Survey a large group of people on the best food countries in the world, and you’re likely to get back some familiar-sounding answers: France, Italy, Japan, Mexico… the heavy hitters. One country you might not hear all that often is Canada.
Traditionally, Canada was known for maybe a handful of national dishes, like poutine, tourtiere, bacon back and butter tarts. But over the last century, the country has emerged as a very different type of food country, one that – instead of relying on past cultural heritage – looks ahead to innovative new techniques and broad, multicultural flavours.
Canada’s burgeoning food culture is best expressed by breaking it down into three core tenets: multiculturalism, localness and innovation. Let’s take a look.
Canada is one of the most multicultural countries in the world, and its biggest city Toronto is often regarded as the most multicultural world city. This has obviously had a profound effect on the food culture in Canada. You can see it in the bold, fusion-y approach of SARA Restaurant in Toronto or the upscale Indian cuisine of Vij’s in Vancouver. You can also see it in the nationwide embrace of indigenous cuisines.
Rather than sticking to core staples and national dishes, Canadians prefer to voraciously consume the multitude of different cultural offerings available. They like fusing different culture’s cuisines and cross-pollinating ideas, making for a truly original kind of Canadian cuisine.
As varied as the people of Canada are, so are the landscapes. From the vast interior prairies, the temperate rainforest of the Pacific West and the lobster-rich shores of the Atlantic, Canada is home to a variety of astounding local ingredients. A recent push in Canadian cuisine has therefore been toward localness, using the national and regional bounties.
Sure, most restaurants still important a few avocadoes from Mexico, or a wheel of Parmigiano from Italy, but many are starting to look at their native soil for inspiration as well. After all, when Alberta beef, or BC salmon, or Ontario apples (to name but a few ingredients) taste as good as they do, you don’t need to shop abroad.
Canada is a pretty progressive country. Its people like to remain forward-looking. This is certainly apparent in food, as many restaurants and food manufacturers pride themselves on innovation – whether that’s innovating through flavour combinations, techniques for cooking, or even methods of production.
On the forefront are chefs like Rich Francis of Saskatoon, whose “indigenous gastronomy” meshes his Tetlit Gwich’in and Tuscarora Nations cultures with modern techniques, and the Food Dudes from Toronto, a catering company built around sustainability, community and charity.
These tenets are each crucial to understanding the contemporary Canadian food scene, and they intersect in many delicious ways. Canada might have been considered a boring afterthought to the US’s culinary legacy in the past, but it’s time to start giving Canada its proper dues. It is a burgeoning, exciting, multifaceted food country that’s just beginning to explore its own depths.