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why so few 'canadian food' restaurants?

bellywizard May 18, 2007 07:43 PM

This puzzles me...
When you go to France, many restaurants promote French food.
Same with many countries - Italy, Germany, Jamaica, etc.
Even the US does this - but it's more regional (Southern food, Californian style, etc).

But in Canada, we don't promote 'Canadian' food - and I don't see any inherent reason not to. Native foods could be highlighted, and of course many regional specialties.

In Toronto, a couple of restaurants do this a tiny bit (Canoe comes to mind). Some Niagara wineries (such as Hillebrand) feature some Canadian food.
But tourists coming to Canada would be hard-pressed to find any Canadian foods highlighted at restaurants. Certainly, almost no restaurants openly market themselves this way.


Is it because Canadians are reluctant to promote our culture?
Is it because the food is just undeserving of promotion (which I doubt...)?

If anyone has more insights than I do about this issue, I'd love to hear about it!

  1. Kajikit Jun 4, 2007 11:06 AM

    I'd take a guess that there is no such thing as 'Canadian food' the same way there isn't really any way to put a blanket definition on 'Australian food', and for the same reason. Theyr'e both very multicultural countries and there are only a few national 'specialties' (nanaimo bars, poutine and maple syrup baking come to mind) - everything else has been adopted from other places... so you get fantastic Chinese food and Italian food and Greek food etc etc etc etc.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Kajikit
      bellywizard Jun 11, 2007 08:36 PM

      not *everything* in canada or australia comes from immigration -
      there are lots of native foods, which for some reason are rarely featured...

    2. h
      hungry_pangolin Jun 3, 2007 08:26 AM

      Part of the problem is that it's not a nation with a defined cuisine just by virtue of the size. Try to find cod tongue in Saskatchewan, for instance. Part of what defines Canadian cuisine (for me, born in northern Ontario) is game, much of which by law cannot be served in restaurants. Yes, you will see venison on some menus, but it's domesticated, farm-raised. Because moose isn't domesticated, it's not on the menu. The one exception to this is caribou, but you will see that only rarely. (Excellent stuff, by the way.) I had a non-Canadian friend over for dinner this week, and served moose steaks, potato salad (vinaigrette, not creamy), and steamed fiddle heads. Now, *that's* Canadian.

      3 Replies
      1. re: hungry_pangolin
        Splendid Wine Snob Jun 13, 2007 08:34 AM

        Couldn't agree more.

        Also being a "northerner", I would say that game meats could be defined as Canadian food. We have quite the ritual in our family during the hunting season.

        Don't forget the beer to wash down the moose steaks.

        1. re: Splendid Wine Snob
          hungry_pangolin Jun 13, 2007 09:05 AM

          Ex? 50 (better uttered as cinquente)? Northern?

          1. re: hungry_pangolin
            Splendid Wine Snob Jun 13, 2007 09:08 AM

            All three. Hmmm, missing the North desperately right now ;)

      2. q
        Querencia Jun 1, 2007 03:28 AM

        I share your questions since one of the best meals I ever had in my life was at "Les Filles du Roi" in Montreal (closed now), a Sunday brunch buffet of traditional Quebecois food (I am delighted to remember the tourtiere, the fevres au lard, and the ham and dumplings poached in maple syrup). This was food to sustain a farmer through a cold day of tilling Canadian soil---much sugar and fat---but what a memory!

        1. starlady May 31, 2007 05:39 PM

          Well I am in Vancouverand I see lots of places (mostly Asian) that have "Chinese and Canadian food" on their signs. Also "Vietnamese, CHinese and Canadian food"
          Now this to me is not touting "canadian food" it's trying to entice people to come into their resto's.
          On the other hand there are tons of Resto's here that try and serve only local food, which is canadian...
          One of my personal faves is a place that has only local food and the wine list is also all just BC wines. Now that's Canadian food!

          2 Replies
          1. re: starlady
            jlawrence01 May 31, 2007 10:26 PM

            When traveling through Northern Ontario, a good number of the diners in small towns have been purchased by recent immigrants from India and Sri Lanka. While they serve their native cuisine as a side line, they promote that they serve Canadian food to fill the place and to cover the rent,

            1. re: jlawrence01
              Sam Fujisaka May 31, 2007 10:29 PM

              Nice. So what do they serve and how is it?

          2. mrbozo May 31, 2007 05:32 PM

            Canadian food or Quebecois food? The latter offers a far greater variety of gastronomical treats.

            4 Replies
            1. re: mrbozo
              John Manzo May 31, 2007 07:54 PM

              Far greater? Since Quebecois food is CANADIAN food, your claim is incorrect. Canadian food comprises all of Quebecker food; the opposite is, of course, not true.

              1. re: John Manzo
                mrbozo Jun 1, 2007 03:02 AM

                Far greater indeed. Quebecois food is Quebecois food, based on the traditions of French cuisne. Canadian food is, well, Canadian food.

                As a Quebecois who has traveled the length of Canada I know for a fact that the distinction holds, MacDonald's notwithstanding. All one needs to do is to spend a month or two in Quebec (and practice one's French) and the diffrence will be obvious.

                1. re: mrbozo
                  John Manzo Jun 1, 2007 08:39 PM

                  Is Quebec in Canada? What is Canadian food if not the food that Canadians, including Quebeckers, eat?

                  1. re: John Manzo
                    mrbozo Jun 2, 2007 11:35 AM

                    In the political sense of confederation (a mutually negotiated, not militarily enforced, agreement), yes, Quebec is part of Canada. In a cultural sense ... well, les Canadiens sont là !

                    Enjoy your foie gras, cipaille, raw milk cheeses, Matane shrimp, poutine, etc. It's a gift!

            2. hitachino May 31, 2007 05:15 AM

              someone was recently asking on the FL board where to find poutine - as a floridian, i'd never heard of it or seen it served anyplace (before or since) visiting montreal some years ago. ( i was also baffled by 'loose meat' which permeated canadian menus. )

              maybe someone SHOULD venture canadian themed cuisine spots in FL.......it would certainly be something new here. and in FL, there are a whole lot of canadian visitors and transplants (my neighbor is from canada)

              1 Reply
              1. re: hitachino
                Bob W May 31, 2007 07:48 AM

                You can get poutine in Dania, a small town in southern Broward County favored by Canadian visitors. There's a stand run by Canadians called the Dairy Belle that has poutine (several varieties) and some other apparently Canadian favorites -- something with chopped up hot dogs, for example.

              2. PeterL May 30, 2007 05:31 PM

                For the same reason that there is no Chinese restaurants or Chinese food in China. They are just restaurants and food.

                5 Replies
                1. re: PeterL
                  Sam Fujisaka May 30, 2007 08:04 PM

                  Much better said than what I attempted above.

                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                    bellywizard May 30, 2007 08:27 PM

                    But there ARE "french restaurants" in France, and "quebecois restaurants" in quebec. Some places do market their national cuisines, and most don't. Canada falls into the "don't" category.

                    It was asked: What is canadian food - aside from poutine, peameal bacon, maple syrup, and montreal smoked meat?

                    Here are a few ideas to start with:

                    And of course there are aboriginal dishes. Why so little mention of these? Or why wouldn't government & tourism bureaus try to promote this food? See:

                    1. re: bellywizard
                      Sam Fujisaka May 30, 2007 08:42 PM

                      But, again, if you go to the iconic "Joe's Diner" you expect and get American food. Some of my favorite restaurants in Rome don't even have a name--but you can bet you'll get "Italian". Restaurants in Madagascar serve Malagasy food, but only have a sign outside that says "Hotely".

                      1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                        bellywizard May 31, 2007 05:10 AM

                        Sam, I agree.
                        There are definitely lots of Joe's Diners in Canada - generic American food, maybe serving some poutine as well.

                        There are occasionally restaurants in Canada like Mets Gaspésies des Deux Freres (excuse my poor imagination & French), but nothing like Kettle Point Kitchens (a possible Native food restaurant), and very few places like Three Coasts Eatery (pan-Canadian).

                        Anyhow - this horse has been flogged...

                  2. re: PeterL
                    pepper_mil Jun 15, 2007 05:44 PM

                    There are, however, tons of regional Chinese restaurants here in China, even in their native regions. I live in Sichuan and there are several restaurants that advertise themselves as Chuan Cai, or Sichuan food, as well as others that specialize in Tibetan, Yunan, Shanxi, Guangdong, or Xinjiang style food. I also remember restaurants back home (Edmonton) that served (or pretended to serve) east coast food or Quebecois food. As has been mentioned, I think the regional distinction is what you want to look for.

                  3. jword2001 May 30, 2007 05:25 PM

                    please forgive my ignorance, but what outside of Poutine and Tim Horton's donuts, is Canadian food?, I've been in parts of Ontario,several times,and always had good meals, but outside of the things mentioned,the menu's looked like anything in the U.S.

                    10 Replies
                    1. re: jword2001
                      ira May 30, 2007 05:35 PM

                      Montreal smoked meat for me is quintessential Canadian food, and it saddens me to no end that it's not sold in the US.

                      1. re: jword2001
                        caitlink May 30, 2007 07:46 PM

                        The only Cdn food I can think of are: poutine and peameal bacon sandwich. Otherwise, not sure what is uniquely Cdn food that you would find in a restaurant. Even smoked meat, I would say you can find in a NYC deli.

                        1. re: jword2001
                          jword2001 May 30, 2007 08:45 PM

                          I also remember having a killer dessert , raisin pie, in Pembroke On, never seen it anywhere else.

                          1. re: jword2001
                            mrbozo May 31, 2007 05:27 PM

                            Step it up a notch and have some sugar pie in Quebec.

                            1. re: jword2001
                              Libertycafe Jun 15, 2007 10:50 AM

                              Or saskatoon berry pie, or anything made with saskatoon berries.

                              And speaking of immigration influences, I remembered having cravings for potato and cheese perogies (with the usual onion, bacon bits, and sour cream) while living in Ottawa, back in 1988. I looked high and low throughout the Loblaws store for frozen perogies and the staff didn't have a clue what I was talking about.

                            2. re: jword2001
                              Jacquilynne May 31, 2007 09:44 PM

                              I think this is actually an important point to consider. "Canadian" food isn't going to be utterly distinct from "American" food (and a lot of people have trouble defining that, too!). Food exists on a continuum, that isn't dictated by borders, and it's likely that the home cooking of say, Southern Ontario and Northern New York or Saskatchewan and North Dakota have a lot more in common than New York and Georgia or North Dakota and Texas.

                              1. re: jword2001
                                Jambalaya Jun 12, 2007 06:30 AM

                                Hey, don't forget butter tarts!!!

                                1. re: Jambalaya
                                  pepper_mil Jun 15, 2007 05:38 PM

                                  Ha, I served butter tarts to a group of other English speaking foreigners here in China and was surprised that the Americans had not heard of them. The Japanese were exclaiming over the 'walnut pie'. They went over great though.

                                  recipe at


                                2. re: jword2001
                                  macca Jun 13, 2007 09:10 AM

                                  I live in the US, but have some clients originally from Canada (Acadian) They make us Rappi pie a few times a year. So good.

                                  1. re: jword2001
                                    littlegreenpea Jun 13, 2007 10:12 AM

                                    "Canadian food" might be quite similar to American food.

                                    But Canada is a damn big country, so things will differ by region. By no means a complete list, but some ideas:
                                    East Coast - lobster
                                    Quebec - tourtiere, sugar pie, poutine
                                    Ontario - roast beef comes to mind (?)
                                    Alberta - beef, bison is very popular here too
                                    B.C. - pacific salmon

                                    There are a tonne of "Canadian foods" that, perhaps not always unique to Canada, are central to Canadian culture. The thing is, nobody refers to them as "Canadian food".

                                  2. DonShirer May 30, 2007 05:11 PM

                                    Many years ago on our first trip to Vancouver, my wife and I were looking for local eating establishments. I remember we were amused by several "Chinese-Canadian" restaurants, but passed them up for a "French-Canadian" one. As it turned out we wished we wished we had gone with the first possibility. As a tourist, I would be glad to try items identified as Canadian specialties, but what are they? (Moose mousse comes to mind, but let's not go there.)

                                    1. Jacquilynne May 30, 2007 11:17 AM

                                      I actually do see a fair number of 'Canadian' food signs around--usually in the context of 'Specializing in Chinese and Canadian dishes'. By Canadian, though, they generally mean 'any generically westernized dish'.

                                      I think most of the restaurants that are arguably 'Canadian' in style--using contemporary techniques, generally with immigrant influences and lots of local, in season ingredients where possible (the impossibility of local, in season ingredients for much of the year being a particular problem in Canadian cooking)--are simply not labelled with a nationality. They're not trying to be stereotypically Canadian (a la the Canadian Cafe in Los Angeles), they're just, you know, restaurants. Serving food. In Canada.

                                      1. m
                                        melly May 29, 2007 09:30 PM

                                        What is Canadian food?

                                        Is American food =turkey, corn, and squash..oh,and berries?

                                        1. Sam Fujisaka May 29, 2007 09:30 PM

                                          bw, you raise an interesting question--one I think quite well (extremely well, in my opinion) answered by JM, although there may be more to it.

                                          In answer to your reply, you don't see "Lebanese Food", "Thai Food", or "French Food" signs in Lebanon, Thailand, and France, respectively, just as you don't see "US food" or "Canadian Food" on the marquees of those restaurants in those countries. The iconic if no longer "Joe's Diner" is a call to you for US food; as is a "Taqueria" sign in Mexico telling you that there is (a type of) Mexican food inside.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                                            mrbozo May 30, 2007 04:59 PM

                                            La Binerie, or Pied de Cochon (for higher end), should franchise.

                                          2. John Manzo May 18, 2007 09:14 PM

                                            The US and Canada are two peas in a pod here- some regional cuisine and a lot reflecting immigrants' cultures. I completely disagree with what you're arguing. Canada has a food culture in the same sense that other new-world, immigrant-rich countries (like the US, Australia, Argentina..) do. If you were an immigrant I think you'd see that. As one (from the US), I see "Canadian" all over the place. Butter tarts and poutine, back bacon and Nanaimo bars. Montreal bagels are available coast to coast, with Winnipeg-style cream cheese no less. You can get Calgary-style ginger beef at Chinese restos all over Canada, but you won't find it in Chinese resto menues elsewhere. Bloody Caesars, eh? And as to the immigrant impact- some of it is uniquely Canadian too. You take for granted, in Toronto, that every single corner store (it seems) has a little oven with hot Jamaican patties for sale. You see this in other parts of the country too, Jamaican patties for sale at the deli counter at Safeway in the west (including areas with very few actual Jamaicans). Go to Chicago and stop in a convenience store and ask for a patty- can't be done. This is one of many ways that immigrants' dishes have been routinized and transformed here in ways that are distinctly Canadian.

                                            if you want restaurants that emphasise local ingredients, there are many- in fact I'd say that among ALL high-end restaurants there is a desire to highlight local. Makes for better food. But that's not the same thing as featuring "Canadian food." But if the "local ingredients" angle is you criterion, as I say, there are many many MANY restos across Canada that feature local sources. In Calgary, the best example is River Cafe, but they aren's alone. In BC the idea is almost cliche.

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