From Newfoundland to the Yukon, Quebec to Alberta, many people’s holiday meal sounds like this: turkey, stuffing, gravy, potatoes, veggies. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find regional cuisine across Canada that is as fascinating as it is delicious and practical.
Newspaper publisher James Stuart Keate once said, “In any world menu, Canada must be considered the vichyssoise of nations — it’s cold, half-French and difficult to stir.” Though we may be a chilly nation with French speakers, I would argue we’re quite easy to stir. While researching this article I reached out to friends and colleagues to ask about their regional festive foods. Like my grandmother’s scoops of creamy mashed potatoes on Christmas day, their responses were immediate and plentiful. I struck a chord: people love sharing their food stories. So sit back and take an online trip to find out what sort of holiday foods are stirred and served across the true north strong and free.
In northern parts of Canada, there is a real focus on locally caught, hunted and foraged foods. According to Rosana Strong of Northwest Territories tour company, Experience Yellowknife, smoked fish caught in NWT lakes such as burbot or trout is often served as an appetizer. The main course can consist of moose sausage and/or caribou roasted wild cranberries. Wild cranberries are so ubiquitous, noted Strong, that they’re used in everything from cookies to sauce to white chocolate bark.
Next door, the festive food narrative is similar in the Yukon. Wild meats such as moose, elk, bison and sometimes caribou are commonly roasted in the deep winter months and served with cranberry chutney or sauce. Because of the Yukon’s proximity to Alaska, wild seafood is also available, according to Tess Lawrence a lawyer by day and foodie by night. Lawrence also noted that spruce tip is a popular flavour in many forms – think jelly, syrup or beer. Meanwhile, Chief of Kluane First Nation, Mathieya Alatini, said families in her community like to feast on moose roast or baked trout on Christmas Day.
If you’re trying to keep warm during a prairie winter, then the Ukrainian folks in the Canadian prairies have it dialled. A classic winter meal for a Ukrainian family get together almost always include the starchy and protein rich cabbage rolls and pierogies, says Rose Bolton of Travel Alberta.
Further east, the Quebecois celebrate the Reveillons, a Christmas Eve celebration that involves noshing on rich food and bottomless wine until after midnight. Tourtiere – a deep meat pie made from veal, beef or pork – is typically served with wine and the meal is finished off with some sugar pie, says Dawn McKinnon, a university librarian at McGill University.
Skip a little way south to Nova Scotia, the Acadians delight in a rib-sticking dish called rabbie pie, says Heather Bowlby, a biologist who lives near Halifax. A sort of bread pudding meets pie meets casserole, rabbie pie is made when when rabbit is stewed with onions and pork fat, drained of the juices (which are set aside) and then wrapped in a bread dough that rises above the meat filling by about 30 centimetres and is baked. The pie is then sliced and served with the reserved jus.
Lastly, in Newfoundland folks love the herb savory, especially in their stuffing, emailed Devon Telford, a meteorologist. Most Newfoundland and Labrador residents have their turkey dinner around midday on Christmas day, stuffed with the requisite Newfoundland savoury dressing. The side is a famous, yet simple dish called Jiggs dinner which is as comfort food as it gets: a mushy concotion of boiled salt beef or riblets, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, turnip and turnip greens.
Are you hungry now? I am. What is your favourite regional Christmas or festive season dish? Share your food stories in the comments below.