Eat­ing Cana­dian, coast to coast

DINE and Destinations - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - By Adam Wax­man

Cuisines of Canada

CUI­SINE ACROSS CANADA EVOLVES NAT­U­RALLY FROM WHAT THE TER­ROIR CAN PRO­VIDE. The cus­toms that arise are dic­tated by the meth­ods of sur­vival by early set­tlers, and by the culi­nary tra­di­tions in­tro­duced by our eth­nic di­ver­sity. We are a proudly multi-cul­tural na­tion. One need only walk along Toronto's Kens­ing­ton Mar­ket to taste the flavours of the world. Each wave of im­mi­gra­tion has car­ried with it recipes, tra­di­tions and tech­niques, but we all share the same lo­cal mar­kets. Lo­cal ‘farm to ta­ble' has de­fined the tra­jec­tory of har­vest-to-cui­sine and the devel­op­ment of a culi­nary iden­tity that comes with it. At 150, we can sur­vey the culi­nary map of Canada by the di­ver­sity of our peo­ple; the historical meth­ods of hunt­ing and pre­serv­ing; topo­graph­i­cal vari­ance from coast to coast to coast; the eco­log­i­cally con­scious ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the cor­nu­copia of in­gre­di­ents we can grow, and the nou­velle cui­sine in which in­no­va­tive chefs are ea­gerly trans­lat­ing those in­gre­di­ents onto the plate. So, apart from be­ing the world's largest pro­ducer of maple syrup and blue­ber­ries; hav­ing more dough­nut shops per capita than any­where else in the world; and a pen­chant for ba­con and sal­mon, what do Cana­di­ans eat?


Tra­di­tion­ally, the food avail­able in New­found­land and Labrador is that of ne­ces­sity, not con­ve­nience. Life on The Rock has re­quired method and re­spect for the land. Fish has al­ways been abun­dant and, in New­found­land, fish means cod. Whether deep-fried or pan-fried, salt fish cakes, or hung on a line to dry, cod fish­ing and its prepa­ra­tion has been a way of life. Ev­ery part of the cod is used from the fil­let to the cheeks, tongue, britches and liver, and all are trea­sured by the tra­di­tional diet. Seal is also an es­sen­tial and nu­tri­tious pro­tein, and seal oil is very high in the omega-3 chain and boasts strong health ben­e­fits.

Hunt­ing for seal or moose, or for­ag­ing for berries, is not only about sur­vival, “It's about teach­ing how to treat the land; how to care for it and main­tain it for next year,” shares

Lori Mccarthy (Cod Sounds). “It's not just that we are pick­ing berries be­cause it's the only time of year to do it, it's time spent to­gether to grow as a fam­ily.” When dan­de­lions ap­pear in the spring, it's the first green since nine months ago; and when it's first feed of lob­ster; or when each pro­fu­sion of berries are ready to be for­aged, fam­i­lies get to­gether and cel­e­brate their har­vest. Th­ese are mo­men­tous time­frames that dic­tate life.

The forests of­fer blue­ber­ries, par­tridge­ber­ries, bakeap­ple, cran­ber­ries and crow­ber­ries; and the farm­ing pro­vides cab­bage, turnip, car­rot and po­tato. Most of the cab­bage is then pick­led. Preser­va­tion meth­ods are es­sen­tial for last­ing through the win­ter. Tra­di­tion­ally, af­ter a hunt, whether for cari­bou, rab­bits or ducks, the meat is salted, “bot­tled” and boiled. First Na­tions peo­ple would typ­i­cally dry their Arctic char, cari­bou and moose. The only way to store vegeta­bles would be in root cel­lars dug into hills, or down in the ground to keep them cold.

Welsh im­mi­grants brought lamb, and to­day New­found­land lamb is per­haps the most beau­ti­ful in the coun­try. Recipes are typ­i­cally a one-pot dish. Flip­per Pie is seal meat slow roasted in the oven with vegeta­bles like a stew. Jigg’s Din­ner is an as­sem­blage of hearty sta­ple in­gre­di­ents from salted beef to vegeta­bles. Fish ‘n’ Brew is soaked hard bread mixed with boiled salt cod and scrun­chions. Moose burg­ers and pea soup; Tou­tons and mo­lasses; and braised rab­bit pie are tra­di­tional dishes, and for dessert, baked pies and

Figgy Duff, a pud­ding made with raisins, spices and bread­crumbs. Bak­ing bread is vi­tal sus­te­nance, and three-bun bread rep­re­sents the past, the present and the fu­ture.

Nova Sco­tia

Nova Sco­tia is renowned for its out­stand­ing qual­ity of seafood and fish: lob­ster, scal­lops, oys­ters, mus­sels, Cape Bre­ton snow crab and At­lantic sal­mon. Seafood chow­der is ubiq­ui­tous, and ev­ery menu has its own dis­tinct recipe. Along the Chow­der Trail chefs of­fer a mul­ti­tude of unique in­ter­pre­ta­tions, typ­i­cally thick­ened with pota­toes rather than a roux or cream. Chefs love the qual­ity and mys­tique of a Digby scal­lop; cook­ing with hal­ibut; and in kitchens across Hal­i­fax there is a re­turn to sea­weed; a re­dis­cov­ery of dulce that is de­fin­i­tive of the re­gion. Nova Sco­tia is rec­og­nized around the world for its dulce. In fact, when din­ing in Tokyo, don't be sur­prised if the sea­weed or kelp on your plate is from Canada! Hana Tsuno­mata from Aca­dian

Sea­plants is muti-coloured dulce that is like sea­weed, el­e­vated.

A grow­ing wine in­dus­try is gain­ing in­ter­na­tional ac­claim: L'acadie Blanc is the quin­tes­sen­tial grape and pairs nat­u­rally with seafood. Also prom­i­nent: sparkling wines, ap­ple wine, maple wine, and even sin­gle malt whisky aged in Icewine bar­rels. Lo­cal spe­cial­ties in­clude the don­air, oat cakes, and the lob­ster roll. Nova Sco­tia's cui­sine is sea­sonal and Farmer's Mar­ket driven. The first ap­ple tree in Canada was planted here, and so ap­ples are abun­dant, as are wild blue­ber­ries, and the new-tothe-scene, po­tent haskap berry. High qual­ity game meats like lamb and duck also very pop­u­lar.

Typ­i­cal Aca­dian dishes in­clude Rap­pie Pie or Salt Cod Beignets; and Chicken Fri­cot, a chicken stew with a big dumpling, is en­joy­ing a re­nais­sance. For Chef Michael How­ell (De­vour! The Food Film Fest), noth­ing sings of Nova Sco­tia more than a lob­ster roll with lemon zest and chives on a toasted bun served with a po­tato salad and some Tidal Bay wine; or mus­sels smoked or cooked with pine nee­dles. “There's some­thing syn­er­gis­tic about hav­ing a lob­ster mush­room in Nova Sco­tia,” he en­thuses. Din­ing out in Hal­i­fax re­flects an eclec­tic and cos­mopoli­tan food cul­ture from land to sea.

“This is oys­ter is­land right here. This is the best place in the coun­try to have an epic oys­ter ex­pe­ri­ence”—chef MICHAEL SMITH

New Brunswick

Florenceville-bris­tol is “The French Fry Cap­i­tal of the World.” This is the home of Mccain Foods Lim­ited. They say that, “One in ev­ery three French fries in the world is a Mccain fry.” There are plenty of pota­toes here. A typ­i­cal din­ner in New Brunswick may be steak and pota­toes, and for dessert, blue­berry pie. How­ever, lob­ster is abun­dant, as are soft shell clams. “Lob­ster is cel­e­brated at high-end restau­rants around the world,” as­serts Chef Chris Aerni (Ross­mount Inn). “But that's our food in very ca­sual restau­rants.” He tells me that ev­ery­one has his own way of mak­ing a lob­ster roll, and ev­ery grand­mother has her own chow­der recipe. Grilled oys­ters, scal­lops, hal­ibut and had­dock are also typ­i­cal, but fish­ing here is highly sea­sonal. Aca­dian Stur­geon pro­vides lo­cal restau­ra­teurs two lo­cal species of caviar: At­lantic Stur­geon, which is the only wild caviar har­vested in the world, and Short Nose Stur­geon, a rare ge­netic va­ri­etal. Th­ese are prized across Canada and around the world. Chefs here are also for­agers, col­lect­ing cat­tails, fid­dle­heads and goose tongue greens by the shore. Dulce is also pop­u­lar. There is a strong tra­di­tion of pick­ling. Beets and beet greens are pick­led, and a clas­sic recipe is Lady Ash­burn­ham pick­led rel­ish us­ing mus­tard. Maple syrup and wild blue­ber­ries are es­sen­tials, as well as the tra­di­tion of bak­ing bread with mo­lasses. Crosby’s mo­lasses, on shelves across Canada, has been op­er­at­ing out of Saint John since 1879. While much of the lo­cal cui­sine in New Brunswick is in­gre­di­ent driven, the Aca­dian side of the prov­ince en­joys tra­di­tional recipes like Ploye, pan­cakes made from buck­wheat flour, as well as Pou­tine Râpée, boiled po­tato dumpling with a pork fill­ing.

Prince Ed­ward Is­land

PEI is like a great big farm. In­shore fish­eries thrive, in part, be­cause it's a very healthy green place. Lob­ster is abun­dant and a tra­di­tional trap-to-ta­ble “lob­ster sup­per” in­cludes a four-course meal of seafood chow­der, a plate of steamed Is­land Blue Mus­sels, one to two pounds of lob­ster served with melted but­ter, and a dessert. Aca­dian dishes like rap­pie pie, meat pie and chicken fri­cot are pop­u­lar, as are lob­ster and mashed pota­toes, po­tato pies, steamer pots of seafood, and sim­ple chow­ders of po­tato, clam and ba­con. Chow­der Houses use fish stock, not flour, corn­starch or thick­en­ers. Shell­fish from clams to mus­sels are the back­bone of the fish­eries, but oys­ters are the pearl, as Chef Michael Smith (Fire­works, The Inn at Bay For­tune) tells me. “This is oys­ter is­land right here. This is the best place in the coun­try to have an epic oys­ter ex­pe­ri­ence.” There are 40 dif­fer­ent oys­ter pro­duc­ers with in­di­vid­ual brands. Tra­di­tions arise from the fish­eries. Hal­ibut and mack­erel are avail­able all year round. When the boat re­turns with the day's catch, prepa­ra­tions must be ready. Po­tato farms cul­ti­vate a hun­dred va­ri­eties. Or­ganic gar­dens pro­duc­ing a va­ri­ety of vegeta­bles, grains, cover crops and legumes give chefs choices. The dairy in­dus­try is emerg­ing to in­ter­na­tional ac­claim. Glas­gow

Glen Farm's Cheese­lady Gouda is be­com­ing a fast favourite, and Cow’s Cream­ery's Avon­lea Cloth­bound Ched­dar has been awarded best aged-ched­dar in Canada, and best cloth­bound ched­dar in North Amer­ica. Blue Dot Re­serve pro­duces per­haps the best qual­ity beef in Canada. Grass and po­tato-fed on small fam­ily farms for su­pe­rior mar­bling, this is em­blem­atic of the qual­ity of pro­duce from the is­land.

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