Eating Canadian, coast to coast
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 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
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.