For the coming week, much of The New York Times’s coverage of Canada will be about how and what we eat. That includes live events in Montreal and Toronto that should be terrific.
You’ll find more about all that below. But first, I spoke with Daniel Bender, a cultural historian who is the director of the University of Toronto’s Culinaria Research Center, which studies all things food related. Here’s a condensed and edited version of our talk:
Q. Is there such as thing as Canadian cooking?
A. I get that question a lot. Sometimes it’s almost a sort of plaintive question: Are we a real country if we don’t really have a cuisine? Or sometimes it’s a question that speaks to a kind of suspicion of what Canada is. And sometimes it’s from people who want to find that great Canadian food that they can then contrast with the food of recent migrants.
The answer I always give is that Canada is a country where a lot of us do a whole lot of different cooking.
There’s also a recognition that defining a national cuisine isn’t just necessary. It’s a positive thing when we can say, ‘Well, let’s just eat,’ rather than saying, ‘This is our national cuisine.’
But many people in Quebec would take exception to the idea that they don’t have a distinct cuisine.
In Quebec there is a real commitment to the project of having a set of national dishes and a national cuisine that is distinct from elsewhere in Canada. But also I’m struck by how it’s distinct from what’s being cooked elsewhere in the Francophone world, especially in France.
What about the dishes that seem to only be found in Canada?
We’re actually at this fascinating moment in Canadian history where, yeah, we do talk about Nanaimo bars and others will talk about doughnuts — we probably should talk about Tim Hortons and its problems these days when talking about Canadian food.
But I think we’re getting to a point where we might say, gosh, what’s more Canadian than the dosa or the string hopper or many other different things.
How do you make a dosa in our climate? And with the rice that’s available here, with the potatoes that are available here, the chilies that are available? That’s a very different and new kind of dish. And there you have in some sense the making of what is now Canadian food.
Canadians cook food in ways that come from all over the world but they haven’t adopted much from the indigenous people who were first here. Why is that?
There was a long and aggressive campaign to deny that kind of cooking. I’ve been struck in recent years about the effort among indigenous chefs to not only think about ingredients and particular kinds of methods of preparation but also about how they would like to present that to the broader public.
I had a fantastic meal just a few weeks ago with my 8-year-old daughter at Ku-Kum Kitchen in Toronto. We ate just a truly memorable dish of roasted seal loin paired with two different kinds of beets.
It has been targeted by people who objected to them serving seal. That’s unfortunate and it really isn’t the story. I think Joseph Shawana is one of the chefs who really deserves an enormous amount of attention for finding ingredients that mean so much in his cultural and linguistic traditions and bringing them with such pride and pleasure to the table.
The articles about Canadian food have already started rolling out. Sara Bonisteel took on that modest icon of Canadian cooking, the butter tart, and also offered a butter tart recipe and one for butter tart squares.
Ms. Bonisteel also has a request. If your family has a favorite butter tart recipe or variation, please send it to [email protected] for a future article.
David Sax visited Toronto to report on the rise of Syrian restaurants there. Clay Risen put away some Canadian whisky and Robert Simonson downed a Caesar, Canada’s contribution to cocktails. (That article warns non-Canadian readers away from calling the drink a Bloody Caesar.)
More articles will appear next week leading up to Wednesday’s publication in the print editions of the special Canada Food section.
Tickets are still available to two events next week featuring Sam Sifton, The Times’s food editor.
On Tuesday he’ll be at the Corona Theater in Montreal’s Little Burgundy for a conversation with David McMillan, the chef and co-owner of Joe Beef. I’ve enjoyed separate conversations with both. Listening to them together should double the fun. Details, prices and a discount code for tickets are here.
The evening before, Monday, Mr. Sifton and Mr. Sax will speak with some of Toronto’s new Syrian restaurant owners and chefs. A reception featuring their food will follow. Head here for details and tickets.
I’ll also be at both events along with Times colleagues based in Canada and New York and I’m looking forward to meeting some of you there.
Read: Where Has This Treat Been All Your Life? Canada
Read: Toronto Suddenly Has a New Craving: Syrian Food
Read: Canadian Whisky’s Long-Awaited Comeback
Read: It Came, It Quenched, It Conquered Canada: The Caesar
Seven years ago, I was in Vancouver reporting on the Winter Olympic Games. Much of my time was spent writing about the slightly desperate measures organizers took to bring snow to one of the skiing venues.
So it’s not altogether surprising that researchers led by Daniel Scott, a geography professor at the University of Waterloo, have concluded that Vancouver is among the many former host cities where climate change will make it impossible to stage the winter games again by the middle of this century. Calgary, the host city in 1988, will still be a contender.
Read: Of 21 Winter Olympic Cities, Many May Soon Be Too Warm to Host the Games
It’s is so unlike other illnesses, some call it the “disease from outer space.” Chronic wasting disease, which has ravage deer herds in three provinces, particularly Alberta, continues to spread. There is no cure but there may be hope for a vaccine, and widespread culling has been successful at eliminating the disease in at least one area.
Read: States Confront the Spread of a Deadly Disease in Deer
—Yukon agreed to test health warning labels on beer, wine and liquor. Then the global liquor industry started calling.
—The government of Canada telegraphed this week that it’s no longer playing the nice guy when it comes to dealing with the Trump administration on trade.
—A Canadian professor is enjoying a “Fire and Fury” windfall.