Canadian cuisine varies widely depending on the regions of the nation. The three earliest cuisines of Canada have First Nations, English, Scottish and French roots, with the traditional cuisine of English Canada closely related to British cuisine, while the traditional cuisine of French Canada has evolved from French cuisine and the winter provisions of fur traders. With subsequent waves of immigration in the 19th and 20th century from Central, Southern, and Eastern Europe, South Asia, East Asia, and the Caribbean, the regional cuisines were subsequently augmented.
Canadian National Dishes
- Nanaimo bar
- Butter tarts
- Macaroni and cheese
- Fried dough
- Ginger beef
- California roll
- Peameal bacon
Poutine is a dish that includes french fries and cheese curds topped with a brown gravy. It originated in the Canadian province of Quebec and emerged in the late 1950s in the Centre-du-Québec area. It has long been associated with Quebec cuisine. For many years, it was perceived negatively and mocked, and even used by some to stigmatize Quebec society. Poutine later became celebrated as a symbol of Québécois cultural pride. Its rise in prominence led to its popularity outside the province, especially in Ontario, the Maritimes, and in the Northeastern United States.
Annual poutine celebrations occur in Montreal, Quebec City, and Drummondville, as well as Toronto, Ottawa, and Chicago. Today, it is often identified as a quintessential Canadian food. It has been called “Canada’s national dish”, though some believe this labelling represents a misappropriation of Québécois culture. Many variations on the original recipe are popular, leading some to suggest that poutine has emerged as a new dish classification in its own right, as with sandwiches and dumplings.
The Nanaimo bar is a dessert item of Canadian origin. It is a bar dessert which requires no baking and is named after the city of Nanaimo, British Columbia, on Vancouver Island. It consists of three layers: a wafer and coconut crumb-base, custard flavoured butter icing in the middle and a layer of chocolate ganache on top. Many varieties exist, consisting of different types of crumb, different flavours of icing (e.g., mint, peanut butter, coconut, mocha), and different types of chocolate.
A butter tart is a type of small pastry tart highly regarded in Canadian cuisine and considered one of Canada’s quintessential treats. The sweet tart consists of a filling of butter, sugar, syrup, and egg, baked in a pastry shell until the filling is semi-solid with a crunchy top. The butter tart should not be confused with butter pie (a savoury pie from the Preston area of Lancashire, England) or with bread and butter pudding.
Recipes for the butter tart vary according to the families baking them. Because of this, the appearance and physical characteristics of the butter tart – the firmness of its pastry, or the consistency of its filling – also vary.
Traditionally, the English Canadian tart consists of butter, sugar, and eggs in a pastry shell, similar to the French-Canadian sugar pie, or the base of the U.S. pecan pie without the nut topping. The butter tart is different from the sugar pie given the lack of flour in the filling. The butter tart is different from pecan pie in that it has a “runnier” filling due to the omission of corn starch. Often raisins, walnuts or pecans are added to the traditional butter tart, although the acceptability of such additions is a matter of national debate. As an iconic Canadian food and one of the most popular desserts in the country, the raisin-or-no-raisin question can provoke polarizing debate.
More exotic flavours are also produced by some bakers. Examples such as maple, bacon, pumpkin, chili and salted caramel cardamom flavours have been made for competitions.
Macaroni and cheese
Macaroni and cheese – also called mac and cheese or mac n cheese in American and Canadian English, macaroni cheese in the United Kingdom – is a dish of English origin, consisting of cooked macaroni pasta and a cheese sauce, most commonly cheddar. It can also incorporate other ingredients, such as breadcrumbs, meat and vegetables.
Traditional macaroni and cheese is a casserole baked in the oven; however, it may be prepared in a sauce pan on top of the stove or using a packaged mix. The cheese is often first incorporated into a Béchamel sauce to create a Mornay sauce, which is then added to the pasta. In the United States, it is considered a comfort food.
Tourtière is a Canadian meat pie dish originating from the province of Quebec, usually made with minced pork, veal or beef and potatoes. Wild game is sometimes used. A traditional part of the Christmas réveillon and New Year’s Eve meal in Quebec, it is also popular in New Brunswick, and is sold in grocery stores across the rest of Canada, all year long.
Tourtière is not exclusive to Quebec. It is a traditional French-Canadian dish served by generations of French-Canadian families throughout Canada and the bordering areas of the United States. In the New England region of the U.S., especially in Maine, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts (e.g., Chicopee and Attleboro), late 19th and early 20th century immigrants from Quebec introduced the dish.
There is no one correct filling; the meat depends on what is regionally available. In coastal areas, fish such as salmon is commonly used, whereas pork, beef, rabbit and game are often included inland. The name derives from the vessel in which it was originally cooked, a tourtière.
Tourtière du Lac-Saint-Jean has become the traditional and iconic dish of the region of Saguenay, Quebec since the Second World War, and it has undergone several metamorphoses.
During the 18th Century, “sea pie” became popular among French and British colonists, and it seems to be “the direct forerunner of the tourtière of Lac-Saint-Jean”.
Fried dough is a North American food associated with outdoor food stands in carnivals, amusement parks, fairs, rodeos, and seaside resorts (though it can be made at home). “Fried dough” is the specific name for a particular variety of fried bread made of a yeast dough; see the accompanying images for an example of use on carnival-booth signs. Fried dough is also known as fry dough, fry bread (bannock), fried bread, doughboys, elephant ears, scones, pizza fritte, frying saucers, and buñuelos (in the case of smaller pieces). These foods are virtually identical to each other, and recognizably different from other fried dough foods such as doughnuts, beignets, or fritters.
In Canadian cuisine, pieces of fried dough are sometimes called beaver tails. According to Bill Castleman, a writer of books on Canadian word origins, the name referred to quick-baked dough “especially in early 19th-century places where people might camp for one night and where there was no frying pan.” In 1978, Pam and Grant Hooker of Ottawa, Ontario, founded the BeaverTails chain of restaurants specializing in the sale of fried dough pastries which are hand stretched to the shape of a beaver’s tail.
In Newfoundland, a province in Eastern Canada, fried dough is referred to as a “touton”. A touton is produced by frying bread dough on a pan with butter or the leftover fat from “scrunchions” (fried preserved pork) and served with dark molasses, maple syrup, or corn syrup. It is traditionally made from leftover bread dough and pan-fried, as opposed to deep-fried.
A smaller Italian variant common in North America is the zeppole.
Similar food is found in Europe, also typically from outdoor stands in fairs. For example, in Croatia, fried dough is known as languši, in Hungary as lángos, in Austria as kiachl, in Germany as Knieküchle while the oliebol is eaten in the Netherlands.
A type of soft, fried dough ball frequently coated in sugar can be found in some Chinese restaurants in New York. These dough balls are referred to by any one of a number of names, including but not necessarily limited to “sugar biscuits”, “Chinese doughnuts”, or the simpler “fried bread”.
Turkic countries in Central Asia also have a similar food called Boortsog or Pişi.
Ginger beef is a Canadian Chinese dish made from beef, ginger, and a distinctive sweet sauce.
The ingredients of ginger beef can depend on where it is featured, but the Western Canadian version generally consists of deep fried strips of beef coated in a dark sweet sauce that is reminiscent of other Asian sauces based on vinegar and sugar. It also contains flavors of ginger, garlic, and hot peppers, and is commonly served with a small amount of julienned carrots and onions in the sauce. Ginger beef is derived from the original Geung Ngao Yuk dish.
As with many dishes, the invention of ginger beef is claimed by several restaurants and chefs. However, the most widely accepted origin attributes the dish’s development during the mid-1970s by chef George Wong at the Silver Inn in Calgary, Alberta. The dish is now a very important part of culture in Calgary and that part of Canada. A radio segment featuring ginger beef was aired on CBC Radio One programme The Main Ingredient.
A California roll or California maki is a makizushi sushi roll that is usually rolled inside-out, and containing cucumber, crab or imitation crab, and avocado. Sometimes crab salad is substituted for the crab stick, and often the outer layer of rice in an inside-out roll (uramaki) is sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds, tobiko (flying fish roe) or masago (capelin roe).
As one of the most popular styles of sushi in the United States and Canada, the California roll has been influential in sushi’s global popularity, and in inspiring sushi chefs around the world to create non-traditional fusion cuisine.
Muktuk is the traditional Inuit and Chukchi meal of frozen whale skin and blubber.
Muktuk is most often made from the skin and blubber of the bowhead whale, although the beluga and the narwhal are also used. Usually eaten raw, today it is occasionally finely diced, breaded, deep fried, and then served with soy sauce. Despite it being usually eaten raw it could also be eaten frozen or cooked. It is also sometimes pickled. When chewed raw, the blubber becomes oily, with a nutty taste; if not diced, or at least serrated, the skin is quite rubbery.
In Greenland, Muktuk (mattak) is sold commercially to fish factories, and in Canada to other communities (muktaaq).
Muktuk has been found to be a good source of vitamin C, the epidermis containing up to 38 mg per 100 grams (3.5 oz). Blubber is also a source of vitamin D.
As whales grow, mercury accumulates in the liver, kidney, muscle, and blubber, and cadmium settles in the blubber. It also contains PCBs, carcinogens that damage human nervous, immune and reproductive systems, bioaccumulated from the marine food web, and a variety of other contaminants.
Peameal bacon (also known as cornmeal bacon) is a wet-cured, unsmoked back bacon made from trimmed lean boneless pork loin rolled in cornmeal and is found mainly in Southern Ontario. Toronto pork packer William Davies, who came to Canada from England in 1854, is credited with its development.
The name “peameal bacon” derives from the historic practice of rolling the cured and trimmed boneless loin in dried and ground yellow peas to extend shelf life. Since the end of World War I, it has been rolled in ground yellow cornmeal.
Peameal bacon sandwiches, consisting of cooked peameal bacon on a kaiser roll and sometimes topped with mustard or other toppings, are often considered a signature dish of Toronto, particularly from Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market.