Indigenous food is deeply embedded in Canada’s culture and yet, many people know little about what it is or how to recognize indigenous foods. Indigenous foods and food culture are often left out of the conversation in Canada. This food is just as important as Quebec’s classic poutine to Canadian cuisine but is rarely discussed.
Indigenous food has a close tie to seasons and local eating. For Indigenous people, their food is a gift from Creator and will grow best where they are based. Food systems that are based on where they live and what is around them are most sustainable and will help an area’s locale and people live well.
Indigenous cuisine, naturally, is meant to be a sustainable practice. Originally, people hunted their own meat, gathered and foraged fruits, vegetables, and other plants, and built their diet around what was around them.
These days, Indigenous cuisine has been often forgotten as Canada’s mosaic of cultures grows. However, we should highlight and celebrate the over 1.67 million Indigenous people in Canada and recognize their food and way of living as the first Canadian culture.
Let’s highlight Indigenous food and culture, and look for ways that we can introduce its practices and cuisine into our everyday life. By becoming more aware, we can become more appreciative of the first Canadian culture.
What is Indigenous Food and Cuisine?
Indigenous food has been around before most of history and is the very basis of what Canada’s culture is based on.
Inspired by our land, forests, rivers, and oceans, Indigenous culture is based on living in balance with your surroundings and respecting all forms of life. In cooking, that means focusing on no-waste, head-to-tail cooking.
Traditionally, the diet of Indigenous people included wild game like fish, birds, moose, caribou, elk, seal, whale buffalo, and rabbits. People would also grow corn, squash, fiddleheads, wild rice, nuts, and wild berries, while also foraging for other plants in their areas. Together, these compose most of the ingredients used in Indigenous cuisine.
One of the major staples of Indigenous food is the Three Sisters: the name given to corn, beans, and squash. These three plants would be grown together, as they complement each other and helped each other flourish. Corn stalks offer beans a place to climb and grow, beans provide nitrogen to help corn roots, and squash leaves provide shade and mulch to help hold moisture in the ground and deter weeds from growing.
Over the many years of the erasure of Indigenous culture, much of it was lost. These days, many are working to recollect information that has been lost over the years, with chefs like America’s Sean Sherman creating a cookbook and collective called the Sioux Chef, working to reclaim Indigenous culture and revitalize Indigenous cuisine in the modern menu.
Indigenous Restaurants in Canada
If you’re looking to support the Indigenous community, there’s no better way than by visiting one of the many Indigenous restaurants and cultural centres across the country. These locales offer highlights of Indigenous cuisine, letting you try a glimpse of their culture. They’re also helping to support Indigenous communities by providing jobs and income, as well as promoting their history and culture—and they’re doing it all while serving delicious food!
Here are some of our favourites:
Tea N Bannock in Toronto, ON for the last 10 years has been serving food created by Indigenous and traditional chefs. Their cuisine shows true Indigenous flavours and highlights bison steak, three sisters soup, and salmon and bison burgers. Their menu makes Indigenous food that can be enjoyed by all, in both familiar and new ways!
Feast Café & Bistro in Winnipeg, MB, where the head chef Christa, a member of Peguis First Nation has created a restaurant focused on community and sharing modern dishes rooted in traditional First Nation cuisine. Feast serves dishes like bison ribs, lemon pepper pickerel, and Bannock pizzas to the public, and celebrates serving food grown locally.
Aboriginal Fusion in Winnipeg, MB, is a food truck serving delicious, fast-food-inspired Indigenous treats. Chef Tara Hall serves dishes like a Saskatoon berry cheesecake, Bannock bison burger, and Bannock taco combining classic fast-food favourites with her Pinaymootang First Nation culture.
Kekuli Café, a franchise across British Columbia, features delicious Bannock across its menu. Served with toppings like venison and saskatoon BBQ sauce for dinner and wild salmon and eggs for breakfast, this restaurant creates handmade Bannock and buns in-house. The owners, Sharon Bond-Hogg and Darren Hogg have worked together to create a traditional Aboriginal ambience, to ensure that Aboriginal culture is shared and treasured.
How to be Inspired by Indigenous Canadian Culture
To share your appreciation for Indigenous Canadian culture, we encourage you to consider using some of the ingredients often used in Indigenous cooking or consider using a new recipe to feature this cuisine at your restaurant.
Try using ingredients like wild salmon, or local bison as a protein for an entrée dish. Wild rice is the perfect side for these dishes, and can be found at the Wholesale Club.
If you want to try using berries like Saskatoon berries or local blueberries, try creating a berry salad with a maple vinaigrette, or try making a delicious berry grunt.
Indigenous meals often include the traditional Bannock, and the three sisters. Many restaurants offer a Three Sisters’ Soup, made from squash, beans, and corn. You can also try making Bannock with this recipe, created by one of Canada’s own Indigenous chefs, Tara Hall.
There are several other ways that you can appreciate and celebrate Indigenous culture in your kitchen. Practice sustainable and local cooking by shopping from local suppliers, or purchase ingredients that are local and in-season where you can. Indigenous culture is focused on respecting the environment and community around you, and that’s a practice we can all work on together. For more information about how to include more sustainable practices in your restaurant, read our blog with helpful tips.
Recognizing Indigenous food and culture as part of Canada’s culture is a growing practice that you can take part in. Include Indigenous food, practices, and recipes in your restaurant and show your appreciation for this traditional culture!
If you’re a restaurant owner or chef who is looking to prepare more Indigenous dishes, shop the Wholesale Club for fresh ingredients at great prices!