C’est Japon à Suisha – Ottawa (Canada)

It’s been over 25 years since I visited Ottawa so a trip to Canada’s capital was long overdue. It’s a city I took for granted whilst living in Montreal and Toronto but now that I’ve been in England for over a decade, I decided to squeeze in a quick visit between Canadian cities. Besides, Paulo had never been to Ottawa before.

I did no foodie research before arriving (very unlike me, I know) and decided to go with the flow. On our last day in Ottawa, I surfed the ‘net and found recommendations for a great Japanese restaurant: C’est Japon à Suisha, formerly known as Suisha Gardens. I noted it has been around for over 40 years – always a good sign! Interestingly, I noticed the address was on the same street as our hotel but what I didn’t realise was that it was right across the road. There’s some irony in discovering a place online that was in front of my face all along!

The establishment’s name, C’est Japon à Suisha, is a bit of a mouthful but it works. “C’est Japon” is French for “this is Japan” and reflects the authentic menu and setting. “Suisha” is the water wheel gracing the front of this traditionally styled restaurant and a nod to its previous name. The whole place oozes charm, from our warm and welcoming greeting to the short walk to our table past a badger, a brook babbling over stones, a samurai helmet and a lucky cat sitting on the sushi bar.

Wait, what? A badger? Yes, it seems the tanuki is traditionally a symbol of business in Japan. TA-NU-KI also means to excel over others. Not so random after all.

The basement has Japanese-style tatami rooms and private rooms for parties, gatherings and meetings.

We weren’t seated at the sushi bar but could observe the chef from our table. The stunning bar, complete with sushi floating on boats, is the crowning glory.

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Donairs (Recipe from More Than Poutine by Marie Porter)

Marie Porter’s latest cookbook More Than Poutine: Favourite Foods from My Home and Native Land resonated with me in many ways. Obviously it’s all about food but it’s Canadian recipes written by a fellow expat. When I made the move to the UK, first London then Cambridge, I was delighted to meet so many fellow Canadians in the same boat as me. We all miss our favourite foods, the ones we grew up on, that gave us joy and shared with loved ones. The cookbook features a lot of comfort foods, which is a nice reflection of these feelings of nostalgia.

The book’s title really hits the nail on the head. Poutine may be the Canadian specialty that first springs to mind but the cookbook is very well researched and spans over 120 recipes from all over Canada. Rest assured there is a great poutine recipe, complete with homemade gravy. The book also includes other well-known Canadian foods such as butter tarts, Nanaimo bars, tourtière and lobster rolls.

The recipes begin with a few explanatory words, as Canada is so diverse not all Canadians might know the dishes. The cookbook isn’t only for expats though, there’s enough interesting information for those living in Canada who want to expand their Canadian cooking repertoire. It’s also a great introduction to Canadian cuisine for anyone eager to learn more about Canada’s unique and varied culture.

The recipes’ measurements are provided in both US and metric units, with a more detailed conversions section at the end of the book.

It’s also worth noting that there is a focus on providing gluten-free alternatives to the recipes so the book is a good resource for those avoiding gluten.

With recipes classed into the following categories: Breakfast & Brunch, Appetizers & Sides, Snack Foods, Main Dishes, Jiggs Dinner (Sunday Dinner in Newfoundland), Beverages & Condiments and Desserts, the cookbook covers a lot of territory, both in the geographic and culinary sense. All of my favourites are in the book: Bannock, Montreal Style Bagels, Montreal Smoked Meat, Maple Snow Taffy, French Canadian Pea Soup and Bloody Caesar (Bloody Mary’s Canadian cousin). There are even accurate replicas of Jos Louis cake rounds, Oh Henry! chocolate bars and Swiss Chalet/St-Hubert BBQ sauce, although for trademarks reasons the recipe names had to be changed. It’s fun figuring out the inspiration behind the creative titles.

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Pie’za Pizzeria – Niagara-on-the-Lake (Canada)

Pie’za Pizzeria opened a little over a year ago in Niagara-on-the-Lake, a picturesque town and top tourist destination in Ontario. The restaurant was once a house and has been converted for commercial use. It’s a fitting location for a pizzeria that serves homestyle fare, namely Neapolitan pizza.

The Pie’za name is a reflection of this too. Even though it works with pie (as in pizza pie) and ‘za (slang for pizza), it’s really the colloquial pronunciation of paesano (paesà) that truly reflects the pizzeria’s ethos. The definition of paesano is “fellow countryman” but it also means “rustic, homey and genuine”.

This ethos is apparent in Pie’za Pizzeria’s menu as it follows the principles of the Vera Pizza Napoletana (VPN) movement, namely the use of certain types of ingredients, approved equipment and the traditional method of making pizza. Pie’za Pizzeria’s own version of Napoletana pizza includes specific ingredients such as Italian ‘00’ flour, San Marzano tomatoes and fior di latte (mozzarella cheese made from cow’s milk), a custom-made wood-fired oven from Naples and a trained/certified pizzaiolo (pizza chef). The dough is handmade daily using purified mineral water, single variety yeast and sea salt with a 24-hour natural fermentation process.

Photo courtesy of Pie’za Pizzeria

This background is all well and good but Pie’za Pizzeria really delivered on our visit. From the ease of booking through their website to the friendly service, it was a great experience from beginning to end. We sat at a lovely table by the window and took in the ambience with its colourful walls, interesting art, vibrant plates and even traditional good luck charms like the roguish figure Pulcinella and the corno (red horn) to ward off the evil eye. If you look closely at Pie’za Pizzeria’s logo, that little red horn serves as the apostrophe. Other playful details included a poster of Sophia Loren and the staff’s Straight Outta Napoli t-shirts.

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Bannock – Toronto (Canada)

Bannock is one of the unique and innovative restaurants in the Oliver & Bonacini portfolio, renowned in Canada and especially Ontario. The creation of Peter Oliver and Michael Bonacini, Bannock is a Canadian comfort food restaurant and café enviably located in Hudson’s Bay flagship store in downtown Toronto.

The café is a great place to grab a quick sandwich, salad, pastry or coffee but the restaurant, past the centrally located open kitchen, is the place to be. The beautifully designed space is stunning and lends a real Canadian feel with its sweeping ceiling of interlocking hemlock boards reclaimed from a 150-year-old wharf in Lake Ontario. White washed pine, concrete imprinted with planks, banquettes, wooden chairs, marble tables, a communal table and atmospheric lighting all contribute to the modern Canadian aesthetic.

However, it’s not all style over substance. Bannock offers Canadian comfort food at its best. Although the restaurant is named after the traditional Scottish flatbread adapted by early Canadian settlers and indigenous peoples, the bread is their own take on bannock and is the inspiration for some of their menu items, such as the sandwiches and pizzas.

“Bannock’s honest approach to food is rooted in familiar, wholesome ingredients that are reflective of Canada’s rich regional and cultural diversity, delivered in an innovative and playful way”. (Official website)

Paulo and I couldn’t pass up Bannock’s excellent poutine so we shared a portion as our starter. Made with skin-on fries from Yukon Gold potatoes smothered in artisanal cheese curds and chicken gravy, there was so much to love in this classic Canadian dish. A sprinkling of spring onions and rosemary added some colour and elevated the poutine to posh status.

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Douro – Montreal (Canada)

On St-Laurent boulevard near Montreal’s Little Italy, lies Douro restaurant, a little corner of Portugal serving authentic Portuguese food in a casual, yet refined ambience. Douro is a hidden gem with its minimal signage, but once inside the bright and airy space it feels as though you’ve discovered something quite special.

Douro Restaurant

Douro Sign

Douro Outside

The decor is tasteful and not over-the-top Portuguese, with artwork consisting of azulejos (Portuguese ceramic tiles) adorning the walls. The floor and bar are made up of black and white tiles resembling the stone pavements of Portugal and the dramatic curve in the bar is reminiscent of the ocean’s waves. Douro’s menu speaks for itself so they don’t need to have an overly Portuguese atmosphere to prove the authenticity of their cuisine.

Collage Douro

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Pig Out BBQ – Pickering, Ontario (Canada)

Where do you go when you want to pig out on some good barbecue? Well, a great place would be the aptly named Pig Out BBQ in Pickering. If that’s too far east of Toronto for you, there is also one on Spadina Avenue near the University of Toronto that picked up on the success of this first location.

Pig Out BBQ Outside

The menu features comfort food staples such as pulled pork, beef brisket, chicken wings, burgers, ribs, smoked sausage, tacos (fish, chicken, beef or pork), sweet potato fries, onion rings, poutine, baked beans, mac n cheese, corn bread, warm banana bread pudding and more pig-out worthy dishes.

Collage Pig Out BBQ

Although located on a busy road in Pickering, it’s a real hidden gem. Or should I say, it was… until Food Network Canada’s hit TV program You Gotta Eat Here featured Pig Out BBQ on one of their episodes, which aired in 2014. Canadian readers can watch the episode here. The show airs in a few countries, including the UK, so keep an eye out for it.

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