One of the first conversations that I had with a friend back home after I had first moved to Canada included the sentence, “Do they just drink maple syrup straight off the tree?!” Now, funny as this sentence is, it’s not too uncommon a thought around the world when Canadian cuisine is mentioned. For those who might have a slightly better culinary knowledge, foods such as Poutine, Montreal smoked meat and Nanaimo bars would probably spring to mind, but I decided to take myself on a (virtual, sadly!) culinary tour of Canada. Many foreign influences have impacted what can be considered a ‘speciality’ in Canada mainly from Britain and parts of Europe, but each dish has a twist on it from the original. Spanning such a vast area with numerous different climates, heights, and wilderness Canada has a hugely diverse menu to add to the culinary scene. Inuit and First Nations people have also made a huge contribution to cooking methods.
Starting with Canada’s east coast, it would be impossible to ignore oysters on the menu. 40% of oysters consumed here come from the Atlantic waters off the coasts of Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. When anything is found in such great quantities, the choice of how to eat them is almost equally as diverse. Pick from simple lemon and horseradish oysters, to Rockefeller oysters and oyster shooters (with whiskey!).
An interesting discovery from New Brunswick is the fiddlehead fern. Having never heard of eating ferns, this one
particularly interested me. Essentially, it is a pickled, unfurled fern head. I can only go on reports of it tasting similar to green beans with an artichoke hint, but apparently it is delicious! A must try when the opportunity arises!
Moving west furthermore, Quebec cannot escape the skill of French cheese-making. Oka cheese was originally manufactured by Monks living in the village of Oka and the cheese itself has a subtle creamy flavour with a nutty hint, taking around two months to produce a round. And, of course, Quebec is also home to Canada’s favourite cheese curds, responsible for Poutine (a dish that 51% of Canadians actually consider to be the national dish!)
Skipping over to the west coast of Canada, naturally it’s back to seafood. Wild Pacific salmon has an unrivalled flavour and is much harder to find than the typically farmed Atlantic salmon. On a sweeter note, the city Nanaimo lends its name to the very popular ‘Nanaimo bar’-an uncooked wafer-crumb, custard butter icing chocolate-covered bite of naughty deliciousness!
However, it is the northern territories that seem to have the most unusual foods. Far more game is hunted here, including caribou, moose, elk and even seal. Originating from the First Nations and Inuit people, these meats have now become more widespread across Canada with caribou bourguignon becoming a delicacy in Northern Quebec.
‘Pemmican’ is a high-energy food invented in the North and is made from any available meat, some fruits such as Saskatoon berries and occasionally high quality bone marrow fat. The meat and berries were traditionally slow-dried over a fire until hard and brittle before being pounded into an almost powder-like consistency. This was then mixed in with melted fat and stuffed into pouches-I guess a traditional beef jerky?
Now, the prairies are most commonly known for their never ending wheat fields, but there is more to their cuisine! To be fair, the most unique prairie foods do seem to have a tendency to come from the land. The super-fruit Saskatoon berry (originally used for Pemmican) is commonly used in jams, pies and even beer and wine. High in nutrition, they taste similar to a blueberry. The ones that really made me wonder were the thistles, and spruce/fir and pine tree tips! Not as strange as they sound-it’s the thistle leaves that are boiled up and served as a vegetable with butter and seasoning. While the tree tips are traditionally used for healing teas it’s also possible to sample a spruce tip shortbread cookie.
Hopefully when I make a cross-Canada trip I’ll be able to sample many if not all of these occasionally weird and wonderful delicacies that Canada has to offer to the world table.