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Canada - Food and Drink

The dish most readily associated with Canada is without doubt the Quebecois dish poutine, consisting of crispy french fries, fresh cheese curds and a light, meaty gravy. Legend has it that this much-loved dish originated in Warwick, Quebec in 1957 when a restaurant customer asked for cheese curds to be added to his plate of chips, prompting the restaurateur to exclaim ‘ça va faire une maudite poutine!’ or ‘that’ll make a damned mess!’ The sauce was later added in order to keep the chips warm, and the dish’s popularity quickly grew and spread throughout the country. Although typically associated with French Canada, this dish can be enjoyed throughout the country, and is particularly popular as a late-night snack following a night on the town. However, due to its ever-increasing popularity, there are many more upmarket versions of poutine available in gastro-diners across the country, featuring such additions as lobster, sweet potato fries and red wine sauce.

Strangely, the boxed, non-perishable macaroni cheese product known as Kraft Dinner holds iconic status in Canada, where it is the most popular grocery item in the country and considered by many to be the de facto national dish. It is commonly eaten with ketchup and now officially goes by the name KD after the company decided to embrace the affectionate nickname given it by 80% of the population. As an entrée to your KD you might like to try another extremely popular Canadian snack - Ketchup-flavoured crisps. These are considered to be a quintessential Canadian treat and can be washed down with a Caesar, Canada’s signature cocktail, which is basically a Bloody Mary with the addition of clam broth. In 2009 a petition was signed to coincide with its 40th anniversary calling for it to be made the nation’s official cocktail, and National Caesar Day is held every year on the Thursday before the May Long Weekend.

Another popular dish is tourtière, a meat pie originating from turn of the seventeenth century Quebec and traditionally eaten on Christmas and New Year’s Eves, although it can be bought in stores across the country year-round. Other popular meat dishes include the iconic peameal bacon, which is brined lean pork loin rolled in cornmeal and typically served at breakfast, and Montreal smoked meat, considered emblematic of the city’s cuisine and originally introduced by Eastern European Jewish immigrants in the 19th century. Of equal popularity and iconic status are the handmade, wood-fired oven baked Montreal-style bagels, which are sweeter and denser than New York bagels, and have seen their popularity spread throughout Canada and into the US.

A contender for most popular Canadian dessert could well be the butter tart, which dates back to pioneer times and consists of a gooey, buttery brown sugar filling in a pastry shell with a crispy baked top. Butter tarts are always miniature in size like cupcakes, never taking the larger pie format, and are similar to pecan pie in taste. These little pies are so popular that in Ontario you can see them honoured in the Butter Tart festival, the Butter Tart Trail, and the Kawarthas Northumberland Butter Tart Tour. In Midland Ontario you can also attend Ontario’s Best Butter Tart festival and Contest, the largest butter tart celebration in Canada.

Another extremely popular sweet treat is the no-bake bar dessert originating from Nanaimo, BC, consisting of a wafer crumb base, a custard-flavoured butter icing middle and a melted chocolate top layer. The Nanaimo bar is so popular in its hometown that residents tried to have it voted “Canada’s Favourite Confection” in a National Post survey, and you can even go on a Nanaimo Bar Trail and sample variations of the sweet at each of its 39 stops.

Of course, maple syrup is one of Canada’s most popular exports and maple products are considered emblematic of the country, with the sugar maple leaf having come to symbolise the nation and taking pride of place as the central motif on the Canadian flag. Canada produces 71% of the world’s pure maple syrup, with 91% being produced in Quebec. Legend has it that an Iroquois chief yanked his axe out of the maple tree it was embedded in one day and set out hunting. All day a liquid trickled out of the gash and collected in the bowl resting against the side of the tree. The next day the chief’s wife noticed the full bowl, assumed the liquid to be water and cooked a venison stew with it. The sweet stew which resulted was the start of the tradition of maple-cured meats. Nowadays products such as maple syrup, candy and butter are staple souvenirs for tourists visiting Canada.

Most Canadians eat three meals a day, starting with a breakfast of cereal, pancakes, toast, pastries, fruit, yoghurt or fried bacon and eggs in the morning, and a light lunch at midday, with sandwiches being particularly popular with all generations. Dinner is typically served around five or six in the evening, later in Quebec, and is usually a heavier and more substantial meal than lunch. With the influence of other cuisines on Canadian cooking, dinner could range from locally sourced meat and fish with potatoes and vegetables to pizza, stir fry or any number of other specialties.

Around 80% of the population drink alcohol, and the legal age to purchase alcoholic beverages is 19 years old in all provinces except Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec, where the minimum age is 18. It is forbidden to consume alcohol in public places throughout most of the country, although in Quebec the consumption of low-alcohol content beverages is permitted in public if accompanied by food. In most provinces alcohol is only available for purchase in designated liquor stores, although in a handful of places beer and wine can be bought at grocery stores.

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