We are (almost) all united in our love of poutine and BeaverTails, but there’s a lot more to Canadian comfort food than gravy on fries and sugary dough. Each province has its own special indulgences, some of which you can make at home, others you will have to travel for – but who wouldn’t want to hop on a plane to Whitehorse to try moose tongue tacos? We tapped enRoute’s editors and contributors scattered across our vast land to share their favourite local comfort fare.
From poutine and butter tarts to frozen caribou, the team at enRoute shares their favourite local comfort fare – and the best places to find it.
The Atlantic provinces abound with one pot wonders that will put some meat on your bones. Lori Morgan, enRoute’s Newfoundland–based photo editor, swears by pea soup and doughboys, a thrifty dish that uses traditional Sunday baked ham leftovers. (The ham’s centre bone is boiled to create the soup base and any leftover bits of meat thrown in. Right before it’s served, flour–based doughballs are dropped into the simmering broth to gently cook to fluffy perfection.)
She will also often make the trip to nearby Nova Scotia, where cooks show off the delicious local seafood in creamy fish chowders – smoked haddock chowder is a favourite, with its deep, complex flavours. Mixed with potatoes and cream, what could feel more right on a blustery, grey Atlantic day?
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Meanwhile, Prince Edward Islanders wait out fierce winter storms by baking buttery tea biscuits eaten warm from the oven, slathered with jam or molasses. And if you’re more of a savoury person, rapûre, PEI potato pie, combines grated potatoes layered with chicken and onions baked in the oven until crispy and golden.
A roiling ferry ride away, poulet fricot, an Acadian chicken stew, keeps New Brunswickers cozy. It also includes fluffy dough dumplings, but the absolute key ingredient is the herb, savory. As Acadians put it, “if there’s no savory, it’s not a fricot.”
Quebecers could win the comfort food Olympics, having perfected everything from the fragrantly spiced meat pie, tourtière, to the simple pleasure of sweet and sticky maple taffy on snow. However, we must acknowledge the carbo–loaded comfort of poutine here. Writer Ari Magnusson swears by the simplicity of the at Paul Patates diner in Montreal, which he washes down with a spruce beer, a pine–flavoured root beer, for that extra touch of Canadiana.
Magnusson says it’s probably closer to the original poutine that most sources agree was created in the small town of Warwick, Quebec, where the local dairy farmers produce those squeaky curds. Legend has it that in 1957, restaurant owner Fernand Lachance of Le Lutin Qui Rit, added cheese curds to fries at the request of a regular. Diners found the cheese and fries got too cold too quickly, so Lachance added gravy to keep them warm. The salty, sloppy, squeaky combo was a such a hit, it has now travelled far beyond Quebec’s borders and can be found everywhere from the U.S. to Korea.
If you ask Torontonians for their comfort food of choice, the answer is often ramen or pho. In Ottawa, it’s chicken shawarma. But, anywhere you go in the province, there is one delicious treat that everyone can agree on: The butter tart. The unctuous delight of brown sugar, butter and vanilla in flaky pastry cups that fit in the palm of your hand and can be messily consumed in a few indulgent bites is hard to beat. There are butter tart tours in some parts of Ontario, breakaway recipes with exotic ingredients like chai and coconut and, of course, the fierce debate: To raisin or not to raisin. (“Raisin,” says my Sudbury–raised mother, who made them for us growing up in the U.K. as a nostalgic and gooey taste from back home.)
Most people associate Alberta with beef, but senior editor and Calgarian Dominique Lamberton insists perogies are as warming as a chinook to Albertans. The delicious potato–filled pockets are prevalent here thanks to Alberta's large Ukrainian population. The province can also claim the world’s largest perogy: the tiny town of Glendon (population 843) is practically overshadowed by an eight–metre–high sculpture of a perogy on a fork. If the sight of the giant dumpling leaves you salivating, Perogy Café, should satisfy the craving.
In neighbouring Saskatchewan, wild saskatoon–berry pie is something locals often have on hand to stave off the winter blues. The berries, which are more closely related to apples than blueberries, freeze perfectly and their sweet, nutty, almond flavour practically begs for buttery pie crust and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Lamberton also tells us Manitobans are mad for pickerel (it’s their provincial fish, after all) and like it best pan–fried with fries.
British Columbia is all about its sockeye salmon. Whether shaped into a burger and put on bannock with lemon aioli by chef Inez Cook of the Nuxalk Nation at Vancouver’s only all–Indigenous restaurant Salmon n’ Bannock or sliced into fresh salmon belly sashimi with black truffle salt at Kishimoto. Adventure travel photographer Kari Medig loves it best when it is barbecued. “When I return home to Nelson, I wrap some sockeye in tinfoil with a little lemon and toss it on the barbecue. The flavours are so fresh, it doesn’t need anything else.”
“Canada’s healthiest comfort food is probably found in Nunavut. When writer Tarralik Duffy goes home to Salliq, one of the first things she does is open her mother’s freezer and take out some tuktu quak (frozen caribou), which she slices with an ulu (a crescent shaped knife) before dipping it in soy sauce or misiraq, a fermented seal oil.”
Caribou is a favourite in the Yukon, too. Actor and director Moira Sauer and her young family like to eat caribou heart cooked sous–vide, then seared into crusty perfection on the outside. Sauer says anything made from wild game is Yukon comfort food, from moose tongue tacos and stew to bison jerky, perfect for keeping in pockets to pull out during a long day of skidooing or skiing. Her neighbours in the Northwest Territories add reindeer and Arctic char to their game and berry–filled local comfort food dishes, as well as bannock, the unleavened bread brought over by fur traders that was adopted by Indigenous people all across Canada.