Sunday, August 13, 2006


Canada is a lot like America, which is why Canadians get anxious about their national identity, and also why Americans have such a vague idea of what Canada is aside from a vast expanse of cold, empty space between Minnesota and the North Pole. I like to think of Canada as the accumulation of a thousand little differences. Different signage, currency, lingo, holidays, patterns of speech, etc. All of these things give me a warm, familiar feeling when I'm back there. And while Canadian cuisine doesn't bring to mind the same kind of fully formed idea as French or Italian or even American cuisine, there are many foodstuffs that are distinctly Canadian. One is the Nanaimo bar, which you can find in the States but which is always better when eaten in Canada. (It is named for the city in British Columbia where it might have originated in the 1930s, or not.)

Nanaimo Bar

This one was from Thyme & Again, a cafe in Ottawa. The essence of the Nanaimo bar is the contrast in textures between the chewy coconut-chocolate cake layer, the smooth and soft vanilla cream layer, and the top chocolate layer (which ideally would be hard and crisp). Nanaimo bars are best cold and they really should be cut in rectangles, but this specemin was a square and it didn't bother me much.

Another Canadian food is the bagel. This might sound off, but it's true. Many Canadian bagels are different from American ones. There are the Montreal bagels, which are their own special topic for another day. And there are Toronto bagels, like the ones below (a regular bagel and an enormous twister) from Haymishe Bagel Bakery on Bathurst Street near Lawrence. Unlike New York bagels, which are dense and heavy (and wonderful), Haymishe's bagels (and also those of Greyfe's, also in Toronto) have a light-textured crumb. Haymishe calles these bagels fluffy, which is apt. (The twisters use a heavier dough.) And yet the crust, as you can see, is dark and very chewy. The essence of bagelness is a shiny, chewy crust, and Toronto bagels are as good as any in this department.* And the contrast between the fluffy interior and the chewy exterior makes for happy eating. Contrast seems to have become the theme of this post.

Bagel, Twister

While staying with my parents in Toronto, the little man had his first taste of Froot Loops. Also his second, third, fourth, fifth... I loathe the smell of these things and the colors are just preposterous. But he couldn't get enough. When asking for these, he said, "I want toucan cereal." All week long he ate little aside from toucan cereal and bagels. I guess it's good to be two.

Froot Loops

Today, home and rested, we made our way to the Wisconsin State Fair.

Black and White Fair

Last time we were at the fair we decided to wait and have our cream puffs, the signature Dairy State fair food, on our way out. But by then we had filled up on sausages and frozen bananas and the like, and there was no way we were going to eat any more. E was pregnant, the day was scorching hot, and the whole fairground smelled of either livestock or stale frying oil. No cream puffs for us. Indeed we swore we would never return to the fair. But parenthood changes everything, so we were there at 9:30 am, before the crowds had amassed, and went straight for the cream puff pavilion.

Cream Puffs

One person can finish a cream puff in about two minutes; they're mostly air. But what a mess. I picked it up to eat it like a burger and the cream went everywhere. The best way to attack one of these, I decided when I was done, is to take it apart like an Oreo and eat it in two pieces.

For lunch we ate corn dogs. The little man took one bite and put his aside, but I devoured mine. I watched as the corn dog kid dipped the wieners impaled on sticks in the corn batter and then dropped them in the fryer. It's pretty exciting to bear witness to that kind of magic. After careful consideration, E and I determined that neither ketchup nor mustard is preferable on a corn dog. They're great all by themselves.

Corn Dog Innards

The high point of the day was surely the pig race at Hogway Speedway. There must have been five hundred people in the packed stands to watch the little swine scurry around the track. We sense that our young fairgoer will be talking about that race from now till next year's fair.

Hogway Speedway

*Why are bagels are so good? Because of their shape, which maximizes their surface-to-mass ratio and makes them fun and easy to eat (easy to break pieces off/easy to put in your mouth). And because they have a unique shiny, chewy crust (the result of boiling them before they go in the oven), which helps them exploit the benefit of their high surface-to-mass ratio. That they are often dense and heavy also makes them good, but this quality is not part of their essential bagelness.

Eat Canada:

Thyme & Again
1255 Wellington Street West
Ottawa, Ontario
(613) 722-6277

Haymishe Bagel Shop
3031 Bathurst Street
Toronto, Ontario
(416) 781-4212


Blogger kspring said...

I submitted the phrase "Nanaimo bar" a few months ago during a game of Scattergories, the category being sandwiches, but my contestants -- Americans, all, and one of them my loving partner -- voted to reject it. Having viewed the picture on your blog, my partner refuses to budge. She insists that a sandwich must contain bread or a bread-like substance, like that which constitutes ice cream sandwiches. But I think that any layered food which fits so easily into one's hand can be a sandwich. (Thus Nanaimo bars are sandwiches, but tri-colored jello molds are not.) And I thought my answer should have been accepted on merit of creativity.

9:46 PM  
Blogger PG said...

I think Nanaimo bars are more of a "square" as opposed to a sandwich. I often have them cut in square or rectangular shapes.

Great post Haverchuk! Canadians also have ice tea with sugar in it - it's sweet..not sure cold tea bags in water.

1:00 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

I sometimes drive the eight hours to the border to get my poutine fix. The border guards don't always get it, though.

8:09 AM  
Blogger mzn said...

Nanaimo bars as sandwiches. I'm still kind of saying "huh?" about this one. I'm all for creativity, but one thing that makes me want to say no is that the two bread-like parts of the Nanaimo bar are not the same substance. Imagine a sandwich made of half a kaiser roll on bottom and a thin slice of brioche on top. Does it make sense? Another thing is that when I eat a Nanaimo bar I hold it gingerly by the edges so that my fingers don't get too messy. But when I eat a sandwich, the point of the bread is that it facilitates firm grasping.

Re sugary iced tea: this is the first I have heard of it. Is the suggestion here that Americans prefer unsweetened iced tea? Or that Canadians prefer to sweeten iced tea when it's cold?

Nick, you must be a brave soul.

10:33 PM  
Blogger Jen said...

I've never had a Nanaimo bar, but I am sooo addicted to iced tea. The powdered version from the can that you add water to. Yuck to tea bags, I don't know anybody that drinks cold tea. Other Canadian goodies include; Persians (exclusive to Thunder Bay), beaver tails and elephant ears. Yum.

4:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will always love Canada for giving us Robertson Davies, surely one of the world's best, and most underappreciated, authors.

8:05 PM  
Blogger mzn said...

Persians? Have you blogged about them? Sounds like an odd goodie to come from Thunder Bay. I don't know if you consider me someone you "know," but I like cold tea. Must be because I'm a dual citizen.

I like Robertson Davies too, or at least I did back in the day. The one I read was Fifth Business.

10:24 PM  
Blogger kspring said...

Fine about the sandwiches. I concede defeat.

Nick and other poutine lovers, check this out:

10:25 PM  
Blogger mzn said...

That poutini blog is so out there, thanks for the link.

8:19 PM  
Blogger Jen said...

Mmm good plan, next time I'm out I'll buy some Persians and blog about them.

10:56 AM  
Blogger Jen said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:44 PM  
Blogger Jen said...

Okay I did it. Go check out my Persian post.

1:45 PM  

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