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Canadian Cuisine

Food, Spices, Flavours & Wine

Contemporary Canadian cuisine is about as diverse as our landscape, but there are several quintessentially Canadian dishes and flavours that truly represent Canucks in the eyes of the world.  Dishes and flavours that are  ours alone, discovered and created by our foremothers and forefathers, out of neccessity, using indigenous ingredients and transplanted ingenuity. 

17th century french canadian pioneers 325x225Today, almost 500 years after European settlement, fresh indigenous ingredients and clean, unpretentious preparation underpin Canadian modern natural cuisine. A cuisine which, more than almost any other, follows the seasons from forest, field and farm, to table.

Canada's culinary history is rooted in thousands of years of tradition among First Nations' coastal, plains and northern aboriginal communities. These First People wove abundant natural food resources into their rich and sustainable ways of life.  During the late 1500's, waves of English and the French (above), then later Irish, Scottish, German, Scandinavian and Portuguese explorers and immigrants settled in Canada from the east coast to the west, bringing their diverse culinary cultures with them.  Most recently, during the past 150 years, the greatest range of immigrants and refugees arrived from further, more exotic corners of the globe including India, China, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.  So while Canada's first peoples' languages may have been Eskimo-Aleut, Eurasian, and Dene-Caucasian, and the two official languages may be English and French - its culinary lexicon is deliciously multi-lingual.

airdried meat 325x225Indigenous First Nations' conventions like pemmican is the predecessor of today's beef jerky. Pemmican is a super-concentrated energy food consisting of air-dried meat (right: bison, venison, bear) and berries (Saskatoons, chokecherries, wild blueberries, highbush cranberries, etc) ground to a fine powder and bound with a paste of animal fat for shaping into portable portions. Because of its high food value and long 'shelf life' pemmican was adopted and adapted by early hunters, pioneers and explorers who carried it in their pockets and packs on long journeys.

Some dishes, like Lower Canada's (Quebec) tourtiere meat pie and Acadia's (Nova Scotia colony of New France) rappie pie withstood the test of time and remain much-loved regional traditions.   poutine 325x225Other dishes, like Quebec's ultra-comfort food poutine (right) have been adopted and re-named by others.  Poutine is an increasingly popular dish in America, sometimes referred to as disco fries.

When French speaking Canadians (Acadians) arrived as refugees to Louisiana in the Southern United States in the 1700's, they brought their culinary style with them, adapting it to local ingredients and integrating local cultural influences.  It is not well known that today's Cajun cuisine evolved from the culinary traditions of French-speaking Canadians, and that the word Cajun evolved over several generations of people mis-pronouncing the words Canadian and Acadian.  

sugar pie 325x225In the early days of Lower Canada, maple sugar was the only sweetener, and the flavour maple remains as Canadian as ice hockey.   Check out any airport souvenir kiosk and maple syrup takes pride of place alongside smoked salmon and stuffed polar bears. Maple sugar pie (left), maple-smoked peameal bacon and maple snow candy are eastern Canadian culinary treasures enjoyed from coast to coast. 

Pairing Wine with Canadian Dishes & Flavours

Okanagan vineyard 225x325The Canadian wine industry is relatively young, but the wines are world-class.  Micro-climate specific and terroir appropriate plantings, and quality assurance programs like VQA (Vintner's Quality Assurance) accelerated quality and productivity to world-class status in just a few decades.  Canada is perhaps best-known globally, for producing excellent ice wine, but the semi-arid wine growing regions of the Okanagan in British Columbia (right), and the Provence-like wine country of Southern Ontario produce stellar red, white and sparkling wines that rival any new or old world wine district. 

Canadian wines are as diverse as the ethnic diversity of the country, but not surprisingly and as is the case in all wine producing countries, some varietals are particularly suited to local and regional cuisines.

Wine pairing suggestions for our  vast range of modern Canadian dishes, flavours and ingredients are based largely on ingredients and spice profiles (ethnic heritage) found throughout other pages of this section.  There are however, celebrated Canadian natural culinary resources (ingredients) and undisputed signature dishes, that we just had to prepare some Cole's Notes for - yes, Cole was Canadian.  You'll see more whites than reds - typical of living north of the 49th.

Indigenous Ingredients & Signature Dishes

Dish or Flavour


Wine Pairing Suggestions

Apples, Gala
pie, crisp or crumble
with pie spices


Light Muscat or similarly light but only slightly sweet wine with yellow (not berry) fruit nose. Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Voignier.

Arctic Char
pan-roasted in butter with light seasoning


Delicate fish suggests a medium-bodied Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc; or a very delicate Pinot Noir or Beaujolais Nouveau

Bacon, Peameal
maple-smoked with grainy mustard on a Yukon sourdough bun


Complex flavours suggest a go-to off-dry food wine that can take the salt, the fat and the sweet. Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling. See also Mustard and Yukon Sourdough



Pair with your favourite wine as bannock offers a neutral canvas

char-grilled with
salt and pepper only (grass fed)


Medium-bodied, soft reds like Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Granache, with hints of caramel and smoke pair well with lean beef.

char-grilled with salt
and pepper only (grass fed)


Medium soft reds as above but with a slight hint of fruit to balance the wildness of the meat. Not too tannic (dry) as bison contains little fat.

lowbush, wild


On their own, pair with a sparking wine.  Traditional grunts, pies and crumbles suggest a light fruited wine, or even a Tokay or Icewine.

Butter Tarts


Definitely a light, white late-harvest or dessert wine.



Mild cheddars pair well with softer wines like Syrah, Pinot Noir , even Sauvignon Blanc. Aged cheddars support higher -tannin wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Rioja, oaked Chardonnay

prepared jam with wild honey


A red oaked wine with light oak, vanilla and jammy fruit notes would pair beautifully. Cabernet, Zinfandel, Tempranillo, Granache

highbush dried


In cranberry sauce try a sparkling wine, Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc.

Dungeness Crab
Steamed with drawn butter


Dry whites with light fruit, citrus and soft flint pair beautifully, as do those with a buttery mouthfeel.  Pinot Gris, Riesling, un-oaked Chardonnay.

Fiddlehead Greens
streamed; sauteed in butter


Aggressive characteristic, tough to pair.  Avoid big reds with high tannins as that will intensify bitterness. Sweet German wines are a good bet.

Halifax Donairs


Rich and fat-forward describes donairs and their sauce.  Opt or a great big red or white wine - perhaps Greek or Croatian

Kraft Dinner


See Cheddar above for suggestions with soft or sharp varieties of KD.  Sweet wines don't pair well.

as a curing flavour


Most maple-smoked meats and seafood lean toward white wines with caramel notes and enough acidity to cut through sweet and fat. Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc.

Montreal Smoked Beef
on rye bread with mustard


According to those in the know, Israeli red is the way to go.  Layers of flavours in everything from the bread to the pickling spice make pairing a challenge.

Montreal Bagels and Lox  with cream cheese and dill


According to those in the know, Israeli red is the way to go.  Layers of flavours in everything from the bread to the pickling spice make pairing a challenge.

steamed in white wine, garlic, butter and lemon


A dry, non-mineralized Pinot Gri, Sauvignon, Voignier or Riesling would be a good choice.  Cook in the same wine you pair with. 

prepared with vinegar
in a sauce or dressing


Vinegar poses a challenge to pairing, so choose an acidic wine that will cancel out the vinegar and let the 'mustard' shine through. Look for whites from cooler regions, like Canada.

Nanaimo Bars


 Gorgeous paired with a slightly salty-sweet Manzanilla Sherry, or a Madeira for its smoky caramel sweetness.

Oka Cheese


 A medium firm cheese suggests moderate pairing with Gamay, Pinot Noir, Beaujolais Nouveau, Cabernet Franc.

raw on the half shell


Champagne is the obvious choice, but crisp and slightly citrusy, lightly mineralized Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Voignier, Riesling and Sancerre are great choices also.

PEI Potatoes
traditional bake with onions and clove


Vanilla-oaked red wines that are not too tanic, pair well with the cloves and onions.  Spanish Tempranillo with slight pepper, is a good choice.



 Super concentrated flavours of dried smoked venison, condensed fat and dried berries invite pairing with a heavy-hitting Port or Madeira



Pinot Noir and Petite Sirah/Shiraz should hold their own against the 'rich', but a big bright dry, spicy, fruity, floral Gewurztraminer may be your best bet.

Rappie Pie
topped with melted butter and molasses


Without the molasses the pairings would be similar to PEI Potatoes, but with it, a slightly sweet and spicy Gewurztraminer or buttery Chardonnay might be a better choice.



Rich white wines that can support the oiliness. Oaked Chardonnay, white Burgundy, Voignier



Sparkling wines, dry Riesling, white Zinfandel, Pinot Noir and Grenache are foils for salty fish

Saskatchewan Lentils
with wheat berries; prairie salad


One their own, lentils are fairly neutral, but in a prairie salad with a lemon vinaigrette toothy lentils suggest a crisp, acidic white like an Aegean White Muscat, or Italian Pinot Grigio

Saskatoon Berries
in a traditional sauce for venison


Big jammy, plummy wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot - even Cabernet France from hot spots like California, Okanagan and Australia pair beautifully with the berries and tame the wild meat.

Sugar Pie
traditional, made with maple sugar


Made almost exclusively from maple sugar, cream and eggs, sugar pie needs a formidable pairing with a slightly caramelized Cream Sherry, Port or Madeira.



A crisp, acidic sparkling wine or Champagne will bring out tourtiere's complex spices but cut through the richness of the meat and pastry.  Crisp apple cider is a traditional pairing.



Wild meat is lean and can be strong flavoured.  Red, lightly fruited wines without too much tannin pair well.   Cabernet France, Merlot, Pinot Noir

Winnipeg Goldeye


Dry white Eastern European and Greek wines, and dry sparkling wines pair well with oily, smokey fish

 Yukon Sourdough


Yeasty sourdough bread wants to pair with beer, but suggested wines include those like Beaujoulais, with soft fruit to cut the sour.