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Food, Dining, & Drinks in Canada

Historic Diet

As a massive country the historic diet in what is today Canada differs greatly from region to region. What is common through most of the regions is that the land is generally very fertile in the south with a large number of animals. The only exception to this is the country's far north where ice and snow dominate along with the mountainous Rockies.

The historic diet is based on each region and the resources available locally. Along both coasts and the Hudson Bay, seafood was and still is very common, varying from shellfish like lobsters and clams in what is the Maritime Regions to larger fish like salmon more common in the Pacific off the coast of Columbia. Seafood though is common in many parts of the country, as inland lakes and rivers are filled with thousands of fish like perch.

Among the animals originally from the region that became popular food sources, bison (or the American Buffalo) and turkey were among the most common. Deer and numerous smaller mammals were also common food sources, although today these animals, like squirrels and rabbits are not as commonly consumed. In the far north the people went on whale hunts, which provided enough food for the people for months, although these hunts were dangerous.

The fruits and vegetables in the country are limited due to the short growing season; however there are many small fruits common in the south. Potatoes, tomatoes, sweet peppers, corn (maize), apples, and smaller fruits like berries were, and continue to be, common food sources.

Culinary Influences

Canadian Food - Poutine
Poutine

Canadian food begins with the First Nation's Peoples, who primarily acted as hunters and gatherers. Living off the land meant most foods were found in the area as described above.

When the English arrived they brought with them simple cooking techniques and some basic food staples, however they did little more than introduce cooking styles and utensils to make cooking easier. The French however consider cooking an art and became more creative with the local ingredients. None-the-less, even today most food is based on locally available ingredients, such as fish in the southeast and meat on the Great Plains, but cooking styles vary drastically.

As technology grew and life became more hectic, mass food production hit Canada by storm. Cereals became popular, fast food restaurants popped up, and the coffee and doughnut craze hit the country. More recently, as an immigrant destination, Canada's food is growing more and more diverse with dozens of ethnic foods available in every medium-sized to large city.

Staple Foods

Being a country of immigrants, there are no staple foods that exist across Canada. Many of the immigrants, however have staples, from rice for many Asian immigrants to corn tortillas for Hispanic immigrants.

Regional Variations, Specialties, & Unique Dishes

Quebec: poutine, now popular everywhere in Canada, is French fries topped with cheddar cheese curds and gravy
Montreal: smoked meats are famous here; they are cuts of beef that are slowly smoked & seasoned until very tender
Ottawa: beaver tails: fried dough topped with any number of toppings
Toronto: street meat, typically Polish sausage, hot dogs, Italian sausage, & others
Vancouver: Indian & Asian foods are popular here due to the immigrant populations

Dining Etiquette

Dining in Canada varies from highly sophisticated to extremely informal and, fortunately, usually falls closer to the informal side of the spectrum. With a fast food culture growing and eating on the run popular, eating as you walk or in the company of others isn't considered rude, although offering some food to those around you is polite. In these quick service restaurants there are no true dining rules.

In more formal settings, place your napkin on your lap, wait to eat until everyone is served, and use your silverware (cutlery) from the outside in. These rules also apply if you're a guest at anyone's house, although there may be appetizers you can snack on without waiting, plus some people are extremely informal so just follow your host's lead.

If dining as a guest at someone's house in English Canada, always arrive on time, bring a small gift (or a dish if asked), and follow the host's traditions; this could mean a pre-meal prayer or toasts, which are typically limited only to the host, but if others join in, all are welcome to participate. It is also not considered rude to turn down a dish that does not appeal to you, however do so quietly and ask for another dish instead. It is also commonly considered polite to eat all the food you take; leaving food can be implied it was not satisfactory.

In French Canada rules vary a bit from the rules in English Canada. People show up late for dinner and it is more of a social event than an eating event. Wine also takes a prominent role in dining and most formal dinners begin with at least one bottle of wine. After the wine arrives and the conversation begins, the first course arrives, typically with more wine and conversation. This is of course followed by the main course and wine, finally dessert and perhaps more wine. It is expected that each guest orders a starter, main course, and dessert, but portions tends to be small.

Paying also varies by region. In English Canada there are no set rules; typically the host will pay, but you should offer to assist and many times the offer will be accepted or the bill will be divided evenly. At a restaurant in French Canada however, the inviter always pays, so if you invite others expect to pay the entire bill and if you are the guest, it's still considered polite to offer to pay, but after your offer is turned down, asking again can be rude so graciously thank your host instead.

When eating out at a sit-down restaurant a tip of between 12-20% is expected (depending on the quality of the service). Unlike in Europe, waiters and waitresses get low pay and are reliant on tips as a supplement to their income. In bars a tip of CAN $1 per drink is standard.

Celebrations & Events

Most of the holidays associated with foods in Canada are traditional French holidays, including reveillon, which is a drawn-out dinner on Christmas Eve and/or New Year's Eve. These meals are often filled with expensive, rich, and luxurious dishes and ingredients and always include dessert as the food is served into the night and the next day.

Drinks

Canadians drink just about every type of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drink depending on personal taste. Many sodas are popular as are juices, water, and other non-alcoholic drinks, all of which are popular and easily accessible.

Wine, beer, and hard liquors are all popular, but beer reigns supreme. Depending on your location and personal tastes in Canada, differing drinks are more or less popular, including vodka, whiskey, and rum. Wine is growing in popularity, especially in Quebec.

The tap water is safe to drink in Canada. However, many people may have trouble adjusting to the local tap water, as it will most certainly be different from what your system is used to if you are not from North America.

This page was last updated: March, 2013