Let’s address the obvious (no, not maple syrup, but we’ll get to that later). Canada is huge and incredibly diverse. To eat like a local in one region could mean something very different elsewhere. Consider the stark cultural differences between mild harbour cities like Vancouver – the cosmopolitan dining options being endless – and remote islands and territories where unforgiving climates and limited accessibility place greater emphasis on local resources and the land; wild game, arctic fish and foraging, for example.
Then there’s the influences and inherent differences stemming from the First Nations, British and French colonisation, and customs that crept over the border from the USA. But what all great Canadian food has in common is that it’s honest, comforting and wholly without pretension.
Here’s just seven ideas to get your gastronomic tour of the Great White North started – no matter where in the enormous country you happen to land.
Piping hot, crunchy fries drenched with gravy and chunks of melty, oozy cheese curd. This must be how Canadians survive the bitterly cold climes, and hangovers for that matter. Originally Quebec’s contribution to Canada’s food truck scene, poutine is totally unassuming in its simplest form, but certainly hasn’t evaded gourmet-fication at its most extreme. We’re talking poutine topped with lobster tail, as well as humbler incarnations like bacon poutine, pulled pork poutine, Mexican poutine, dessert poutine, poutine pizza – you get the idea. To say the least, if you don’t order it as your optional side with a burger, an eyebrow might be raised.
A savoury cocktail that’ll put the fire in your belly, a standard Caesar contains vodka, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce and Clamato juice – a mix of tomato juice and clam broth which probably deserves a point all of its own. It’ll usually be served with a stick of celery and a wedge of lime, but like its poutine brethren, also comes in countless varieties; as a rule of thumb, only the Clamato juice can’t be substituted. Such is its status as a Canadian icon, there are schools country-wide that teach bartenders the fine art of mixing Caesars.
If you see Montreal meat on a sandwich menu, order it without hesitation! Getting the beef to its deli-ready state is a labour of love, and it shows. First beef brisket is salted and cured with spices and left for a week before being hot smoked and steamed to pink, tender, fall-apart perfection. Have yours sliced thick or shaved into ribbons, and pressed between rustic rye slathered with spicy mustard and spiked with a pickle. Another thing Canadians do well is serve their sandwich with soup, which brings us to…
Thick and creamy enough to stand your spoon up in, clam chowder is what good feels are made of. We suspect it actually made its way up from New England where it spread throughout Atlantic Canada and beyond, but even so, clam chowder is seen often enough on pub menus and at cafes to make it a Canadian must-try. Packed with clams, prawns, chunks of salmon and creamy cubes of potato and carrot, this popular sandwich-side is one satisfying meal all on its own.
When it comes to wings, it’s not so much about what you’re eating, but when. On Wednesdays, plates are piled high are sold insanely cheap with plenty of beer to wash them down. Whether you have ‘em baked crisp and dunked in blue cheese sauce, squeezed with lime and sprinkled with salt margarita-style, or drowning in sweet and sticky marinades, wings on Wednesday is what makes the rest of the week that little bit easier. We can hardly blame the Canucks for nabbing this one from their southern neighbours as well.
Salmon is massively important in Canada not just because it’s delicious and very good for you. It’s actually on salmon that many of Canada’s ecosystems, native animals and remote indigenous communities survive, and for this reason is prized spiritually and culturally as well as on the plate. Sample it wild caught whenever possible – the farmed stuff has negative environmental effects – battered with fries, dried into chewy, salty strips of jerky, or in place of a beef patty on your burger with a dollop of dill mayo.
It would be blasphemous not to include maple syrup in any respectable Canadian food compilation. It’s been around for as long as there have been maple trees, and on the menu for as long as there have been people around to harvest it. You could drizzle it all over waffles or a short stack, but for a more novel approach, particularly in winter, try maple syrup snow candy. For this, syrup is heated and then poured in the snow where it slowly hardens into an elastic, toffee-like consistency that can be rolled up on a paddle pop stick so it’s easier to devour.
Think we missed any Canadian food worthy of a mention? Kraft Dinner maybe? Share your ideas on our Facebook page!