Will the real Canadian cuisine please stand up, eh? 

Is it venison and wild rice or roast beef and boiled potatoes?

Canada Day is just around the corner and, if you surveyed 20 people to come up with a food associated with our national day, lots would say a big white slab cake with white icing trimmed with a maple leaf or flag made of red piping gel – the kind served to the public compliments of one community-minded agency or another.

Others might suggest picnic fare – hot dogs, grilled burgers, potato salad and the like, more to do with the time of year than any notion of Canadian cuisine. A few might mention cheddar cheese or back bacon, unless you ask a Québécois, and then you’ll get maple syrup, poutine, pea soup or tourtière for starters.

We have such a vast, diverse nation with an equally diverse history and collection of resident souls that it’s tough to pin down any one archetypal Canadian dish, never mind a national cuisine.

Making a quick tour West to East using the Canadian Encyclopedia as our guide, we come up with a regional smorgasbord that goes something like this: Fine salmon, halibut, black cod seethed in milk and shellfish bounty from the B.C. coast punctuated with roast lamb (from Saltspring), fine Armstrong cheeses, a fiddlehead or two and the fruitful bounty of the Okanagan topped with a cherry.

Mooooving into Alberta: beef, beef and more beef. And pork, lamb, chicken and turkey, with a dash of elk, bison, partridge or pheasant, and chokecherries and wild blueberries that I’ll personally attest to for making the best pies on Earth. And let us not overlook all the fine wheat, oats and barley.

Then we’re into Saskatchewan with more eternally unfolding hectares of grain, and the whitefish, trout, pickerel from the cold still lakes in the north. Saskatoon berries (more pies) and pin cherries. But wait a sec, those grow aplenty in Alberta, too.

The fact that Saskatchewan lies on so many migratory flight paths makes hunting wild fowl a no brainer – Canada geese, partridge, prairie chickens plus mallard ducks. Of course, these constitute local fare in Manitoba, too – and in Alberta, B.C. and rural Ontario. Heck, in most of Canada you can sit down to dinner of one wild game bird or another if you know the right people.

But if you want to get really Manitoban, then you’re after the smoked Winnipeg goldeneye and the wild rice, which really isn’t rice but a grass found in marshlands clear across to Atlantic Canada, despite the fact we continue to insist on wild rice as something archetypically Manitoban, I suppose because it is a big cash crop there, but so is it, too, in Ontario, and, besides, it was the aboriginal people there, particularly in the Great Lakes region, who showed settlers how to harvest it by shaking the grains into your boat or canoe.


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