Tag Archives: culture

A box of Popeyes nuggets on a wooden tabletop

The New Popeyes Nuggets Have Arrived In Canada — And We Tried Them First

With all of the hype surrounding last year’s game-changing Popeyes’ Chicken Sandwich (so iconic it’s often referred to as just “The Sandwich”), when the Louisiana-style chicken purveyor announced that they were releasing a new version of their chicken nuggets, we knew we had to give them a try. Could their latest menu item revolutionize nuggets as we know them, the same way their sandwich predecessor had? Here’s everything you need to know.

A box of Popeyes' nuggets on a wooden tabletop

Wait, Doesn’t Popeyes Already Have Nuggets in Canada?

They sure do — unlike our American neighbours, Canadians have been able to enjoy Popeyes’ chicken nuggets for years. However, based on the major success of their chicken sandwich, Popeyes decided to revamp and relaunch their nuggets internationally with a brand new recipe that adapts their iconic sandwich into nugget form. In short: if you were a fan of The Sandwich, then you’re in for a treat, because these nuggets are made with the exact same hand-battering technique with Louisiana seasoning and buttermilk breading (read: crispy-on-the-outside, juicy-on-the-inside tender chicken goodness).

So, How Do These Nuggets Stack Up Against Their Competitors?

Texturally, these nuggets do deliver on their lofty promise of “changing the nugget game.” The outside is satisfyingly crispy, and when you bite into them, you’re met with the lightly grained feel of real chicken breast. While it is a somewhat sad state of affairs to note that having the texture of real chicken sets these chicken nuggets apart from their competitors, the hard fact is that seeing the grain of a chicken breast in your nuggets is a new and novel experience. The nuggets also vary in size and shape — because they’re real chicken — so unlike certain competitors that have preset nugget “shapes” (Google it), you know these are the real deal.

A Popeyes' nugget being dipping into buffalo sauce

And What About the Dipping Sauce?

Another factor that sets these nuggets apart: the wide range of sauces you can choose for additional flavour. Popeyes isn’t playing around with their sauce selection: they have one for just about every craving; personal favourites were the Sweet Heat and Blackened Ranch, both Popeyes’ signature sauces that you can’t find elsewhere. The sad packet of sweet and sour sauce in your fridge is quaking!

OK, Where Can I Get Them?

Starting July 27th, Canadians can purchase Popeyes’ Chicken Nuggets at all Popeyes locations across the country. Depending on your province, an 8-piece box of nuggets will set you back about $5.99.

A closeup of a Popeyes' nugget

Anything Else I Need To Know?

Given that Canadians have already had access to Popeyes’ Chicken Nuggets for some time, it’s difficult to imagine that this new recipe will be met with the same long lines and hype-induced frenzy as The Sandwich of yore. That said, it’s undeniable that the team at Popeyes’ has married the best aspects of the signature Chicken Sandwich and adapted them into an extremely poppable nugget form. While we wouldn’t go as far as saying Popeyes’ has revolutionized chicken nuggets entirely, they do scratch an itch we didn’t know we had: chicken nuggets that actually resemble, well, real chicken.

Photos courtesy of Sabrina Stavenjord.

3d printed meat on plate from Aleph Farms

Is 3D-Printed Meat the Next Big Thing? (And How It Really Tastes)

There’s a new wave of alternative meat products coming to our not-so-distant future and is likely to make up a major part of our future diets. Currently, the global market for lab-grown meats is the fastest growing segment in the food industry and is expected to reach $140 billion by 2030, according to forecasts by Blue Horizon Corp.

In 2018, Aleph Farms in Israel successfully cultivated the world’s first beef steak using 3D printing. Today, they’ve upgraded to 3D bioprinting. Unlike 3D printing that uses ink or plastic, 3D bioprinting technology is able to print actual living cells without harming the animal. Essentially, this technology is able to recreate the natural process of tissue regeneration that occurs in the animal’s body in a controlled environment. The end product is able to mimic the structure, smell, cooking behaviour and appearance of a meaty steak, right down to the blood oozing out of a juicy steak.

3d printed meat on plate from Aleph Farms

Redefine Meat is another leading meat cultivating company that uses a method of multi-material 3D printing to create alt-meats. “[The] 3D printer lays down blood, fat and protein simultaneously at a voxel-level that resembles mimicking meat of an animal,” says Daniel Dikovsky, head of technology and innovation at Redefine Meat. “This advanced capability is what allows an alternative-steak to go beyond just taste, but also replicate texture and mouthfeel.” Redefine Meat does not use any animal ingredients, but rather a proprietary blend of soy, pea protein, coconut fat, sunflower oil and a few other plant-based ingredients, so their products are vegan.

3d printed meat on plate from Redefine Meat

Now Let’s Talk Taste

Earlier this year, Redefine Meat held a blind taste test for its 3D printed meat, with over 600 participants, mostly meat eaters. The overall approval rate was over 90%, based on taste, texture and mouthfeel. When Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, tried Aleph Farm’s steak he said: “I can’t taste the difference.”

Looking to the Future

While these are only two examples of start-ups that are experimenting in the 3D printed meat world, several other companies from around the world are diving into the cultivated meat industry, as the demand for innovative products, with less impact to the environment and harm to animals is rapidly growing.

Related: Meet the World’s First Autonomous Robotic Kitchen Assistant

Aleph Farms has partnered with Mitsubishi to sell their beef in Japan in the coming years, but they’re not in a rush to get it on the market. Japan is home to the world’s most luxurious steak, Wagyu. In other words, they’re well aware of what they’re up against. No word yet on when Aleph or Redefine Meat will hit the open market or when lab-grown meat will be available for purchase in Canada.

First photo/feature photo courtesy of Aleph Farms; second photo courtesy of Redefine Meat

Homemade Purple Japanese Ube Ice Cream in a Bowl

Flavour Trends to Watch For According to the Latest Flavour Forecast

Homemade Purple Japanese Ube Ice Cream

The 21st McCormick Flavour Forecast has released its most recent report naming what Canadians can expect next in terms of flavour.

The Flavour Forecast has been breaking down the flavours Canadians want in their food for over two decades and this round is no exception; The team behind the report includes chefs, culinary professionals, trend trackers and others in the food industry, with the goals of encouraging exploration and innovation around the world and in the kitchen.

Related: How to Properly Dispose of Cooking Oil

The research was based on a series of virtual, interactive at-home culinary experiences. The experiences spanned the previous year and were led by chefs, exploring flavours that range from nutritious to decadent, and varying in taste, colour, and texture – both in food and drink.

The 21st edition of the Flavour Forecast identified four key flavour trends based on what was most popular: Plants pushing boundaries; humble nosh; underwater, underdiscovered; and physiological eating.

Related: 5 Hot New Releases to Binge on Amazon Prime This Summer

Here is what you can expect with each:

Plants Pushing Boundaries

We know that plant-based is no longer a “trend” but a way of life for many – even those who are flexitarian, or simply looking to fold more fruits, veggies and botanicals into their diets. The people at McCormick agree. Plants are bringing indulgence, brilliant colour, hearty texture and flora-focused eating to the forefront.

Key flavours to look for:
Ube (purple yam)
Szechuan buttons (edible flower buds)
Trumpet mushrooms

Related: Allison Gibson Talks Launching Food Businesses and Reclaiming the Term “Ethnic Food”

Various spices spread across a light-surfaced table

Humble Nosh

With so many borders closed to international tourism, Canadians are wanting to venture out with their plates. Bold, niche global flavours are still front and centre on people’s minds, and on their palettes. The good news is that Canada offers no shortage of ways to satisfy these cravings.

Key flavours to look for:
Chaat masala (Indian spice blend)
Pandan kaya (Malaysian jam)
Crisped chilies

Related: Food Activist and Dietitian Rosie Mensah Looks at Nutrition Through a Social Justice Lens

A bowl of Wakame seaweed salad

Underwater, Underdiscovered

Going underwater now also means going deeper, and looking further. Plant-based is by no means exclusive to the land, and Canadians are increasingly looking for flavours and ingredients that feature both fresh and saltwater botanicals like seaweeds and even algae.

Key flavours to look for:
Dulse (red sea lettuce flakes)
Spirulina (blue-green algae)
Sea grapes (soft, green algae)

Related: This Korean Sweet and Sour Seaweed Salad is the Perfect BBQ Side Dish

Ginger and halved lemon spread on table with mint leaves

Physiological Eating

Leaning into India’s 5,000-year old tradition of Ayurveda that embraces a traditional, healthy lifestyle rooted in mind-body, harmony, growth and self-love, physiological eating also taps into the related six tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, stringent, and pungent). Each offer warming and cooling benefits to help provide comfort to the physical body.

Key flavours to look for:
Coriander
Lemon
Sea salt
Cumin
Turmeric
Ginger

Photos courtesy of Getty Images.

Related: 15 Popular Foods That Grow in Very Surprising Ways

Food Industry Consultant Allison Gibson standing beside a small community fridge filled with food

Allison Gibson Talks Launching Food Businesses and Reclaiming the Term “Ethnic Food”

With a career spanning 20 years, that has taken her from Walt Disney World to cruise ships to convention centres, it was during a government contract that Allison Gibson decided to focus on something that would give back to the community. This brought her to PaintBox Bistro in Toronto’s Regent Park, where she began as a sales and event coordinator and ended up a part-owner.

Allison left PaintBox in 2020 and began working with Spring Activator, a global impact consulting firm, leading all food programming as their food innovation program manager. She designed and led the Ethnic Food Incubator (EFI) on their behalf.

We recently spoke with Allison about the EFI, developing the curriculum, how they adapted because of the pandemic, some of the incubator’s success stories and reclaiming the term “ethnic food.”

How did your background with PaintBox prepare you for working with the EFI?

PaintBox is a social enterprise with a mandate to provide opportunities and training experiences in hospitality, food and beverage to anyone who identifies as marginalized or has a barrier to employment. It’s a for-profit business that doesn’t rely on grants or funding. We also did training and incubation for marginalized people, people of colour and women to launch businesses or develop products. When COVID hit, we pivoted and launched an online grocery store. I was with PaintBox for almost nine years. At the end of 2020, I branched off as a consultant, which is how I stumbled upon the EFI.

Related: Food Activist and Dietitian Rosie Mensah Looks at Nutrition Through a Social Justice Lens

What prompted the creation of the EFI, and what was your role in it?

The Canadian Black Chamber of Commerce wanted to do a food incubation program but needed someone who understood the food industry to develop and create the curriculum. They contacted Spring Activator… and then Spring found me. Initially, they called to ask a few questions and see if I wanted to be a guest speaker; after that call, they asked me to run it.

I had a few weeks to consult, design the curriculum and program, and choose the guest speakers. The idea was to create a space for people of colour to come together and learn how to launch a product or how to develop a product they were already working on. The goal was to develop products until they were ready for a grocery store or retail shelf. We ended up with 15 women from across Canada and formed a little sisterhood. We talked about everything, like safely creating a quality food product, funding and marketing. Based on my experience, I shared tips and tricks along with my failings and things I’d struggled to learn on my own. When I was starting out, I didn’t have anyone pull me aside and explain how the industry worked, how to manage my money and save when dealing with tips and what skills are required if you’re interested in a career in food. I had to learn it all on my own.

An aisle of market shelves at PaintBox with canned goods, rice, soft drinks, snacks, pet food and more

How did the program adapt and change due to the pandemic?

Before COVID, the EFI would’ve taken place in person and the idea was to provide participants with access to a commercial kitchen and a lab for product testing. We would’ve had a final showcase event. We ended up meeting weekly for 12 weeks on Zoom. At the start of the pandemic, I quickly learned virtual facilitation and learning styles, so by the time the EFI came along, I was ready for it. Most sessions featured a guest speaker or an opportunity to collaborate on something we were working on.

For sampling, we created a box with all the products that were being worked on or developed through the program and sent it to sponsors, program supporters and guest speakers. I collected everything, so I had packages arriving at my house constantly and it looked like a warehouse. I had to transport everything to a commercial kitchen, make sure it was cleaned and disinfected — and then hired a team of people to help package and ship the boxes. Product feedback cards were included or could be accessed via a web link.

What skills were the participants equipped with after completing the program?

We touched on the basics, like pitching for investment, access to capital, marketing and how to identify your customer segment or audience. We wanted to ensure their success after the program, so everyone was matched with an industry mentor. Also, we provided them with access to the overall ecosystem, including my network of mentors and guest speakers and directed them to other programs or sources of funding.

At the end of the program, we had a demo day with Chef Suzanne Barr from Wall of Chefs, who was our celebrity guest chef. She was absolutely amazing and super involved. We selected the top three products and pitches and those three people won a cash prize. The winner of the EFI went on to a national pitch challenge and made it to the top 20. A few participants were referred to other programs to work on refining their business plans. Others did more scientific product testing. Essentially, we connected them with what they needed to get to the next level. I still work with many of them and make myself available for one-on-one coaching and mentoring — and they definitely take me up on that.

Related: Chef Suzanne Barr Will Make You Think About Your Dinner Plate Differently

What were some challenges that participants faced before taking part in the EFI?

Mainly, it was access to information and how the industry works. It was hard for them to figure out how to get a product into a grocery store because there’s no process for that. A lot of the program was connecting them to the right people or getting their foot in the door. The other issue was related to mental health. Everyone had other jobs, so we asked if they were prepared to be an entrepreneur. As we were going through the program, some participants felt overwhelmed. They had to ask themselves: “Am I ready for this? Do I have the skill set to do this?” Once they figured out what’s required to pitch to a grocery store or supplier, they were good to go.

Allison Gibson with EFI Participants who founded the Afrotechture Market in Ottawa

Can you share success stories that came out of the incubator?

Eight50 Coffee’s Muna Mohammed took part in the EFI program to refine and further develop her line of coffee products. They’re available for sale online and at select Ottawa-area retailers. Street Food’s Anthonia Iveren Gom launched her product, Zobo, during the program. It’s a popular hibiscus beverage found in Nigeria and retails online and in select stores in Winnipeg. 116 Kitchen in Toronto makes the most delicious meal kits and sauces inspired by Chef Max’s Nigerian heritage  and it was amazing watching the progression of this during the program.

Related: Joshna Maharaj on Tackling Food Security, Inclusion in Canada’s Hospitality Industry

Then there’s Afrotechture Market, a pop-up by participant Resa Solomon-St. Lewis, the chef and owner of Baccanalle Restaurant in Ottawa. She has a line of delicious sauces that are perfect for retail and I’m obsessed with the tamarind and rum Sauce! She partnered with another woman in the program and launched Afrotechture last holiday season, which is an artisan market that showcases products from Black entrepreneurs in Byward Market. I got to visit it in December and meet them and the market remained open beyond the holidays.

Related: Canadian Breweries Advocating for Racial Justice and Social Change

The term “ethnic food” has been perceived by some as being used for inferior or cheap food. Why was the program named the Ethnic Food Incubator when there’s hesitation within the food community to use that term?

I didn’t choose the name, but I asked why they called it the Ethnic Food Incubator. The idea was to encourage people to not associate an ethnic product with being inferior and that there’s nothing wrong with saying that you are creating an ethnic product. When you think about going grocery shopping or ordering food, almost everything we eat is ethnic or is from someone who has an immigrant background. The incubator wanted to highlight that we are already eating ethnic food, and we should highlight and champion it.

What plans do you have for the future of the EFI?

We’re currently discussing what’s next and planning version 2.0 of the program for this fall. Who it’s open to is up for debate. We’ve talked about a youth-focused or a family business-focused program. I’ve been working on supporting and uplifting Indigenous businesses, and working on an Ethnic Food Incubator that’s open to anyone, but looking for support from the Indigenous community so we can allocate a certain number of spots to Indigenous entrepreneurs. I would love to do an Indigenous-focused food incubator program separate from this.

Besides Indigenous entrepreneurs, I’d like to include some men. We always talk about how men get all the opportunities and make more money, but with food, there are never programs for men of colour, so that’s something we’re also discussing. The first incubator had 15 Black women, but we need to make space for other marginalized communities.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Photos courtesy of Allison Gibson

Four Andy Warhol-inspired Campbell's soup cans in bright colours

Campbell Canada Launches Limited Edition Andy Warhol-Inspired Soup Cans

Sixty years after the late Andy Warhol first drew his iconic Campbell’s soup can, Campbell Canada and The Andy Warhol Foundation have teamed up to bring Warhol’s vision full-circle. In a bid to spread joy to Canadians, Campbell Canada is releasing limited edition Andy Warhol-inspired soup cans with four distinct bright, colourful labels and two flavours — cream of mushroom and tomato.

Andy Warhol-inspired Campbell soup cans

The inspiration behind the cans is Warhol’s belief that “art is accessible to all,” and to his point, that means even a soup can is a worthy canvas. “These special edition soup cans serve to remind us that there is joy, warmth and light that can be found in simple things around us. We look forward to bringing this concept to life through our campaign by sharing examples of real life pop art inspired by the cans – there are always new and creative ways we can brighten up our days,” said Mieka Burns, vice-president marketing at Campbell Canada.

Related: 10 New Food Products You Can Buy in Canadian Grocery Stores This May

Keeping with the spirit of Warhol’s pop art movement that everyday items could be transformed into minimalist works of art, Campbell Canada is challenging several Canadian artists and influential content creators to come up with colourful, everyday inspiration from the limited edition cans to produce their own version of pop art-inspired content, by following the #CampbellsxWarhol hashtag.

Related: Our Fave Food Trends to Come out of Quarantine, From Pancake Cereal to Bread Art

“In 1962, Andy Warhol changed the trajectory of contemporary art by depicting Campbell’s soup cans on canvas,” said Michael Dayton Hermann, director of licensing, marketing and sales at The Andy Warhol Foundation. “It is only fitting that we pay tribute to the enduring legacy of these two icons by coming full circle and bringing his art back to the Campbell soup cans that provided him with inspiration.”

Photo courtesy of Campbell Company of Canada

World Hunger Day: Food for Thought Campaign Seeks to End Youth Hunger

If you’re familiar with food insecurity, you know that many people in our communities don’t have equal access to affordable, fresh and nutritious food. In fact, many don’t know when or from where their next meal will come. This reality impacts adults and youth alike, but in Canada, the numbers are staggering. A May 2020 Statistics Canada survey revealed that more than one in 10 respondents experienced food insecurity within the previous 30 days. For children, that number is even higher: one in five children in Canada are food insecure.

Overhead shot of little girl with a spoon in her cereal bowl

May 28th marks World Hunger Day and a new campaign aims to spotlight youth hunger specifically through conversation and creativity by engaging those most impacted: kids.

Food for Thought, a new campaign by SkipTheDishes and Mealshare, is providing meals to Canadian youth while raising awareness of the issue through curated resources. The package includes child-friendly resources that are accessible online and that both parents and teachers can use to help start the conversation through creativity.

Related: Joshna Maharaj on Tackling Food Security, Inclusion in Canada’s Hospitality Industry + More

The package includes colouring, drawing and comic design activities, as well as story writing prompts. Kids are then encouraged to submit their work and for each submission, SkipTheDishes will donate five meals to a local children’s charity that is partnered with Mealshare. The food delivery service has already donated $25,000 to kickstart the initiative. The campaign runs until May 28.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

Woman digging into takeout on kitchen table

National Takeout Day: Canadians Aim to Set Record for Most Takeout Ordered in Single Day

By now, it’s a familiar story: many local restaurants have been forced to shut their doors in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Unfortunately, some of these restaurants have closed down for good, unable to continue absorbing the costs and challenges posed by the pandemic; with them going the creativity, unique offerings and livelihoods of entire culinary teams.

Last December, Restaurants Canada reported that 10,000 restaurants have already closed with upwards of 50 per cent expecting to close permanently if conditions don’t improve. 

Related: Canadians Now Ordering Food Online in Record Numbers, Survey Reveals

Woman Eating Delicious Takeaway Food At Home

Even as many meet this fate, others continue to provide delivery and takeout options, as well as alternate ways to continue nurturing a vibrant culinary life in cities and towns across the country. 

Related: Big Food Bucket List Restaurants Across Canada That Now Offer Takeout

In a show of support, Canadians are coming together on April 15th for a second year in a row. Created by Canada Takeout (CTO) — an organization dedicated to all things takeout across the country — #TakeoutDay has also evolved into a weekly celebration of local eats, taking place each Wednesday. 

Spicy Indian food spread on table ready to eat.

To date, the hashtag has reached 52.9 million people and CTO’s hope Canadians will embrace eating from their favourite local spots on April 15th by ordering from restaurant takeout menus. 

Related: What is a Ghost Kitchen? (And Why They’re Thriving During COVID)

CTO is raising the bar from last year by challenging Canadians to set a national record for the most takeout ordered in a single day. Diners can participate by ordering takeout, uploading their takeout receipts to the Takeout Tracker and also spreading the love on social using the hashtags #takeoutday and #canadatakeoutrecordThe day follows on the heels of an FDA announcement that there is still no clear evidence of COVID-19 transmission through food or related packaging.

Photos courtesy of Getty Images

Can You Guess Which City is the Most Vegetarian-Friendly in Canada?

With the COVID-19 pandemic came the unprecedented shift towards working remotely for many Canadians, and some are looking to relocate to places better suited to their lifestyles, for good. With plant-based diets on the rise for health, ethical and environmental reasons, which cities are best suited to attract vegetarians? 

The Vegetarian Cities Index for 2021 sought to answer this by ranking 75 of the most vegetarian-friendly cities in the world, and that list includes some Canadian standouts. 

Related: Easy Plant-Based Recipes for Beginners That Will Make You Drool

Rustic table with a blue plate, zucchini noodles, tomatoes, kale and halved soft-boiled eggs

The index assessed the affordability and quality of each city’s vegetarian offerings (including plant-based diet staples such as fruits, veggies and proteins), the number of vegetarian-friendly restaurants and lifestyle-related events. 

Related: From Keto to Vegan, These Are the Pantry Staples You Need Based on Your Diet

The survey identified that while home cooking still played an important role for vegetarians over the last 12 months, plant-based restaurants played an important role in people’s lives (some of these restaurants were not only top rated vegetarian restaurants, but top rated restaurants overall). 

Of the 75, Canada did not crack the top 30 list. However, four Canadian cities did offer established vegetarian-friendly “ecosystems,” with Ottawa leading as the most vegetarian-friendly city in Canada in 31st place. Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal follow in 50th, 60th, and 66th place, respectively. 

Related: The One Dish John Catucci Always Orders From These North American Cities

People in the produce aisle at a grocery store

Out of these four, Ottawa had the most affordable grocery staples (fruits, veggies, plant-based proteins),  while Montreal scored highest out of the four for vegetarian restaurant affordability. Toronto, on the other hand, had the highest number of vegetarian-friendly restaurants, while Vancouver had the highest ratio of these restaurants with nearly a quarter offering vegetarian-friendly options. 

As for which cities claimed the top spots? London (UK), Berlin and Munich were identified as the top three destinations for those opting for a meatless diet. 

We tried TikTok’s Feta Tomato Pasta and Popeye’s Famous Chicken Sandwich — are they worth the hype?

Photos courtesy of Unsplash.

Transgender Day of Visibility: Yasmeen Persad Talks About Food Insecurity and Trans Nutrition

For Yasmeen Persad, food is all about community — and, as the trans program coordinator at Toronto’s non-profit organization The 519, she’s had plenty of opportunities to indulge in her passion for cooking and making memories. In particular, with the Trans People of Colour Project (TPOC), which is funded by the Toronto Urban Health Fund and runs out of The 519 (virtually during COVID-19). “There’s nothing like cooking together in the [519’s] kitchen in a circle and having conversations and seeing the smiles on people’s faces,” Persad says. “There’s a social support component to it.”

While the program touches on a variety of topics, from sexual health to homemade recipes, food insecurity and trans nutrition are ones that pop up frequently. Considered a safe space by many in Toronto’s trans community, Persad believes these oft-taboo subjects are seeing the light during TPOC meetings because people feel more comfortable broaching the subjects. “If you don’t have access to food, there’s a lot of shame and stigma attached to that,” she says. “People think, ‘Oh, it will lower my self-esteem to ask for help to access food.’”

Related: What is Food Insecurity? FoodShare’s Paul Taylor Explains (Plus What Canadians Can Do About It)

According to a Statistics Canada report, the average Canadian spends $214 per month on groceries. However, racialized trans and non-binary people in Canada face higher levels of discrimination than others, resulting in housing inequality, a lack of job opportunities and food insecurity.

To combat the issue and raise awareness, TPOC focused their efforts on crafting Cooking With Trans People of Colour, a cookbook that offers a plethora of diverse recipes inspired by group leaders and program participants. In addition, among its many vibrant pages, are nutrition facts and sexual health stats. “The cookbook represents a history of racialized trans people, [both] those who have passed away and folks who are present,” Persad explains. “We want this to be a celebration for all trans people of colour across the board. We want this to be a recognition and a celebration.”

With Trans Day of Visibility coming up on March 31, 2021, we chatted with Yasmeen Persad about the cookbook, food insecurity in the trans community and how Canadians can take action.

How would you define food insecurity and how does the TPOC program help?

“Food security — for a number of the people that access our programs — has always been a challenge. [This is] because of their identities and the lack of access to places that offers food that represents them. It’s a struggle not just to get food, but to get healthy food. The program was designed to look at that issue specifically because racialized trans people experience higher levels of food insecurity. This is for many reasons: race, identity, being a newcomer to Canada or a refugee. The way we decided to address this issue was to create a cooking program where trans people of colour could come in and talk while cooking at the same time — sharing food, sharing recipes, sharing stories. This way, folks would get good food and also a meal to take home with them.”

Tell us about how the cookbook came together.

“So much work and love went into it. [The recipes are] quite different than the average ones you would probably encounter because most of the folks that come to the program weren’t born in Canada. They’re either an immigrant or a refugee. Whenever we cooked together [before COVID-19] the staff would pass by and everybody would say, ‘Oh my god, what smells so good? Can I get the recipe?’ And that’s where [the idea] stemmed into a cookbook we could share with people. However, we didn’t want to just do a general cookbook. We wanted to add different components to it to make it a lot more interesting — by addressing sexual health and adding some fun pieces to it.”

Related: How Food Injustice Inspired This 23-Year-Old to Start Her Own Farm, Plus Her Advice for You


The TPOC team, featuring (top L-R): Evana Ortigoza and Angel Glady, and (bottom L-R): Mariana Cortes, Yasmeen Persad and Christy Joseph.

How would you describe the link between food insecurity and racism?

“Folks who are racialized often find that the types of food they would want to cook or experience — or any food they might get through food banks or drop-ins — don’t necessarily reflect [the meals] of racialized people. Therefore, a lot of folks might not go to a general cooking program because they’re like, ‘This food doesn’t represent me, I don’t know what to do with this food, I can’t cook this food, it’s not a part of who I am or part of my culture.’ And that was really a key part of this — the [TPOC] participants would come, we’d ask them what they would like to cook and we’d try to bridge [the gap] between racism and food insecurity.”

Beef with plantains
Primavera Beef With Plantains and Black Beans, a recipe by Evana Ortigoza in the Cooking With Trans People of Colour cookbook

How has food insecurity in the trans community been affected by COVID?

“It’s been affected terribly because, prior to this, people could have come to physically get the food. That has been a real challenge. However, the way we decided to address the food insecurity [that arose from the pandemic] was by still cooking and having people come pick up the food. That was part of the way The 519 as a whole, and embedded with TPOC, has been addressing food insecurity.”

Related: Joshna Maharaj on Tackling Food Security, Inclusion in Canada’s Hospitality Industry + More

There is a lack of research on trans nutrition. Is this something that comes up often during discussions at TPOC meetings?

“It does. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions around the trans community, in general, and what food is available in terms of how it impacts hormones, surgeries and health benefits. In the cookbook, we promote hormones and healthy eating and TPOC participants would often ask during our discussions, ‘I started hormones, is there maybe something that I shouldn’t be eating too much or less of?’ Of course, we’re not nutritionists, but we try to draw from our own lived experiences to guide folks through that process.”

Many of the nutritional needs discussed in the program and cookbook are based on lived realities. Can you speak to that a bit?

“We wanted the cookbook to represent real people’s lives — we really wanted to bring a trans human experience to it. Because the group is also strongly embedded in talking about sexual health, we wanted to address those pieces and talk about it in an affirming way. Often, when you talk about trans people living with or affected by HIV, there are so many negative stigmas attached to it. Similarly, with hormone therapy. We want to make this real, but we also want to shine on this in a positive light. We want it to show that you can be someone living with HIV and have a healthy life — and you don’t have to eat food that’s not desirable to you.”

Cooking With Trans People of Colour cookbook cover

How can Canadians help and take action?

“Everyone should look at food insecurity as a social health issue. Just as we have access to medical care, we should think of food in the same way. The way people could help support us is by donating to The 519 website. The cookbook will have a donate button and that would continue to help support the program and help to give racialized trans folks access to healthy food. [Food insecurity] is also not talked about enough — and when it is, it’s always negative. If you don’t have access to food, there’s a lot of shame and stigma attached to that. Together [we] can talk about it in such a way that helps people see it in a different light.”

Where to buy the cookbook

Digital Copy: Download the PDF via The 519 website as of March 26, 2021. Price: Donate what you can.
Hard Copy: Swing by Toronto’s Glad Day Bookshop. Price: Still to be announced.

About TPOC

The Trans People of Colour Project (TPOC) fosters affirming support, greater access to food security and access to meaningful sexual health promotion information for racialized trans folks. TPOC is an integral component of The 519’s support of BIPOC 2Spirit, trans and non-binary community members within The 519 — and has continued to provide support through the pandemic. Between 2019-2020, TPOC had over 300 visits to the drop-in. To learn more about TPOC, visit their website.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Photos courtesy of The 519.

I Tried Meghan Markle’s “Filthy, Sexy” Zucchini Pasta Sauce — Here’s How It Stacked Up

Long before she married into royalty, Meghan Markle extolled the virtues on healthy eating on her now-defunct blog, The Tig. During her seven years living in Toronto filming the legal drama Suits, the now Duchess of Sussex carved out her own online space to write about health and wellness, often sharing quick cooking tips.

But it was an interview she did with Delish in 2018 that garnered the most attention: she said she loved making a three-ingredient zucchini pasta sauce. A veggie-forward Bolognese, if you will. Using only zucchini, bouillon cubes and water, she said it was a “filthy, sexy mush” that she loved. With the duchess in the news as of late, this dish has recently been trending on the Internet all over again. It doesn’t exactly sound delicious, but I thought I’d give it a shot.

So, go ahead, cook like a duchess with this messy, mushy, sexy, filthy three-ingredient slow cooker concoction. For personal preference, I’ve added one more ingredient (an onion: I couldn’t resist) and options for additional seasonings, if desired. (Spoiler alert: it’s a lot more delicious than it looks, I swear!).

Related: Meghan Markle and the Struggle Among Black Women Everywhere

Meghan Markle’s Slow Cooker Zucchini Pasta Sauce

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 4 hours
Total Time: 4 hours, 10 minutes
Servings: 4-6

Ingredients

5-6 medium zucchini, roughly chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped (optional)
2 bouillon cubes
½ cup water
Salt and pepper (optional)
1 package penne or rigatoni
Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
Parmesan cheese (optional)

Directions

1. In one large slow cooker (or Dutch oven), add zucchini, onion, bouillon cubes and water. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.

2. Set timer to cook for four hours on low heat, stirring once or twice in that timeframe. The zucchini will start to get nice and mushy – that’s what we want!

Related: A Peek Inside Meghan Markle’s Former Toronto Home

3. At the 3 hour and 40 minute mark, cook the pasta in a separate pot according to package instructions.

4. Season the zucchini sauce with salt and pepper, red pepper flakes and Parmesan cheese, if desired. Serve immediately over pasta.

Related: Here’s What the Royal Family Really Eats

Verdict

It’s simple, it’s hearty (I didn’t need more than one serving before I felt full) and it smells surprisingly delicious as it simmers away in the slow cooker.  Was it tasty (read: sexy)? Absolutely. Would I make it again? Probably. Was it worth the nearly five-hour wait? Not really.

We also tried the feta tomato pasta TikTok trend and Popeye’s famous Chicken Sandwich — are they worth the hype?

Photo of Meghan Markle courtesy of Getty Images.

The Sweet Prairie History of Girl Guide Cookies

When the Girl Guides of Canada come a-knockin’, the gut reaction for many Canadians is to pull out their wallet and loosen their belts. Few Canucks can resist a box (or two) of Girl Guide cookies, famed for their chocolate and vanilla icing, squeezed between crunchy cookie layers.

But did you know that the now famous cookies were invented on the Canadian Prairies? It started in 1927, when one Girl Guide leader in Regina, Saskatchewan baked and packaged batches of cookies for her troupe to sell, hoping to raise funds for uniforms and camping equipment. Little did she know that her tasty treats would kick off a feeding frenzy spanning close to a century! Seeing the sales of the Regina troupe, Girl Guides of Canada joined the party in 1929, making  cookie sales the official fundraising activity for the organization.

However, the types of treats have evolved throughout the decades, starting with vanilla creme, maple cream and shortbread cookies in 1946. It wasn’t until 1953 that the classic chocolate and vanilla-flavoured sandwich cookies first made a cameo on the sweets scene. Finally, in 1995, a new kid on the block was born: crunchy, chocolatey cookies with a cool mint filling. But one thing hasn’t changed; the cookie craze across Canada continues almost 100 years later, with several million boxes of cookies sold in Ontario alone. If the boxes were laid down on a road, it would reach from Windsor to Timmins. That’s a lot of cookie love!

DIY vegan Girl Guide thin mints

Get the recipe for Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, Vegan Thin Mint Cookies

Ever since Girl Guides started selling door-to-door, Girl Guide cookies have become one of Canada’s best-loved food traditions — one that’s held a special place in Canada’s culinary history. During the Gulf War in the 1990s, every Canadian soldier was given a box of cookies upon arrival in Saudi Arabia and there are photographs of Canadian astronaut (and former Girl Guide) Roberta Bondar juggling vanilla and chocolate cookies in space.

The best part? Snacking on these crunchy and creamy cookies benefits more than your belly. The dough (no pun intended) goes towards supporting Girl Guides of Canada’s programming, which provides opportunities for girls to discover, explore, be adventurous and make a difference, while building the leadership and life skills.

Do you want more delicious Canadian food history? We roundup the history of Classic Canadian foods, from poutine to Hawaiian pizza.

Published March 16, 2017, Updated March 1, 2021

Meet the Canadian Women Helping to Bring Gender Equality to the Wine World

It’s clear within minutes of our three-way phone chat that Emily Pearce and Jennifer Huether love talking about wine, from the terroir to the nitty-gritty details of winemaking. In a traditionally male-dominated industry, there’s something refreshing about hearing two women at the top of their game speak passionately about the grape. Not only do the Toronto-based entrepreneurs boast an encyclopedic knowledge on the subject, but they’ve also enjoyed massive success with Femmes du Vin — a  non-profit organization that launched less than five years ago.

“The story of Femmes du Vin is really about grassroots growth. It started in 2016 in my backyard in Toronto,” says founding president Pearce. “I got this idea to have a social event that was a safe space for women in the wine industry to come together to have a place to network, discuss successes and analyze challenges.”

What started as a small gathering has since transformed into the massively successful Harvest Seminars where speakers and attendees tune in from around the world to talk wine and culture.

For decades, women sommeliers or wine enthusiasts have been few and far between, with men dominating the conversation and top positions. Now, Pearce and Huether, master sommelier and  director of education at Femmes du Vin, are pushing for more inclusion of women in the wine world.

Related: Ren Navarro on Diversity in the Beer Industry – and How Companies Can Improve

Emily Pearce

Tell us about the genesis and evolution of Femmes du Vin and why it’s needed in the wine industry today.

Emily Pearce: “Eventually, [the backyard event] outgrew me setting up a tent and making homemade sushi in my backyard. We had our first brick and mortar event [in 2019] and it continued to grow out of community demand to what it was [in 2020] — which was an amazing virtual event with speakers and attendees from across the world. It speaks to the hunger in our industry for these safe places in our community for women to connect. While there are still challenges women face — be it wage discrepancies that still exist or issues around discrimination or harassment — I really just wanted to create a place where women could build stronger networks.”

Related: What is Food Insecurity? FoodShare’s Paul Taylor Explains (Plus, What Canadians Can Do About It)

What were your earliest experiences in an industry dominated by men?

Jennifer Huether: “That’s a great question. Personally, I started out in the wine business about 22 years ago. I fell in love with wine, started taking some courses and became a sommelier. I can honestly say to you that, back then, I would look around and I could name maybe two other women sommeliers in Toronto — a massive, metropolitan city. And that certainly felt like the case wherever I went — whether I was flying to England for exams or on wine trips that were led by different countries, we [women] were always a very small minority in the group. At that time it was also a bit surprising for people to come across you, so they would unintentionally start mansplaining wine to you because they didn’t understand that you’d studied it or worked in it for several years.”

Related: Celebrating 10 Female Chefs That We Love, From Anna Olson to Molly Yeh

What shifts have you started to see since starting Femmes du Vin in 2016?

EP: “It’s two steps forward, one step back. I look at the top positions in our area [of Toronto] and we’re seeing a proliferation of women in top positions. But, on the other side, you see a continuation of discouraging things — whether that’s discrimination against women or perhaps harassment or other obstacles that still exist. I’ve worked very hard and I’m grateful for the positions I’ve held in the wine industry, but I’ve been on the other side of the table. I still think there are clear obstacles facing women. Having a family, for a woman in our industry, is tremendously challenging [for example].”

Jennifer Huether

How can Canadian wineries work toward including more women?

JH: “Some confidential conversations I’ve had with [female] winemakers said it was a really, really tough road for them. What they’ve done, sort of like what we’re doing, is create a bit of a community for each other where they’ll get together and chat and support each other.”

Related: Metis Herbalist and Educator Lori Snyder on Urban Foraging and Food Sovereignty

EP: “And what Femmes du Vin is doing is we’re working on a really exciting project with two wineries [The Grange from Prince Edward County and Benjamin Bridge from Nova Scotia] and we’re going to be doing a private label Femmes du Vin wine which is very exciting. We’re working with a local winemaking school to offer internships for women — hopefully BIPOC women — to work with head winemakers for these custom private labels for Femmes du Vin. It will provide them with professional one-on-one experience with head winemakers that they can actually put on their resumes to make them more professionally competitive when it comes to the market… It’s a small thing that might only help a handful of women each year, but we’re really excited to be able to leverage our network and work toward change. A portion of the proceeds from the sales of those wines will also be going into our scholarship fund for women in wine.”

Related: 10 Facts That Will Shock You About Racial Injustice in Canada 

What is your favourite wine?

JH: “Can we give you a wine region or a style? [laughs] For me, we’ve got to go to France and we’ve got to go to Burgundy. Then we have to go with white wine — a Chardonnay. They’re the most intriguing wines in the world.”

EP: “I would have to concur — a beautiful Chardonnay from Burgundy. Anything with the word Montrachet in it. It’s so expressive with its terroir [the natural environment where it’s produced] and it’s versatile with food. It’s something that is a treat — a desert island wine that is irresistible.”

Related: Top Pinot Gris Wines to Sip Right Now

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Feature photo courtesy of Unsplash; second and third photo courtesy of Emily Pearce and Jennifer Huether.

Halifax Donair

The Delicious History of the Halifax Donair

The next time you’re in Halifax, skip the lobster boil and go straight to the pizza shop instead. After all, that’s where you’ll find the city’s official snack: the Halifax donair.

Unless you’re a native Bluenoser, you may never have tasted this popular late-night snack, and experienced the unavoidable drip of garlicky donair sauce down your chin. The sloppy sandwich is a pita filled with spit roasted shaved beef, served with tomatoes and onions, slathered in the signature sauce.

“It’s spicy, eaten normally at midnight,” says Alain Bossé, a top chef from Pictou, Nova Scotia and ambassador of all things culinary in Atlantic Canada. “After a long night out, you line up at a pizza corner in Halifax. It’s a great hangover food!”

Related: 10+ Canadian First Nations Recipes to Make at Home

Halifax Donair

As the story goes, the Halifax donair was first invented in the 1970s by Peter Gamoulakos. Originally from Greece, he started selling Greek gyros (a pita stuffed with grilled lamb and tzatziki) from his restaurant located off the Bedford Highway. But the sandwich just didn’t jive with the East Coast’s “meat and potatoes” palate.

Swapping lamb for beef, the brothers whipped up a sweet “donair sauce” and tried again. This time, however, a feeding frenzy erupted and Halifax’s signature dish was born. The late-night favourite has become so popular that in 2015, Halifax city council voted to make it the city’s official food.

Related: The Sticky-Sweet History of the Butter Tart

“There’s something about this dish that’s unique to Atlantic Canada,” says Chef Alain Bossé. “People will drive miles for a donair!”

Today, almost every pizza place in the province sells the sloppy and sumptuous late-night eat, some even selling more donairs than pies. Every East Coaster has a favourite spot, but The King of Donair and Tony’s Donair have long been local favourites. Both spots have been serving the snack since the 1970s. Recently though, donair-mania has infiltrated swankier eateries.

Garlic Fingers with Donair SauceGet the recipe for Garlic Fingers with Donair Sauce

“Now that Halifax has proclaimed the donair as the food of choice, restaurants and hotels are serving donairs,” says Chef Alain. “Some are serving miniature canapés with donair meat.”

Playful renditions aside, there are traditional techniques to making the beloved sandwich. First, spiced ground beef is moulded into an elongated log that’s roasted on a spit. The donair meat is then shaved, sautéed and stuffed into a pita, along with fresh tomatoes, raw onions, and a special sweet sauce made with sweetened condensed milk, vinegar and garlic powder. As Chef Alain says, it’s adding the donair sauce that makes it.

“The sweet sauce is what makes a difference between a donair and a gyro,” he says. “My favourite? Sam’s Pizza in New Glasgow. They make their own pita, so it’s always fresh and soft.”

Related: You Haven’t Lived Until You’ve Tasted Butter Tart Cinnamon Buns

For decades, the Halifax donair largely remained a hidden treasure, scarcely found on menus outside Nova Scotia. But as more Nova Scotians started settling across the country and with the advent social media, there’s a growing appetite for this late-night nosh outside of the province. Canadian chefs are incorporating this trendy food item onto their menus and even getting creative with the recipe.

Donair PizzaGet the recipe for Donair Pizza

“The donair sauce is being used as an add-on,” says Chef Alain. “A lot of burger places are making burgers with donair sauce. There’s also pepperoni pizza with donair sauce.”

If you’re looking to truly replicate the original recipe, Mr. Donair — once the Gamoulakos brothers’ company — sells a do-it-yourself Halifax Donair kit, complete with pita bread, donair sauce and a pound of donair meat. The kits are sold in grocery stores, frequently used by chefs, and are gaining popularity in every nook and cranny of Canada.

Related: The History of Peameal Bacon — Plus Our Favourite Recipes

“Those kits are really starting to infiltrate the camps in Fort McMurray!” says Chef Alain. “With the kit, sauté the meat in a frying pan, crisping it. Then stuff your pita and just eat away.”

Once the key ingredients are ready to go, get busy adding your own influence to this classic Canadian dish. However, Chef Alain says to stick with some of the core ingredients: “It’s not a donair unless there are onions and tomatoes. And make sure to grill your pita!”

Plate of food on wooden restaurant table with basket of bread and wine glasses.

What It Takes To Become a 1, 2 or 3 Michelin Star Restaurant

First published in 1900 by the Michelin tire company as a guide to help French motorists find lodging on the road, the Michelin Guide is now exclusively devoted to fine dining. Over the decades, the guide has far surpassed its humble origins to become an almost-sacred tome to chefs, foodies, culinary experts and the restaurants who regard the guide as the final word in fine dining.

Worthy restaurants are rated on a system of one to three stars, but the process of attaining Michelin stars remains highly secretive, with specially trained Michelin inspectors paying anonymous visits to restaurants and submitting meticulous reports rating the service, decor and, of course, the cuisine.

Plate of food on wooden restaurant table with basket of bread and wine glasses.

In order to know which restaurants are worthy of review, inspectors will comb through websites, blogs and restaurant reviews in local magazines and newspapers — if a restaurant in a given city is generating buzz and word of mouth praise from customers, it may land on a reviewer’s radar.

Related: 10 Great Canadian Restaurants Run by Women

Michelin Star Ratings

Michelin gives out up to three stars, with only the world’s greatest dining establishments attaining that coveted third star. But exactly what does each star mean? According to the guide, one Michelin star represents a “very good restaurant in its category,” while two stars denotes a restaurant boasting “excellent cooking” that is “worth a detour.” Three stars, however, is the ultimate accolade, afforded only to those restaurants that offer “exceptional cuisine” that is “worth a special journey.”

Understandably, there’s a lot of grey area within those rating descriptions, and the process of receiving stars is meticulous and painstaking, typically taking several years. When a reviewer visits a restaurant for the first time, neither the restaurant’s owner nor chef will have any idea it even happened. If the reviewer loves the place, then another mystery visit will be paid the following year. Assuming the second visit goes as well as the first — preferably better — it’s at this point the reviewer may recommend the restaurant receive its first Michelin star.

Related: Meet the $45 Takeout Meal That Comes in a Jewellery Box

chefs cooking in restaurant and getting food lined up on the bar.

Michelin Star Criteria

Michelin remains secretive about the criteria and evaluation process used to award stars, but certain factors are known to be key, including: the quality of the products; a chef’s mastery of flavour and cooking techniques; the chef’s ability to imbue the cuisine with his or her culinary “personality;” and consistency between visits, not just when it comes to food but also encompassing the overall dining experience.

Earning one Michelin star is typically seen as a gift from the gods, but is not necessarily a golden ticket to receiving the second and third. For that to happen, it will take many more anonymous visits over ensuing years, and the stars must align perfectly. For example, if an otherwise extraordinary restaurant happens to have an off night while an inspector is visiting, that single experience could quash any future hopes of ever getting a star.

How to Earn Stars

Although the process is seemingly random from a restaurant’s perspective, there are in fact several steps that can be taken to increase the likelihood of receiving Michelin stars:

1. Meticulousness

A restaurateur needs to treat every night as if it’s the night of a Michelin inspection, and chefs and staff must be meticulously trained to ensure everyone is working together and on the same page. By ensuring that every diner’s experience on any given night is as exceptional as possible, only then will a restaurant be in the running for a Michelin star.

2. Train Under Michelin-Starred Chefs

For a chef seeking a Michelin star, it can be beneficial to train under a chef who has already earned one or more. By becoming the protégé of a chef who’s already earned the respect of Michelin, an up-and-comer aspiring toward Michelin stardom can more easily get on Michelin’s radar.

3. Discipline

It’s been said that cooking is an endless quest for perfection that can never be achieved. Only those with the desire and discipline to be the best will make the cut to become Michelin’s next culinary superstars.

Seafood plated in blue bowl on wooden table in restaurant.

4. Investment

While it may be tempting to bank a restaurant’s profits, that’s not going to win a Michelin star. The key is to use those profits to further invest in the restaurant to improve the decor, better train staff, source higher-quality ingredients, etc. If a Michelin inspector sees a restaurant, no matter how good, constantly striving to improve instead of simply resting on its laurels, this could make all the difference. It’s not unheard of for a restaurant to spend millions on improvements and then earn the money back (and then some) thanks to the increased revenues that can come from a Michelin star.

5. Mastery

If you were raised in a kitchen in Spain where you learned the secrets of traditional Basque cuisine at your grandmother’s tutelage, why would you open a sushi restaurant in Tokyo? It makes sense for a chef to cook the type of food he or she is most comfortable with. Only by attaining a mastery of a particular cuisine will a chef then be able to push the boundaries and propel it in bold, new directions.

6. Creativity

Being on the cutting edge of new food trends, with a relentless pursuit of excellence combined with a drive to push the envelope, is a great way to attract Michelin’s attention. The Michelin Guide would have a tough time ignoring an innovative chef whose cuisine is being talked about as the “next big thing” in the food world.

7. The Finest Ingredients

As any great chef will confirm, ingredients are key. With this in mind, Michelin-starred chefs have been known to personally source unique, hard-to-find ingredients, forging relationships with farmers, artisan bakers, cheese-makers and the like in order to work with the only the best, most unique ingredients possible. Cutting corners is not the way to a Michelin star.

8. Walk to Canossa

This term refers to King Henry IV humbling himself before the pope and offering penance. It’s also the nickname for the practice (which was apparently quite common up through the 1980s) in which chefs aspiring toward Michelin stardom would journey to Paris in order to meet with the guide’s editors and make a case explaining why their restaurants deserved consideration. Although not as common as it once was, rumour has it this still takes place on occasion.

Photos courtesy of Unsplash

bagged milk in bags sitting on grocery store shelf

Why Do Canadians Drink Bagged Milk?

Oh, Canada! As proud Canucks, we certainly have our share quirky traits and tastes, from profusely apologizing with “soar-ee” to our love of ketchup chips, butter tarts and poutine. But did you know that bagged milk is also a uniquely Canadian invention?

Believe it or not, milk bags have been in Canadian fridges since the 1970s, selling mainly in Ontario, Québec and the Maritimes. Each package contains three un-resealable plastic pouches filled with milk, equaling 4 litres total. Insert a single bag into a pitcher, snip off the corner and start pouring. Then put the pitcher back in the fridge, until you need it next.

It wasn’t always this easy. Until the late 1960s, milk was packaged in heavy, breakable glass bottles, racking up big bills for the dairy industry to transport. Soon, alternatives started arriving on the market, such as cardboard cartons, plastic jugs and eventually, plastic bags.

As the story goes, DuPont, a Canadian food and packaging company, unveiled thin, plastic bags that could be used to store and sell milk in 1967. Gradually, the dairy industry began ditching glass bottles and adopting this newfangled plastic pouch, which was far more practical and cost-efficient. Plus, Canada’s conversion to the metric system in the 1970s made the switch a no-brainer: while plastic jugs and cardboard cartons had to be redesigned and manufactured to be sold in metric units, plastic bags could easily be re-sized.

Related: The Delicious History of Classic Canadian Foods, From Poutine to Hawaiian Pizza

But we’re not the only ones in the world who are rocking the plastic udder. Milk bags can be found in many other countries, such as South Africa, Argentina, Uruguay, Hungary and China. In Israel, there’s a Kankomat: soft, plastic milk bags with a knife built into a plastic container. So when it comes to milk, Canadians may march to the beat of their own drum, but there are many other nations playing alongside in the band.

These days, Canadians are doing some cool things with discarded “milk bladders.” Milkbags Unlimited, a volunteer network across the Greater Toronto Area, recycles milk bags into sleeping mats. Every adult-sized mat is made with approximately 400 milk bags, which are cleaned and cut into strips. Volunteers loop and fit each bag onto a frame, weaving it into the mattress that has a lifespan of approximately 25 years. In addition to the mats, milk bags are also used to stuff pillows and to weave into handbags. The milk bag mats offer a durable and washable alternative to sleeping on cold, damp, and dusty ground, and have particularly helped people living in disaster zones. When resources are scarce, health care professionals have even used these mattresses as substitutes for operating tables. Talk about MacGyver-style upcycling.

Related: The Delicious History of the Halifax Donair

So the next time you snip off the corner of a milk bag, you should feel a twinge of Canadian pride. This may be one of our weird and wonderful national habits, but no one can say that Canucks aren’t resourceful!

Get inspired (and patriotic) in the kitchen with these iconic Canadian foods you can make at home.

Ginger Beef

The Delicious History of Ginger Beef

There’s one iconic Canadian dish that’s a “must try” in Calgary and you won’t find it at the steakhouse. Instead, head straight to Chinatown — the birthplace of sticky-sweet ginger beef. Here, you can savour a plate of crispy and golden battered beef swimming in a sticky, spicy sauce, often served over rice. “It usually has deep-fried beef, ginger, peppers, carrots and onions and is served in a sweet sauce that is a bit like General Tso’s,” says Lenore Newman, food historian and author of Speaking in Cod Tongues: A Canadian Culinary Journey. “I see it as an excellent example of the early mixing of Canadian and Chinese tastes.” Food lovers have likely encountered this crunchy, satisfying dish in restaurants across Canada and abroad, but there’s nothing quite like eating ginger beef in Calgary.

Ginger Beef

Get the recipe for Ginger Beef With Carrots and Rice

“Whenever I go to Chinatown in Calgary, ginger beef is in the back of my mind,” says Ryan O’Flynn, chef at Calgary’s acclaimed The Guild Restaurant and Canadian Culinary Championship winner.  “It’s a staple. When the Chinese restaurants get ready for a busy night, they’ve got the 150 portions of ginger beef ready and probably 30-50 of everything else.”

Chinese food wasn’t always so popular in Cowtown. In the early-  to mid-20th-century, Chinese-owned restaurants struggled to popularize Peking-inspired dishes and instead served comfort fare like burgers, fries and grilled cheese sandwiches. In the 1970s, George Wong, chef at The Silver Inn in Calgary, was looking for ways to boost business and make his menu more appealing to Western patrons. Playing with a recipe from Northern China and inspired by British pub grub, George deep-fried shredded beef and then simmered the crispy strips in a spicy chili sauce. He dubbed the dish “deep-fried shredded beef in chili sauce” and began serving it to patrons.

“It had that fast food flavour,” says Ryan. “It’s kind of ingenious — George Wong was one of the first to adapt and push the boundaries in Calgary.” Turns out, George’s creative cooking instincts were bang on: customers gobbled up the newfangled dish, loving the zingy sauce and the beef’s crunchy texture. “It caught on and became known as ‘ginger beef,'” says Karen Anderson, president of Alberta Food Tours. “Because Canadians mistakenly believed there was ginger in the sauce.”

Today, ginger beef remains a staple on The Silver Inn’s menu and has become such an iconic dish that it was even included in the Royal Alberta Museum’s Chop Suey on the Prairies exhibition. Several decades later, there’s a growing appetite for this dish across Canada, with more chefs incorporating ginger beef onto their menus.

Related: Tasty Chinese Takeout Dishes You Can Master at Home

“To think that a dish from Calgary built in the 1970s can now be found in Victoria to Toronto to Halifax is pretty fantastic,” says Ryan. “It gained way for other Chinese restaurants to do a new style of Asian food.”

The original recipe has evolved over the years, to reflect changing tastes and ingredients. Some renditions include ginger and garlic, and it’s more common now to add sauteed onions, peppers and carrots into the mix before serving. Regardless of the fixings, the outcome is always tasty. “The result is tender morsels of beef in a crispy coating with sweet hot sauce and brightly coloured vegetables,” says Karen. “When it’s done right, it’s out of this world delicious.”

Some daring chefs are even playing around with this Canuck favourite, creating everything from ginger beef poutine to a sesame ginger beef burrito. The dish has even fuelled a “Ginger Beef Throw Down,” a one-time cooking competition between food trucks that was hosted by the Royal Alberta Museum.

Although you can make your own at home or try it at various restaurants across the country, Ryan says:  “You must go to The Silver Inn… You can’t have it anywhere else! Have it there first, so you know what it is, and then go and check out other renditions.”

Published January 5, 2017, Updated January 1, 2018

Pecan-Butter-Tarts

The Sticky-Sweet History of the Butter Tart

How do you like your butter tart — firm or runny? With raisins or bacon bits? Made with butter or shortening? There are a gazillion and one ways to make (and eat!) a butter tart, but only one truly great place to enjoy them: in Canada, the birthplace of this sweet, satisfying treat. “The butter tart is 100 per cent Canadian,” says Anna Olson. “It’s an individual tart, as opposed to a full-sized pie.”

In case you’ve been in hibernation, a butter tart is a flaky, round pastry shell filled with a gooey buttery filling that’s semi-solid, with a crunchy top. Taste testing is almost a patriotic duty, offering a delicious way to sink your teeth into Canadian history.

whiskey butter tarts

Get the recipe for Pecan Whisky Butter Tarts

Like many legendary dishes, the butter tart’s origins are fuzzy. It’s believed that filles à marier (“marriageable girls”) created a crude version in the 1600s. These newly arrived Québécois brides filled their French tarts with New World ingredients: maple sugar, freshly churned butter and dried fruit such as raisins.

“The idea of mixing a syrup with eggs and dried fruit to form a dessert is an old one — and was likely born out of necessity to make do with ingredients on hand,” says Dr. Lenore Newman, food security and environment director at the University of the Fraser Valley.

Others believe the butter tart has roots in pecan pie, brought to Canada by Americans or possibly is related to Québec’s sugar pie or even Scottish border tarts. And some experts credit pioneer cooks for creating the beloved version known today, tracing the earliest printed recipes back to the 1900s. Ultimately, no one knows for sure, but the tart’s origins are likely a combination of all of the above. “It just slowly evolved and appeared,” says Anna. “It looks like a lot of other tarts: like the French [Canadian] tarte au sucre or a treacle tart [a traditional British dessert].”

Four hundred years later, the butter tart has become the quintessential Canadian sweet treat. It was all the rage in the 1920s and 1930s, and it’s one of the few authentically Canadian recipes that exists on paper.

“The butter tart’s success in Canada is likely linked to our general love of sweet desserts,” says Dr. Newman. “However I do feel that the butter tart is being influenced ever so slightly by Canada’s cuisine with its dedication to local foods. British and French settlers loved sugar, but butter tarts also fit a model of early Canadian foods that needed to pack a really high calorie load into each bite. We worked outside in the cold and needed to eat a lot more than we do now.”

Related: Butter Tart Spots to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth

Today, the craze continues. There are even butter tart trails that dessert lovers can follow, with Ontario’s Kawarthas Northumberland Region and Wellington County offering maps and self-guided itineraries to explore local bakeries and cafes. What’s even more incredible is the butter tart has become an international superstar.

“No matter where I am travelling, I’m always asked to demonstrate a butter tart,” says Anna. “I have demonstrated butter tarts in Argentina, Moscow, Dubai, all over Southeast Asia. I just hosted a chef from the Philippines and the one thing on his checklist was trying a butter tart. Because the world knows the butter tart as ubiquitously Canadian.”

What makes an “authentic” Canadian butter tart? It’s a hotly debated topic within the baking community, especially when it comes to three aspects: should the tart’s filling be runny or firm? Should it contain raisins? And how far can you stray from the original recipe? According to Anna, there’s no clear answers: it really depends on the baker and the proof is, well, in the pastry.

“The butter tart has as many recipes as there are people who make them,” says Anna. “But whether it’s a filling made with maple syrup or corn syrup is very particular to the [baker]. Some swear by lard pastry, others by butter. To call it a butter tart, you can’t change the shape or syrupy filling.”

Nonetheless, bakers and pastry chefs are making endless and ever-evolving variations on this favourite Canuck dessert. Some stuff the flaky pastry cup with toasted pecans instead of raisins or even chocolate or bacon fillings.

The bacon butter tart has become a staple — it’s that salty crunch in the bottom,” says Anna. “I’m seeing more with chocolate melted into the syrupy filling. You could even put in marshmallows and chocolate chips for an s’mores butter tart!”

In recent years, some maverick chefs and bakers are even masterminding butter tart-flavoured foods, such as ice creams, cookies, cobblers and Butter Tart Cheesecake.

Butter Tart Cheesecake

“While you may not change the butter tart, you can integrate those flavours and textures elsewhere,” says Anna. “For my new cookbook, I want to do a butter tart swirl cheesecake that has that the same pastry crunch, butteriness and drifty caramel swirl.”

It’s worth taking a tantalizing tart trip across Canada to try all the variations and recipes, with Anna naming Niagara’s 13th Street Winery and The Pie Plate Bakery & Café as being among the best. If you’re feeling adventurous at home, try mastering Anna’s Pecan Butter Tarts. For holiday entertaining, you could even build a butter tart buffet that will entice guests to the table.

Pecan-Butter-Tarts

Despite her playful renditions, there’s one thing that Anna is old-fashioned about when it comes to making a classic Canadian butter tart. “Can you make a low fat butter tart? No way!” she says. “But you could make them miniature sized.”

Published November 14, 2016, Updated January 1, 2018

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