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Defining Canadian cuisine means more than just poutine

Earlier this month, the Canadian government launched a three-week food truck initiative in Mexico City (using taxpayer money, of course) to help promote Canadian cuisine abroad. The rationale behind the truck — which sells ‘Poutine a la Mexicana’ among other dishes — is to increase international awareness about our national culinary offerings.  According to a spokesperson for Agriculture Canada, only about a third of Mexicans were able to identify a food product that was typically ‘Canadian.’ Evidently, it’s time to ramp up our PR efforts if we want to make Canadian fare world-famous.

From B.C. Pacific salmon to Alberta beef to Québécoise tourtière to P.E.I. potatoes, Canada’s culinary identity is all over the map. Literally. There’s so much more to us than maple syrup, but our regional gastronomical specialties are as disparate as our geography, and this makes it challenging to define a quintessentially “Canadian” food.

Does Canada’s favourite sandwich feature peameal bacon or stacks of Montreal smoked meat? Do we prefer to satisfy our sweet tooth with Nanaimo bars, tarte au sucre or Beaver Tails? I bet we couldn’t even agree on a national alcoholic beverage: Perhaps it’s a three-way tie between Molson Canadian, Newfoundland screech and the hangover-curing Caesar.

We’re a country of such varying tastes and regional delicacies that it’s not too surprising to learn that foreigners have trouble identifying a national dish of the Great White North.

Sometimes the best way to figure out what it is you love about your home and native land is to leave.

In London, England, where the Canadian immigrant population is significant and ravenous, tastes of home are sold at a premium. Boxes of Kraft Dinner and Tim Hortons coffee canisters line the shelves at the aptly named Canada Shop in Covent Garden where homesick Canucks will happily join a month-long waiting list for a bag of ketchup chips.

Across the city, Canadian expats Amy Baker and Anya Nikoulina recently set up a patriotic poutine cart in Broadway Market and are doing their part to promote the artery-clogging late-night meal across the pond.

“Everyone that approaches the stall has some kind of story about the dish,” says Baker. “They’re either a Canadian living abroad, married to a Canadian or had lived in Canada at some point in their life and tried it ... even the apprehensive British customers have gotten on board with the savoury snack.”

Poutine might be making a name for itself beyond our borders, but there’s no way one dish could define the entire Canadian culinary scene. In a country as vast and diverse as Canada, local agricultural differences and cultural traditions have made our cuisine confusing, but also distinctly unique.

It’s these regional differences that make our food interesting and delicious.

Follow Jessica Napier on Twitter @MetroSheSays

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