A belated Happy Canada Day to all of my Canadian readers! I must admit that I started to write this yesterday (Canada Day) and got distracted by various holiday celebrations, including a great fireworks display over Lake Ontario.
Canada Day is the one day of the year when we pull out our flags to celebrate our country and all the things that make it great (or just enjoy a day off in the middle of the week). Canada is easy to stereotype but there’s a lot more going on here than hockey, moose, Celine Dion and beer (although there’s plenty of those too). The culinary scene in Canada has never been so diverse and interesting and I’m constantly finding inspiration from local chefs, farmers, producers and writers. Here are a few of my favourite Canadian food-related things:
People outside of Canada might not even be aware that we have a number of wine producing regions that are growing rapidly. British Columbia and Ontario lead the way with dozens of wineries, ranging from small family-run producers to larger, corporate-owned vineyards. Canadian icewines have won international awards and we also produce some top-notch whites including riesling (a favourite of mine in the summer). To learn more about the largest wine regions of Canada, visit www.winebc.com and www.winesofontario.com
Every nation has dishes that are considered specialties of that country. Because Canada is so spread out and diverse, a number of iconic dishes can be found across the country including poutine (french fries topped with cheese curds and gravy), donairs (spiced meat wrapped in a pita and topped with a sweet garlic sauce), smoked meat, Bloody Caesars, butter tarts, and Nanaimo bars. A recent Globe and Mail feature asked what we thought our national dish might be: My National Dish (click through the slide show of Contenders at the bottom). I’d rather not choose one – I like them all!
Despite a relatively short growing season, Canada has great produce. During the peak summer months, farmer’s markets are full of locally grown fruits and vegetables that range from the familiar to more exotic fare such as bitter melon and rapini. We also have some of the world’s best seafood, fished from both the east and west coasts. Prince Edward Island oysters, B.C. smoked salmon and Atlantic lobster are served at fine restaurants around the world. Maple syrup is another famous Canadian export that is readily available at any grocery store across the country. Canadian artisan cheese makers are beginning to make their presence felt in the world with a Quebec produced goat cheese, Le Cendrillon, winning the title of Best Cheese in the World at the 2009 World Cheese awards. Many provinces are now producing interesting and unique cheeses from goat, sheep and cow’s milk.
Another Canadian product I’ve been experimenting with over the past few months is duck. Brome Lake in Quebec’s Eastern Townships is famous for its ducks and many products are now easier to find in stores outside of the province. I’ve been testing recipes using confit legs, smoked breasts and duck foie gras I’ve purchased at the St. Lawrence Market and A Taste of Quebec in Toronto. There is even a store dedicated to duck products on Boulevard St-Laurent in Montreal called Le Canard Libéré.
For some delicious recipes using Canadian products, check out some of these recipes:
- Lobster Pot Pie
- Oysters with Mignonette Sauce
- Mussels in a Leek Cream Sauce
- Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Salad
- Smoked Salmon Spread
- Spicy Maple-Dijon Glaze
- Maple-Caramel Custards with Sea Salt
Home Grown Talent
Some of Canada’s food personalities have recently gained more recognition abroad with the launch of the Cooking Channel in the United States. Although their programs have been airing on Food Network Canada for a while, TV chefs such as Chuck Hughes (Chuck’s Day Off), David Rocco (Dolce Vita), Laura Calder (French Food at Home) and Roger Mooking (Everyday Exotic) will gain a much wider audience in the U.S. Laura Calder also recently won a James Beard Foundation Award for her program, beating out popular nominees The Barefoot Contessa and Iron Chef America. Other prolific Canadian food personalities include Lucy Waverman, celebrity chef Lynn Crawford, who recently launched a new tv show and a restaurant, and Michael Smith, who competed on Iron Chef America and cooked for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
The restaurant scene in Canada has never been so exciting. Many of the country’s top chefs are championing the use of local products and creating dishes that are uniquely and distinctly Canadian. Chef Martin Picard of Montreal’s temple of decadence, Au Pied du Cochon, uses local products to fuel his over-the-top cuisine. The menu features such madness as poutine topped with foie gras, cromesquis (fried cubes of foie gras that explode and melt in your mouth) and towers of Canadian seafood in the summer. The last time I was there, I watched the chefs plate an entire pig’s head that had been cooked in their wood-burning oven. Toronto’s Black Hoof restaurant is curing their own meats for charcuterie plates while Vancouver’s C Restaurant is featuring the best of local seafood in artistic presentations. These are just a few examples – there are many other innovative Canadian restaurants from coast to coast who are shaping the culinary direction of our nation.
One of the great things about living in Canada in general is the great cultural diversity of our people. In major cities such as Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, you can sample the cuisines from dozens of nations – the world is your oyster, so to speak. You can have dim sum for lunch, sushi for dinner and Lebanese sandwiches as a midnight snack, if you so choose. Many restauranteurs are using local ingredients in the preparation of ‘ethnic’ dishes (such as Vij’s in Vancouver), creating local/global hybrid dishes that are unique and interesting. As our population continues to grow, the fusion of various influences will only make eating ‘Canadian’ food more exciting.
Bon Appétit and Happy Canada Day!