Our relation to food is deeply cultural. The flavours, brands and staples we grew up with stay with us forever. A specific smell or taste can trigger powerful memories, much like Proust’s madeleine.
Because I didn’t grow up in Canada, I sometime don’t get what all the fuss is about. These “treats” weren’t part of my childhood and it’s harder to adopt them later in life.
Or maybe I’m just a picky French girl after all.
So here are some foods Canadians seem to be crazy about… and I don’t get why!
Pop-Tarts – In my last job, we had “Foodies Fridays” where we took turn to bring breakfast for our group every week. One Thursday evening, everyone was excited because it was Stacy’s turn. “Oh my God, I am so skipping lunch!” one my co-workers even said. I was curious to see what was so special about Stacy’s breakfast. Some folks brought great food, like freshly baked muffins, quiches, pies, etc. Well, it turned out that Stacy’s specialty was… boxes of Pop-Tarts (and a toaster). I had never heard of that treat before and I really couldn’t understand why everybody was so excited about it—Pop-Tarts are basically pre-baked rectangular pastries with a sugary filling. You put them in the toaster and ta-da! I mean, it’s not bad but definitely not something to get excited about… at least from my point of view.
Bacon – I don’t understand the “bacon-mania”. I mean, there is nothing wrong with bacon. Although strips of bacon are not common in France, French like charcuterie (salami, ham, various types of sausages, pâté, etc.) with bread. In Canada and in the US, bacon is often a breakfast item, but people love adding it to anything: for instance, in many restaurants, you can pay $1 or $2 extra to add a couple of strips of bacon to whatever dish you’ve ordered. Popular fast food joints advertise some kind of bacon extravaganza, such as Wendy’s Baconator® (two 1/4 lb. patties topped with juicy applewood smoked bacon on a premium fresh bun… and yes, 980 calories). There is bacon ice-cream, deep-fried bacon, maple bacon donuts, bacon toppings sold in bits or pieces in a jar… Oh yeah, and you can even find bacon wallets, bacon lip balm or bacon soap. A bit much, no?
Frosted cakes – Here, decorating baked goods seems more important than eating them. I find cakes look fun and colourful but taste “meh”. The base is often just a sponge cake with layers and layers of frosting and food colouring on top. There is even a blog dedicated to cake wrecks, i.e. frosting gone wrong. Like most French, I love bread and unfortunately, this kind of cakes—little carbs and lots of sugar—doesn’t satisfy my craving. I like denser cakes or a nice pie (and the dough!). When I worked in an office environment, every event called for a cake with frosting and people always thought I was on a diet because I would either decline or take a very small piece!
Cupcakes – For the same reason, I have never understood the craze about cupcakes. Sure, they look very artistic and colourful but again, too much frosting. I like muffins better—they are more bread-y. Plus, cupcakes are outrageously expensive!
Oreos – Oreos, “milk’s favourite cookie”, is a sandwich cookie consisting of two chocolate disks with a sweet cream filling in between. It’s a best-seller treat, a bit like “Choco BN” in France. I don’t mind Oreos but I’m definitely not crazy about them. There are many Oreo-flavoured products, such as Oreo ice cream, and limited-editions flavours. Oreos are apparently as addictive as cocaine—not for me!
Shrimps – When Canadians don’t add bacon to their food, they add shrimps. Maybe it’s just me—I grew up in Brittany where people take seafood relatively seriously—but I don’t feel the need to add shrimps to pasta, pizza, tacos or whatever. When I eat shrimps, I eat them as the main ingredient. Like a good coctel de camarones, for instance.
Peanut Butter – This must be an acquired taste and if I have to choose, I go for Nutella over peanut butter anytime. I’m not a big fan of the staple “PB&J” (peanut butter and jelly) sandwich kids seem to love.
General Tsao’s chicken – This dish (unknown in China) seems to be a staple menu item in many Chinese restaurants in North America, much like “riz cantonais” is always on the menu in Chinese eateries in France. It is a sweet, slightly spicy, deep-fried chicken dish often served with broccoli. It’s… okay, I guess. But it’s not Chinese food.
Ice cream – Okay, I know most people like ice cream and I’m not going to say I hate it—I just find Canada is cold enough that I don’t have to experience brain freeze with my food! Dairy Queen here is extremely popular and it’s not rare to see a huge lineup even in the dead of the winter.
Cinnabon – Like Lush, the soap store, you can’t miss a Cinnabon franchise—the smell is that strong. Cinnamon is not a flavour French use a lot: I can’t remember eating anything with this spice as the main ingredient. Cinnabon sells large cinnamon rolls, often topped with frosting and sugary sauces. The rolls are about 800-1,000 calories each, which I find pretty scary!
Weird hybrids of favourite foods – Do you like croissants? Do you like donuts? Well, somebody came out with the best of both worlds—the cronut, a croissant-doughnut pastry attributed to chef Dominique Ansel in NYC. Love dougnuts and burgers? Well, you can have a doughnut burger, a hamburger (or cheeseburger) with one or more glazed doughnuts in place of the bun. Most fast foods have so-called “secret menus, i.e. items that are regularly requested but rarely publicized, including the infamous McGangBang (a Double Cheeseburger with a McChicken Sandwich in the middle), the Mc10:35 (a McDouble and a Egg McMuffin, to be ordered right before the changeover from the breakfast menu to the standard menu) and Burger King’s “Suicide Burger” (4 patties, 4 slices of cheese, bacon). Note that it works for drinks too: Starbucks has a secret menu as well!
Any local favourite food you’ve never truly adopted?