Home to my native Canada for Christmas, I thought readers might find a guide to Canadian eating useful or perhaps even a little horrifying.
Firstly, Canadians love donuts. And I mean love. Other countries have coffee shops, Canada has donut shops that sell coffee. Donuts (Doughnuts until recently) come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. There’s the traditional donut with a hole in the middle, there’s the holes and there’s other shapes like the Dutchie (below right.)
Another form of the donut is the Beavertail, which is basically a funnel cake that’s shaped like, you guessed it, a beaver’s tail (the beaver is Canada’s national animal, so it’s a very patriotic treat.) Pictured is cinnamon and sugar topping and oreo topping.
Popular treats that are unique and ubiquitous to Canada are the Nanaimo (na-nigh-moe) bar and the buttertart. Both are super yummy. I once made my sister bring me a slab of frozen Nanaimo bars in her suitcase to give me a fix. The base is chocolate, graham crumbs and coconut. The yellow bit is custard powder, sugar and cream. The top is just chocolate. The three combine to create heaven in your mouth. And a sugar rush.
The buttertart has a runny filling made of butter, sugar and egg. Sometimes raisins are mixed in. Simple but delicious.
Now the bit that seems to gross a lot of non-Canadians out. Poutine. Mmmm. Medium-cut chips, gravy and cheese curds. Yes that’s curds, as in ‘eating her curds and whey.’ Curd has a mild flavour but sasitfyingly spongey texture. It’s appealing because it doesn’t fully melt the way other warmed cheeses do, so you get bit of stringyness and a bit of texture. A heart attack on a plate but well worth it.
Another unique Canadian food is Peameal bacon, which is the best bacon ever. It’s a back bacon that’s rolled in cornmeal and served thick cut. The fat ends up being crispy and the meat succulent. Drool. It comes in sandwiches and with breakfasts.
An added bonus for you, here’s a Canadian breakfast. It’s a little larger than normal due to the Christmas factor but one thing that is common in Canadian breakfasts is the potatoes. (Scrabled eggs, chopped grilled potatoes, maple syrup baked beans, toasted bun, peameal bacon, streaky bacon, vegetable thing, orange slice and tomato juice.)
Probably more a North American thing than just a Canadian thing (at least have never come across it in the UK) is the hot sandwich. Usually either roast beef or roast chicken leftovers, warmed up and placed on white bread than slathered in gravy. A classic. (Have you noticed how most of the chips have the skin on? Mashed potatoes with skin on are also common.)
Two more things Canadians love- macaroni and cheese and dill pickles. Both now available in deep fried form. Canadians like deep frying stuff. You may be getting the picture that Canadian diets aren’t the healthiest. It may be due to the large Scottish heritage???
A quick mention of three things – 1) cider is not alcoholic, 2) Canadians put white vinegar on chips, though seemingly only available in the UK as a cleaning product. It’s better than malt vinegar in that the flavour stays long after it’s exposed to air and 3) (not pictured) tomato juice often comes combined with clam juice, yes, really.
A few iconic Canadian restaurant chains any traveller to Canada should visit:
Tim Hortons – THE donut shop, now also part of the Canadian Identity. Founded by a hockey player, it was spoofed in Wayne’s World. The largest food chain in Canada, they sell more than 500 million donuts a year. Over the years they’ve expanded their menu and now also serve muffins, pastries, croissants, bagels and soup & sandwiches. There’s definitely something for everyone and no trip to Canada would be complete without a visit to Timmy’s.
Harveys – Canadian burger chain featuring flame grilled patties. You direct them in how to top your burger, more pickles is a popular request.
Swiss Chalet – A sit down chicken rotisserie restaurant that’s everywhere and has been around for yonks. Known for their dipping sauce, which is often the craving of many a homesick Canadian.
Sunset Grill – Originally the most popular Toronto all day breakfast spot, it has now gone province wide. Enjoy delicious all day breakfasts (though most would argue it’s not quite as good as it used to be.) The pancakes and french toast are superb.
And lastly, because I was there for Christmas I thought you might be interested in seeing what a Canadian Christmas dinner looks like. As much stuffing as you can fit on your plate, pickles, tomato juice, various vegetables and, of course, pumpkin pie. And no Christmas would be complete without egg nog. You buy it in the dairy section and it is not alcoholic until you add your own (along with nutmeg.)
I hope that sheds some light on eating in Canada, and that if you ever travel there you promise to eat lots of donuts and at least try the poutine.
(Canada is a big place, and there are some regional differences, I was in and around Toronto, Ontario.)