I first heard Lenore Newman interviewed on the radio. I was driving so, granted, I was a captive audience but her words, and her topic, immediately intrigued me. She was discussing the idea of whether we had a national Canadian cuisine. Sure, maple syrup is as Canadian as you can get, but that’s an ingredient. Poutine is a perennial Canadian favourite, but it’s just one dish although it has been adapted in countless ways from the east coast to the west.
And that’s one of the things Newman discovered as she researched (and ate) her way across Canada. We’re developing what she describes as a Canadian creole, adapting recipes and/or ingredients to create something new, something so unique that, in a sense, it loses it’s uniqueness and becomes an accepted part of a region’s culture. The Japadog in Vancouver, for instance, mixes Japanese flavours with a traditional street hotdog. You can get a terimayo dog for example, that includes teriyaki sauce, mayonnaise and seaweed. When Newman conducted a survey of Japadog customers she discovered something rather fascinating. “There is a generation of Vancouverites who would never see such cuisine as Japanese or ethnic or fusion,” she says. “They see it as Vancouver cuisine, as local as a sablefish fillet or blackberry pie.”
Newman has the credentials (Canada Research Chair in Food Security and Environment at the University of the Fraser Valley and Associate Professor of Geography) and the skill of the storyteller to craft a fascinating book. She describes herself as a “geographer who writes about food because I am curious about the untold stories of what we eat.” And that’s exactly what she reveals. She weaves together the history of various regions (and of Canada itself) with the food that has emerged, often as a result of that history.
Speaking in Cod Tongues can, I think, be read in numerous ways. For an in-depth (and fascinating) look into the concept of Canadian cuisine, start at the beginning and work your way through. But I suspect it’s the sections on regional cuisine that will have readers coming back again and again and make the book an invaluable resource for travellers, especially foodies. Heading to BC? Whip open the chapter on Alberta and British Columbia and discover restaurants to visit, ingredients (and combinations of ingredients) to try. Stun your fellow travellers with your knowledge of the history of the region. Nanaimo bars? Why yes, they really are Canadian. In fact, the first known recipe was included in the 1952 cookbook of the Women’s Auxillary to the Nanaimo Hospital.
This will definitely be my go-to book on my future culinary adventures across Canada. I can’t wait!
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