The combination of inquisitive taste buds and bright, innovative minds has contributed to Canadians inventing more than our fair share of palate-pleasing delights.
But our inventiveness goes well beyond poutine, maple syrup and beaver tails. Here are a few more of our impressive culinary contributions to the world!
The California Roll
There is great debate around the origin of what is arguably the most popular sushi roll in the world. The story we’re most familiar with begins in Vancouver with Japanese chef Hidekazu Tojo in 1971. A new immigrant to Canada, he quickly realized that most Western palates couldn’t stomach the thought or taste of raw seafood or seaweed.
Going against Japanese tradition, he flipped the roll inside out to hide the seaweed, substituted raw fish for cooked crabmeat, and called it the “California” roll. Consisting of sushi rice, dried seaweed, avocado (although avocado wasn’t included in his original recipe), crab, and occasionally cucumber, this simple roll was likely the gateway dish introducing most North Americans to the complex world of sushi, not to mention helping raise the profile of Japanese food world-wide.
The true origin of the first variation of peanut butter can be traced all the way back to the Aztecs, who were said to have ground roast peanuts into a paste.
But it was Montreal pharmacist Marcellus Gilmore Edson who first patented peanut butter in 1884 when he milled roasted peanuts between two heated surfaces, providing an alternative for people who couldn’t chew solid food. Although the delicious, creamy paste we find on grocery store shelves today is slightly different than Edson’s version, there is no denying the origin of the spread that started it all.
The inspiration for this beloved Chinese takeout dish may be based on a northern Chinese dish called Gueng Ngao Yuk, but the sweet, crunchy, spicy version that Albertans have grown to love actually came to fruition in Calgary.
Many chefs throughout the years claimed to be the true creator, but the most widely accepted version of the story began in 1975 at the Silver Inn. Like many ethnic restaurants, Chinese food wasn’t yet prevalent, and so they looked for ways to appeal to the “delicate” palates of the locals. Chef George Wong began toying with the recipe, eventually concocting the sweeter, saucier version of the marinated deep-fried beef strips that has become a mainstay dish for those “let’s just order Chinese take-out” nights.
Ahh the Caesar, Canada’s beloved national cocktail. Few beverages can curb a craving for something sweet, spicy, tangy, salty and savoury, simultaneously the way that a Caesar does.
The former Calgary Inn (now the Westin) laid claim to inventing this national icon. In 1969, bartender Walter Chell was asked to create a signature drink for the grand opening of the hotel restaurant, Marco’s Italian. His goal was to replicate the clam and tomato flavours from his favourite Italian dish, spaghetti vongole.
After months of experimenting with flavour profiles and proportions, he finessed his recipe to include vodka, clam-infused tomato juice, hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and a rim smothered in celery salt topped with a lime.
Thousand Island Dressing
This creamy concoction is a simple blend of mayonnaise, ketchup, sweet pickle relish, vinegar and onions. The dressing got its name from the area where it was first prepared, in the beautiful Thousand Islands, a chain of islands near Southeastern Ontario along the upper St. Lawrence River.
In the early 1900s, George Boldt, manager of the prestigious WaldorfAstoria in New York City, spent much of his time vacationing in Canada. Rumour has it that while entertaining friends and business associates aboard his yacht, his friend and trusted maître d’hotel, Oscar Tschirky, realized the salad fixings for lunch had been left on the dock.
He improvised with ingredients found on the boat, and concocted the tasty dressing for which the region is now renowned. Boldt was so taken with the dressing that he soon started serving it at his hotel and its popularity quickly soared. It’s also rumoured that famous Canadian Broadway star May Irvin, who also vacationed in the islands regularly and was a frequent guest of Boldt’s, helped make the dressing famous by sharing within her upperclass social circles.
Click here for our great recipe for Thousand Island Dressing
One of Canada’s sweetest contributions to the dessert world, these shortbreadlike pastries date back to the early 17th century. The original recipe calls for pastry shells, butter (and lots of it), maple syrup, sugar and eggs. Of course, with time comes new ideas and taste preferences, so there’s a great deal of variation these days to please an assortment of dessert-loving taste buds. Some bakers modify the texture and add a little flair with the addition of raisins or pecans, while others stick to the original recipe!