The Toronto Star has been running a weekly series called “What’s For Dinner”, where a reporter goes to an Average Joe’s home to see what they cook for dinner and to inventory the contents of their freezer and pantry. This weeks’ lucky reader was a single “Mom” of two, who served up something called Ground Beef Chop Suey, made from, yup, you guessed it, ground beef (that’s mince, for the uninformed), elbow macaroni and a tin of tomato soup, all mixed up together. This dish was apparently handed down from her great-grandmother.
In my limited experience so far, Canada has not done much to tantalise my taste-buds. Most restaurants are a) restricted to a variation on fast food, and, b) part of a chain. If you’re not into, burgers, chicken wings, ribs or pizza, God help you. I have heard that Toronto has a lot more to offer in terms of cosmopolitan fare, but have yet to verify this – not wanting to extinguish what hope I have left. Culinary differences abound, among them: pasta is called noodles (WTF?), unless it’s spaghetti, in which case it’s called… spaghetti; and a pepperoni pizza is the equivalent of cheese’n'tomato back home ie. most popular/bog standard.
It’s all about the bloody Caesar
Wherever you go, food is something everybody can relate to, and the curiosity about what is eaten and how it is prepared never diminishes. Whenever I made a friend here, one of their first questions would be, “So what do you guys eat?”, not realising they were opening a can of worms as I cook a lot of Pakistani/Indian dishes. Looking back, I’m not sure if their query related to us coming from Britain, or being a mixed race family. If it was the former, they probably had their fish’n'chip stereotypes smashed when I listed dhaals (lentil dishes), aloo gobi (cauliflower & potato curry), saag (a spinach & mustard leaf dish) karahis and kebabs, among the pasta, bolognese and roasts! Thinking about it they may have come away more confused than enlightened about the inhabitants of the British Isles.
That’s not to say I haven’t been asked for recipes, I have even given a cookery lesson in how to make dhaal & chapatti that was great fun and produced delicious results. The girl was a natural!
The consumption of both processed and fast food is high here, and there is not the same stringency with regard to labeling that we were used to in the UK, manufacturers can list sugar but they do not have to specify how much is naturally occurring and how much is added. And it is added….. to almost everything! Then there is the ubiquitous Kraft Dinner – macaroni cheese from a packet. Perhaps it’s the guilt factor, but salads are also very popular. You can find all manner of beautifully presented, pre-prepared salad platters in the supermarkets.
But beware! In Canada, it’s all about the Caesar. Caesar salad, Caesar dressing, and something I have yet to try but won’t die unfulfilled if I don’t… the Bloody Caesar cocktail. It contains vodka, clamato (a blend of tomato juice and clam broth – who, in their right mind came up with that?), Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce, and is served on the rocks in a large, celery salt-rimmed glass, garnished with a stalk of celery and wedge of lime.
My favourite Canadian addition to our gastronomic experience has to be breakfast. Back in England I used to cook pancakes on the weekends, but since we have been here, K has become proficient in the production of American style pancakes and I have been retired. OK, the kitchen looks like a war-zone by the time he’s finished and he’s used every utensil in the drawer, but they are so fluffy and tasty! The kids and I love them I just wish he wasn’t so stingy with the maple syrup – it’s not like there’s a shortage here or anything. Top that off with coffee made with Half & Half (half cream, half milk) and we are set for the day.
We have been lucky enough to be invited to friends houses to eat and have always enjoyed the meals. Thankfully, it seems that in most homes the standard of cooking is high and the food is fresh, healthy and delicious. At least that is what I thought until I read about the Ground Beef Chop Suey…