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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Canadian Food 101

So today is July 1, Canada's 145th birthday! 

In honour of that (yes, in Canada we spell some things with a "u" that Americans don't, such as honour instead of honor), I thought I'd share some quintessentially Canadian food, and a few little Canadian tidbits.  In particular, I'm sharing because I know that most of my readers are actually American, not Canadian like me, so I thought some of you might find this useful.  For my Canadian readers, I hope this post raises nostalgia and feelings of pride, and maybe a few laughs.

I've provided a few lists for you here: First and foremost is, of course, Canadian food.  While I haven't been all across Canada (it is, afterall, the second largest country in the world) I've driven across the prairies a few times and have tried to provide some detailed info on certain traditional (and newly traditional) foods that I'm familiar with.  If I miss anything you'd like to see here, please let me know!! 

A toque, from
As you'll note from some of the video clips I've shared below, Canadians also have a long history of making fun of themselves.  Like poutine, maple syrup and the word "toque" used for a knitted winter cap, it is quintessentially Canadian to make fun of Canadian stereotypes in Canadian films, t.v. shows, radio stations and more.  Enjoy the lists and the clips!  If you have any questions or Canadian stories, please share them below!!

Quintessentially Canadian Food
The Basics: 
Poutine - French Fries covered in cheese curds and gravy.  This is mostly a French Canadian dish from Quebec, but can be found throughout the country.  Generally not gluten free, or vegetarian, but you can follow my directions for Gluten Free Vegetarian Gravy) , scatter your fries with some of those cheese curds that Wisconsin is so famous for, and make your own!

Canadian Bacon – up here we call it back bacon, but it's always on American menus as "Canadian Bacon".  Essentially, it's bacon that comes from the back of a pig, usually sliced in rounds and fried.

Bannock - an aboriginal dish, it's fried bread dough that is often drizzled with maple syrup. Sinfully tasty.

Beaver Tails - not so different from bannock, this is fried dough (usually shaped like a beaver tail) that is dipped in cinnamon and sugar and sold at fairs. 

Maple Syrup - pretty self-explanatory.  Tap a maple tree and collect yourself some syrup!

Chinese Buffet - Seriously, the Chinese buffet is actually a Canadian invention.  It got it's start in Gastown, Vancouver, BC in the late 1800s, when Scandinavians were working in the mills and logging industry.  Most of them had Chinese cooks, whom they asked to set up a steam table so they could leave room on their tables for drinks. Hence, the buffet table!

Whale Blubber and Seal - ok, not really a quintessentially Canadian dish, but for the Inuits / Eskimos up north, this is a dietary staple, as it actually provides a ton of vital nutrients, and actually is supposed to be very good for your arteries because of the high levels of Omega 3s. 

Montreal Bagels - originating in Montreal with Jewish immigrants to Quebec, I'm not sure what differentiates these from other bagels, but they're often sold by street vendors in Montreal.

P.E.I. Mussels - you've probably seen them on menus throughout the U.S. in fancy restaurants.  Out of curiosity (to see if she knew) I once asked a waitress in Seattle if she knew what P.E.I. mussels were.  She said she thought they were a variety of mussel.  In a way, they are.  They're from a place called PEI, Prince Edward Island, Canada's smallest province on the far east coast.  In this province they farm mussels and send them around North America.  Incidentally, I'll be visiting this teeny-tiny province on my honeymoon later this month!

 Along with Mussels, the small provinces on the eastern coast known as The Maritimes, are choke full of seafood such as mussels, oysters and lobster (cod fishing was also huge until they were fished almost to extinction).  I haven't been there yet, but I'm going for my honeymoon, and hope to report more on their cuisine after wards.  Their influences range from Scottish to French to English to Mi'kmaq aboriginal. 

Pierogis - these didn't originate in Canada, but the prairies (Saskatchewan and Manitoba) have a ton of Eastern European and Ukrainian immigrants.  I grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and pierogi restaurants are common throughout the city.  There are so many Ukrainians in Winnipeg that we always used to leave our Chrismas lights up well into January in order to honour Ukrainian New Years. 

Donair, Felafel and Kebab - Also not of Canadian origins, but there are a ton of folks of Palestinian, Syrian, Lebanese, Iraqi, Egyptian and North African origin in Quebec and Ontario and there are lots of tasty falafel stands and donair shops throughout the provinces.  Pizza joints often double as donair shops. 

Sushi - Again, not originally Canadian, but there is some wicked awesome sushi in Canada.  Sushi, Indian food and Chinese restaurants are so prolific (especially on the West Coast, like BC, which has an enormous Asian population.  In fact, 2 of the 5 largest Asian expat communities are in Vancouver and Toronto*) that there are practically two sushi restaurants, an Indian place and a Chinese restaurant on every other street corner. 

Chinese-Indian fusion - as mentioned in the above under sushi, Chinese and Indian restaurants are also popular due to our very large population of people of Chinese and Indian descent.  So many, in fact, that they periodically team up to create Chinese-Indian fusion restaurants.  It's like the best of both worlds!

JapaDog with Teriyaki sauce, mayo and seaweed from
JapaDog - another fusion food made famous during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, BC, the JapaDog is sold at stands around Vancouver.  It started in 2005 with a couple from Japan who decided to take the traditional hot dog and jazz it up, Japanese style.  In 2011, they expanded to open another stand in New York, so who knows, maybe you'll find one of these near you some time in the near future!
And finally, related to Canadian food is Canadian alcohol.  

Beer – Canadians like beer.  I’m not sure that they like it any better than any other country, but we have all kinds of funny beer commercials that involved people running through the snow in their underwear just to get beer, commercials with park rangers and sasquatches, and other kinds of Canadian stereo-types that make people laugh and want to buy beer.  While myths abound that Canadian beer has a higher alcohol content than American beer, it’s really not true.  Except with ice beer, a type of beer that is frozen during processing that somehow increases the alcohol content to like 7.1%.  While this is modeled off a type of German beer, Canadians labeled it “ice beer” and it’s been ours ever since.

The Caesar  - really, it's actually Canadian.  It was created by Walter Chell, and bartender, to mark the opening of a new restaurant in Calgary, Alberta, called Marco's. 
Canadian Video Clips

This little video clip is one that I remember vividly from my childhood.  The Canadian Film Board used to put together these cute little animated videos about Canadian history and they would play them periodically during commercial breaks on Canadian tv channels.This one is about the early loggers in Canada.

Jim Carrey, on being Canadian.  Please, folks, don't take this literally :)

Russell Peters on Becoming Canadian

Some famous Canadians you might not have known were Canadian (a short list in no particular order)

Jim Carrey
Dan Akroyd
William Shatner
Michael J. Fox
Ryan Reynolds
Kim Cattrall (for all you Sex in the City fans)
Brendan Fraser (you know, the guy from The Mummy)
Eugene Levy
Howie Mandel
Rachel  McAdams
Rick Moranis
Ryan Gosling
Jill Hennessy
Joshua Jackson
Michael Cera
Pamela Anderson
Keanu Reeves
Neil Young
Leonard Cohen
Tommy Chong
Ellen Page
Anna Paquin
Christopher Plummer
Seth Rogen
Martin Short
Matthew Perry
Donald and Kiefer Sutherland
Gordon Tootoosis
Adam Beach
Graham Greene
Glenn Gould

Do You have a favorite Canadian food or have you tried one of these quintessentially Canadian dishes?

*Stat from


  1. Wow! Thanks for this as well as the post of the Log Driver video. That brings back tons of memories. I sing that son to by little boys often when they are rolling on the rug. Great compilation of yummies!

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Lindsay. How cute that you sing the logger song to your boys!! I'm sure the Canadian Film Board would be proud to hear it ;)

  3. Love the list! Canada has 3 of my favorite things: Mussels, beer and bacon!

    Michelle @


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