It’s 2am. You stumble out of a bar. It’s possible you may have had several too many boozy beverages. What stands between you and a particularly spiteful hangover the next morning could well be a bowl of cheesy, curdy, gravy-drenched fries. Awww yeah … I’m talking poutine, people.
Not only an alcohol-absorbing medicinal wonder, poutine holds the special honour of being one of the few food items that can legitimately be claimed as uniquely Canadian (sshhhh, I don’t want to hear about any other versions that exist around the world). I certainly had never tried or heard of it before arriving here in Toronto, but boy oh boy, did I want to make fast friends once I had. It may not be the most gourmet of local offerings but it’s a treat, and one that I think Canada should be bragging about more often.
Wendy’s, champion of all things greasy and good, obviously agrees. The fast-food chain is currently campaigning to make poutine Canada’s national dish, after adding it as a side option to its menu. It’s launched an online ‘Poutition’, encouraging poutine fans to sign up and join the movement by visiting Wendys.ca or its facebook page. Regardless of whether the campaign achieves anything other than a boost to Wendy’s sales, it got me thinking. What other tasty delights does Canada lay claim to? What, exactly, is Canadian food?
I think it’s safe to say that Canada, much like New Zealand, Australia and Britain, doesn’t really have anything that constitutes a national cuisine. But it does have a few choice goodies that you might not find elsewhere (or, at least, not under the same name). Let’s get greasy, shall we?
First up — well, it has to be poutine, naturally. Just look at that bowl of goopy, glistening goodness and try not to drool. Okay, so I realise this might not look delectable to everyone, but trust me, once your fork’s skewered a big, fat chip and chunky lump of cheese curd, and that fork makes its way into your mouth … magic happens. Traditionally, poutine’s made with cheese curds and gravy. Grated, cubed or bright orange cheese, stay away! But if you feel like experimenting, you’ll be pleased to know this humble dish has gone gourmet — specialised ‘poutineries’ (Smoke’s is a great one here in Toronto) offer such fancy variations as pulled pork, mexican or even curry poutine.
Taste rating: 5/5
America might know it as Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, but Canadians worship the Kraft Dinner god. It’s the same product with a different name, but it’s gained cult-like status here in Canada, so much so that it’s widely known as a rite of passage for any student fresh out of home learning to cook for the first time. It’s basically the Canadian equivalent of a pot noodle, ramen or cupasoup. And about as nutritionally beneficial as the cardboard box it comes in.
Taste rating: 2/5
I thought I would love peameal bacon (also known as Canadian bacon, or back bacon) because of its lack of fatty bits and solid porky goodness. But the truth is, it’s almost too much bacon for me, especially if served in the classic form of a peameal sandwich — a squishy white bun with multiple layers of thick, salty peameal and not much else. Still, it’s bacon, so I mean, come on. Served on a plate alongside some eggs, maybe a hash brown or two, and a grilled tomato? Now we’re talking. If you feel like getting extra crazy, you could even try pouring a little maple syrup on top for a double dose of Canadian flavour.
Taste rating: 3/5
Butter, eggs, sugar, syrup, pastry. Boom! A butter tart is born. Wikipedia tells me butter tarts were “common in pioneer Canadian cooking”, and that they’re still a much-loved little treat today. I could have told you that — they’re everywhere. What you probably didn’t want to know is that one tart contains around 550 calories. Which makes the four you just shoved in your mouth your entire daily caloric allowance. Nice one. Personally, I’m not a giant fan. They’re a little too bland for my taste, and could do with a bit of jazzing up in the way of a wee fruit topping, or generous slop of chocolate sauce.
Taste rating: 2/5
How do you like your shellfish? Juiced and served with a shot of tomato and vodka? Perfect, grab yourself a Caesar. The Caesar was brought into existence back in 1969 by a creative Calgary restaurant manager. What makes it special? It’s made with Clamato — clam juice, mmm-mmm! As a hater of all things sea-related, especially in my cocktail glass, this drink obviously ain’t for me. But I will admit that I have tried it, and can confirm that it mostly tastes like a bloody mary. With a fishy undertone. I think that says it all.
Taste rating: 1/5
Funny what the internet will teach you. While searching for a picture to accompany this post, I learned that people (some people, some weird, weird people) eat actual beaver tails. I think I’ll stick to the fried dough variety myself. I tried a Beaver Tail on a weekend trip to Ottawa. It was pretty much just that — deep-fried dough. So, yeah, it was basically great.
Taste rating: 4/5
Swiss Chalet is a Canadian chain restaurant famous for its rotisserie chicken. And its mysterious dipping sauce. I don’t understand Canadians and their dipping sauces. They have it here for pizza too, except that particular sauce is white. I dunno — what will they dip next, a sandwich? Just when does the dipping end? I suppose you could compare the Swiss Chalet sauce to gravy, if it tasted anything remotely like it. Instead, I’d describe the flavour as more along the lines of dirty dishwater with a healthy dose of added salt. I’M SORRY CANADA I JUST CAN’T.
Taste rating: 1/5