I’ve been spinning my journey as a Canadian who has lived in several contrasting regions –Ontario, Pacific British Columbia coast and Alberta. Last time, I blog-galloped across our vast geography and rattled on about living in a place with many time zones and weather tantrums.
So let’s talk about food now –what Nature nutures in Canadian climatic regions, soils and waters.
Canadian Regional Comparisons- A Bounty Here, Means a Food Desert Elsewhere
Tied to Nature, are our local food sources –or shall we say, lack of it. British Columbia Pacific coast’s bounty of wild salmon, several different varieties of clams, spotted shrimp, huge Dungeness crab, giant fresh scallops and oysters, is Alberta’s local seafood desert. Except trout.
Craving for Pacific Fresh Seafood in Prairie Heartland
While in Alberta, I get cravings for luscious, fresh local seafood. My craving was the same when we were visiting New Mexico where there was only 1 Japanese restaurant in the city of Alberqueque. I’m sorry to say that local sushi and sashimi in Calgary, is very modest and often spritzed with mayonnaise squiggles. Maybe it’s to dress up
lacklustre sushi and sashimi cobbled from frozen salmon. In contrast, Metro Vancouver boasts several hundred sushi and sashimi restaurants. In fact, at Vancouver business buffet lunches, it is not unusual to see sushi as one of the selections.
Distracted by Beef and Bison Bounty
I do know some long time Albertans who rarely eat seafood. No wonder. They’re surrounded by rows and rows of
superior red Alberta AAA beef in all local supermarkets. Even at the natural organic food store –trays and slabs of beef at reasonable prices. No wonder why Japanese tourists might go crazy from high quality beef lust. Until I lived in Alberta, I never saw such shocking amount of beef bounty. It’s quality beef which not surprisingly, Ontario and B.C. restaurants may note on their menus, that they are serving Alberta AAA beef. The reverse is true: Alberta higher quality restaurants, tout B.C. fresh or smoked salmon. Why not?
While British Columbia has their cold fresh smoked as well as, hot smoked salmon, Alberta has their beef, bison and elk jerky –dried meat from those animals. Bison and elk are familiar in Alberta. Bison burgers are just ho-hum common in Calgary, whereas bison dishes in Ontario and Vancouver are more exotic fare.
Moving to Eastern Dairy and Elegant Gourmet Cheese Connections
Even though Ontario doesn’t have an iconic wildlife-food source like salmon or bison, it does rank higher above western Canada…for dairy cattle. When you travel across Alberta, it’s beef cattle, not your white and black Holstein
dairy cows, grazing the flat range pastureland. British Columbia does have dairy farms, confined to a small part of the mountainous province–the fertile southern valley areas.
Cycling Quebec’s Goat Cheese Farming Route
While Vancouver area and Vancouver Island have some fabulous local cheeses that go far beyond cheddar and mozarella cheeses, it’s Ontario and Quebec that truly produce European-like complex, richly cured gourmet cheeses. A decade ago, Jack and I cycled some southern Quebec’s bike routes, Route Verte, where some routes are dotted with local goat cheese farms. The Quebec government promotes these cheese farms as part of their agri-tourism. Since we were cycling for over week, we had to ration our enthusiastic goat cheese purchases.
When I lived over 3 decades in Ontario, I took for granted Ontario’s diverse local vegetable and fruit choices. You can get local asparagus, leafy greens, herbs as well peaches, plums, strawberries, apples and so forth. I thought the rest of Canada food-wise was like Ontario.
Lacking Local Fruit Diversity- Alberta
Nope. For inexplicable reasons, during Albertan winters, it’s very difficult to find much local fresh herbs in the supermarket. Alberta is also a local fruit desert. Most of its fruit is from British Columbia — if the shelves aren’t already saturated with pickings from California, Chile or Mexico. Saskatoon berries are the only indigenous fruit which distinguishes Alberta from British Columbia and Ontario. The difficulty of growing fruit-bearing orchards with Alberta’s long hard winters and short growing season, has beaten down a lot of fruity hopes.
Going Berry Nuts in British Columbia
Did you know that British Columbia is Canada’s largest producer of raspberries? The fresh local raspberries are sweeter and abit cheaper than other parts of Canada. Until I lived in Vancouver, I never knew the lusciousness of wild blackberries, kissed by the sun. We cycle along some park routes and can pick off wild blackberries. A handful of B.C. wineries produce a lovely light port-like blackberry wine –surely, very Canadian. However blackberry wine is not produced in the Ontario Niagara wine region. You don’t find rampant blackbery bush growth in Ontario.
Ontario and Quebec: Maple Syrup Leaders and Theft
The natural elixir syrup from Ontario (and Quebec) is maple syrup. Yes, as an eight year old child in Ontario, I did go on school trip to a local maple sugar shack where we lined up for a popsicle stick taste of freshly pasturized maple syrup, dunked in fresh clean snow.
Again as an Ontarian-born soul, I didn’t realize this lovely sweet sap from sugar maple trees, cannot be extracted in British Columbia nor Alberta. The neat glass jugs and tin can displays of maple syrup had become like common wallpaper to me –until I lived in western Canada. Now we flavour our bison with maple syrup or savour candied hot smoked salmon with maple syrup.
Maple syrup is so iconically Canadian. It is tied to our national flag with the red maple leaf. A recent massive warehouse theft of $20 million worth of maple syrup in Quebec, made national news headlines. Thankfully 16,000 barrels of syrup that were siphoned off, was recovered from New Brunswick. This incident has inspired a to-be-released comedy movie.
Canadian Ice Wine: Sweetening the World
More valued than maple syrup but in smaller batches, is ice wine . Canada is the world’s lead producer of ice wine. A handful of wineries pump out this rarer wine in the British Columbian Okanagan Valley and Ontario’s Niagara
region. It’s Canada’s more consistent combination of frost, light snow for harvesting frozen grapes from their vines, at the right time and winter temperature. Such winter conditions are not widely nor always found consistently in Germany –the birthplace of “eiswein”.
From giant pumpkins and squash because of Alberta’s long dry summers that end at 10:00 pm, to precious glitter drops of ice wine, we celebrate the miracle of Nature, Canadian weather tantrums, soil and waters, that gives us these iconic foods for the table at home and abroad.
More Foodie Reading:
Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Quebec Maple Syrup Heist Set for Hollywood Film. Sept. 25, 2013.
Canada Beef Inc. Beef Quality. Get the scoop on beef grading system. From Canada’s beef marketing organization here and world-wide. Canadians often take for granted, our local access to beef. We forget that our huge stretches of grazing land allows us to raise a lot of cattle –unlike Europe or Asia.
Chong, J. Looking into Canada’s Soul. Part I. Freaking Out Over Vast Time, Distance and Climatic Toughness. In Cycle Write Blog, Jul. 2, 2014.