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What to Eat for Canada Day

Today is Canada Day! We in the U.S. like to celebrate everyone else’s holidays, so we may as well join in the fun. We already know what to drink, so let’s take a look at Canadian cuisine. Some of these dishes stand out for their Canadian origins, whether it’s a native crop or a home-grown company. Others are just favorites, and are perceived as a little different from American cuisine. Canadians are invited to offer corrections, additions, and opinions.

Poutine

Photograph by Jonathunder.

Poutine is a proud Canadian’s heart attack in a bowl, consisting of french fries, thick gravy, and cheese curds. We've looked at its invention by Quebec restaurateur Fernand Lachance in 1957, although there are some who claim other origin stories. Authentic poutine has to live up to Canadian tastes and tradition. If you want to try them at home, use a recipe from the dish’s source. Here’s one from French-Canadian chef Chuck Hughes.

Butter Tarts

Photograph by Themightyquill.

Butter tarts are a traditional dessert that Canada does not share with other countries. It’s a small flaky tart crust filled with sugar, butter, maple syrup, and eggs, then cooked until the top forms a bit of a crispy crust. The closest American analogy I can imagine is pecan pie without the pecans. But sometimes butter tarts have pecans, or raisins, or chocolate chips, which is a matter of taste, unless you’re a purist. You have a choice of many recipes

Kraft Dinner

Photograph from Kraft Dinner at Facebook.

What Americans know as Kraft Macaroni and Cheese is packaged slightly differently in Canada as Kraft Dinner. If you think of the kit with the orange powder as a particularly American comfort food, listen to this: Canada, with a fraction of the population of the U.S., consumes a lot more blue boxes of macaroni and cheese than Americans. In fact, Kraft Dinner is the most-purchased grocery item in Canada.

This makes KD, not poutine, our de facto national dish. We eat 3.2 boxes each in an average year, about 55 percent more than Americans do. We are also the only people to refer to Kraft Dinner as a generic for instant mac and cheese. The Barenaked Ladies sang wistfully about eating the stuff: “If I had a million dollars / we wouldn’t have to eat Kraft Dinner / But we would eat Kraft Dinner / Of course we would, we’d just eat more.” In response, fans threw boxes of KD at the band members as they performed. This was an act of veneration.

You can see Barenaked Ladies doing an extended Kraft Dinner bit during a performance in Scotland in this video. The fun starts at about 3:20.

Tim Hortons Coffee and Doughnuts

Photograph by Flickr user Michael Gil.

Tim Hortons has restaurants in the U.S., but the company is known most for supplying Canada with coffee and doughnuts. The first Tim Hortons was opened in 1964 by hockey star Tim Horton in Hamilton, Ontario, selling only coffee and doughnuts. As the company grew, it became a big supporter and sponsor of hockey at all levels. The vast majority of ready-made coffee purchased in Canada comes from the over 3,000 Tim Hortons Canadian outlets.

Maple Syrup

Photograph by Kevstan.

This is a no-brainer: Canada produces 80% of the world’s maple syrup. What else would you expect from a country that has a maple leaf on its flag? Besides, it tastes so good with bacon! The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers even has a strategic maple syrup reserve, in which 40 million pounds of syrup were set aside in 2011. Americans learned of this reserve in 2012, when six million pounds of the syrup was stolen.

Nanaimo Bars

Photograph by Sheri Terris.

Nanaimo Bars are a dessert candy named after the town of Nanaimo, British Columbia. The recipe appeared in a cookbook under that name in 1953, although similar earlier recipes can be found. The concoction is basically a layer of wafer crumbs covered by vanilla or custard flavored buttercream icing and the whole thing is then coated with chocolate. There are plenty of recipes available online. I can’t imagine that any of them are not delicious.

Bacon

Photograph by Flickr user Will Gurley.

What’s not to like about bacon? It goes so good with maple syrup! In 2010, a survey by Maple Leaf Foods found that 43% of Canadians would choose bacon over sex. At least that’s what they said when people from the bacon company came to ask.

Ketchup Chips

Photograph by Flickr user Patrick Lorenz.

The United States eats a lot of potato chips, and we have a reputation for putting ketchup on everything -except potato chips. That’s a Canadian treat. There are many brands of ketchup chips sold in Canada, but few are available in the U.S. Lay’s makes ketchup chips, but they are only sold in Canada

Of course, there are other foods that are associated with Canada: Pacific salmon, blueberries, Montreal bagels, and lots of other recipes. Like anywhere else, a lot of different people have a lot of different favorite foods. Happy Canada Day! Read more in our Canada Day archives.

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A Brief History of Poutine
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Walk down a street after a hard night of drinking in Montréal and you’d be hard-pressed not seeing someone gorging themselves on poutine, a high-calorie classic staple of Québécois casse-croûtes—or “greasy spoon”—cuisine.

Just what is poutine, you ask? The delicious Canadian dish is comprised of a holy-hoser trinity of ingredients: French fries, cheese curds, and gravy. Try some yourself and you’ll be hooked. It’s become so popular that it’s readily available at certain restaurants in the U.S. (Lucky New Yorkers can get their hands on some traditional poutine at Brooklyn restaurant Mile End.) Otherwise, the dish has become so ubiquitous in its home province that even McDonald’s and Burger King sell it as a side.

Much like the debate in the U.S. about the origins of the hamburger, poutine has similarly unclear beginnings. The most widespread claim for inventing poutine comes from the small dairy-farming town of Warwick, Québec, where, in 1957, a customer asked restaurateur Fernand Lachance to throw cheese curds and French fries—items the owner sold separately at his restaurant L’Idéal (later renamed Le lutin qui rit, or “The Laughing Elf”)—together in one bag because the customer was in a rush. Legend has it when Lachance peered into the bag after the two ingredients were mixed together, he remarked, “This is a ‘poutine,’” using the joual—or Québécois slang—for a "mess.”

Noticeably absent from Lachance’s cobbled-together recipe is the gravy ingredient, which was added to the mix in 1964 when a restaurant-owner in nearby Drummondville, Quebec named Jean-Paul Roy noticed a few of his diners ordering a side of cheese curds to add to the patented gravy sauce and fries dish at his restaurant, Le Roy Jucep. Roy soon added the three-ingredient item on his menu and the rest is delicious, gravy-soaked history.

Eventually, poutine spread across the province and throughout Canada—with different combinations added to the fries, curds, and gravy recipe—but the original remains the most recognized and honored. It even initially made its way to the United States by way of New Jersey, where an altered recipe known as “Disco Fries” substitutes shredded cheddar or mozzarella cheese for the Canadian curds.

But if you ever find yourself in Montréal and have a hankering for greasy food, be sure to order it correctly. Anglophones usually pronounce the word as “poo-teen,” but if you want to pass for a real Québécois, it’s pronounced “poo-tin.”  

This story originally ran in 2013.

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15 Colorful Canadian Slang Terms
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Americans looking to take a trip across their country's northern border might find themselves bewildered by some Canadian turns of phrase. It is, after all, a place where people go out for a rip to the beer store and plunk down their loonies to pick up a two-four. Pretty confusing, eh? But fear not. For all you keeners who want to learn how to speak like a Canuck, here’s a handy chart to help you master Canadian slang, courtesy of Expedia.ca.

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