Pepperoni is the new Cheese! – Food in Canada

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…

Whitby Shores, Whitby, Ontario

By Aisha Ashraf

An autistic Irish immigrant in a cross-cultural marriage, Aisha Ashraf is the archetypal outlander, writing to root herself through place and perspective. Published in The Rumpus, The Maine Review, River Teeth, HuffPost and elsewhere, her work explores the legacy of trauma, the nature of being an outsider and the narrow confines of belonging. She currently lives in Canada.


  1. Ha food! We are lucky here where we live to have a few independent bars and restaurants which makes a refreshing change from the franchised usual offerings. We as a family tend to cook from scratch so we know exactly whats in our meals. We especially love Spanish, Indian, Italian and Japanese food as well as the traditional English fare. To be honest we are lucky to have such a variety of foodstuffs easily accessible (although we find it harder to buy the Spanish ingredients – whereas in the UK it was the Japanese) but hey ho you can’t have it all!

  2. Ceasars are gorgeous but then I was a bloody Mary drinker already and I have a serious savoury tooth, poutine is well just plain wrong and well thats about the extent of my memory of 6 days in Decembers food highlights. Victoria had some interesting degustation dinner menu’s but you can’t eat like that every day and I have no idea what canadians do without ANY decent coffee ANYwhere, Vancouver had one cafe I found that made a passable attempt but they struggled to find the beans even if they had the post roast procedures down pat. Other than poutine and Ceasars I’m not sure what Canadian cuisine is famous for? salmon and ??? keen to hear more on the topic!

    1. Hey Sam, thanks for commenting 🙂 So far, from a foodie point-of-view, I haven’t found anything to commend Canada for – the situation’s pretty bleak here. When did you get so posh that I have to Google you? “Degustation”…well, ya learn something new an’ all that! I’m working up to a post about the food situation here. I guess I’m waiting for something to “unleash the fury” – I’m sure it won’t be long in coming…

  3. I just stumbled onto this, and have to say that you seemed to be playing it pretty safe in terms of what you were willing to try. I live in Winnipeg, which has a vibrant and multicultural food scene… If you venture outside of chain restaurants! And there are so many places to try here in little ole Winnipeg that you need never set foot in a chain restaurant. “Toronno” or Toronto (but not “Tronno”–you’re not hearing the slurred microvowel) is a large multicultural city with tons of options. Hopefully you’ve discovered more of them by now! Avoiding chain restaurants in Canada could be compared to avoiding chain pubs in the UK…

    1. Thanks for commenting. I hear what you’re saying, and I know Toronto offers a more varied eating experience. I was basing my comparison on the options available where I lived in the UK versus the options available where I live here. Both locations are the same distance from a vibrant multicultural city, commuter towns of similar size and demographic, but where I could get a quality Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, or Italian meal experience back home the equivalents I’ve had here are not of the same calibre. I’ve gone out with an open mind and an empty stomach but usually come away disappointed, even from places people recommend. I’ve learned that the dining experience is relative – and often people don’t pay much attention to the food they eat.
      I think most restaurants tweak their menu to maximise appeal to the North American palette. I’ve had tomato sauce that tastes more ‘New York pizza pie’ than authentic Naples marinara, and places offer grilled cheese, wings and (frozen) pizza wherever you go.
      I think it’s telling that here chain fast food outlets are referred to as restaurants, just goes to show how low the bar is set.

  4. But this is a really well-constructed blog, from what I’ve read. It’s always interesting to hear an outsider’s perspective on the familiar. And yes, Canadians eat a lot of processed crap! And the drive-thrus…!

Fewer than 1% of visitors leave a comment - be different, be heard, be someone with an opinion.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.