Throughout the country, innovative chefs and restaurateurs are serving cuisine influenced by cultures from around the world. From Halifax to Vancouver, here are some of the best-loved places to sample global dishes made with distinctively Canadian twists.
1. Park, Montreal
Born in Argentina to South Korean parents, specializing in Japanese cooking and having lived in Montreal for decades, chef Antonio Park is heralded for his unique sushi creations. His masterfully multicultural dishes include nigiri with seared black angus tenderloin, brushed with maple syrup, and dressed with kimchi and chimichurri.
Chef’s pick: Black Angus Nigiri
“[My menu] represents my culture and the places that I’ve been and puts together the flavours that I grew up with. This dish represents me.” —Chef Antonio Park
2. Fairouz, Ottawa
Keen to show Canadians that Middle Eastern cuisine is about much more than shawarma, Fairouz marries local ingredients with old-world flavours and techniques. Dishes include salmon pastourma (sliced cured fish) which incorporates B.C. salmon in place of traditional dry-aged beef, and a mezze menu that lets diners sample savoury dips, olives and other small bites.
Chef’s pick: Salmon pastourma
“West Coast salmon is unparalleled—the [seafood flavour] comes through in this dish in a subtle way that works with the çemen, which is a pepper paste.” —Chef Walid El-Tawel
3. Buca Yorkville, Toronto
Whereas chef Rob Gentile’s original Buca Toronto location focuses on meat-heavy central Italy, Buca Yorkville channels the seafood of the Italian coast. Gentile Canadianizes the Italian tradition of curing fish by focusing on local sustainable seafood, best exemplified in Buca’s salumi di mare menu featuring the much celebrated B.C.-sourced octopus salami.
Chef’s pick: Octopus salami
“We try to include many different types of sustainably sourced seasonal Canadian seafood, from herring roe sacks, to octopus, eel, tuna, sturgeon and lobster. Whatever is available, we incorporate into our salumi di mare menu.” —Chef Rob Gentile
4. Feast Café Bistro, Winnipeg
A community-minded café, Feast makes the most of locally grown indigenous ingredients and culinary traditions. Owner Christa Bruneau Guenther considers herself a home cook and aims to bring people together with accessible and affordable meals—riffs on pizzas, burgers and tacos—that deliciously highlight indigenous culture.
Chef’s pick: Butternut squash bannock pizza
“The bannock pizza highlights bannock crust, squash, pine nuts and a maple chipotle drizzle. There are four traditional indigenous ingredients on one plate.” —Owner and cook Christa Bruneau Guenther
5. Highwayman, Halifax
With a modern interior design and a bustling bar serving killer cocktails and curated wines, this Spanish restaurant is all about the shared plates—both for dinner guests and the late-night crowd searching for high-end bar snacks. Highwayman’s pintxos (small bites fastened to pieces of bread with a toothpick) make the best of East Coast seafood, including house-cured Atlantic smelt.
Chef’s pick: Smelt pintxo
“We use smelts from New Brunswick or Nova Scotia. Once cured with sherry vinegar and salt and packed in olive oil, they are a great substitute for boquerones [Spanish anchovies].” —Chef Dan Vorstermans
6. Vij’s Restaurant, Vancouver
Possibly the most-celebrated Indian restaurant in North America, Vij’s skips the British-style curries in favour of original recipes created by co-owner and head chef Meeru Dhalwala. Vij’s creamy fenugreek lamb popsicles get a lot of glory, but Dhalwala’s unorthodox pork tenderloin curry is one of the menu’s unsung highlights.
Chef’s pick: Pork tenderloin in a tangy cayenne and ginger curry
“I make a spicy sweet millet pilaf with Saskatchewan grains, and over it is a pork curry made from the hock [the pig knuckle] and two ingredients that North Americans love: whipping cream and garlic. It’s about as local as it gets.” —Chef/Co-owner Meeru Dhalwala
7. Foreign Concept, Calgary
Chef Duncan Ly’s stylish Pan-Asian restaurant incorporates flavours and techniques from several Asian cuisines to create a true sense of fusion. Charcuterie isn’t typically found at Asian restaurants, but Ly’s vision for Foreign Concept includes house-made cured meats like duck prosciutto, soy and garlic beef jerky, and five-spice bacon for a unique cultural mash-up.
Chef’s pick: Asian charcuterie
“I’ve always been a fan of charcuterie on my menus. The challenge was to do it in a new way that fit the concept of alternative Asian dining—in addition to using the Asian spices in the meats, we’re playing with the accompaniments, including pickled vegetables and steamed buns.” —Chef-owner Duncan Ly
8. Rostizado, Edmonton
A modern Mexican roast house owned by the team behind Edmonton’s popular Tres Carnales taqueria, Rostizado serves family-style dishes showcasing the flavours of Latin America, Europe and the Middle East. Big chunks of roast meat are the order of the day, like the traditional Arrachera skirt steak with smoked potatoes, chimichurri, refried pinto beans and yucca chips.
Chef’s pick: Arrachera skirt steak
“For this menu I went more Mexican than a Canadian-Mex fusion, but steak and potatoes is very Edmontonian. The beans that accompany this dish are a product of Canada and the chimichurri garnish [gives it a] Latin flavour.” —Chef Edgar Gutierrez
9. House Piccolo, Salt Spring Island, B.C.
Originally from Finland, chef Piccolo Lyytikainen runs this charming restaurant in a small historical former home in the town of Ganges on Salt Spring Island. Specializing in European-style fine dining, Lyytikainen’s Scandinavian-inspired dishes make the most of B.C.-sourced ingredients, including local, seasonal venison jazzed up with traditional juniper and lingonberry preserves.
Chef’s pick: Venison grand veneur
“I take the venison a bit further [than typical Canadian versions] by adding a Scandinavian twist with some aromatic junipers and a splash of gin and lingonberry preserves, rather than cranberry, for that hint of tartness and sweetness.” —Chef Piccolo Lyytikainen
10. Odd Couple, Saskatoon
Owned by the Yuen family, who emigrated from Hong Kong in the 1990s, Odd Couple loves taking familiar Canadian dishes and giving them an Asian spin. The kitchen has fun with the menu, serving up dishes like the sausage, eggs and potstickers Saturday brunch, which is a cheeky take on a Ukrainian-Canadian classic.
Chef’s pick: Asian sausages, eggs and potstickers
“This dish is a tribute to sausages and perogies, which is so Canadian, especially in terms of Saskatchewan food. We make potstickers using sweet potatoes, cilantro and Thai chili, [our take on] a traditional potato perogy.” —Owner Andy Yuen
Five Canadian Spots to Experience International Cuisines
For Asian fare: You’ll find Cantonese, Japanese, Taiwanese, Shanghainese, Korean and more along “Food Street” (Alexandra Road) in Richmond, B.C.
For Portuguese fare: There’s often a lineup for piri piri roast chicken at Rôtisserie Romados in Montreal’s Little Portugal neighbourhood.
For Greek fare: Toronto’s Greektown on Danforth Avenue bursts with Mediterranean flavours. From souvlaki to tzatziki, you’ll find it all here.
For Lebanese fare: Central Ottawa’s downtown core and ByWard Market neighbourhood are packed with shawarma joints serving grilled meat wraps.
For Indian fare: There are a number of spicy options to choose from along Regina’s Victoria Avenue between Winnipeg and Park streets.
[This story appears in the July 2017 issue of WestJet Magazine]