July 22, 2013

southern comfort & canadian quirk #3: no biscuits but plenty of gravy

Photo: NPS.gov
I've always idealized the American South. When we first studied the Civil War in the 5th grade, I was struck by the daguerreotype photographs of sprawling cotton fields, sun-drenched tobacco plantations and entire families shucking corn and sipping iced tea on the front porch. The ugly parts of its Confederate history aside, the South is like a club I've secretly always wanted to be a part of. Being a Jewish girl from New York, this is not possible. Nevertheless, the romanticism of the region calls to me.

"More than any other part of America, the South stands apart. Thousands of Northerners and foreigners have migrated to it...but Southerners they will not become. For this is still a place where you must have either been born or have 'people' there, to feel it is your native ground. Natives will tell you this. They are proud to be Americans, but they are also proud to be Virginians, South Carolinians, Tennesseans, Mississippians and Texans. But they are conscious of another loyalty too, one that transcends the usual ties of national patriotism and state pride. It is a loyalty to a place where habits are strong and memories are long."
— Tim Jacobson, Heritage of the South

More and more I find myself missing the familiar Southern cooking that was omnipresent in my former American life, even in a pseudo-Southern state like Florida. Foods that were so available to me that I didn't dream they wouldn't be as popular in Canada; foods like buttermilk biscuits with honey, cornbread, fried catfish, grits, sweet tea and that love-to-hate Floridian delicacy, Key lime pie.

I'm hard-pressed to find these staples in Southern cuisine here in the Great White North. Cracker Barrels don't exist and, although there's an unusually large amount of KFCs in Mississauga, we all know that's a complete insult to Kentucky cooking.

The irony is that, while Canadians don't do biscuits, they love their gravy. And I don't just mean love. I mean they lurv gravy. It's poured over everything from French fries to chicken wings. If I make pork chops, roast beef or buy a cooked rotisserie chicken from the supermarket, you'd better believe I'm making a giant side of gravy to go with it. I thought this was optional, something on the side that's nice if we have it but understandable if we don't. I've sinced been educated by Bobby and now keep at least 4 extra packets in the pantry at all times. (Keep in mind, I'm not talking about true gravy made from drippings. This is brown gravy made from a mix. And sawmill gravy? That thick, white, sausage-infused sauce that's so popular in the South is nothing but a myth in Canada.) So, while I may be missing my biscuits, gravy is something that flows as freely as maple syrup in Canada. It's the condiment du jour for an entire nation.

And ribs. Much to my surprise, Canadians are crazy about ribs. Some of the most popular restaurant chains here are chicken & rib joints (see: Swiss Chalet and St-Hubert). Once summer officially begins, Ontario alone hosts more than 50 rib festivals, all part of a massive celebration called Ribfest. Throngs of adults and teenagers alike can be seen walking along busy streets within a 2-mile radius of any Ribfest carrying entire trays of pit barbecue.

In my world, summertime means kicking back with a cold glass of sweet tea and a plate of biscuits schmeared with blackberry jam. Alas, while I don't have these Southern comforts readily available to me, it helps a little to know that a good rack of baby rack ribs and bucket loads of gravy are literally just around the corner.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are that of an American expat living in Canada. Not every 'quirk' is relevant to every Canadian. These are merely observations and commentary based on my experiences living in 2 different countries. 

Visit our ever-expanding list of Canadian quirks here.


  1. Haha! This made me laugh. Do we really lurv gravy as a nation? I would say no because I have only ever served gravy on occasion and it has always been authentic gravy made from drippings.

    Still, it's undeniable that we LOVE our Swiss Chalet and St. Hubert... Swiss Chalet also has two (2) kinds of gravy... one for mashed potatoes and the "chalet sauce" in your pictures.

    I suppose you could say that we're a nation in denial. While I do LURV Chalet Sauce, clever marketing has convinced me that it's not gravy, hence justifying my habit. If you asked me, I would say I never eat gravy but I suppose that's not actually true...

    1. Chalet Sauce doesn't taste like gravy in the traditional sense since it's got some tomato flavor, but its base is chicken stock and some sort of rue so I think it's safe to call it gravy. Like you said, it's all about marketing and it sounds so much more unique and exotic to throw a ton of cloves in there and call it Chalet Sauce.

      Before I moved to Canada I'd never seen gravy served with anything at a restaurant except mashed potatoes or biscuits, and usually it's sawmill gravy which I've yet to see served here or sold at a supermarket.

      I'm sure not every person in Canada loves gravy but it's something that isn't popular in America at all yet I've seen served here with a variety of what I consider to be random foods. Just an interesting quirk I've noticed.


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