What Is Canadian Cuisine?

What most people outside of Canada ask me about the Canadian food is "What do Canadians eat?". As a professional chef and immigrant to Canada, it is an easy question to answer. The more difficult question, though, is "What is Canadian cuisine?". The few times that I have been asked this question, I found it difficult to give a good answer.

The truth is that not too many Canadians even know what Canadian cuisine is. Many people would say that Canadian cuisine is peameal bacon, maple syrup, poutine and beaver tail (the pastry, not an actual animal tail). Although this is true, it is only a fraction of the Canadian cuisine. Defining what is Canadian cuisine depends on what part of Canada you are from, or what part of Canada you are visiting. Many typical Canadian dishes are regional favorites.

Beaver tail pastry

Beaver tail

Canadian cuisine varies widely from coast to coast, and has been greatly influenced by the large immigrant communities. Many international cuisines, such as Italian, Japanese, Chinese and to some extent Mexican and Greek cuisine, are more popular amongst Canadians than their own cuisine. Even the places that claim to be serving Canadian cuisine, serve mainly deep-fried food, steaks, potato, crab cakes, sandwiches with sliced roast beef and poutines.

Others have menu items that start with "Canadian", such as Canadian pizza, Canadian sushi roll, Canadian breakfast, etc. Even the Hawaiian pizza is arguably created in Canada. The first time I saw something Canadian abroad was when I worked in Kuwait, where the French fries were imported from Canada.

Different culinary regions of Canada:

From smoked coho salmon in British Colombia to East Coast lobster, much of the popular and well known regional cuisine is inspired by nature's bounty. Quebecois cuisine is very distinct, with dishes such as crepes, tortiere (French-Canadian meat pie) and unique regional cheeses like Oka adding a local flavour.

East Coast - The east coast of Canada is famous for its huge variety of fresh seafood. Lobster, scallops, cod cakes and fish chowders are just some of the foods consumed in this region.

British Columbia - salmon, cedar plank salmon, oysters, maple-glazed anything, Nanaimo bars, poached trout and fresh seafood on sushi.

Ontario - The Ontario cuisine is diverse, maybe the most diverse in Canada, but I cannot qualify it as Canadian. The Ontario food culture has been influenced by the large immigrant groups that live there and bring to Ontario their own food cultures. The small percentage of restaurants that serve "Canadian cuisine" offer dishes such as liver with onion, roasted or broasted chicken, T-bone steaks, fried perch, maple-glazed pork chops and smoked ham. Although Ontario is not known to be a foodie destination, if you happen to travel there get some Italian food or sushi, which this province has the most of.

The Prairies - Beef, pork, berry pies, asparagus and wild mushrooms are staples in these provinces.

Canadian society is very open and it is not unusual to see Ethiopian, Brazilian, Thai, Vietnamese, Hungarian, Mongolian, Portuguese, Korean and many other ethnic restaurants. Even though Canadian cuisine is not very popular around the world, it doesn't mean that Canada hasn't influenced other food cultures. For example, chefs opening Italian, Irish, Japanese and Mexican restaurants in Canada, eventually end up influencing how food is being prepared in their native countries, and create recipes that get adopted by cooks back home who cater for Canadian tourists.

Chef George Krumov

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Chef George Krumov
About the author: George Krumov is a Red Seal certified chef with many years of culinary experience working around the world in Europe, the Middle East, the cruise line industry and North America. In the last two decades he has headed the kitchens of several restaurants in Canada, and ran his own restaurant.

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