What is Canadian food anyways? Ever been asked this and wondered what to say? After living in central Europe and entertaining guests from the region in Canada, this question has come up a lot and is usually broached with a discernable air of cultural superiority from the European side.
So, I often find myself on the defensive. With food being such a big part of national identity in other countries, it seems implied that Canada is in some way lacking in sophistication.
In this country though, questions that relate to identity are never easily answered. To ask “what is Canadian food?” also forced one to make some kind assumption about who might be eating this food. And since anyone could be Canadian, the answer is, anything could be Canadian food.
Growing up in Toronto it seemed inherit to me that what my family ate for dinner was not the same thing as what my friends and neighbors would be eating.
By contrast, while living in my first homogeneous society, it was mind-blowing to learn that while most meals looked pretty much the same, each one actually had a name and could also be found in a recipe book sitting in every home.
If you asked me what I ate for dinner last night and I said “roasted potatoes”, there would probably be a follow-up question as to how they were done because there are so many ways. In Austria however, when you say, “I ate Bratkartoffeln (roasted potatoes) last night” you’re actually referring to something very specific that’s cooked in a pan and everyone eats the same way.
This recipe based definition of food however, strikes me as a fairly limited attitude towards cuisine. When Canada does try to fit this model, the result is usually some kind of top ten list featuring Poutine, Swiss Chalet Sauce and other clichés that are mostly just embarrassing and actually says very little about what people eat here.
Instead, I suggest bringing the conversation up to speed with the society it relates to. In Canada, comparison to other countries is often relied on to bring to light what is uniquely different and therefore “Canadian”. If this sounds like a cultural void, I’d suggest rather, it’s an extremely liberating and individualistic experience to be Canadian.
It means you can find food from all over the world here and in the end, people end up eating what ever it is that they like, with a few commonalities. Canadians prize freshness, great quality and always look forward to the next big trend in food to take part in.
If visiting the country and you want a “Canadian dining experience”, my advice it to try sampling as much as possible and leave rules behind.
Just incase this is not specific enough, I thought it might be fun to mention a few things I’ve notice about Canadian food that are quite unique, at least compared to Europe.
It’s Kept Cold: Coolers are a must have for summer road trips and cottaging, you can buy ice at any convenience or grocery store. Canadians also like ice in their drinks, if you’re at a restaurant and don’t want ice, you need to specify that.
Note: “cottaging” is term used in Ontario meaning – leave the city, drive like mad until you get up north, then spend the weekend by a lake.
Steak & Meat Straight Up: With an ocean on both sides and access to great beef, you’ll find a lot less marinating and sauces going on here. Just cook the salmon or beef steaks up (preferably on a charcoal barbeque) and tuck in.
Barbeques: Why heat up the house when you can cook outside? If you’re invited to a friend’s house in the summer, chances are it’s a BBQ. No one is slaving the day away in the kitchen and as you’ll find out, just about anything can be cooked on the barbeque.
Raw Veggies: I’ve never seen people crowd around a plate of veggies and dip before like they do here. You can get everything local when in season. Canadians learn to eat their veggies as they are.