Two years ago, at the start of the Summer Olympics in China, Mr. L and I started a tradition. Planning some meals around the food of the host country. It was easy with China. Not only were there a ton of Chinese restaurants around that we could chose from, I have quite a few Chinese Cookbooks that I was able to explore new recipes with. And heck even general cookbooks have recipes in the index under “Chinese food”.
But Canadian food? As far as I know there are no restaurants locally that serve Canadian food. I even tried to call the Consulate General of Canada to see if there were places they could recommend. Alas the phone number for the San Jose office was disconnected. And even though I have a vast cookbook collection, none are specific to Canada. Not to mention trying to check indexes for Canadian food in any of the cookbooks I do have. There are no listings under Canadian Food.
It’s been many years since I’ve made a trip to The Great White North. But I actually do have some fond memories of food and drink from that country. From Vancouver, to Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto and Quebec, I’ve spent many a hockey road trip (following the Sharks of course) eating at various places. And I’ve had the privilege of staying with a friend who has a vacation home in Vancouver (hello MATT) and enjoying many of the wonderful restaurants they have in that city.
Herein are some of my most memorable food and drink moments from Canada:
TIMBITS – What can I say. If you say “Canadian Food” my first thought goes to Tim Horton and Timbits. I’m not sure why but they really do curl my toes. On any trip to Canada, it was a must to stop and get Timbits. It was not out of character for friends coming back from Canada to bring us little goodie boxes of those famous donut holes. It was not uncommon for a bus full of Sharks Booster Club members (The Hammerheads) to ask the bus driver to stop at a Tim Hortons when traveling between hockey towns. I periodically still crave a Tim Hortons donut. As for the coffee, which I understand is awesome (I wasn’t a big coffee drinker back then), they do sell it on Amazon.com. Alas, it’s a bit expensive.
SPEAKING OF COFFEE - One freezing cold morning in Edmonton, my mom and I tried to find a cup of coffee. There wasn't a Starbucks on every corner. There wasn't a coffee shop anywhere near the hotel. Mom and I walked around for about an hour before we were finally able to find a place open on a Sunday morning where we could put our freezing butts down and get a cup of coffee. All was forgiven though, because if I remember correctly, while walking around like a frozen popsicle, we did find a little used bookstore that was open and that had books on hockey. Seriously folks, back in the early 90's finding anything to do with hockey was rare on the west coast of the USA!
WAYNE GRETZKY'S RESTAURANT – At Wayne's restaurant they served burgers that had “99” branded into the buns. I smuggled a menu out in my purse. The woman's room said “Queens”. We all bowed to The Great Ones restaurant. Back then he WAS hockey and that’s why we were in Canada.
COLD BEER – Here in the states I’m used to being able to buy beer just about anywhere. Drug Stores. Mini-Marts at gas stations. Grocery stores. 7-11’s. Delis. Heck, even the little Indian grocery store on the corner where I live sells beer. But back in the early 90’s, on my first trip to Canada and Vancouver, beer was only sold in “Cold Beer Stores”. The group of Americans I was with did not know this information. The fact that it was New Years Eve (we were there to see the Sharks play the Canucks and does any even remember Otevrel? ) meant a few cold beers before we left for the hockey game from our hotel was in order. So my girlfriend and I went in search. And found no beer. We stopped a passerby and asked where to find beer? He looked at us like we were from Mars. It took stopping several strangers and an admission that we were “crazy American hockey fans in need of beer NOW” to find out that we could only buy beer in designated stores. And then it wasn’t really cold. There were these little machines that you would put a can of beer in, it started whirling away and a minute or two later, presto, cold beer.
Then there was the Molson incident, in I believe, Calgary. See, I don’t drink beer, and beer seems to be almost a religion in Canada. Me? Tequila. But Canada isn’t exactly a tequila Mecca. So when my girlfriend and I found a bar in Calgary after the hockey game. I ordered a shot of tequila. We were sitting at the bar, trying to fit in and not look like tourists since the place was a local “after the game” type of bar. And figuring I might be there a bit and wanting to blend in (like ordering a shot of tequila didn’t label me an outsider right away) I ordered a beer chaser. The bartender wanted to know what kind of beer. Molson. I said Molson. It was the only Canadian beer I could think of. The big burly bartender put both hands on the edge of the counter, leaned into me across the bar, looked me direct in the eye and said “honey, we have ten different kinds of Molson here in Canada, which one to do want?” Gulp. Talk about being intimidated! But the bartender turned out to be a really nice guy, we spent quite a few hours hanging out at that bar, being sent strange Canadian drinks (I think they tried to make something teal for us), trying to figure out how to steal the “OV” beer sign (you had to be a Sharks fan back in the early 90’s to understand that) and fending off the old former St. Louis player that kept showing us his knuckles. But I learned that night to be a bit more specific anytime I ordered a Molson in Canada!
SPEAKING OF TEQUILA – As I said, I drink tequila…Canadians, not so much. Here in the states, at any given hockey arena, you can find tequila sold at the stands that sell hard liquor. In Canada, not so much. Up in Edmonton for a hockey game, I tried to find tequila. A shot, mixed in a drink, didn’t matter. Looked for it and couldn’t find it. Found a lot of beer though. But I don’t like beer. So I didn’t drink. Lets just say, it was cold outside, there was ice on the ground, there was a bus, there was a dip in the sidewalk, there was a fall, and there was Mrs. L in a Canadian emergency room with torn tendons in her ankle. I’ve always blamed Edmonton Arenas lack of tequila for my pain. I probably wouldn’t have hurt myself if I wasn't sober.
ICING – Not just a hockey term. If you went into a local Denny's here and asked for icing on your French toast, what do you think you would get. Stares? People thinking you wanted cake frosting on your toast? Well, my first morning ever in Vancouver, I ordered French Toast with Powdered Sugar at the White Spot. The waitress looked at me like I was from Mars. We spent a couple of minutes doing a reenactment of “Who’s on First” before we realized that Powdered Sugar in Canada is actually called Icing. And I also found out that Californians’ have an accent that Canadians can notice. Who knew???
JELLO, MAC AND CHEESE and BREAKFAST CEREAL - Every time I went to Canada, I would come back with a suitcase full of Jello, Kraft Mac and Cheese and various breakfast cereals. Mind you I didn’t actually come back with the food, just the boxes they were packaged in. Because in Canada they actually put hockey players on boxes of food. Even Shark players every now and then. Anytime a hockey road trip took us anywhere near a grocery store, you would usually find a group of us scouring the shelves for any product that featured a hockey player. Yes, I still have them, boxed with all my other hockey memorabilia. Somewhere along with the Jaromir Jagr bubblegum and Jagr peanut butter.
I’ve had some great food in Canada. There was this pasta place in Vancouver that we stood outside an hour in the cold to get in to. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Then there was my first taste of Miss Vickie's Jalapeno potato chips. Smarties. Vietnamese food in Montreal. I wish I had taken photos and had a blog back then to remember all the good things I ate over the years. But alas, one thing I never tried, but wish I could now is Poutine, a dish of French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy. One of my recent food magazines came out with a recipe which I thought about making for this years Olympics. My heart said no. It said my first taste of Poutine has to be while I’m standing somewhere on Canadian soil. Someday I’ll follow the Sharks up North again and finally get a taste.
But back to finding Canadian recipes to cook in the next few weeks. I figured two weeks of eating Canadian Bacon and Pineapple pizzas might not cut it. My friend MATT gave me some ideas and I scoured the internet to find possibilities. Beaver Tails sounded interesting (Beaver Tails as a snack food is something like a Funnel Cake). But I’ve still got that fear of baking with yeast thing going on. Moose stew? Hard to find moose in these parts. Haven’t seen any fiddlehead ferns sold around these parts either. Back Bacon? Heck I eat Canadian Bacon all the time. Flipper Pie? Okay, I admit, that one, consisting of seal flippers, ain’t gonna be something I try at home…er or ever. Butter Tarts? Toutins? Not having any idea what might really be considered “Canadian” I did what any self respecting cookbook collector would do. I bought a Canadian Cookbook. In fact, I bought two books that I hope will help me have a better understanding of food in Canada. A Taste of Canada which I’m sure I’ll find some great recipes to try and So You Want to Be Canadian. Which also has some recipes (like the aforementioned Moose stew and a recipe for Beaver Tail that actually requires a Beaver Tail).
So while I sit on my couch in front of the TV the next couple of weeks, watching triple axles, grown men screaming “sweeeep” at each other , folks running around with guns in the snow, and probably way to many “heartfelt in depth stories about the trials and tribulations it took some athlete to get to the podium” I’m hoping to have a bit of Canadian cuisine to feast on along the way. And please, if you do have a recipe for some wonderful Canadian dish, please pass it along. And if you have any food memories of eating in Canada, I'd love to hear them too.