Now that it’s February, I have settled back into my Georgetown routine: going to class, attending to the growing spiral of reading I have to catch up on, ‘80s alt-pop dance nights at the Black Cat, tutoring on Saturdays and mourning the lack of decent Asian food in the District of Columbia. I seem to do that last activity in excess whenever I return from a holiday spent in O, Canada, my home and native land.
Or something like that. This year marks the seventh my family has called Toronto home. And it is in this city, dear reader, where I fell in love with food from around the world. I may have lived in Asia for 10 years, but it was Toronto and its wonderfully diverse food offerings that made an adventurous eater out of me. Here, I had my first taste of soul-filling Vietnamese pho, spicy Indian curries and tasty Greek souvlaki. Within a stone’s throw from my doorstep, I easily found quality shawarma and sushi — on the same block. From rotis to ramen, if you want it, you’re likely to find it in this city.
Similar praises can be made about other major Canadian cities, like Vancouver and Montreal. With an immigrant population of over 6 million according to the 2006 Census — that’s about one in every five Canadian residents — it’s no wonder it’s so easy to find good food from everywhere else. But what about Canadian cuisine? What is it? Does it even exist?
I’ve been asked these questions many times at Georgetown and I can happily say that yes, it does exist. And no, we don’t just go out and aboot feasting on wild game and maple syrup in our igloos while watching the hockey game and feeding leftovers to our pet beavers. But we do eat beaver tails.
I mean “BeaverTails.” These fried dough pastries, topped with cinnamon and brown sugar and stretched to resemble their namesake, originated in Ottawa in 1980. They are warm, sweet, fattening and delicious — the perfect treat for the Canadian National Exhibition, a national fair held in Toronto, which I’ve attended for the past few summers.
Other specialties can be found coast-to-coast. Our neighbors in the Maritimes (eastern Canada) are the source for fresh seafood like lobster and mussels, which I thoroughly enjoyed on a trip to Sackville — yes, Sackville — New Brunswick a few years ago.
To be honest, I’ve never ventured out west into the prairies and British Columbia. But there is one snack in Vancouver that I’m willing to make the trip for. It sounds ridiculous, but is oh so good: the Japadog. This “Japanese style hotdog” boasts toppings you wouldn’t find at your average hot dog stand, like teriyaki sauce, wasabi mayonnaise, dried seaweed and even edamame. Upon hearing about this strange and wonderful creation, I decided if I couldn’t make the trip out to British Columbia, I’d try to make my own — and it was a hit. So if you see me putting teriyaki sauce on my hot dog any time soon, you’ll know why.
The most famous Canadian culinary offering comes from our French-speaking friends in Quebec. You may know it as poutine; I know it as heaven on Earth on a frigid winter night. Poutine — French fries topped with rich, salty gravy and squeaky cheese curds — is my favorite Canadian dish. It is perfection served in a cardboard carton after a day of skiing or ice skating, or if you want to get fancy, topped with foie gras at Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal. To the nonbelievers: haters gonna hate. More for me!
To finish, I have to tell you about my hometown favorite: the back bacon sandwich. I don’t know what this “Canadian bacon” business is that we have here in the United States, but it’s nothing like the real thing. Whenever I’m home, I make a point to head to Carousel Bakery in St. Lawrence Market, where their top seller is peameal bacon on a bun. It is simple, but for a good reason — you don’t need to jazz it up with anything else. It’s that good.
There are plenty of other classically Canadian dishes and delicacies — like ketchup chips and butter tarts and maple syrup, of course — but these are just a few of my absolute favorites. If you ever decide to visit the Great White North, give ‘em a try, eh?