By Michelle Jaelin, RD.
What is Canadian Food? If you were to ask the general public, you would probably hear poutine (a Québec classic), maple syrup, Saskatoon berries, Nanaimo bars and butter tarts. Between this great Canadian food debate, my personal preference is butter tarts! However, I also have a different take on Canadian food because of my upbringing as part of a Chinese immigrant family.
Former Prime Minister Joe Clark had once described Canadian cuisine as a “smorgasbord,” a type of Scandinavian meal originating from Sweden, which describes a buffet table with many dishes on it, hot and cold. What I think makes Canadian cuisine unique is the multicultural foods that make our buffet table so diverse. Canadian food is influenced by Indigenous, English, French, Italian, Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Iranian, Jamaican, Indian, Sri Lankan and so many other different cultures.
The multicultural food experience also includes a blend of foods grown in Canada with influences from immigrants, refugees and indigenous folks to create new, unique dishes with a Canadian flair.
It’s what makes our food special, cuisines of the world all brought together. Like a smorgasbord!
It’s not uncommon for many Canadian families to get stuck in a dinner rut. If you’re a home cook looking to keep meals fun and exciting for your family, how do you go about enjoying these different food cultures in your home?
Showing Appreciation, not Appropriation
You probably first experienced a different cultural cuisine out at a restaurant, school or at a friend’s house from a different background. When trying a cuisine other than your own, always acknowledge and show respect for the people who created the cuisine. Cuisine always starts with people and culture.
True story: The first time I ever tried cheese pizza was on Pizza Day in elementary school. Up until that point in my life growing up in a Chinese immigrant household, we never had pizza at home. On first bite, it tasted like heaven. I thought: Where have you been all my life?! I was 6 years old. And as a 6-year-old at the time, I didn’t know pizza was of Italian origin. In later years I discovered other toppings, varieties and eventually, authentic Italian pizza in Rome. It was divine!
Have days during the week where you try a different cuisine by building it into your weekly meal plan. For example, Thursday could be Indian food night. Not only does this keeps mealtime more exciting, but also expands your food literacy skills when learning to cook something new.
When it comes to preparing a recipe different from your own, try to source recipes from people of the culture of that cuisine.
For example, I love Toronto-based blogger Puneeta Chhitwal-Varma’s take on Indian food in Canada on her blog, Maple and Marigold. For African, Caribbean, North and South American food, look to Black Foodie, created by Eden Hagos. Indigenous Food First is an educational Indigenous food and recipe blog. And Vancouver-based food blogger and YouTuber Pailin Chongchitnant has got you covered for Thai cuisine. All of these are Canadian food bloggers and resources, highlighting the diversity and talent of our country.
With that being said, when cooking a recipe at home that’s different from your own, remember that your dish is inspired by cuisine from another culture. Note that often learning about other people and cultures happens through food. It’s the fundamental need we all have as humans: to eat food, and often together!
Learning About Others Through Food
The most exciting part about having cuisines of the world in your kitchen is the learning that comes with it, especially for families and children. Think: What kind of educational discussions can happen over the dinner table while enjoying a new cuisine? It’s also a great way to create memories in the kitchen! A discussion around cultural food can look like this:
This is food from __________ (insert culture different from your own). How does it taste? Do you notice any similarities or differences from the foods we usually eat? Engage in a discussion. These foods are different from ours. Ask: Does this make dinner more fun and interesting? It’s okay if your child doesn’t like a particular food or cuisine. However, it’s important for adults to always model for their children respect for foods and cultures that are different from their own.
Multicultural Food in Canada
What’s unique to Canada is how much individuals are able to retain their own culture while also being Canadian. For example, I describe myself as Chinese Canadian. We also see this in different foods around the country, ones that adjust to serve the Canadian population. Chinese food in Canada is an example of this. Canada, with both its diverse landscape and people, have created a food culture that is difficult to define. It has many components, including all the ingredients grown and raised in different regions. But that’s what makes it extra special, the many cultures that together – create the smorgasbord of Canadian food
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