Do a search on the Internet for "Canadian cuisine" and you're likely to run into some stereotypical recipes with back bacon, maple syrup and smoked salmon among the main ingredients. But thanks to the presence of world-renowned chefs, indigenous and international influences and last but not least, an abundance of delicious homegrown ingredients, Canada is gaining a worldwide reputation as a purveyor of innovative fine cuisine.
The food that awaits you in Canada is as varied and interesting as its geography. From coast to coast, visitors can expect to find a multitude of flavours to suit every taste imaginable.
This is particularly true in Canada's cities, where diverse ethnic backgrounds contribute to the variety of menus available. In Vancouver, for example, diners can sample fare from virtually every region of the globe. The large Asian population here means the city has gained an international reputation as home to world-class Chinese, Japanese, and Indian restaurants. Less traditional but equally tasty are dishes that fuse an Asian culture with Canadian fare. "On the West Coast, we use a lot of seaweeds to flavour sauces and of course [Asian] vegetables such as bok choy and shitake mushrooms," says chef Andrew Hewson, who was trained in Vancouver and is now chef of the newly opened Catch restaurant in Calgary.
That being said, our aboriginal population also influences Canadian dishes, notes Hewson, who has worked as a chef in restaurants in England, New York, and, most recently, the Ritz Carlton in Philadelphia. According to Hewson, Canada's native influences vary from particular meats (game such as caribou, elk and bison on the Prairies, for example) to grains such as wild rice and pearl barley, to berries such as Saskatoon berries and huckleberries. And of course, on the Canadian coasts, smoked seafood products such as salmon and oysters.
Like Vancouver, Toronto's cosmopolitan makeup means diners in this city can also sample food from virtually every ethnic background. A good way to get out and taste of this fare is through some of the special events held throughout the year in the city, particularly in the summer, such as the Greek and Caribbean festivals. Outside of the city, Hewson notes that the Niagara region of Ontario is noteworthy for its fowl and fresh produce, and of course, its wine.
Quebec has long been known for its maple syrup and for pastries - sugar pie being a favourite, and the traditional tourtiere, a delicious meat pie made from ground veal and pork. Another traditional Quebec dish is poutine, a delicious mixture of homemade French fries, cheese curds and gravy. Hewson notes the province is also gaining an international reputation for its cheeses - particularly soft cheeses and blue cheese, and for its "Brome Lake" duck. Hewson says when he was working in the U.S., he regularly brought in foie gras from Quebec.
Last but not least on the tour of Canadian cuisine is the East Coast, which is home to luscious seafood dishes such as lobster bisque, thanks to the abundance of fresh Atlantic lobster. Hewson also suggests sampling world-renowned Digby scallops and Prince Edward Island mussels and oysters while you're there.