What is Canadian Food? A Top Ten List

I had the pleasure of having one of my husbands British relatives staying with us this week. We had a great time, but I have a weird habit to confess. I always find myself becoming a rather over-enthusiastic ambassador of all things Canadian when someone from the UK comes to visit. It may be because you actually do the things you normally think are kinda touristy with visitors, and then end up falling in love with where you live all over again. But maybe, in my case anyway, it’s because I have Small Man Syndrome when it comes to my own country. when you have lived in a country where the building where our flat was located down a small urban street contained more history than the entire country of my own birth, you worry about what the visiting dignitaries will think.

I will find myself going on and on. “Have you ever tried this before?” “OMG this is such a CANADIAN thing” “This restaurant is, like, world famous” “Did you know that Insert Actor/Comedian/Movie was filmed/Food/Amazing Thing is Canadian?!”. I become such a dork, I kinda can’t stand it. And I fear that a lot of it is compensation for the complete hilarity that is many Canadian things. Example: our Soccer, Canadian produced television programming, and complete lack of political scene. It makes me cringe just thinking about how other countries must think we are so adorably quaint we are.

But in the case of food, I think we are doing just fine. With the exception of just how many American food chains are present in our country, and that Tim Horton’s is American owned (mortifying), I think we are doing alright, folks. It is also my opinion that on a few culinary items we not only hold the fort, but completely rock out. Below is my list of Entirely Canadian Foods That Prove We Are Awesome.

1. The Nanaimo Bar. Named after Nanaimo, BC, this confection of walnuts, graham cracker crumbs, icing, and chocolate is just so crazy that it works. This is a mandatory staple of any Christmas cookie tray, church ladies bible study group, and birthday party. I can’t imagine Christmas without them. Whether you do them with vanilla or mint icing is, I think, a regional thing. (P.S. I heart them with mint icing)

2. Maple Syrup. It is an amazing thing that a watery tree sap when boiled down becomes a symbol for airport duty free across a whole country. It doesn’t even matter what sweet stuff you are actually putting on your pancakes, you just refer to it as maple syrup. Thank You Quebec.

3. Poutine. Another one of Quebec’s great contributions. While all countries in the world who eat potatoes have a manner of serving them up fried in some way, only Canada would think to put them in a bowl and cover them with cheese curds and beef gravy. So popular that if you can’t find them within 15 minutes of realizing that you are too drunk to drive home, you may have accidentally stumbled into Michigan. Again.

4. Butter Tarts. Basically a small version of the very Southern American pecan pie, bastardized. It can contain walnuts, pecans, raisin, chocolate, or a combination of all. But it must be small enough to eat in 3 bites and be gooey enough that when you bite into it the pastry dismantles and the filling dribbles down your chin.

5. KD. A packaged macaroni and cheese side dish in a box. Staple food for picky children and has kept college students on the brink of scurvy since 1937. Loving it is on the signed portion of the application for permanent residence to Canada. The box laughingly contains 4 recommended servings. Canadians know that it serves 2 people when mixed with a can of tuna, tomatoes, or cut up hot dogs, or one very tired, hungry individual with perhaps a few left over macaroni in the bowl that you just can’t finish no matter how hard you try to jam them in.

6. Illegal Salmon. You are not really a Canadian unless you know someone who buys cheap illegally fished salmon from a native guy he knows. This native guy may also be his dealer and/or his connection for cheap smokes. The salmon will be of a very poor quality. But if there is anything Canadians like it is the devilish satisfaction of not paying taxes on something very small and insignificant.

7. Vancouver Sushi. The bastard child of casual sushi take-out and the conceptual works of Lewis Carroll. Think sushi rolls containing wasabi mayo, fruit, peanut butter and jam, curry, and always a tempura something or other (note: probably not all together though). I should also make mention here of the phenomenon that is the Starbucks and Sushification of the entire greater Vancouver region. Soon you will only be able to get California rolls and lattes within the downtown core, and nothing else.

8. Bannock. Actually a staple food product for the first nations people. It is a flattened dough that is pan fried until densely chewy and crispy. If you are a Canadian, you have been forced at some point during your childhood to make it in Scouts/Brownies, or eat it a a museum or at a cultural event. It is actually very, very good. It is a shame that it not a widely sold and eaten foodstuff. I think that the first nations people are keeping it to themselves as punishment for small pox. Fair enough maybe.

9. Screech. A peculiar east coast obsession, Screech is also known as Swish. It was originally a rum manufacturing by-product. When the rum kegs were emptied, boiling water was poured in and swished about to extract the last of the alcohol and flavor that had soaked into the barrel. This was then sold off as cheap drink for the working class. It is a little more refined now, but is still a very high proof rum. The tradition if being “Screeched” is to take a shot of Screech and then kiss a cold cod fish on the lips. The amount of tongue involved varies with how much Screech was consumed previously. Like other food products of the east coast like fish & brewis (dried bread and salt cod reconstituted and fried in onions and lard), self loathing seems to be a sociological factor in perpetuating their popularity.

10. Pirogies. Now I understand that this is actually a Ukrainian thing, or on a grander scale an eastern European thing, but no other country in the world has taken Pirogi to their heart in the same way that Canada has. They are potato dumplings with a doughy shell, served with fried onions, bacon, and sour cream. They are such an unconscious staple food, such a matter of the ordinary, that Canadians don’t even think about them anymore. They are just something you keep in the freezer, like pizza and ice cubes. They are not popular at all in England, which is strange considering the huge (and much bemoaned) Polish population. I knew I was really homesick when I found myself making pirogies one night from a recipe I found off the internet. As I have no Ukrainian heritage they were almost impossible to make. But man did they taste amazing. If you are really Canadian, you have a Babba or have a connection to a Babba who makes them for you and sends them to you in perfect little frozen care packages packed in a cooler, on a regular basis.

Do you have a much loved Canadian food that you just can’t live without?

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