The day I took pictures inside my local supermarket, I was aiming for three or four products, max. I just wanted to give you a glimpse of popular North American items that aren’t on the shelves in the rest of the world.
But I… got a bit carried away. And of course, I shop quite often, and I always have my phone with me. Oh, it’s okay, don’t worry, security hasn’t been called yet.
Because food is a fascinating topic from a cultural perspective, here are more More Popular Canadian Grocery Items… With Pictures!
Macaroni and cheese are an established couple, like peanut butter and jelly (cool name ideas for twins, by the way). Hey, I get that. A quick dinner fix in France could be pasta topped with butter, shredded gruyère cheese and maybe ham—it’s both comfort food and kid-friendly food. So yeah, I can see mac and cheese happening.
The thing is, here, mac and cheese isn’t the result of someone rummaging through the fridge and the pantry and pulling out a box of pasta, some cheese and a stick of butter. This is North America. A Big Food company has to make the job easy. Enters the blue Kraft box, “Kraft Dinner” as it is known in Canada, where you will find dry elbow macaroni pasta and powdered processed cheese sauce. Add milk or butter and ta-da! You’ll get the gooiest mix you can imagine with a strange orangish hue. We made it for Mark once, but he didn’t like it. Picky French!
Kraft Dinner is extremely popular in Canada and even former Prime Minister Paul Martin regularly referred to it as his favourite food. To put it into perspective, I’d say that mac and cheese is as popular as Ramen noodles in most of Asia.
When you crave pizza, you have options. You can make it from scratch (yeah, right), buy it frozen at the supermarket, stop by Pizza Pizza and grab a slice, check out the all-you-can-eat pizza buffet at Pizza Hut or order from Domino’s. Need even more options? Alright, heat up a Pizza Pop in the microwave.
Pizza Pops are a calzone-type snack, about as big as a Latino empanadas, the size of the palm. They come in several varieties such as “Hawaiian,” “Three Meat,” “Pepperoni & Bacon,” “Deluxe,” “Cheese Burger,” “Canadian,” and “Three Cheese”, and all contain pizza sauce and toping and meat.
They come out of the microwave annoyingly hot and you will invariably burn your tongue.
Need meat but don’t have the time to kill a cow? Need edible proteins without further preparation? Buy beef jerky! Jerky is lean meat that has been trimmed of fat, cut into strips, and then dried. Sugar is a major ingredient so the meat is supposed to taste slightly sweet. Jerky, the food of the pioneers, is a very popular product in convenience stores, gas stations and supermarkets.
Frozen pie crusts don’t faze me. French use them too, especially for quiches and other savoury pies. In North America, Pillsbury specializes in giving challenged bakers a hand, and it sells refrigerated and frozen dough. The problem? I’m not sure why, but something bothers me with the packaging. I see these beautiful croissants, but I’m staring at a cylinder of dough. I see lovely cinnamon rolls, but I’m in front of a small box of, again, presumably dough. This is just too high tech, too abstract. I’d rather either buy the baked goods, either make them from scratch. On the other hand, I find these “just add an egg” cake boxes just fine, so I guess I am the problem here.
North Americans often take junk food to a higher level of junk. Chips, a popular snack around the world, are offered here with… dipping sauces. Originally, these sauces were to be used with tortilla chips or other corn chips, Mexican style, like tortillas y salsa. But now, you can dip any kind of chip into any kind of dip, including the Spanish-sounding “queso” processed cheese.
Note that most people strongly object to “double-dipping”, i.e. taking a bite of the chip, and then re-dipping it into a dip. It’s seen as gross (because processed cheese sauce isn’t??)
“Do they have cheese over there?” is probably among the top ten questions French ask me about Canada. Yes, you can find cheese. A few selected imported cheese in supermarkets (Boursin, Vache qui Rit, blue cheese, Saint Paulin, etc.), and a better (and pricier) selection in European delis. And then, you always have “American” cheese, also known as “processed cheese” or just “yellow cheese” and “orange cheese” (I’m not kidding, that’s how some people call it).
Cheddar is very popular, but even the “sharp” version has a very mild taste compared to European cheese. To be honest, I can barely taste the difference between the types of cheese.
What’s interesting is the packaging. There are big rectangular blocks of cheese, sliced cheese (for sandwiches) and string cheese. Note how it says “100% real cheese” on the package? Yeah, that’s kind of scary. Mark is completely in love with “Cheestring” and eats these sticks as a snack. It’s bland and it feels like eating plastic but hey, who am I to judge!
North Americans love crackers, flat baked biscuits with supposed health benefits chips don’t have. Crackers are often crumbled in soups or eaten with cheese.
Goldfish, fish-shaped crackers, are toddlers’ crack. They come in various flavours (cheese, BBQ, vanilla cupcake, etc.) and OMG, SO CUTE, A FISH!
Interestingly, Mark recognizes them but doesn’t seem to love them, so he gets my regular grown-up crackers.
North America grows corn, harvests corns and—yes, eat corn. In the fall and summer, you can eat it quickly boiled or grilled corn on the cob with butter. But what do you do when you didn’t buy sweet corn at the grocery store? Well, you get your fix with microwave popcorn. Okay, it’s less healthy but the spirit is here, and you’re sure to find a box of it somewhere because there is an entire aisle dedicated to it.
The unpopped popcorn is usually in a sealed paper bags. Heat in a microwave for a few minutes and voilà! The delicious smell of artificial butter will fill the room, the house and the neighborhood. Watch out: microwave popcorn can start office wars since the smell lingers long after the last kernel has popped.