Summer is a good time for appreciating the rich and varied culinary and cultural heritage of Canada, with National Indigenous History Month commemorated throughout June; National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21; Canada Day on July 1 – and Heritage Day, celebrated in Alberta on the first Monday of August every year. These occasions offer the opportunity to learn about, honour, and recognize the foundational importance and outstanding achievements of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities in Canada and to reflect on and appreciate the multitude of ways in which the heritage and culture of many nations enrich the brilliant tapestry of this land. Part of this vibrant diversity is reflected in Canada’s broad range of foods.
On the land that became known as Canada, one of the first foods prepared by Indigenous Peoples from coast to coast was bannock. According to The Canadian Encyclopedia , most Indigenous communities have a version of bannock and, although the version of bannock commonly known today has been said to have come from Scotland, “many Indigenous communities had their own pre-colonial versions of bannock.” Bannock remains an important part of Indigenous culture and as The Canadian Encyclopedia also notes, it “plays an important role at restaurants and cafes owned and operated by Indigenous entrepreneurs” – such as the Kekuli Cafe, which has two locations in British Columbia, and features bannock as a main item on the restaurant’s menu.
Maple syrup is another food for which Canada is well-known, especially in Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes. Like Bannock, maple syrup is connected to Indigenous culture in many communities, with Indigenous Peoples of the First Nations having harvested and valued the sap of the maple tree long before conventional sugar arrived with the fur trade, as noted on the website of Wabanaki Maple, an Indigenous-led company located on Neqotkuk (Tobique First Nation) in New Brunswick, The importance of maple syrup is also explored in a March 2016 CBC article and episode of the CBC radio show Unreserved, Tapping into a history that connects maple syrup to First Nations.”
A Canadian dish that has become widely popular over recent decades is poutine. The combination of fries, cheese curds and gravy is believed to have developed in Quebec in the late 1950s and has since become a favourite throughout Canada and beyond. Results of a 2007 online survey announced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) ranked poutine as one of Canada’s top ten inventions.
Another famous Canadian food is the sweetly decadent Nanaimo Bar, named for Nanaimo, British Columbia, where what is said to be the first known recipe, labelled as a chocolate square, appeared in the 1952 Women’s Auxiliary Nanaimo Hospital Cookbook. A similar recipe, printed in the Edith Adams’ Fourteenth Prize Cookbook, is the first known recorded recipe to be published with the name of Nanaimo Bar. The 1953 recipe can be seen in the Nanaimo Museum.
Like the well-known Nanaimo Bar, the delicious butter tart, with its flaky crust and tasty centre, is a quintessential sweet treat of Canada. After appearing in the 1913 edition of the Five Roses Cook Book , the butter tart became popular over the early 20th century throughout Ontario and across Canada, and it still endures as a favourite Canadian dessert.
One of Canada’s iconic cuisine items is not a food item, but a beverage. A popular drink at Canadian lounges, bars, and events such as weddings, the Caesar was invented here in Alberta in 1969 by Walter Chell, who managed the restaurant of the Calgary Inn. He had been asked to create a special drink for the hotel’s Italian restaurant. He’s said to have spent several months perfecting the drink with its unique, spicy taste. As Walter Chell’s granddaughter relates in a May 2009 CBC article about Canada’s favourite cocktail, it was his Italian ancestry that inspired him to call the drink a “Caesar,” which was declared Canada’s official cocktail in 2009 in celebration of its 40th anniversary.
Thank you for making Let’s Cook part of your summertime celebration of Canadian food and culture, and for being part of Let’s Cook’s journey as our menu continues to expand and evolve in exciting ways. We appreciate being able to share our chefs’ amazing creativity and talent by offering wonderful meals for people to enjoy at home. And we look forward to bringing a wide array of delicious meals to suit a diverse range of dietary needs and tastes, from our chefs to your table – throughout the upcoming year and for many more to come.
Written by Cathy, Let’s Cook Content Manager