From decadent poutine to caribou stew, Canadian cuisine is not afraid to be bold. Using their bounty of local ingredients and inspiration from recipes throughout the ages, Canadians have developed some of the tastiest dishes in the world.
Named by Forbes as one of the world’s friendliest countries, Canada has a welcoming feel and an immediate cosiness that is represented in much of its food.
Canadian food is incredibly versatile. For those who aren’t quite brave enough to tuck into gamey stews and loaded poutines, there’s the humble yet delicious Montreal bagel. In contrast to the New York bagel, Montreal bagels are smaller, thinner, sweeter and denser. St-Viatuer Bagel has deep roots in Canada, creating sweet and savoury Montreal bagels at its many bakeries and cafes across Quebec. Flavours range from poppy seed to rosemary and sea salt, but don’t just imagine the tastes, you can try the real thing in Montreal on your cruise from Liverpool.
For those of you who are keen to get stuck into French-Canadian cuisine, Pate chinois is a fine choice. Not dissimilar to the English cottage pie, this traditional dish is made up of ground beef, mashed potatoes and corn. Diced onions, paprika, bell peppers, pickled eggs or beetroot may all be added to the dish. Another popular French-Canadian dish is the tourtiere. Originating from Quebec, the tourtiere is a wholesome meat pie, usually made with pork, veal or beef. Wild game is often added to enhance the flavour.
Caribou is one of the staple ingredients in Nunavut cuisine. Meat-lovers should tuck into a caribou stew at least once during a cruise to Canada. Made with caribou and sometimes other game meats, onion, celery, tomato, carrots, parsnips and any other seasonal vegetables, it’s easy to see why this warming dish is so popular in the Northern Territories.
We can’t talk about traditional Canadian food without mentioning poutine. Also originating in Quebec, this indulgent meal is made up of French fries, cheese curds and gravy. Over the years, poutine has become so popular, there are now tonnes of variations. Restaurants serve it up with Montreal-style smoked meats, cheeses and sauces, so you’re pretty much guaranteed to find a poutine to suit you. Poutini’s House of Poutine in Toronto has a tasty menu featuring ‘The Works’ with sour cream, bacon and chives and a barbecue pulled pork poutine. Whistle Stop Café in Ontario serves over 100 varieties of poutine, including ‘Montreal Poutine’ with shaved Montreal smoked meat, a kosher dill pickle slice and honey mustard, and the ‘Cajun Rib Poutine’ with pork ribs tossed in Cajun sauce.
Canada’s waters, plains and mountains are teeming with natural resources. From elk and caribou to Arctic char and salmon. Canadian’s celebrate their native wildlife which is so engrained in their culture, as well as their diets. Game meat and seafood feature in so many traditional Canadian dishes, with specialities including Nova Scotia lobster and Alberta beef. As Canada is the world’s largest producer and exporter of blueberries, you’ll find a lot of these in popular desserts across the provinces.
Gracing the nation’s flag, the maple tree leaf is a symbol of all things Canadian. Maple syrup has become one of the country’s most iconic products as farms across the provinces branch out into the art of maple farming. Unlike many industries, the production of maple syrup remains largely unchanged from its traditional past.
There are four grades of maple syrup, each with different levels of taste. ‘Golden’ is a delicate, sweet, buttery syrup with gentle maple undertones, ‘amber’ is a popular and traditional grade with distinct maple flavour and colour, ‘dark’ has a strong maple flavour and holds its taste in cooking, ‘very dark’ is an almost black maple syrup, perfect for glazing meats. You are bound to try maple syrup on your cruise to Canada, so it’s worth sampling various grades to find one that suits you.
Legend has it, an Iroquois chief removed his hatchet from a maple tree where he had left it and set off to go hunting. He did not notice the deep cut the blade had made in the tree, but a colourless liquid ran out of the tree all day, collecting in a birch bark bowl. The next day, the chief’s wife noticed the full bowl and, thinking it was water, used to cook venison stew. The result was a sweet stew, and it’s believed to have started the culinary tradition of maple-cured meats.
The Great Canadian Cheese Festival
With over 200 cheeses to sample, the Great Canadian Cheese Festival is the largest artisan cheese show in Canada. As well as having the opportunity to try the country’s finest cheeses, visitors will be treated to drinks from small-batch wineries and craft breweries.
Over 5,000 people visit the festival, hoping to chat to some of Canada’s finest cheesemakers and sample some of over 500 foods and beverages on offer. The festival is now in its seventh year and doesn’t show any sign of slowing down. This year, look out for the cooking with cheese class and Quinte cheese tour.
Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival
If you have a sweet-tooth, don’t miss one of Canada’s most specialised food events, Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival. The festival celebrates a dessert unique to Ontario and eastern Canada. Butter tarts are individual tarts made with flaky pastry and a filling of brown sugar, butter, syrup and eggs. “The festival was created as a small street festival in the town of Midland, Ontario on Georgian Bay,” said Angela Bird, manager of Ontario’s Best Butter Tart Festival. “In its short four-year history, it has quickly grown to be the largest one-day food event in the region. In 2016, over 43,000 visitors snapped up more than 127,000 butter tarts!”
The tarts are sold in the street market by bakeries, community groups and individuals across the province. Professional and amateur bakers get extremely competitive in the butter tart contest. Angela said: “Two-dozen judges are tasked to evaluate, taste and grade a selection of over 150 butter tarts to determine the winner.”
“This event is celebrating its fifth year in 2017 with more butter tarts, more street vendors, more free entertainment and the promise of sweet fun for the entire family.”
Prince Edward Island Shellfish Festival
Be part of the World’s Longest Lobster Roll record at Prince Edward Island Shellfish Festival. This unique festival offers visitors the chance to sample their tasty, fresh seafood, which is famous all over the world. The festival runs over four days with cooking demonstrations, celebrity chefs, competitions and spectacular seafood dishes. There’s even an oyster shucking (opening) contest!
After launching as a small celebration in 1996, the Prince Edward Island Shellfish Festival has grown every year. If you’re visiting Canada for the first time and want to learn all about preparing, cooking and eating seafood, this festival is the perfect opportunity. If you’re just visiting to eat and enjoy the entertainment, we’re sure you’ll love it.
Breweries and distillers
As the second largest country in the world, it’s difficult to hone in on specific beers and ales in Canada. But one thing is for sure, everyone loves a good pilsner. Steam Whistle Brewing makes one of the country’s most popular pilsners.
From hoppy IPAs to golden ales, warming porters to refreshing lagers, Canada creates some exquisite beers, utilising its bounty of local ingredients. Terry Rock of Alberta Small Brewers Association, says it’s all down to high-quality barley: “Alberta is home to some of the world’s best barley. This is a destination you can visit and get a deep understanding of where your beer comes from: soil that lies in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains.”
“The mountain winds combined with unique soil gives Alberta barley qualities that breweries from around the world seek. Our industry has been around for over 100 years, as brewers were some of the earliest leaders in Calgary, helping to start the Calgary Stampede, for instance. And now, craft brewing is taking off, with over 50 breweries operating in the province, and many more in the planning stages.”
There are thousands of breweries, big and small, creating some remarkable beers across Canada, including the more unusual spruce tip infused ale. One brewery dedicated to producing unique brews influenced by Canada’s natural landscape is Tofino Brewing Company. Based in British Columbia, Tofino Brewing focuses on creating handcrafted beer using high-quality malted barley and Pacific Northwest hops. With a tasty range of seasonal beers, the brewery keeps things interesting by using unusual natural ingredients.
Neil Campbell of Tofino Brewing said: “Inspiration for what we do comes from the small, coastal town we call home. We find ourselves very lucky to live in an incredible part of Canada that is host to immaculate sprawling beaches, forests and lakes, not to mention a community of individuals and businesses that work together to sustain the lifestyle and natural beauty we all enjoy on a daily basis.
“On top of their fascinating charm and aesthetic wonder, the coastal temperate rainforest and vast Pacific Ocean also offer many culinary ingredients. Among these are the Sitka Spruce trees from which we use the tips for our seasonal Spruce Tree Ale. Friends and foragers harvest this local bounty every spring to be an integral part of brewing this smooth, well-balanced golden ale that has become a Tofino favourite over the years.”
The brewery also utilises a unique ingredient from the sea to create its high-quality brews: Neil added: “The Kombu we use in the Kelp Stout comes from Canadian Kelp Resources in Barkley Sound, just south of Ucluelet, and provides for an extremely unique beer that has become a year-round staple. The kelp contributes an umami characteristic to the rich, full-bodied stout and finishes clean on the pallet for an experience unlike any other stout.” Tofino’s unique stout makes it one of just a small selection of breweries ever to use seaweed in a beer.
Tofino Brewing Company is expanding in 2017, with a larger taproom for guests to sit and enjoy some fine local brews. Celebrating its sixth anniversary this year, the brewery continues to partner with other local businesses to create new and exciting beers, such as the Dawn Patrol Coffee Porter. Neil said: “This uses locally roasted coffee beans from the Rhino Coffee House in Tofino, one of many great examples of the types of partnerships that exist in our community.”
With a seemingly endless supply of maple syrup, it’s easy to see how Canada ended up creating some of the world’s best sweet treats. From decadent butter tarts to maple cinnamon rolls, if you have a sweet tooth, there’s really no better place to be.
Let’s start with beaver tails. A homage to Canada’s largest rodent and a symbol of the nation, this delicious sugary treat is often referred to as ‘Canada’s doughnut’. Using a dough that requires almost no rising, this dish originated in the 19th century as a quick and easy recipe. In 1978, BeaverTails Canada Inc trademarked the dessert. According to an article by The Culture Trip, the most popular topping is cinnamon and sugar, but regions throughout Canada have their own recipes including the salmon tail in Vancouver, with cream cheese and capers, and ham and cheese tails in Mont-Tremblant.
Nanaimo bars are another marvel of Canadian cuisine. Made of a wafer crumb-based layer and a layer of custard topped with melted chocolate, this decadent treat is popular across Canada and North America. It is named after the city of Nanaimo in the British Columbia. The earliest confirmed copy of the recipe in print is in the Edith Adams’ prize cookbook, which is on display in the Nanaimo Museum.
For a treat at breakfast or brunch, try a maple cinnamon roll. Fresh out of the oven, these delicious, sweet buns are perfect for warming up on a cold day. With a glaze of Canadian maple syrup and icing, you’ll be wishing this was a staple in your diet too.
Janice Lawandi of Kitchen Heals Soul loves whipping up delicious Canadian desserts and pastries. She said: “I’d say one of my favourite Canadian dishes is the pudding, but I don’t mean American puddings that are served to kids at lunchtime. I’m referring to the deep-dish dessert pudding that is actually a cake with sauce or syrup (sometimes with fruit) on the bottom.
“In Quebec, the most common is the ‘pouding chomeur’ which has a sweet syrupy base of brown sugar or maple syrup with cream that is topped with dollops of vanilla cake batter before baking. These desserts aren’t necessarily fancy, but who cares? I find pudding cakes are supremely comforting, especially when served warm. They are a special treat in the cold months of Canadian winter.”