Canadian cuisine takes influence from First Nations, British and French cuisine with its own additions suited to resources available in Canada. With several different climates spanning Canada, the cuisine changes with each region. We have compiled a list of the most popular recipes with exploration into the history and origin of each, to provide a quick guide to some foods you are sure to come across in Canadian restaurants. Many of these recipes are simple to make, and tend to be high in fat. As Canada experiences a good four to six months of winter, it is important that Canadians pack some fat onto their bodies to help stay warm.
Many of the foods and recipes posted here originate in the 20th century, but that is likely because things were not documented as regularly as they are today, and the 1900s on Canada has seen a lot of immigration due to World Wars and other influences.
Poutine is arguably the most recognized Canadian dish, and it is quite simple to make. Basically, it consists of fries with brown gravy and cheese curds. It originated in Quebec in the 1950s. It was the subject of ridicule for a long time, until recently! It is now recognized as a staple dish and there are several festivals dedicated to poutine in North America, one being PouzzaFest in Montreal, which features poutine on top of pizza, and lots of punk rock bands performing live.
- 3 Tbsp cornstarch
- 2 Tbsp water
- 6 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
- 20 oz beef broth
- 10 oz chicken broth
- Pepper, to taste
- Prepare the gravy: In a small bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in the water and set aside.
- In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook, stirring regularly, for about 5 minutes, until the mixture turns golden brown.
- Add the beef and chicken broth and bring to a boil, stirring with a whisk. Stir in the cornstarch and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes or until the sauce thickens. Season with pepper. Taste and add additional salt, if necessary, to taste. Make ahead and re-warm or keep warm until your fries are ready.
Bannock is a simple bread product found throughout the cuisine of First Nations peoples, including Inuit people of Canada and Alaska, Metis, and Native Americans from North America. It is similar to cornbread and has been a staple food item prior to contact with settlers/outsiders. It uses flour made from maize, roots, and tree sap. Today it is made a little differently, using white or whole wheat flour, baking powder, sugar and water (or milk). It can be very easy to make. You combine the ingredients, knead the dough, and then you can either fry the dough, bake it in an oven or cook it on a stick over open fire.
3 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup margarine/butter/shortening (your choice)
¾-1 cup milk or water
- Mix flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.
- Work in the margarine using hands until you make a nice crumble. If you have Olivina margarine in your area, I find this makes for the best bannock.
- Gradually mix in enough milk to make soft but not sticky. Knead.
- Shape into a ball, place on a greased baking sheet, then flatten into a circle about 1 inch thick.
- Bake at 425°F (220°C) for 25 minutes or until lightly browned.
It is rare to meet a Canadian who opposes eating a butter tart. A tart is a tiny pie the size of your hand, with a flaky pastry crust. A butter tart is exactly what it sounds like: butter, sugar and syrup baked inside pastry. The result is a crunchy top and shell, with gooey, semi-solid filling. Sometimes the baker will put pecans atop the filling, or raisins. These tarts were common in early Canadian cooking, an integral part of Eastern Canadian cuisine.
For the Pastry
- 2 ¼ cups flour pastry flour is best to use but all-purpose will do
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 1/2 cup shortening Very cold and cut in cubes
- 1/2 cup butter Very cold and cut in cubes
- 6 tbsp ice water approximately, enough to bring the dough together
For the Filling
- 1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar
- 1/2 cup corn syrup
- 1/4 cup butter melted
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp salt
- ½ cup raisins substituting, pecans, walnuts or chocolate chips also make good variations
To prepare the pastry
- Pulse the cold butter and shortening into the flour sugar and salt using a food processor until the shortening or butter is reduced to pea sized pieces.
- Sprinkle the water over the surface and toss with a fork until the water is just incorporated into the dough. Do not over work the dough; handle it only enough so that the dough stays together.
- Form the dough into two rounds about an inch thick.
- Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge for about a half hour.
- Roll out on lightly floured surface. Cut into rounds with 4 inch cutter. Fit into muffin cups. Chill in the fridge or freezer while you prepare the filling. Cold pastry heading into a hot oven will always be flakier.
To make the filling
- Combine all filling ingredients except raisins.
- Mix well.
- Sprinkle raisins in a single layer in the bottom of the pastry lined muffin cups.
- Fill 2/3 full with syrup mixture.
- Bake on bottom shelf of oven at 425 degrees F for 12 to 15 minutes.
- Cool completely on a wire rack and remove tarts from from pans.
This dessert item is unique in that it requires no baking. It is named after the city of Nanaimo, British Columbia. It is a layered cream sandwich consisting of a wafer base layer, topped by custard-flavoured butter icing, and topped with chocolate that is melted and then solidified. It has been voted Canada’s favourite confection by the National Post.
When we think of bagels we think of puffy circular breads, with small center holes. However, the Montreal-style bagel is different. It is smaller and thinner, has a large center hole, tastes sweeter, and is baked in a woodfire oven. Its dough is far denser than that of a regular bagel (New York style). Its main ingredients are malt and egg, and no salt. The dough is boiled in water before being baked, which gives it the distinct density and sweetness. Typically the water is sweetened by honey. The two most popular flavours are poppy seed and sesame seed.
Bagels were brought to North America by Jewish immigrants of Poland. The taste and texture is indicative of particular areas in Poland where bakers would have learned their skill.
Montreal style bagels have even been to outer space! Gregory Chamitoff of Montreal took bags of sesame bagels with him as passenger and crewmembers of STS-124 and ISS Expedition 17.
Saskatoon berry pie
High in antioxidants and vitamin E to name a few, this traditional prairie pie is an opportunity you should never turn down. Like all pie, it is best served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Picking the berries in the countryside is a fun adventure for families, and foraging for them makes this pie a sacred food item. The traditional Canadian dessert is endangered, however, as more and more industrial development moves in, destroying habitats and farmland. There is a lot of history to do with the Saskatoon berry including recipes, and lifestlyes of foraging for wild food.
These berries were a staple for First Nations people and the early settlers. They would be eaten fresh, steamed and mashed, or left to dry to be enjoyed over the winter. The berry season runs June to the beginning of August. Aboriginal peoples used the roots, stems and berries for medicinal purposes.
The recipe includes 5 cups of berries, white sugar, flour, lemon zest, butter and egg, which are combined and laid within a pastry shell.
Montreal style smoked meat
Montreal-style smoked meat is made from beef brisket, which is the lower chest of the cow. The meat is salted and cured with spices. Over the course of a week, the brisket absorbs the flavours. It is then hot smoked, a process where the meat is hung over a smoldering material (wood) in order to absorb the smoke flavor. The difference between regular smoked meat and Montreal-style is the use of spices. Montreal-style uses a lot of cracked peppercorns, coriander, garlic and mustard seeds. Some may be brine-cured, but many establishments prefer the dry-curing method.
The meat is very tender and for this reason must be sliced by a hand, as a meat slicer would cause it to disintegrate. The meat is around 3 mm thick, and piled 5 centimetres thick onto a sandwich. The meat is typically served on a sandwich of rye bread with yellow mustard. On the side you will find coleslaw and a pickle.
The small bits leftover from cutting are served in a smoked meat poutine (with fries, gravy and cheese curds).
This has been one of the most popular foods in Montreal, along with bagels, since the 1800s. It has been picked up by several places around the world including Shanghai, Toronto, New York and Chicago.
This popular food item also goes by the name of cornmeal bacon. It is back back that is trimmed, wet cured (in a brine) and then rolled in cornmeal. While cornmeal is the more accurate name, its name peameal comes from the historic practice of rolling the cured, trimmed pork loin in dried and ground yellow peas. This process would extend the shelf life of the meat. However, since the end of World War II, the bacon has been rolled in cornmeal. You can find this signature dish at the Toronto St. Lawrence Market.