Category Archives: canada

poutine

Ah, poutine. Often imitated, often falling short of the true deliciousness. It has been a long, long time since I’ve had a real version of Canada’s most famous dish. Of course, the best stuff is to be had in Quebec, but with Ottawa being right on the border, you can get some pretty darn good stuff right here.

If you’ve never had poutine, you need to visit French Canada and try it out. It’s not healthy and it’s not complex, but it’s strangely comforting, especially in the winter. You start with french fries, then sprinkle fresh cheese curds on top (the fresher the better – it’s best when they still squeak as you eat them!) and bathe the whole thing in gravy. You can get poutine at most fast-food restaurants now, but they often just use mozzarella cheese or some kind of shredded cheese mix, which just doesn’t cut it after you’ve had the real thing.

This batch is from a chip truck labelled GLEN’S that can usually be found in the Westboro area of Ottawa. It’s almost always got someone hanging around outside, waiting eagerly for their fries or poutine.

mexican far from mexico

Part of our trip to Toronto included a bit of the weekend with a friend in Barrie, which is about an hour north of Toronto. I had been expecting a night of cooking with her, but as her and her husband are currently waiting for his contract to finish in Manitoba before he moves to Barrie, she is keeping possessions light and most of her kitchen is still out west. Instead, she said that there were a few actually good restaurants in Barrie, something I have to admit I was not expecting. We ended up getting Mexican at Si Señor, which, with a name like that, we weren’t sure of the food. Our host’s recommendation was true, however, from the Mexican guy who greeted us at the door to the musician who came in and started singing songs in Spanish and asking for requests while we were eating. We ended up ordering a mix of foods and sharing it all while we enjoyed the singing.

The ceviche was fantastic in a tomato-based sauce, which I wasn’t sure if I’d like, but the whole table was trying to get the last bits at the end, so I’d say it was a winner.

pollo tostadas

The pollo (chicken) tostadas were served at the same time, and while I do remember them being good, I don’t recall anything specific about them. I guess they were overwhelmed by the other fantastic dishes.

queso fundido

The queso fundido was kind of like a dip, served with delicious warm tortillas. Thick and cheesy with pork in it, there was lots of flavour to it and generally I thought it was stick-to-your-ribs good.

alhambre

The big winner of the night was the alhambre. I don’t recall the full name of the dish, but it had beef, peppers, cheese, and pineapple, along with spices. Eat bite was a bit of heaven, especially with the tortillas. The pineapple was a nice addition and really helped set off the other flavours.

We left with both our bellies and our souls sated.

Si Señor
24 Dunlop St. W
Barrie, ON

a taste of (two parts of) the world

While we were in Toronto a couple of weeks ago, we took a walk around Kensington Market, the well-known food and art section of town. I knew that there was a Latino community in Toronto and we figured that there might be empanadas to be had. We discovered some at Jumbo Empanadas, though at $4 apiece, we were expecting ENORMOUS empanadas (as they had been much cheaper in South America). The filling was Chilean all right – raisins, olives, egg, ground beef, spices – but the dough was a little disappointing and dry. The spicy tomato salsa you see on the side certainly helped perk things up, though. Overall, a mediocre empanada, but not terrible.

The tamales were quite good, though. I’m glad we each took half of the two dishes, as I wouldn’t have been satisfied with a single bite of this. Well-ground (or pureed) corn, good spices, cooked in corn husks – this tasted like we remembered it.

With the snow falling gently around us like a Christmas movie, our next stop was on Spadina at Mother’s Dumplings. The dumplings looked like the ones we had in Taiwan, and the jasmine tea was just so good that we had to order ten guo tie (fried dumplings). While not quite as awesome as our favourite place in Taiwan, these definitely held their own. The juices dripped out as we nibbled – always a good sign – and the meat was expertly spiced. The chef is from southern China, so it made sense that they tasted similar to the ones we had had in Taiwan. When our waitress found out that Chris spoke Mandarin, she immediately launched into a flowery history of the restaurant in Chinese. We got maybe half of it, but she was happy just to speak Mandarin, I think. We sat and sipped jasmine tea after that, watching business people and snow drift by on the street.

sesame sweets

A quick dessert at a Chinese bakery nearby got us a couple of these delicious rice flour-sesame seed-sticky buns, whatever they’re called. I love these with a passion. Sweet and delicate, yet a solid, filling rice flour centre, I could sit and eat them all afternoon.

Finally, we stopped into David’s Tea, which I was introduced to in Ottawa by the friends I was staying with. They have loose teas for basically everyone – Chris was elated to find a big selection of decaffeinated teas and ended up getting four. It’s trendy, sure, as tea is these days (is there a food that isn’t trendy now? Rutabagas?), but if someone you know is a tea lover, a quality cup of tea is something that relaxes and warms and makes a pretty waste-free gift.

Toronto is wonderful for this. It’s probably a good thing we don’t live there, as this could happen a lot.

Jumbo Empanadas
245 Augusta Ave.
Toronto, ON

Mother’s Dumplings
421 Spadina Ave.
Toronto, ON

David’s Tea
2389 Yonge St.
Toronto, ON

distinctly canadian

Well, maybe not everything here – truffles certainly know no boundaries, luckily – but some of it is what I grew up with and what Christine did not. Sometimes, that’s what it takes to be Canadian.

We start with candy. Coffee Crisps were a staple of my youth, even though they were not my favourite. You can’t miss that yellow wrapper. Chocolate-covered wafers with coffee-flavoured paste in between. Crispy Crunch was my poison throughout high school – a brittle peanutty inside covered with chocolate.

Smarties represent something completely different to Christine – they are to her what I call Rockets, those chalky, tablet-like candies that I only every had at Halloween (and only wanted then as well). Here, better.

Mr. Big. Source of countless jokes and knockoffs, especially as their motto was “When you’re this big, they call you Mister.” Peanuts, caramel, nougat, chocolate. Mmm.

Aero bars. I think these are Canadian (or, like many things here, brought over from England) and they now come in a billion different flavours, like dark chocolate, orange, and baby llama, but when I was a lad, you had regular and mint. The choice was easy – regular was for when there was nothing else. You had to choose mint. You just had to.

Moving on, dill pickle chips are my favourite kind of chips, hands down. I’ll take them over these new designer chips any day and they are the only thing I have requested from friends coming over from Canada to Taiwan before. I have seen then in the US lately, but I know it’s a recent thing and not very wide-spread.

Finally, my good friend Garret took us to Soma in downtown Toronto to try some unbelievable truffles. We first looked around at the gourmet ice cream, the 100% cacao bars that cost as much as a small South American nation, and the chocolate-making facilities on the premises (they make all of their chocolate right there for you to see). We picked a bunch and split them: a spicy chili one, a douglas fir (pine tree) one, a bergamot one (my personal fav), a caramel one (still not dulce de leche, though good), and a balsamic vinagrette (not bad, but not the best. Definitely a different taste.) An excellent outing and a recommended one at that!

Other than that, it was home eatin’ – in my house, that still includes perogies, which, though they aren’t Canadian, are a part of Canada for me. Perogies and curling – Canada’s answer to baseball and apple pie.