A recent CBC survey rated maple syrup as Canada’s most iconic food, with poutine, Nanaimo bars, smoked salmon, and butter tarts not far behind. While I agree maple syrup should hold that title, I find it amusing we, as Canadians, would create and vote in such a survey to begin with.
Canada is a country created from many different cultures, a mosaic being a popular metaphor to describe it. This is in contrast to the melting pot of the United States, where new immigrants are encouraged to adopt an American identity. It’s not hard to name typical American foods — apple pie and burgers come to mind. Unlike Americans, Canadians are more unsure of a national identity, likely because multiculturalism is so embraced here.
When I lived in Argentina, people there always asked me about Canadian comidas tipicas — typical foods. The only thing I could think of was maple syrup, which I had brought with me. I served it to my friends with pancakes.
I don’t like pancakes very much, but I made more pancakes in Argentina than I ever had in my life. The pancakes themselves were not foreign to Argentineans, as they make a thinner, bigger version of them, similar to crepes. The maple syrup, on the other hand, was treated with much suspicion.
After serving my friends I would pour the syrup generously over my pancakes. The people with me would pick up the bottle and examine it. Many thought it was honey, but I explained that it came from trees, not bees. I pointed out the maple leaf picture on the bottle. They would finally pour a little syrup on their food, and taste it carefully.
Everyone that tried it liked it. They were very enthusiastic about the “honey from trees with its own distinct taste.” I liked being able to share one of the few uniquely Canadian things.
Unlike Canadians, Argentineans have no problem identifying their typical foods. The most important one, as everyone I asked told me, was asado. This is like a barbecue, but on a much bigger scale. Almost every home has an asado in their backyard, and it’s often a very social event. Friends and neighbours are invited for dinner, which usually takes a few hours. Argentinean beef is considered to be among the best in the world, and in Buenos Aires some of the steakhouses serve the meat with nothing more than a spoon to cut it.
Another typical food is mate. This is like a tea, made with hot water and (for me) lots of sugar, as it’s very bitter. Like asado, this is also present in social situations. The drink is prepared in a special cup, usually made from leather or cow horn, and passed around.
The only consistent thing I’ve found about food, in Canada and in Argentina, is that it brings people together. Families talk over dinner, and friends meet over coffee. So get some flour, sugar, eggs, and milk, cook up some pancakes, and invite a friend over. Don’t forget the maple syrup.