Yesterday I received an email inviting me to an event hosted by the Canadian Association of Singapore. The evening would begin with networking over a buffet of Canadian foods then kick-off with a Singapore-Canada Learning Exchange Dialogue from their distinguished speakers. Needless to say I didn’t go because it sounded soul-shatteringly boring, but I couldn’t stop thinking about that promised buffet of “Canadian foods”. What would they be serving? Moose meat? Winnipeg rye bread? Cape Breton lobster? Sushi with BC salmon? Poutine? Kraft Dinner? It was almost worth going just to see their interpretation of Canadian food.
Considering that I was born and raised there, it may seem like an odd thing that I have no idea how to summarize Canadian food. There are certainly foods that Canada is known for producing, but no Canadian I’ve ever met sits down to a dinner of maple syrup and Inniskillin ice wine. Similarly, there are the historic foods that Canada’s original people subsisted on for centuries before colonization like pemmican (dried buffalo meat) and bannock (unleavened bread). Most Canadians have tried these exactly once – during the “Canada’s Early People” unit in 4th grade Social Studies – so these really don’t represent typical Canadian food either.
As far as I can tell, Canadian food depends entirely on who you (and your family) are. From my experience growing up, most Canadian families eat pretty banal “western food” most of the time – spaghetti , sandwiches, chicken, pizza, roast beef and mashed potatoes, stir-fry with rice – but at big holiday dinners the traditional recipes come out and the family roots show.
|Pierogies and sour cream: Canadian food?|
My family is a jumble of Eastern European ancestry, so no Christmas dinner was complete without pierogies and cabbage rolls, and visits to my baba’s (grandmother’s) house always meant a steaming pot of borscht on the stove to welcome us (which, after being told it made your pee red, my sister and I refused to eat). Dinners with my boyfriend’s extended family might include German schnitzel or uber-British Yorkshire pudding, but when he was instructed to prepare a “traditional Canadian food” for a multi-cultural day at his office in Singapore he made Nanaimo bars (named after a city in the province of British Columbia and even sold at JoMa Bakery in Laos!). And, considering that more than 20% of current Canadians were born outside of Canada, lots of Canadian families are sitting down to meals of dim sum, tandoori chicken, or doro tibs with injera bread.
That said, I like to think of Canadian food as a union of the best that every culture has to offer. Tourti
Of course, I can’t end this without mentioning two foods that are as iconically Canadian as they are bad for you: poutine and Kraft Dinner.
|Poutine with Montreal smoked meat|
A French-Canadian creation, poutine is French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy. If you go to La Banquise in Montreal you can order poutine topped with smoked meat, and some fancier restaurants offer a poutine with foie gras. During Canada’s poutine craze in the early 2000s even Burger King added it to their menu, but it’s one of those foods you shouldn't develop a taste for because you know it will eventually kill you. I admit I’ve looked for it, but poutine is not available in Singapore.
Kraft Dinner (known as ‘Kraft Macaroni and Cheese’ everywhere else in the world) is apparently so Canadian that it’s what Terrance and Phillip from South Park eat. Kraft Dinner is easy to prepare, neon orange and, back in the day, came in Super Mario Bros. shapes. No true Canadian kid says no to Kraft Dinner - especially with ketchup.
|Terrance and Phillip never turn down Kraft Dinner.|