So, What is Canada's National Dish?

Province of Canada - Made in Canada - Canadian Food
Photo: AnnaLena

In a recent New York Times article titled "How We Cook, Eat and Drink: The Canada Letter," Canadian Ian Austen reports on what constitutes "Canadian" cuisine in the culinary world. His definition has less to do with Nanaimo bars and poutine, and more to do with the process of cooking in the current cultural (and literal) Canadian climate.

"Are we a real country if we don’t really have a cuisine?...It’s a positive thing when we can say, ‘Well, let’s just eat,’ rather than saying, ‘This is our national cuisine.'"

Austen goes on to explain how the availability of Canadian grown ingredients and their varying textures, flavours, and preparations can, in a way, customize any dish to be "Canadian". In other words, it can be limiting to classify some foods as Canadian and some as international, when really, any dish can be Canadian.

"I think we’re getting to a point where we might say, gosh, what’s more Canadian than the dosa"

Province of Canada - Butter TartsA bacon cheeseburger may not be an inherently Canadian invention, but when Cypress River farmers raise the beef, Niagara vineyards grow the tomatoes, and a sugar shack in Laval provides the maple syrup that candies the bacon, it qualifies as a Canadian burger.

All that said, there are traditionally Canadian contributions to food canon that we grew up on, and though we boast about their origins, we can appreciate their complexities. Pictured in the Canada Letter is a bakery cabinet stocked with butter tarts at Don’s Bakery in Barrie, Ontario, the origin of its earliest known recipe. While the pastry does link back to Canadian pioneers, we know that a good butter tart is made with raisins. Just like we know that poutine requires equal amounts cheese to gravy and Nanaimo bars are always best served cold.

So what is Canada's national dish? We have many. In the Province of Canada, we like to believe that Nanaimo bars and poutine are no more Canadian than our favourite pulled pork sandwich from the Leslieville Pumps, or the signature baked French toast at Bonjour Brioche, which is modelled from leftover croissants. 

Province of Canada - Bonjour BriochePhoto: @chloe_paquin

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"It doesn't have to look Canadian to be Canadian."

Julie Brown