Canada is famous for the Moose, Ice Hockey, Basketball, Wayne Gretzky, Neil Young, The CN Tower, Justin Bieber, The Niagara Falls, being cold, maple syrup, Leonard Cohen and beavers. With the exception of maple syrup, there are no other foods most people would associate with Canada. I soon discovered that Canada has a lot of foods to their name, but none of these has made it out of Canada… yet. Italy may be famous for its pizza and pasta but you’re not hard pressed to find a decent pizzeria outside of Italy. Good luck finding a Nanaimo bar or a BeaverTail outside of Canada, Though.
I was in Canada January 2018 for 10 days. I picked the dates well, British airways got me there and back for just over £350, and I missed their -40C weather by a week.
I think the best way to describe Canada is a mix between America and the UK. The appearance is very American with it’s wide 4 lane motorways (or highway, I think), big trucks and gridded streets, but as a commonwealth country there are a lot of similarities to us. Big Lizzie is on their money, her portrait hangs in their parliament and they have a house of commons and a house of lords coloured green, and red respectively. They also have a lot of towns named after British towns. I could go on but this is a food blog, so I won’t.
Tim Hortons was the first shop I came to in the airport. Tim Hortons is a cross between Starbucks and McDonalds and is almost a Canadian icon. They have over 4,600 locations worldwide, but nearly 4,000 are in Canada (13 in the UK). I was introduced to their breakfast on my first morning in Canada. I don’t like to bad mouth any company, but it will also be my last Tim Hortons breakfast.
A more traditional breakfast would be pancakes and lashings of maple syrup. I’ve definitely not had my last helping of that. Other items you will find at a Canadian breakfast include pea meal bacon (rolled in cornmeal to extend the shelf life), milk in a bag, and if you’re feeling slightly fragile you may have a Bloody Caesar… more on that in part 2. One of the hotels I stayed in had a waffle-making machine with a large jug of maple syrup… welcome to Canada.
I arrived late in Toronto but the next morning I was up early to get a train to Ottawa, the
The first bar I had a pint in was a Scottish bar called ‘Highlander Pub’. I couldn’t resist as it looked like something from ‘Still Game’. I did however indulge in Canadian beer. This was something I discovered that Canada does really well. Wine however, they do not. I asked my kilted server for a pint of the local. A pint of Moosehead (Canada’s oldest independent Brewery) was produced. Round two was a pint of 8th Sin brewed by hop city… both delicious.
Almost all alcohol bought to go in Canada is government controlled. In Ontario (the Province where both Ottawa and Toronto are), you have to buy your alcohol from an LCBO (Liquor Controlled Board of Ontario). Although their drinking age is the same as ours, I was asked for ID. Being 30 and having not been ID’d in years, I had none on me so Diana (my 22 year old Canadian friend) had to buy my booze for me. How embarrassing. Thankfully, I had no issues in pubs and restaurants.
I had heard that Canadians only ever eat steak that’s been cooked on a BBQ. No matter what the weather is like, they’ll dig out the BBQ from the snow if they have to. The idea of cooking a
steak on a House Of Bruar in a frying pan is alien to them as they think this ruins the steak. I could only assume that Canadian meat is crap and they need the flame grilled flavour to mask it. So I was quite reluctant when Diana suggested going to the Keg steakhouse + Bar for dinner. I was, however, in the mood for a steak so I agreed. I was pleasantly surprised. I just went basic and had a blue steak with chips and veg. It was delicious, although touch too much seasoning for my personal taste as I prefer to let the natural flavours of the meat come out, but it was a perfectly cooked big juicy steak, and filled a hole. I did get a peek at the open kitchen and could see that they were cooking on flames.
I think the most Canadian experience I had during my holiday was skating on the Rideau Canal. Every year this UNESCO world heritage sight freezes over and becomes the world’s largest skating rink. You can skate from downtown to Dows Lake, a total of 7.8km. The best bit (in my opinion) were the food vendors resting on the ice, serving the Canadian classics: BeaverTails, Poutine and maple taffy. Maple taffy is essentially a lollipop made from pure maple syrup that is heated, poured over ice, then rolled up on a stick ready to eat. Yes, it’s as delicious as it sounds.
As usual, when I travel, I wanted to try cooking something ‘of the country’. I knew that Prince Edward Island (PEI) was famous for it’s seafood so I decided fish was Canadian. They do have a mainland coastline of over 71,000 km. If you include all the islands, it’s nearly 250,000 km… compare that to the 12,000 km of the UK.
There was a great fish shop called La Pointe not too far from our apartment, which had a massive selection of oysters. I’ve never knew there were different types of oysters but after a quick chat with the helpful salesman, I bought 6 Blackberry Point oysters harvested from PEI and two chunks of swordfish, mostly because I have never eaten swordfish before.
The oysters were served simply with a fresh lime, and the swordfish was served with garlic creamed mushrooms, spinach and a fresh salsa. Swordfish is very easy to over-cook and become too dry, so I failed but the juices of the salsa compensated for it.
My final breakfast in Ottawa was homemade crêpes with, you guessed it, maple syrup.
Diana and I had a two part lunch before getting back on our train, A sub from Subway and Poutine.
Poutine is a Canadian classic and will probably be the first thing you are told to try by a Canadian. It’s basically cheesy chips and gravy but done slightly differently. The chips are fairly standard, but the cheese is cheese curds or squeaky cheese if you will, and the gravy is usually an onion beef gravy, but not always. Smokes Poutinerie offers a number of toppings. Diana and I had pulled pork.
We then went onto Subway… not my usual choice of dining but I was curious to see how it differed from the Subways in the UK. It’s pretty much the same but Canadian Subway offers raw spinach, banana peppers and they also have an additional sauce known as house sauce or sub sauce. I’m pretty sure it’s a dill sauce… it certainly looked and tasted like it.
Then back on the train to Toronto, To be continued…