In Canada they have an interesting cuisine with a very mixed heritage: influences from the first settlers - England, Scotland, France, Ireland, Scandinavia, Holland - and from the original First Nations (including Eskimo). Canada's welcoming attitude towards immigrants from India, Asia, the Pacific Ocean, Italy, Greece, Portugal and Jewish food has led to a multicultural food explosion. No doubt in ten years time we'll be seeing plenty of Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan restaurants.
They have world-class Michelin-starred restaurants, French bistros in Quebec, an excellent vegan restaurant in Halifax, sugar shack meals in log cabins, fast food and street food. Such a large country, which stretches from the Pacific to the Atlantic while skirting the North pole, is bound to contain imprints from many cultures. Here are a list of food and drinks you should definitely try from Canada.
1) Maple Syrup
Try darker syrups with savoury dishes or to make dressings and lighter syrups for the classic crêpes and waffles.
If you are there from February to April, do try a sugar shack meal in which jugs of new season maple syrup are lined up on tables, ready to be poured copiously on early settler style meals consisting of pea soup, fried potatoes, ham, pork, bacon, omelette, beans, tarte au sucre, pouding chomeur (recipe to come soon) and pancakes. Canadians also put maple syrup in coffee.
3) Montreal Bagels
Montreal bagels are smaller (between 9 and 10cm in diameter), shorter (between 3.5 or 4.5cm in height), sweeter (flavoured with honey), denser and more irregular in shape as they are baked in a wood oven. Montreal bagels aren't split but dipped or eaten on their own.
New York bagels are bigger (11.6cm) with a small hole, taller (5.2cm), fluffier, chewier, rounder and more savoury. NY bagels are split, often toasted, buttered, slathered with cream cheese and lox.
New York bagels are the sort we usually buy in UK supermarkets (although most of the flour available in the UK is Canadian flour) but a Montreal bagel is worth trying. Although now having tried both, I must confess I prefer New York bagels. I guess it's like Marmite v Vegemite; there's not a lot in it but you prefer what you have grown up with.
If you visit Montreal, go to the hipster Mile End district to watch the bagel making and buy them at St-Viateur Bagel or Fairmount, a few blocks away.
In terms of other baked goods, in the Quebec area of Canada they are pretty good at viennoiserie with excellent croissants, pain au chocolat and bread, just as should be expected from French descendants.
4) Ice cider and apples
5) Spruce beerPeople were wary about me trying Spruce beer. 'It's not for everyone,' said my guide in Montreal, Micheline. 'It's an acquired taste,' said another. Made from the spruce pine, it has a slight disinfectant flavour, which I didn't mind at all. Unusual. One must keep it refrigerated as the fermentation is likely to make the bottle explode.
8) Lobster and SeafoodCanada stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific so has the benefit of good seafood from both oceans. Halifax, on the Atlantic, is celebrated for the quality of the lobster and shellfish. On the West coast, similar to Alaska, salmon will be the dark pink sockeye, and salmon jerky is sold, a descendant of native food from First Peoples.
- In Toronto peameal bacon is popular. It's bacon where the outside fat is dipped in yellow peameal. Buy the best peameal bacon sandwiches at Carousel Bakery at St. Lawrence market. Tell Bob and Maurice I sent you.
- In Montreal you should try smoked meat sandwiches with mustard at Schwartz's diner.
- In Halifax, have a go at the 'Donair' Kebab. Hard to describe but it's a Canadian version of a doner kebab or 'Gyro'. Except with pork and condensed milk. Weird.
- In Quebec, pork and ham is put into most dishes at a sugar shack dinner. Then imagine the above dish flooded with maple syrup.
This is another typically Quebecois drink, a red wine, some sort of hard alcohol such as whisky, brandy or rum and maple syrup. If the weather is cold, it can be heated up like a mulled wine. On this trip unfortunately I didn't get a chance to taste it. Next time!
It's a pity that we don't get more Canadian wine in the UK but it's mainly because of import duties and transport, which would make it too expensive for consumers. Australia and New Zealand seem to manage to export to Britain just fine, but as yet the Canadian output is too small to compete.
12) Fiddlehead ferns
13) Butter Tarts
These small tarts, made with shortcrust pastry, are a bit like treacle tarts or pecan tarts without the pecans. Very, very sweet with either raisins or nuts. They are similar to the larger tarte au sucre that you get at a sugar shack meal. I tried these at the charming Saint Lawrence market in Toronto.