In no particular order (after all, how can you rank iconic Canada?), here are a top 10:
Nanaimo bars Don’t know what a Nanaimo bar is? It’s a no-bake square with a dark chocolate/coconut bottom with a buttercream middle, topped with melted chocolate. Let’s just call it a Canadian Oreo.
Poutine French fries topped with cheese curds smothered in gravy. There are lots of variations on the theme. On those occasions when I need some food therapy to chase away the blues or otherwise console a heavy heart, what could be better than a serving of cardiac arrest in a bowl?
Maple taffy A winter treat for young and old: Maple taffy. So simple and yet so good. Heat good Canadian maple syrup until it is at the softball stage; use a candy thermometer if you must). Then poured over a bed of snow. Oowie, goowie, chewie good!
Butter tarts If this list seems dominated by sweet treats, perhaps it’s a reflection of Canadians’ sweet teeth. Butter tarts are so simple, yet so good. A boiled butter, egg, syrup and brown sugar filling, which can also include raisins or nuts. Butter tarts are a close cousin to sugar pie, another iconic Canadian dessert.
The back story on butter tarts is a lesson in history itself. Back in the 1600s, before Canada was even a country, King Louis XIV of France sent single women, known as the Filles du Roi, or King’s Daughters, to Canada to marry and start families in this new colony. As resourceful pioneers, they worked with the ingredients they had in the new land: maple syrup and dried fruit. And thus the butter tart was born. Thank goodness for pioneer invention.
Nova Scotia lobster roll The lobster roll is the Nova Scotia equivalent of the tuna salad sandwich. Combined with mayonnaise, onion and celery, or whatever happens to inspire the cook that day, lobster becomes the meat in a white bread, or in this case white roll, sandwich.
Tourtiere While there are innumerable variations on the theme, there are essentially two styles of this traditional meat pie. Oh I can almost hear the outcry now at such broad generalization. Ground beef combined with mirepoix of carrots, celery and onions, potato cubes and seasoned with nutmeg and other aromatic spices. The other style of tourtiere uses cubes of meat instead of ground meat. And that opens up a whole lot of possibilities including ports, beef, and game meats. This is more like a stewed tourtiere, and can happily cook low and slow for 6 hours or more.
Caribou stew It has in recent years become a treat for special occasions as the availability of caribou dwindles. Caribou stew is a like a beef stew, only using wild caribou meat instead of beef. Just as Habitant pea soup was to the French explorers, or butter tarts were to early Canadian settlers, Caribou stew is an example of a dish with its cultural roots derived from people creating from locally available ingredients. Caribou is game meat, and until recently, a staple among Northwest Territories and Nunavut First Nations and Inuit. Caribou is considered “country food” in the North, harvested from the wild, and emblematic of a traditional on the land lifestyle.
Jiggs Dinner Jiggs dinner is Sunday dinner East coast style. Jiggs dinner is sometimes called boiled dinner. Salt beef is boiled with vegetables like cabbage, potatoes, turnips and carrots. It is comparable to corned beef and cabbage.