they produced.
It’s a big country with lots of regional specialties, but here’s a brief rundown of foods and dishes with a foot planted firmly in history.
As far as B.C. desserts go, Nanaimo Bars are the most famous and can be found across the country.
The three-layered delight with chocolate, coconut, crumb base, custard icing centre, and ganache chocolate is said to have originated in the town of Nanaimo in the 1950s.
There’s even a Nanaimo Bar Trail with 34 stops.
The Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous festival has been going since 1964. During the Gold Rush, many a miner headed to Dawson City brought a ball of sourdough starter with them. As long as they had a bag of flour, they could fix up a loaf of bread. Survivors of their first winter were nicknamed “Sourdough.”
Check out this recipe: pc.gc.ca/en/culture/gourmand-gourmet/recette-recipe1
Arctic Char, a member of the salmon family, are caught in some NWT rivers and weigh up to 6.8 kg. It can be cooked a number of ways. Barbequing is popular in summer, but it can also be roasted, baked, poached and steamed. Expeditions to this northern territory are popular with folks who love to catch and eat this delicious, feisty fish.
The indigenous peoples here largely live on what they can hunt, and caribou is a staple part of their diet. Every part of the animal is eaten in a variety of dishes, from stir-fries, to stews, to raw options. If you are curious, a cooking show, Nunavummi Mamarijavut, covers all the bases of “country food,” harvested from land and sea. aptn.ca/nunavummimamarijavut/
More than 40 per cent of Canada’s beef is raised in Alberta. It is one of the province’s oldest and largest industries with 18,000 beef cattle producers according to the Alberta Beef Producers organization. What makes it requested around the world? The taste. Usually the cattle are grass fed then finished with barley or rye feed resulting in a marbled, buttery flavor.
Saskatoon Berries look much like blueberries, with a sweet, nutty flavor. Go to this city and you’ll see bakeries stocked with every sort of berry-infused treat. Fun fact, they are considered a better source of calcium than red meat, vegetables and cereals, according to the Saskatoon Berry Institute of North America.
Smoked goldeye became a gourmet delicacy just before the First World War when farmers around Lake Winnipeg found that brining and smoking the herring-like fish produced a delicately sharp and savory taste. A CPR dining car chef put it on the menu and soon tourists, then swanky hotel dining room patrons were eating it up.
Here’s a recipe in case you catch one: mysteinbach.ca/recipes/173/smoked-manitoba-goldeye/
One of the sweetest, uniquely Canadian desserts is the butter tart. It consists of a pastry shell bursting with a filling of butter, sugar, syrup and egg. Raisins, walnuts and pecans are hotly debated options. The earliest published Canadian recipe dates back to 1900 and can be found in The Women’s Auxiliary of the Royal Victoria Hospital Cookbook, Barrie, ON.
These treats are ubiquitous throughout the province.
Try the self-guided Butter Tart Tour in the Kawarthas.
We know about poutine, but what about tortière? This French-Canadian meat pie dish is made with minced pork, veal or beef and potatoes. It is usually served on holidays such New Year’s Eve or Christmas Eve. In the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean area it is a deep-dish pie and the meat is cut into small cubes. In Montreal, it is made with finely group pork spiced with cinnamon and cloves.
A recipe to try: chatelaine.com/food/kitchen-tips/how-to-make-the-best-tourtiere/
Grand Manan island is said to produce the world’s best dulse, a sort of sea lettuce. Around one million pounds are harvested there annually. An excellent source of vitamins and minerals, it is usually dried and then eaten as a snack, or flaked and used as seasoning for salads, chowders and more. You can find some recipes here: amdulse.com
There’s nothing that beats a simply boiled lobster, scooped straight from the sea. Centuries before the first settlers set foot in Nova Scotia the native Mi’kmaqs fished for lobster and they still do. Hopefully, a current fishing rights dispute with non-native fishermen will be resolved soon.
Served in a multitude of ways, from bisque to tacos, to lobster rolls, you can try these variations on the Lobster Trail at around 40 restaurants. novascotialobstertrail.com/
Prince Edward Island
Malpeques are PEI’s most famous local variety of oyster, but there’s more to the brand than that. Here, the bivalves are known by their waters: Colville Bay, East Point, Savage Harbour. The minerals, salinity and nutrients available in the water create the taste. Six to seven million pounds of oysters are shipped to restaurants and oyster bars around the globe yearly.
Jiggs Dinner is traditional Sunday night fare on The Rock. A boiled meal from the early 20th century, it consists of salt beef, turnip, cabbage, potato, carrot, and peas. Jiggs was the name of an American-Irish character in a comic strip called Bringing Up Father. Since much of Newfoundland’s population is of Irish heritage, the name stuck. For the recipe: newfoundlandlabrador.com/trip-ideas/travel-stories/jiggs-dinner-for-beginners
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