In the days leading up to Canada Day, The Globe is teaming up with Facebook for an unscientific survey of Canadians about what our true national symbols should be. We've also asked a few Canadians to share their picks. Today, Globe columnist Mark Schatzker makes his pitch.
"Be it resolved that Canada's National Dish is the pierogi"
There, I said it. Pierogies. Yes, I'm proposing it for Canada's "national dish." Before you turn the page in jaded disgust, or log pseudonymously into the "comments" section to direct your rage toward my unfathomable yet all too predicable idiocy, hear me out.
Because the fact of the matter is, we don't actually have a national dish. There is no food that unites Canadians like hockey, health care or anger toward the CBC. And don't say it's poutine. Poutine is a noble dish, made all the more so by the fact that its deliciousness increases commensurately with one's level of inebriation. The problem, it hardly needs saying, is that it was created by the one part of the country where half the population would prefer not to be part of the country.
Is the pierogi really Canada's national dish?
Which brings me back to the pierogi. Did you know that we Canadians nurture an inordinate love for this delectable little pocket of filled dough?
I know this because a friend of mine runs a Canadian organic food company called Life Choices and he recently developed a line of frozen pierogies. After months of recipe testing, he released his creation on the supermarket-visiting masses of North America. Here in Canada, he can hardly keep them in stock. South of the border, not so much. There are, he told me, regions of American pierogi consumption nestled tightly against the Canadian border. The geography of the pierogi, in other words, is nearly identical to NHL ratings and Tim Hortons franchise density. It's what separates us from them. In other words, it's a Canadian Studies thesis waiting to be written.
I know what you're thinking: The pierogi is not Canadian. Tell that to my great grandmother, who brought her family recipe from the Ukraine to Alberta at the invitation of Clifford Sifton, Wilfrid Laurier's Minister of the Interior. On the Canadian prairie, she modified her recipe - being Ukrainian, she called them perohi - to suit Canadian terroir. She substituted cheddar for cottage cheese, and tweaked the dough to make it far suppler than anything in the old country. (The secret is more yolks and less egg whites, but that's all I'm saying).
The Globe is teaming up with Facebook to ask Canadians about what symbolizes Canada
Most Canadians, unfortunately, have never tasted anything close to a good pierogi. The dough should be rolled fresh, for one thing, and the filling should be made that same afternoon, from a stockpot full of boiled yukon golds mashed with butter and shredded cheese and a lot of pepper. It is, I dare say, one of the world's greatest filled pastas.
But don't take it from me. Take it from an Italian grandmother I met a few years ago whose intimacy with pasta dough is such that her right thumb is abnormally convex due to decades of orecchiette shaping. Last summer she visited me in Toronto, in part to experience the pierogi. They were boiled and tossed with fried onions and melted butter and served with sour cream and my Italian friend was so moved by them she served them for Christmas dinner. In Italy.
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Now consider what the pierogi could be with, oh, a few billion in government funding. There could be B.C. pierogies filled with wild Sockeye salmon, Quebec pierogies filled with raw milk cheese, a Nunavut pierogi filled with seal meat. The Licence to Grill guy could develop a grillable pierogi, and the CBC could air My Pierogi, Your Pierogi, a national call-in show hosted by Shelagh Rogers. You get the idea.
In the meantime, you can find them in most pubs, where they tend to be fried and smothered in bacon bits. The filling, frankly, stinks and the dough is an abomination, but they're still delicious. And they only get better, the more you have to drink. That, clearly, makes them distinctly Canadian.
Mark Schatzker is the author of Steak: One Man's Search for the World's Tastiest Piece of Beef and a columnist for The Globe and Mail
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