Thanksgiving traditions across Canada

By: Sukaina Jamil

Although Thanksgiving enjoys a celebrated history  in Canada spanning hundreds of years, what’s often lost is how this festive holiday is observed from coast to coast. It’s an official statutory holiday in every province and territory, but it may come as a surprise that in four provinces, namely, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, Thanksgiving does not hold that statutory holiday status. What’s more, not every region chooses to serve the seemingly requisite turkey and mashed potatoes as the main dish.

Now that the long weekend has come to an end, let’s talk about the different spreads on tables across Canada, and try not to salivate as we go.

Let’s be real, the year-long hype that comes with Thanksgiving season is largely due to its staple fare: turkey, roasted season vegetables, some variant of potatoes and of course, pumpkin spice and everything nice.

Although you might assume that these dishes are executed in the same way across the country, most Thanksgiving dinner spreads contain some features that are unique to their region.

Residents of Prince Edward Island often spruce up their Thanksgiving starches with some lobster mashed potatoes, infusing two of the province’s most beloved ingredients. Nova Scotians opt to not mash their potatoes, but rather throw them in a stew with a bunch of other vegetables to create Nova Scotian Hodge Podge (most intriguing name ever - a must try).  

Taking a sweeter turn, pumpkin pie has become the lifeblood  of the Thanksgiving season. After all, it is fall, and what feature speaks more to our country’s love of the harvest season than the delectably saccharine pumpkin? However, no Thanksgiving spread is complete with just one dessert, which is where each province’s character emerges. Ontarians delve into decadent butter tarts, while Nanaimo bars are spruced up and served by the dozens in British Columbia. Ever heard of Saskatoon Berry Pie? It competes fiercely with its pumpkin counterpart on dessert tables across Saskatchewan.

You didn’t think we’d forget about the bread, did you? While American Thanksgiving feasts are traditionally served with cornbread, Canadians in Manitoba and Yukon combat with their bannock and sourdough bread, providing a variety tastes and textures for your palette.

Bannock can be served in many different forms, and is a traditional Métis food. Thanksgiving traditions in Canada trace back to long before European settlers came to the land to when Indigenous people would hold feasts in celebration of the fall harvest. Manitobans still include traditional Aboriginal foods in their Thanksgiving meals as a way to honour this piece of history.  

From stews and starches to pies of all kinds, no two tables in Canada are likely to look the same on Thanksgiving.

If you’re getting the urge to travel across the country and divulge in some Thanksgiving leftovers from different provinces and territories, we don’t blame you. In fact, let us know if you need some eating buddies!

Hip Hip Halal! Three halal burger joints taking Toronto by storm

By: Sukaina Jamil

The Burgernator

Photo courtesy of The Burgernator

Photo courtesy of The Burgernator

Perhaps the most well-known halal burger joint in Toronto, The Burgernator is located in Kensington Market on Augusta Avenue. Although the restaurant opened back in 2013, they recently revamped their menu in early March of this year. They introduced newer, bolder flavour combinations that emphasize their identity as a one-of-a-kind stop for adventurous halal burgers.

The Burgernator has broken down its menu into four different sections: B.M.D. Burgers of Mass Destruction, Classic Arsenal, Vegetarian and Sides. The Classic Arsenal section consists of four burgers with seemingly military style names such as the Sergeant Burger, which consists of a beef patty, burgernator sauce, lettuce, tomato and pickles, falling just under $6.

Although these options are easier on your wallet, it’s not a true Burgernator party until you take a visit to the B.M.D. section of the menu. Selections range from The Bazooka Junior: beef patty, fried egg, sautéed hot peppers, cheese and spicy chipotle aioli, to the Drop Down and Give Me Spicy: double beef patty, chipotle barbecue sauce, cheese, onion rings and sautéed jalapeños. However, if you’re like me and are scared of the lasting effects of red meat (hello pimples, yes I’m talking to you), then never fear, The Resistance is here! A burger stuffed with grilled cajun chicken, cheese, hot pepper salsa and chipotle aioli all ready to hop into my tummy.

Photo courtesy of Dine Halal

Photo courtesy of Dine Halal

The Burgernator caters to vegetarian diets as well, which is hard to believe after reading the contents of their self-named burger - I’m talking three beef patties with caramelized onions and sautéed mushrooms tucked in between two grilled cheese sandwiches. If these contents initiate your gag reflexes, for either diet or health reasons, take a trip to the Battlefields, a burger with a crusted portobello mushroom stuffed with cheese and fresh herbs, topped with veggies, roasted garlic and rosemary aioli.

Cool down with some chocolate or salted caramel milkshakes, or take your meal to the next step by ordering Burgernator Fries: a bed of fries topped with beef chilli, cheese, chives and sour cream. Whatever you choose, it’s obvious that this restaurant isn’t joking in their mission statement when they say “The burger is our weapon. Toronto, our battlefield.”

Jackson’s Burger

Photo courtesy of Jackson Burger

Photo courtesy of Jackson Burger

Located just steps away from Ryerson University, Jackson’s Burger has been serving Torontonians with their unique menu of halal burgers since January 2014. This burger joint is perhaps the least well known of all the restaurants on this list, however what they may lack in popularity, they make up for in taste and quality. Their beef is hormone and antibiotic free, with the patties made fresh at the time of order. The quality is evident in the flavour, when you bite into a burger you can clearly tell has no old or previously frozen ingredients.

The menu at Jackson’s Burger differs from that of other restaurants, as they have an “Internationals” section, consisting of burgers that highlight special ingredients from different countries around the world. The “Effin’ Jerk” burger consists of jerk chicken covered in jerk mayo, with a pineapple salsa garnish. “Canada Eh!” is a classic Canadian burger stuffed with grass-fed beef, bacon, egg and fried cheese. The seemingly weirdest burger on the menu? “Damn Skippy” has a beef patty that’s garnished with peanut butter and strawberry jam.

For those looking for more traditional burgers, the restaurant does have a classics menu that lists anything from a regular cheeseburger to a fish and chips burger, crispy chicken or a vegetarian patty. These can be topped with your choice of free sauces and toppings, or, if you’re willing to pay a little extra, a range of premium toppings including caramelized onions and sautéed mushrooms is available for you. These are all conveniently laid out on a screen at the cash register for customers to browse through as they order.

My favourite thing about Jackson’s Burger? Their loaded fries. The “Effin’ Poutine” comes with fries, jerk chicken, cheese, gravy and jerk mayo. It might sound like a weird combination, but after one bite my mind seemed to leave my body and I scarfed the rest down before I could even tell what was happening. Suffice to say, it was not my best day (even though it felt like it was). This section of the menu also offers the “Shroom Daddy,” which is just regular poutine topped with sautéed mushrooms and onions, along with Chipotle and Sriracha Poutines.

And, like any good burger joint, they offer delicious cold milkshakes to cool you down in order to maybe forget the hot, greasy food you just stuffed down your gullet.


Ozzy’s Burgers

The youngest burger place on this list is quickly rising up through the ranks of Toronto’s burger game as its handmade patties and sauces win the hearts of almost anyone who walks in the door. Ozzy’s Burgers is owned by Ozgur Sekar, who formerly worked at another halal burger joint in Kensington Market, Top Gun Steaks and Burgers. Sekar opened Ozzy’s and made it his mission to develop a menu filled with unique burgers with risky flavour combinations, each dripping with cheeses and sauces that make your mouth water just by looking at them.

Although the restaurant does not have a website yet, their marketing is mainly done through their social media platforms that showcase how they make their burger patties fresh in-house everyday. The beef is ground daily and formed into 6 ounce patties as needed. Their menu consists of both built-up burgers and large steak sandwiches, such as the Son of a Bun, a beef patty topped with chicken strips, caramelized onions, jalapeno, cheese and garlic and chipotle sauces. The Ozzy-licious Sandwich bursts apart at its seams, stuffed with Canadian ribeye steak slices, onions, mushrooms, hot peppers, cheeses and of course, is then drowned with sauce.

Perhaps the best thing about Ozzy’s, aside from how each of their burgers seemingly fall apart due to how loaded they are, is that they employ members of both the refugee and LGBTQ+ communities.

This piece was edited by Julia Nowicki

Here's How to Order Vegan at Your Fave Fast Food Restaurants

By: Natalie Michie

Many vegans might agree that fast food restaurants aren’t their first choice when it comes to getting a proper meal. However, sometimes these pit stops are unavoidable. My shift to a vegan lifestyle has certainly not stepped in the way of my love for junk food, so I can relate first-hand to having moments when you just want to go to your favourite drive-thru, burger joint or sandwich shop and pig out.

If you’re vegan and are at a loss at the fast food counter (because let’s face it - it’s a stereotype that all vegans are healthy), go ahead and try out some, or all, of the items listed below!

Taco Bell

The Crunchwrap Supreme made vegan (PopSugar)

The Crunchwrap Supreme made vegan (PopSugar)

Taco Bell has a wide range of vegan options. If you’re looking for a quick bite, they do a great job of accommodating plant-based diets. Although there aren’t many meals on the Taco Bell menu that are originally made vegan, it is very easy to “veganize” most items.

For any items with beef or chicken, you can easily swap out the meat for hardy black or refried beans. Plus, for any meal that has cheese or a dairy-based sauce, you can ask for it to be made “fresco-style,” and Taco Bell will replace the dairy with guacamole or pico de gallo.  Add to this any of their salsas and their vegan seasoned rice, and you’re good to go. This method will allow you to stay ethical without feeling like you are losing out on the substance of the meal.

Along with swapping out animal products for vegan substitutes, Taco Bell also has some delicious items that are accidentally vegan, such as the chips, fries and cinnamon twists! The Mexican restaurant chain also added a “How to eat vegan at Taco Bell” section to their website, so props to you for thinking of us, Taco Bell.

Starbucks

Starbucks Green Tea Soy Frappuccino (Urban Tastebud)

Starbucks Green Tea Soy Frappuccino (Urban Tastebud)

As a frequent consumer of overpriced specialty coffee drinks, the vegan options offered at Starbucks are of great importance to me. Not only do they offer dairy-free milk alternatives like soy, almond and coconut, as well as vegan syrups like vanilla, caramel, hazelnut and mocha,, but if you’re looking to grab a snack or even a quick meal, they’ve got you covered.

Most bagels at Starbucks are vegan, like multigrain, plain and cinnamon raisin. My all-time favourite snack to get when I’m on the go is a multigrain bagel with a packet of the organic jalapeno avocado spread. It’s delicious!

If you’re looking for a hot breakfast to go with your coffee, you can also opt for their whole grain oatmeal with any of the topping choices. One of my favourite treats from the coffee company are Justin’s Peanut Butter Cups. Don’t let the “contains milk” message on the back of the package steer you away - the company added that to their packaging a few years ago because they process their chocolate in a facility that processes products with dairy as well. Although the peanut butter cups are dairy-free, the company included this as a precautionary message to help customers who are severely allergic to dairy.

In August 2017, Starbucks came out with a more substantial meal option for vegans, which was a welcome change. The baby greens and brown rice protein bowl has 15 grams of protein, and I can assure you that it will fill you up.

Tim Hortons

Tim Horton's Harvest Vegetable Soup (Tim Hortons) 

Tim Horton's Harvest Vegetable Soup (Tim Hortons) 

Being that Tim Hortons is the staple fast food restaurant in Canada, they’ve got to have some vegan options, right? Fortunately, the renowned doughnut chain has a vast selection of vegan-friendly items! Although they have not yet hopped on the dairy-free milk bandwagon for their coffee and teas, they do have a pretty good selection of vegan food options if you’re looking for something to eat with your (black) drink.

Similar to Starbucks, Timmies offers some helpful breakfast options for those who follow a plant-based diet. Their menu offers oatmeal with two different flavours to pick from, maple or mixed berry. Plus, most of their bagels are vegan, including plain, blueberry, everything, cinnamon raisin, sesame seed, poppy seed, and pretzel. For spreads, you can opt for jam or peanut butter. I recommend trying the cinnamon raisin bagel with peanut butter, it’s amazing!

If you want to get some in your five a day, the harvest vegetable soup is a warm, hearty option that is perfect for a cold Canadian winter day.day. They also have a vegan garden salad, which you can eat on its own or on a roll for a makeshift sandwich. Just make sure you steer clear of the specialty bagels, 12 grain bagel and any croissants, as they have animal products in them, according to the company’s Ingredient Information guide.

If you’re a carb addict like me, you’ll be pleased to know that both the savoury potato wedges and the hash browns made at Tims are vegan-friendly. This is ideal when paired with a salad or coffee, or even juston their own. And for those who argue that a meal can’t solely consist of potatoes, to that I say, who hurt you?

Subway

Subway's Veggie Delite (Subway) 

Subway's Veggie Delite (Subway) 

Subway is definitely my favourite fast-food restaurant if I’m looking for a satisfying quick meal. With the bread options ranging from hearty Italian bread to wraps and ciabatta, stopping at Subway for a veggie sub is always a good option when you’re on the go.

Go ahead and pile on any of the vegetable toppings, and then top it with your choice of sauces. Options include yellow mustard, oil, vinegar, sweet onion sauce, Italian dressing and Buffalo sauce. You want to avoid any dairy-based sauces, so just keep an eye out for sauces that look creamy. Don’t be afraid to clarify with employees which sauces have dairy and which don’t. You also want to avoid sauces that have animal products other than dairy, such as the honey mustard sauce.

My favourite is a veggie sub on toasted Italian bread with sub sauce and salt and pepper, simple but so tasty!. If you’re a first-time Subway visitor and you don’t know what veggies you want, you can make it easy by ordering the Veggie Delite, which is just an assortment of vegetables with your choice of sauce.

Specific options vary per location, so feel free to visit your favourite fast food restaurant and ask what options they have that suit your diet. Most places have vegan bread and non-dairy spreads that you can order if you’re in a pinch. No matter how meat-based a restaurant seems, there is almost always something you can find to eat, even if it’s just grabbing a salad and some bread and passing it off as a sandwich.

Point is, it’s not as hard as you might think to find vegan options at any food joint. I hope you found this helpful, and I encourage you to go out and try "veganizing" menu items at a fast food franchise near you!

At the end of the day, despite our differences, junk food holds a special place in all of our hearts!

This piece was edited by Sukaina Jamil. 

What Distinguishes Canada’s West Coast Cuisine?

By Isabelle Kirkwood

(Tourism Vancouver)

(Tourism Vancouver)

I think Ontarians often feel cocooned by their province’s vast population in comparison to the rest of Canada. However, as a Vancouverite and avid West Coast Best Coast flag-bearer, I’d like to take a bit of time to bring light to a distinguished yet often overlooked subculture of Canadian cuisine. This neck of the woods has crafted a distinctive chow in a corner of the world where you don’t need to worry about the temperature, where the great Pacific meets the coastal temperate rainforests of beautiful British Columbia.

Our food scene isn’t too dissimilar to that of Ontario, as Chef Makoto Ono of Pidgin restaurant in Vancouver says, “There’s no east vs. west, there are no egos. It’s the only way to make Canadian cuisine happen.”

Now, mind you, that’s a very pacifist, Canadian response to the frank question: “Who does it best, east or west?” And although every corner of the country has its own culinary magnum opus, I’d like to take some of your time to sample my own turf’s gastronomy. That’s right, the best eats from the saltwater hub, the city of glass, the Hollywood north, Vancouver, B.C.  

It saddens me that Vancouver is now widely known as the “No Fun City.” Besides the endless supply of ocean and wilderness at your fingertips, let it be known that we come with some pretty good grub. Also, eh hem, it doesn’t always rain. We have actually have mostly sunny days.

I’ve learned that Vancouver cuisine, although ever-evolving, comes down to three principle F’s: Fish, Freshness and Fare to Share.

1. Fish

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Many of Canada’s major cities lie quite far inland, which makes fresh fish hard to come by. Vancouver lies at the mouth of some seriously lucrative wild salmon migration routes; from Chinook to Coho, to Sockeye and a medley of other subspecies. Let’s also not forget the mussels, oysters, Dungeness crab and spot prawns that are local to the area. Now, my ex-vegan conscience weighs heavy on me here, but I’d be fibbing if I didn’t say fish is a staple of West Coast Canadian cuisine.

Actually, one of the first restaurants I worked at was The Salmon House; a fine dining establishment overlooking the whole Fraser Valley all the way to Mt. Baker, serving salmon in any form you could imagine; in an omelet, a spring roll, even in a cobb salad. Give us a fillet and we’ll find a way.

Many of Vancouver’s top Michelin-star restaurants make fresh-caught fish the cornerstone of their menus. Our cuisine is also heavily-influenced by east-Asian dishes; believe me, even Tokyo doesn’t consume as much sushi as we do in Vancity. Whether you like it sashimi-style, grilled, poached or pan-fried, you’re at no shortage of fresh and delicious fish when you’re out west.

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2. Freshness

I think most Canadians hold the view that Vancouverites are snooty, so hopefully, I’m not indulging that stereotype too much here. West coast cuisine is without a doubt committed to organic, local and responsibly sourced ingredients. Menus will often list the farm, fishery, artisan or butcher responsible for the elements on your plate at any given eatery.

Maybe it’s because we’re surrounded by impressive mountains, lush rainforests and briny ocean, but whatever it is, we’re pretty environmentally-conscious here on the west coast. This means that we like to make sure our nosh isn’t hurting the planet. Vegetables are often grown in the Fraser Valley, seafood is accompanied by an Ocean Wise mark of sustainability and our meat is nose-to-tail. So, whether I’m humouring the health-nut sugar mommies of West Van or the hippie-vegans of the Island, I think it’s pretty fair to say that the Canadian West Coast prides itself on fresh and sustainable food.

Top Chef Canada finalist Trevor Bird is the head chef and owner of Fable  - a restaurant donned by a catchy take on the term “farm to table.” Fable makes sourcing local products and delivering great flavours in a fun and non-pretentious setting its main mission.

“I like to think ‘farm to table’ is not a trend anymore,” Bird says. “Nobody wants to go into these big chain restaurants anymore, everyone wants independent restaurants, and each of those independent restaurants has their own unique style. Nobody wants the norm.”

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3. Fare to Share

This has been a new and exciting discovery for me as a West Coaster, as Vancouver is often known for not really having a distinctive “culture” like Toronto and Montreal do. But to my surprise, share plates, charcuteries and tapas are slowly becoming hallmarks of Vancouver fare.

What this city does best is polished food with chill vibes. Our most upscale restaurants, such as Nightingale, owned by celebrated chef David Hawksworth, zeroes in on the combination of fresh ingredients on shared plates. Vancouver is a hub for business magnates and laissez-faire millennials alike, and you’ll find that these two worlds often collide in the laid-back yet chic dining rooms of our restaurants.

Hong Kong native Curtis Luk is chef at Vancouver’s Mission Kitsilano.

“I like the diversity of sharing,” he says. “You can have a lot of tastes without feeling the need to commit to a single plate of food, and, obviously, if you want more, you can always order more. You can try a bit of everything.”

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I’m proud to say that Vancouver is a pretty international city, so we borrow much of our own cuisine from those abroad by integrating the best of the nations around us into the heart of our own diverse yet budding dining culture.

There are many reasons why you need to venture out to the west coast if you haven’t already: world-class skiing, hiking, biking and surfing, the unforgettably gorgeous landscape, the coastal mountains, the wildlife. But don’t forget the delicious food while you’re here… be sure to make it a part of the journey!

This post was edited by Sukaina Jamil.

Veganism and Health: The Big Myth

By: Julia Mastroianni

When you picture a vegan breakfast, I’m sure all you see are fruit bowls and green smoothies. My mornings look a little bit different. By 12 p.m., I’ve eaten one Clif bar and a peanut butter cookie. The plan for lunch is whatever I find in the fridge, but I usually wake up too late to pack my lunch so I have to wait until I get home to eat.

“Whatever I find in the fridge” depends on the week, but usually there’s half an avocado, some hummus or if I’m really lucky, leftovers -- which means I won’t have to actually make anything. I’m living at home this year, so dinner is mostly whatever my parents are making. Luckily, I have parents who go out of their way to make food that is suited to my diet.

Exhibit A: The picture below is of my mom’s pizza twists, which is essentially pizza dough twisted with sausage and olives and then cooked.

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She’s nice enough to not only now make my pizza twists with just olives, but also to make my sister’s with just sausage because she hates olives.

And then there are regular ones for everyone else. This is the life of luxury I’ve been living since I decided to go vegan.

Well, sort of. My parents are good humans and therefore do their best to provide me well-balanced and delicious meals when they’re cooking for me. But when I’m feeding myself, which is less frequent now but was every day last year when I was living on my own, my meals look a bit different. These generally involve peanut butter out of the jar, frozen bananas and buckets of pasta. And don’t forget the Clif bars. Lots and lots of Clif bars.

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Because I chose veganism for purely ethical and moral reasons, health never really factored into the equation. In what ended up being a slight miscalculation, I jumped into veganism knowing very little about how to sustain myself. I kept eating what I always ate, but with some modifications. I found out pretty quickly that a lot of the regular food I used to eat was easy to change with some milk and egg substitutes.

See? Sometimes I eat actual food. Risotto--no cream-- and Brussels sprouts with mushrooms (I guess part of why veganism wasn’t so hard for me was because I’ve always been the weird kid who loves vegetables).

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But I also realized that a lot of the junk food I used to eat still fit my new lifestyle perfectly. Turns out the best junk food is so processed that there are no real animal products left in them. Fries? Oreos? Chips? All fair game. So for someone like me, who wasn’t really thinking about the healthfulness of the foods I consumed, that stuff turned out to make up a large portion of what I was eating. Sure, I could’ve theoretically made healthier versions of everything, but on a student budget—actually, on any budget, healthy veganism is still not the most affordable option.

I never understood why so many of the people I speak to about veganism assume that I’m healthier. I actually didn’t know until I moved to Ryerson that people went vegan for health reasons alone because every vegan I knew was just concerned about the ethics of their food.

It’s cool that people have chosen a more eco-friendly lifestyle to improve their health, especially when there are so many conflicting ideas out there about what a healthy lifestyle looks like. For me, health-based messages have often been riddled with a lot of judgement that accomplishes nothing for people’s self-esteem, so I like to stay away from being swayed by the “healthiness” of particular movements.

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I realize it’s objectively not great to be consuming large amounts of processed sugar or packaged foods, but for vegans who care about the earth, health will often come secondary. This applies in particular to individuals with varying identities and access to different resources—someone who doesn’t live in a city, for example, or someone coming from a low-income family will face different challenges in accessing vegan-friendly food.

Recently, my dad found me this vegan cookbook that focuses on uncomplicated recipes with ingredients anyone might have in their kitchen, and I’ve decided to try to make my way through it little by little. I haven’t had Oreos in a while, but there is always a bag of all dressed chips in the cupboard and I’m always game to finish them off. I still haven’t figured out the best way to be vegan yet, and I suspect that’s because there isn’t one way to do it. I guess you just have to find what works for you—Clif bars and all.

This piece was edited by Sukaina Jamil.