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What is Canadian Cuisine?

My Sister-in-Law is Taiwanese and moved to Canada (AB) when she married my Brother two years ago. In that time she went from not knowing how to boil water to being a pretty decent cook.

Her family is now coming to visit Canada and she (with my help) would like to make them a dinner consisting of a "Canadian" menu.

She does not want any Asian dishes as in "these are the Asian dishes Canadians eat" as her family already cooks and eats Asian. She wants true Canadian food.

Having been born in Canada this leaves me puzzling the question "what is Canadian food"? We would love some input of fellow foodies. My sister-in-law's kitchen skills are not up to suggestions such as "pemmican" but certainly she could handle creatively prepared salmon etc...

We have until the fall to get a menu together so feel free to discuss...I wasn't sure quite what to tell her when she asked me "What Are the Quintessential Canadian Foods?"

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  1. This is a fun topic - may I suggest you repost it on Home Cooking so people in other parts of Canada and expats like me could weigh in?

    1. Poutine!

      Montreal bagels, Pate Chinois, seal meat and deep fried pork jowls (forget the Canadian name) all come to mind as well.

      2 Replies
      1. re: ipsedixit

        never been to canada have you,there is a western part as well that have never seen seal meat,jowls? poutines not bad .alberta beef is king(ya im biased)not many canadians eat seal(maritimes thing)

        1. re: ipsedixit

          forgot the lol.my post was supposed to be lite hearted .cheers

        2. I would think it would be heavy on fish, game and beef. Because it is cold and in North America, I would think dairy would be a big influence. As far as fish, lots of Salmon and Halibut. I'm sure there are more especially from the Nova Scotia area.

          They have a large french population so french cuisine would have a big influence. There would be a lot of great pastries. Whatever cuisine the native americans (a large population) contribute. I understand bison is popular.

          It tends to be cold in Canada. It has been my experience that cold climates like high calorie dishes because the cold makes them burn those calories quickly. Like wise because of the cold, they are gonna like braising so pot roasts and short ribs will be popular.

          Canada probably isn't big on heavily spiced foods like the in Louisiana or Mexican spices.

          Ok, Ok so it is total speculation.... but I bet I'm right. :-)

          1. Alberta has a lot of folks of Ukrainian descent. Pyrogis are a pretty common food served there (also called wereneke, by Albertan Mennonites http://indirectheat.blogspot.com/2009... ). Taber corn is lovely in Alberta in August. While people think of poutine as Canadian, it is primarily Quebecois (indeed, I don't think you can get cheese curds easily in Alberta, or you couldn't the last time I lived there). Alberta beef is probably the best beef I've ever had (much more flavourful than the corn-finished stuff you get in the U.S.). Might serve steaks.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Indirect Heat

              You can get cheese curds in Alberta these days - Our Sobey's carries Bothwell brand and the Walmart Supercentre carries St. Albert curds.

              1. re: mrbigshotno.1

                Excuse me?? That'd be a Timbit! Doughnuts are average.

              2. Depends.

                If you're talking the Maritimes it's seafood including great mussels and oysters. Also Arcadian foods that are a blend of French and North American like Maple Pie and Tourtiere. Quebec, likewise, the French influence and, more recently, MIddle Eastern, while Ontario would be heavily influenced by British and Scottish foods. Think Shepherd's Pie.

                The Plains provinces, including Alberta, would be grains and beef. The influences are Eastern European, as someone else has already suggested, and Scandinavian. I"d suggest if you start with a hearty whole wheat or whole grain bread and a root vegetable soup, then the rest could be the kind of meat and potatoes thing that would be popular in the American Midwest. Pyrogys would be familiar too.

                BC is a wonderful poiyglot: Indian, German, British and Scotch. Always salmon.

                I would do a little research at Canadian Living magazine which has put out some awesome cookbooks and has great recipes on a monthly basis.

                1. Since your sister-inlaw is living in Alberta I totally second the beef suggestion. Man, I miss Canadian beef.
                  Butter Tarts are very Canadian but at that time of year I would serve Saskatoon Berry pie. Also I would serve some of the great wines that are coming out of the Okanagan like Hillside Estates or Blasted Church or Burrowing Owl.
                  I hope that her family enjoys there stay in Canada it will be beautiful at that time of year.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: dessert diva

                    Oh, too stupid that I forgot! Dessert diva, you win! Of course, butter tarts and saskatoon pie! Saskatoons are not available anywhere besides Canada, and butter tarts are an adaptation of pecan pie (sans pecans) only available in Canada. And serve Iniskillin icewine! And rhubarb! Rhubarb pie! *sigh*

                    I've been gone 13 years. I miss all of those things...

                    1. re: Indirect Heat

                      Saskatoon berries are also called service berries, and you can find them in Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota- and I would think any of the other northern States.

                      While butter tarts are somewhat similar to pecan pie, I wouldn't consider them an adaptation of pecan pie, since the butter tart evolved independently from the pecan pie. Different crust (and the flaky crust is an important part of a good butter tart, whereas pecan pie usually seems to be more about the pecans & filling), different texture to the sugar/butter filling, different ratio of crust to filling. Different animal, if you ask me. Sugar Pie/ Tarte au Sucre is also closely related, as is Shoofly Pie and Chess Pie. I would even go so far to say Momofuku's Crack Pie is very distantly related, although once again, completely different texture and ratios.

                      While I would consider the butter tart to be very Ontarian, I was surprised when I brought some butter tarts to a friend's house recently, and she and her sister told me they had never tried butter tarts before. They are 2 Toronto born-and-raised 30somethings who are very food-focused and open-minded foodwise when it comes to cooking or dining out. Regardless of how "Canadian" a specific food is, there will be at least some very "Canadian" people who don't eat it or haven't tried it.

                      While I don't believe there is one Canadian cuisine that would be common to most or all Canadians, especially as Canada becomes more and more multicultural, I would suggest there are several distinct regional cuisines in Canada, as well as particular foods that are popular in certain regions. Most Canadian cookbooks break Canadian cuisine into West Coast, Prairies, Ontario, Quebec and Maritimes sections. It's also possible to buy regional cookbooks, focusing on Prairie cooking, or Quebecoise cooking, etc. If the OP's sister-in-law is interested in seeing what many born-and-bred Albertans eat at home, she could look into buying a community cookbook, often put out by churches, schools or service clubs, where people have submitted their favourite recipes, which are often regional favourites. I have several community cookbooks from Saskatchewan (they actually sell them at the gift shop in the Regina airport), and different parts of rural Ontario.

                      When I lived in Western Canada, certain pastries like butterhorns and chocolate puffed wheat squares were common, but I have never seen them in Ontario or Quebec. .

                      Kraft Dinner (similar to Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, but the Cdn version tastes different) has a special place in many Canadian hearts. The Bloody Caesar is a very Canadian drink and invention. While not distinctly Cdn, chip wagons (selling fresh cut fries out of trailers) are a very Cdn summertime treat, and dousing them white or malt vinegar makes them even more Canadian. Same goes with cowboy beans. While they taste a lot like baked beans in bbq sauce, they show up on pretty much every plate of food in AB around Stampede season.

                      Other Cdn foods:

                  2. Tourtiere
                    Ragout de pate
                    Sucre a la creme
                    Nanaimo bars
                    Montreal smoked meat
                    Montreal bagels
                    Beaver tails

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: souschef

                      Mmm Nanaimo bars! A must have Canadian treat. My mom used to make them every Christmas when we lived in Vancouver.

                    2. True Canadian food? I can't really think of much...
                      But there will be some great ingredients in the fall... apples, pears, fish, beef, squash, maple syrup, I'd definitely do something with maple syrup. To me the best thing would be getting some great local products and preparing them simply as opposed to some obscure dish us Canadians don't actually eat.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: AndrewK512

                        "the best thing would be getting some great local products and preparing them simply as opposed to some obscure dish us Canadians don't actually eat."

                        Excellent viewpoint. I think that whenever you read about any country's iconic dishes they are rarely ones regularly eaten at home on day-to-day basis

                        1. re: AndrewK512

                          I have a wonderful recipe for Cedar Planked Salmon with Maple Syrup - which gives you both the salmon and mayple syrup (and I got it while in Canada from a Canadian Catering Chef). I don't usually eat much fish, but this was wonderful. Let me know if you want the recipe.

                          1. re: boyzoma

                            I would love the recipe boyzoma. I've got a freezer full of salmon and a husband who doesn't love fish.

                            1. re: just_M

                              Certainly. Here you go. FYI - I don't have a cedar plank, so I have left that part off when I cook it. But it is still fantastic.

                              CEDAR PLANKED SALMON WITH MAPLE GLAZE


                              1 cup pure maple syrup
                              1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
                              3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
                              3 tablespoons soy sauce
                              2 tablespoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger root
                              2 1/2 lb. center cut salmon fillet with skin
                              greens from 1 bunch scallions

                              1. Simmer above ingredients in a small heavy saucepan for about 30 minutes, or until reduced to about 1 cup.
                              2. Preheat oven to 350 F - if using a cedar plank, lightly oil and heat in middle of oven for 15 minutes or lightly oil shallow baking pan large enough to hold salmon.
                              3. Arrange scallion greens in one layer on plank or baking pan. Place salmon skin side down on scallion greens and brush with half of glaze. Season with salt and pepper and roast in middle of oven just until cooked through-approx. 20 minutes if using baking pan and 35 minutes for the plank. Heat remaining glaze in a small saucepan over low heat just until warm. Stir in 1 tablespoon lemon juice and serve over salmon as a sauce.

                              1. re: boyzoma

                                Thanks so much - I can't wait to try this!

                        2. In Quebec I have seen people go wild for Poutine (a messy gravy over cheese curds and fried potatoes dish) but I could never get up enough courage to try it myself.

                          And in Vancouver, after seeing many restaurants advertising Chinese-Canadian food, I couldn't help but wonder if critics pooh-poohed them there as they do our Chinese-American cuisine?

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: DonShirer

                            Oh, you must try it! The poutine that is.

                          2. Peameal bacon and Habitant brand soup :)

                            More seriously, locally made things like Oka cheese. Wild rice. Fiddleheads. Game. Wild mushrooms.

                            Many Quebecois dishes have been mentioned - there's also very distinctive East Coast dishes such as hard bread, salt cod dishes, etc. You could do a Jiggs dinner or another east coast themed meal.

                            Overall though, I would look to how specific cultures have adapted their cuisine for this country and what makes the Canadian variants Canadian

                            e.g. in parts of Ontario and the Prairies, with Mennonite cuisine, you notice the differences between Mennonites who've lived in Canada for 100 years vs. their relatives who live in Mexico.

                            The Canadian variations are certainly blander, more beef than pig-focused, and more wheat-based, for sure.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: MerBot

                              I grew up on Habitant pea soup. Gross.

                            2. I think that what you're going to discover during your preparation and research is that Canadian cuisine is 1) regional and 2) multi-cultural. That does mean that Asian cuisines (including Taiwanese dishes are fair game, and you've got a lot of culinary influences to work with. Rainey's suggestion of Canadian Living is a good one, as is a trip to the local public library.

                              You can do the stereotypical stuff if you want, but I think that showcasing the ingredients from each of the ingredients might be a better way to go. That shouldn't be hard as you've already indicated that you're in Alberta, so unless you're in say, Ft. Vermillion or Hinton, you should have pretty good access to great ingredients as well.

                              Off the top of my head, I'd try to showcase at least the following:

                              - Alberta beef (great stuff; I miss it myself)
                              - East and West Coast seafood (esp salmon and lobsters)
                              - Saskatoon berries, cloudberries, wild blueberries
                              - Quebec raw-milk cheeses (stick with the milder ones; Taiwan isn't that fond of the more exotic cheeses)
                              - Quebec foie gras
                              - BC and Ontario wines, Quebec cider

                              Someone will also ask for syrup.

                              9 Replies
                              1. re: wattacetti

                                Add Nova Scotia Salmon; Yukon char; Quebec, creton, ployes and boudan.
                                Serve Molson beer, don flannel shirts, stand and sing "Oh Canada".

                                1. re: Passadumkeg

                                  And then congregate around the electric hearth to watch Red Green. ;-)

                                  1. re: buttertart

                                    I actually was thinking of recommending a Possum Lodge Pot Luck.

                                    1. re: Passadumkeg

                                      He has a distinctly eastern Canada vibe to me, maybe Muskoka or Peterborough area, or Ottawa Valley. Not Alberta. But I could swear Dalton used to run the store in Port Franks and some of the guys used to hang with my dad.

                                      1. re: buttertart

                                        I thought the Calabogie Lakes area or Black Donald Mines. If only I had access to a scanner. but Red is too low class for Renfrew.

                                        1. re: Passadumkeg

                                          Yeah, the accent is pretty much Ottawa area.

                                          1. re: buttertart

                                            Great Northern Pike fillets fried in bacon grease, w/ steamed new potatoes w/ butter & fresh dill.
                                            Moose burgers.
                                            An Orange Squash?

                                            1. re: Passadumkeg

                                              I haven't had a piece of pike since I was little...potatoes with mint...roast moose sirloin...wild mushrooms. Peach pie with my mom's crust for dessert.

                                              1. re: buttertart

                                                A Maritime Provences theme? Fish cakes and beans for brekkie, a pot of steamers an PEI mussels w/ baguette & Moosehead beer for lunch, and fin haddie or salt fish and potatoes w/ pork scraps for summer w/ Canadien Royal or other rye whiskey for cocktails. Cod tongues and cheeks for starters.
                                                For music play Ian & Sylvia's Nova Scotia Farwell & Nancy Whiskey;
                                                "Farewell to Nova Scotia the Sea bound coast,
                                                May your mountains dark and dreary be...

                              2. From past experience of visiting friends/family ... they want to eat what your sister in law would eat. Let's face it, her family is probably wondering how she is adjusting to Canadian life. So show them!

                                I was born in Hong Kong, but raised in Toronto...I have a very hard time telling you what is stereotypical Canadian cuisine..I can tell you what OTHER people stereotype as Canadian (poutine, butter tarts), but can't say I grew up eating the stuff (though I did grow up eating doughnuts). When I think about Canadian food, and what I really miss...Jamaican beef patties!!!

                                My mom is a great cook, so she made amazing (yes Chinese!) meals, but highlighting the ingredients of better quality then what the visitors could get back "home". Salmon, crab, lobster, corn, broccoli, apples (of the non Red Delicious variety), cherries ...all went over very well. We also lived in a mostly Greek area...my mom makes a great Spanakopita. We roasted turkey (with a chinese style marinade) and made turkey congee with the bones afterwards. Lasagna, pasta... all things we ate at home in Canada.

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: gnomatic

                                  I second the community cookbooks phoenikia some of my favourite recipes have come out of the ones I got in school. Most are very simple and very telling of what the community food was like at the time of publishing. Many a jellied salad.

                                  Wattacetti I really like what you say about Canadian food being multi-cultural. The dishes that I miss most from home would be perogis, dry ribs, and fantastic Greek food. Most of my friends had assumed that Canadians' eat poutine and maple syrup. However I'm more likely to make butter chicken for supper than poutine.

                                  1. re: dessert diva

                                    Could you elaborate on the dry ribs? I think I've had them at a Greek restaurant in Terrace BC. What I recall is pork ribs roasted with Greek style spicing.

                                    1. re: paulj

                                      That sounds great, I'd love to know too.

                                      1. re: paulj

                                        Dry ribs are cubes of pork that are lightly coated in flour and spices then deep fried when they come out of the fryer they are tossed in lemon juice and more spice mixture. The places that I know you can get these keep the recipe pretty close to their chest but next time I'm home I'll try to deconstruct them better.

                                  2. I usually tell people that we don't have our own cuisine because we imported everyone else's.

                                    For Taiwanese visiting Alberta I'd go with a good steak - do a dry rub, and toss it on the barbecue. Roast baby new potatoes in foil with butter and herbs along side it, and for veggies go with a simple garden salad, and whatever is fresh and local (winter squash if it's later, corn on the cob if it's earlier). Serve with ice cold bottles of local beer.

                                    BTW, my brother lives in AB and I live in Taiwan. Beef in Taiwan is pretty much all imported, from the US or Australia, and is significantly more expensive that the locally produced pork and chicken. Garden salads are not part of traditional Taiwanese cooking (or any raw vegetable for that matter). I don' think I've ever seen the new little potatoes in the stores. And the local beer (called Taiwan Beer) is a very standard basic lager, so a nice Big Rock Pale Ale or Wheat Beer would be a different type of beer. For non-alcoholic drinks, try Canada Dry ginger-ale, as ginger ale is not common here, although you can find it in cans tucked away in the alcohol section. For dessert - maybe a fruit pie with ice cream.

                                    (And if you don't want to serve beer, you can always mail it to me)

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                      Rhubarb pie! That's classic Canadian dessert. And sadly, the further south you head, the harder rhubarb is to find (in Texas, I've paid as much as $7 a pound for good rhubarb)...

                                      1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                        Being from London, Ont., and having lived in Taipei, this sounds like the best solution given that the OP is in AB, as long as the relatives eat beef (I knew a lady who was a devout Buddhist and would not eat it, although she ate other meats). Not too rare on those steaks. And a nice local fruit pie for dessert - peaches would be great - (or Nanaimo bars and butter tarts - although bts are more Ontario I believe and nbs of course BC). I posted my mom's recipe for butter tarts in honour of her on Canada Day.

                                      2. You haven't lived until you've had Newfoundland Screech Cake! It's the classic French Savarin, but with Screech (Newfie rum) used in the soaking syrup. Available only at Le Café at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. Going for some next Saturday after a Celtic Woman concert.

                                        Easy to make btw.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: souschef

                                          Holy cow! My dad used to get that off his Newfie pal. Pretty darn strong.

                                          1. re: buttertart

                                            It is so diluted with the soaking syrup that you taste it without getting a buzz. Served with whipped cream on the side.

                                            BTW Pierre Hermé has a good savarin recipe in his chocolate desserts book. I have made it a couple of times, and it works really well, apart from needing more syrup than he specifies.

                                            1. re: souschef

                                              That's something I have to do, make yeasted desserts. Haven't done it in ages.

                                              1. re: buttertart

                                                These are all great suggestions! I am taking notes as I look over the replies and thinking of what will be in season as well as weighing my SIL's skill and the philosophy behind the exercise. Thanks for the specific recipes also. My SIL will use all your replies as inspiration to add to her daily cooking for her meals for her and my Brother so this is great!

                                        2. Ooh this is interesting. If it were up to me, here's what I would do:

                                          I would open with a butternut squash soup, particularly if it's falltime and the local winter squashes are available.

                                          I would probably do a nice big hunk of alberta beef for a main course. Serve it with potatos (baked or mashed) and some sauteed chanterelle mushrooms on the side. These should be available locally in the falltime.

                                          Try canadian wines or why not canadian beers with dinner? Maybe a bit too filling...

                                          For dessert I'd serve apple pie/crumble/tart from a local farm. It would even be fun to go apple picking with the family if it's the right time of year. I'd also serve an ice cider at the end of the meal.

                                          Other ideas include bison, venison, moose. Maybe a platter of canadian cheeses with a couple of interesting Canadian wines. Umm, nanaimo bars, maple syrup, canada goose, local rabbit...

                                          1. If it's going to be close to Canadian Thanksgiving, consider an early turkey dinner with all the fixings. I love fall-themed menus including butternut squash, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie...etc. You could use the turkey carcass for chicken-noodle soup the next day, or for some turkey congee.

                                            You could also look up Jean Pare's Company's Coming cookbooks for some retro Canadian food.

                                            I also agree with other replies regarding the diversity of Canadian food. Until I lived in other parts of Canada, I never realized how common pyrogies, cabbage rolls, puffed wheat squares and rhubarb were in Alberta!

                                            8 Replies
                                            1. re: mobirose

                                              What's a puffed wheat square? Recipe please?

                                              1. re: buttertart

                                                Puffed wheat squares are similar to Rice Krispie squares except made with puffed wheat cereal and cocoa. I grew up in ON/PQ. I only came across puffed wheat squares when I moved to Calgary.

                                                1. re: maplesugar

                                                  They sound quite good. I grew up in SW ON and never heard of them.

                                                  1. re: buttertart

                                                    Puffed Wheat squares were a staple in my house as a kid. Super simple too.
                                                    puffed wheat, corn syrup, coca, butter, and brown sugar. different ratios can be found all over but those are the basic ingredients. I personally like my squares very thick, 2-3 inches, and a little gooy so I tend to go for a higher butter content.

                                                    1. re: dessert diva

                                                      They look good, I always liked puffed wheat as a cereal. Somehow I see the fine hand of the Alberta Grain Board or equivalent promulgating this recipe!

                                                    2. re: buttertart

                                                      I'm SW ON born and bred and we had puffed wheat squares all the time. My mom still makes them sometimes. She had family on the prairies, though; that may be where it came from.

                                                      1. re: Blush

                                                        Quite possibly that was it, I really don't remember anything other than Rice Krispie squares in our house or friends'/relatives'.

                                                        1. re: buttertart

                                                          I haven't made these in probably 10 years! I originally got this from a childhood friend:

                                                          1/3 cup butter
                                                          1/2 cup corn syrup
                                                          1 cup brown sugar
                                                          2 tbsp cocoa
                                                          1 tsp vanilla
                                                          8 cups puffed wheat

                                                          Combine butter, corn syrup, sugar and cocoa powder in a heavy saucepan. Briing to a boil. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Pour over puffed wheat. Mix well and press into a greased pan.

                                              2. Wow lots of really great suggestions. I love the suggestion to just get a Canadian Living magazine and go from there. - they have some great recipes. Here are my two bits:

                                                - a must: BBQ steaks (BBQing is a great Canadian pass time) with baked potato and Caesar salad
                                                - cedar planked salmon
                                                - fruit pie
                                                - rice krispie squares
                                                - nanaimo bars
                                                - macaroni and cheese
                                                - weenies and beanies (not kidding!)
                                                - rice pudding
                                                - halibut with mango (or other fruit) salsa
                                                - make a thanksgiving dinner - turkey, stuffing, yams, mashed potato, broccoli and cheese sauce
                                                - clam chowder
                                                - BLT
                                                - Omelet
                                                - pancakes
                                                - chocolate chip cookies
                                                - beef stew with biscuits
                                                - chili
                                                - salmon burgers
                                                - and of course Timbits!

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: julesincoq

                                                  I'm with you except for the hotdogs in the baked beans - Mom only did that for my sister who wouldn't eat baked beans without them. :)

                                                2. I was considering the label of "Canadian Food" just the other day. It's a tough one. I grew up in New England and moved to Ontario, and the food culture is very similar between the two. (Though New England also has a few items that are more regionally Maritimes than Ontario.) Aside from a few key dishes that I know wouldn't be found outside of New England, I'd have a hard time listing off items of "American Cuisine".

                                                  There are a lot of great ideas already in this thread, and I can really get behind the idea of a Thanksgiving dinner. Even if you do a truncated version with a whole roast chicken or turkey breast instead of the whole turkey, it should be enjoyable for all. Sunday roast (beef or pork) dinner would be a decent idea as well.

                                                  I think really anything you grew up eating is the right answer.