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What exactly constitutes Canadian cuisine? Have you ever been travelling abroad and been asked to describe it? If you’re like us, your answer entails awkwardly stumbling over a few staples before realizing that beyond some iconic items like Tim Hortons coffee, Kraft Dinner, and maple syrup, we Canadians lack a truly enveloping style of food. While our expansive geography and diverse culture have left us void of an overarching style of grub, the same can’t be said of our provinces and territories, which coupled with their own unique histories and populations, are gifted with a diverse set of regional staples.
Newfoundland and Labrador – With some unique food staples like salted cod, pickled moose meat and seal flipper pie. These dishes are even fun to say, so imagine how great they are to eat. If you want to do it right, sit down to a dinner at Bacalo (which is literally another word for salted cod) in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where they house-cure their own salt cod cake. And seriously, if someone offers you a jar of pickled moose meat in the parking lot, take him or her up on the offer and wash it down with a bottle of Quidi Vidi beer, which is brewed with Newfoundland’s 25,000-year-old iceberg water.
Prince Edward Island – South of Newfoundland and Labrador is our least populated province, P.E.I, a province affectionately referred to as Spud Island. Remember that McDonald’s ad that informed us that thirty percent of Canada’s potatoes come from P.E.I.? We fact-checked and it’s true, proving that once in awhile, television can be informative. Rumour has it that the Golden Arches also serve up the P.E.I. staple of lobster rolls in the Maritime provinces, but steer clear of that Mc-stomach-ache and try out authentic lobster rolls, oysters, and of course, a myriad of potato dishes at P.E.I.’s increasingly infamous Shellfish Festival.
Nova Scotia – The stereotypes are true: Nova Scotia has pubs everywhere and drinking is a storied and tried social sacrament in the region. But you would be wrong to assume Nova Scotia’s only feast on their renowned lobster. While the legendary crustacean is delicious, it’s a little expensive as an everyday meal. So when the weekends come around, most locals save their cash for a few more Alexander Keith’s and instead turn their post-bar appetite to donair and donair sauce with garlic fingers. As the name suggests, anyone of the King of Donair locations in Halifax, Dartmouth, or Sackville will provide you with the authentic culinary experience. Be sure to order the garlic fingers like a local, pronouncing it like a drunken pirate; ‘gahr-lik’ fingers.
New Brunswick – This province is arguably host to the most quintessential Canadian culinary ingredients: Fiddlehead ferns, dulse, maple syrup, cod, salmon, cloudberry, etc. But New Brunswickers have a place in their heart for deep-fried seafood. Go to the Birch Grove restaurant in Saint George, New Brunswick for their famous clam chowder, deep-fried oysters, crinkle-cut fries, and New Brunswick’s favourite brew, Oland Export Ale. After you try it, you too may have a place in your heart for New Brunswick’s cuisine — we mean arterial plaque in your heart, from feasting on so much of it.
Quebec – The French know food, and the Quebecois are no exception. Home to a bounty of iconic Canadian culinary staples such as poutine, maple syrup, Montreal-style bagels, and smoked meat; we are indebted to this province for their contributions to our eclectic national menu. Ordering a smoked-meat sandwich at Schwartz Deli is a Canadian rite-of-passage, but go off the beaten path to try the best poutine on the planet at FlashBourg in Charlesbourg, Quebec. Be sure to travel with a designated driver as these indulgent dishes are a sure bet to leave you in a food-coma.
Ontario – Ontario; centre of the universe and home of bagged milk. Canadians outside of this fair province unanimously refer to Ontario as if it’s only composed of Canada’s most populated city; Toronto. Interestingly, Ontario has more than half of the highest-quality farmland in Canada, and it shows in the diversity and quality of their produce. With that being said, the province is also home to more than half of Tim Horton’s 2,800 Canadian locations. Yes, its inhabitants have a unique fondness for the deep-fried staple of the Tim’s menu: Apple fritters. Ontario’s best can be found at The Brown Dog in Paris, Ontario, but if you would prefer to explore a meal that’s a little more dynamic than a double-double and a doughnut, head to Eigensinn’s Farm in Singhampton, Ontario for a farm fresh meal.
Manitoba – Manitoba was crowned the Slurpee capital of the world for the 17th year in a row in 2015. Winnipeggers drink more Slurpees per month than the entirety of Canada, proving that the city’s residents have become so accustomed to cold weather that any measure of heat is met with a degree of discomfort. Consuming a meal at 7/11 isn’t healthy to do every day, so go on out and grab a prairie board (something akin to a charcuterie board with smoked bison and fish) and some bannock at Peasant Cookery in Winnipeg, Manitoba and then wash it down with an après-Slurpee, you deserve it!
Saskatchewan – While Glendon, Alberta is home to a 6,000-pound giant pierogi statue, Canada’s breadbasket and their large Slavic-Canadian population are responsible for the best pierogies and cabbage rolls in the country. Baba’s Pierogi in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan is going to be the best pierogi you can find outside of a Ukranian Community Centre. For a truly local experience, trail your pierogies with a slice of Saskatoon Berry pie while discussing the Saskatchewan Roughriders chance at another Grey Cup.
Alberta – If the Calgary Stampede didn’t tip you off, cattle rearing is a point of pride for Canada’s Texas; Alberta. There’s no beef quite like Alberta beef, and this province’s residents prepare it in all forms: barbecued, braised, grilled, minced, cured, and skewered. Clive Burger in Calgary, Alberta serves up one of Canada’s better burgers and only uses 100-percent Alberta beef. They also provide fully compostable packaging, wrappers, and containers, thereby absolving you of some of the guilt that accompanies consuming a 3,000-calorie meal.
British Columbia – There’s a reason this province’s residents are called “granolas.” Long before yoga-diets composed of kale and quinoa came to the coastal regions of B.C., these hippies were eating homemade trail snacks. If you’re asking yourself how a trail snack can become a regional delicacy, visit Sam’s Deli in Victoria to see for yourself. Alternatively, The Fish Counter in Vancouver, B.C. will satisfy any protein fix in the form of a myriad of fresh Pacific seafood options while the restaurant’s Ocean Wise seal of approval satisfies the eco-friendly hippie in all of us.
Yukon Territory – the westernmost and smallest of our three territories, the Yukon Territory has a rich history of First Nation’s culture and gold prospecting. The collage of culinary influence can be seen in their cuisine staples: wild game and seafood. If you’re carrying a gold-miners appetite, some of the many notable items on the menu at Klondike Rib and Salmon in Whitehorse, Yukon include bison steaks, elk stroganoff, wild boar stew, and arctic char. Unfortunately, you may not catch any Northern Lights on your culinary tour, as Klondike Rib and Salmon is only open during the summer months.
Northwest Territories – Mosquitoes. Giant mosquitoes. While this territory is home to mosquitoes big enough to provide a meal, it’s not humans that are dining on them, it’s freshwater fish. The Northwest Territories is home to the biggest trout and pike in North America, and they’re arguably the most delicious. Yellowknife’s infamous, Bullock’s Bistro is set up in an incredibly well-preserved prospector’s cabin and serves freshly caught fish from nearby Great Slave Lake as well as bison and caribou stew. If you’re feeling adventurous, cast a line into the lake yourself.
Nunavut – Nunavut is Canada’s newest, largest, northernmost, and least populous territory. If you’re going to live in a remote land in the north, you’re going to require some hearty food, and Nunavut’s Inuit have found it via whale, seal, Arctic char, and bannock. The Gallery at Frobisher Inn in Iqaluit serves up a renowned Arctic char as well as bannock with cloudberry jam. Early Arctic explorers favoured bannock for its easily transportable shape, so double your order for your flight home.
So, next time you’re asked about distinctly Canadian food, invite your listeners to pull up a chair and open their notebook as you detail the amazing culinary offerings each province provides. Then, enjoy their expressions of confusion as you try to explain why cheese curds and gravy on French fries is otherworldly.
Did we miss an iconic Canadian food staple? Let us know in the comments below…
Like this post? Check out Do You Dare? Outrageously Good Eats: Montreal Edition and Do You Dare? Outrageously Good Eats In Toronto, too!