Jewish Food in Canada | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Jewish Food in Canada

Jewish food in Canada was in large part shaped by the arrival of Eastern European Ashkenazi Jews in the late 1880s. Later Jewish immigration from North Africa and the Middle East also influenced the cuisine of Jewish Canadians, as they introduced new dishes and ingredients to the culinary landscape. Many foods remain distinctly Jewish, mainly being cooked and eaten by members of the Jewish community. However, some foods brought to Canada by Jews have also become popular foods enjoyed by Canadians of various backgrounds. Jewish food has become central to the culinary identity of Canada. (See Popular Jewish Dishes in Canada.)


Ashkenazi, Sephardic and Mizrahi Cuisines

Since Jewish cuisine can be found around the world, three broad categories have been created to help define it based on place of origin. One of them is Ashkenazi cuisine whose roots can be found in the peasant cooking of the shtetl. These were small towns or villages with a large Jewish population in Central and Eastern Europe. The Ashkenazi community was spread across many countries such as Poland, Lithuania, Romania, Hungary, Ukraine and Austria. Even though this community was spread over such a vast area, there were similarities in their food culture. Dishes and ingredients include dark rye bread, sour cucumber pickles, sauerkraut, chicken soup, cholent (slow-cooked Sabbath stew) and kugel (a baked noodle or potato casserole). Other important ingredients feature root vegetables, cabbage, barley and buckwheat. Fruits like apples, pears, plums, cherries, gooseberries, currants and raspberries are also notable.


Sephardic cuisine is another important tradition that finds its roots with Jews of Iberian ancestry. After being expelled from Spain in 1492, they settled in the Ottoman Empire, spreading their cuisine over this large territory. The tradition also includes the cuisine of Jews living in North African countries such as Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya and Egypt. Sephardic cuisine includes a larger diversity of countries and varied food sources, making it difficult to define. Yet, there are common dishes and ingredients that can be found among various Sephardic communities. This includes stuffed vegetables, savoury pastries and meat cooked with fruit. Aromatics like cinnamon, cumin, coriander, ginger, turmeric, mastic (mastic tree resin), saffron and sumac are common. Souring agents like tamarind and pomegranate are also found across the wide expanse of Sephardic cuisine. Orange blossom and rose water are often found in sweets; many desserts are also made with marzipan (a paste made of sugar and ground almonds).

Finally, there is the category of Mizrahi cuisine. This tradition includes the food of Jews who lived in regions such as Syria, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Yemen, Afghanistan and Kurdistan. It has similar characteristics to Sephardic cuisine while including its own unique dishes. These include kubbeh (a filled dumpling usually served in soup) from the Jewish Iraqi community, gondi (chickpea-flour dumplings, usually made with chicken, in broth) from the Jewish Persian community, and ka’ak (a ring-shaped biscuit) from the Jewish Syrian community.

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These categories do not neatly encompass the food of all Jewish communities. For example, the cuisines of Indian Jews, Ethiopian Jews and Italian Jews do not fit into the categories mentioned above.

Iconic Jewish Dishes in Canada

In the 1880s, Jewish food started to take root in Canada with the arrival of Ashkenazi Jews. This was especially the case in cities like Montreal and Toronto. Jews settled in the downtown core to form densely populated neighbourhoods of Yiddish-speaking and working-class immigrants. Many Jewish immigrants opened food-related businesses. These included bakeries, butchers, dry-goods shops, fishmongers, delis and lunch counters.

Originally, these foods were mainly bought and eaten by members of the Jewish community. However, some of them ultimately became iconic foods of the city where they were now found. In Montreal, bagels and smoked meat have become two of the city’s famous dishes. Alongside poutine, they are seen as must-try dishes. Montrealers of all backgrounds regularly enjoy them. (See Popular Jewish Dishes in Canada.)

Regional Jewish Specialties in Canada

Jewish communities across Canada have developed regional dishes that are specific to the cities and towns they live in. These dishes are relatively unknown elsewhere. They’re often unique developments that speak to the regionality of Jewish food traditions.

Cheese bagels

In Toronto, this includes blueberry buns, a pastry with roots from Poland. They are a half-moon-shaped pastry made with yeasted dough and filled with a fresh or pre-cooked blueberry filling. In Winnipeg, we find schmoo torte, a light and airy pecan cake that is frosted with whipped cream and drizzled with caramel. This dessert likely has its origins in the nusstorte, or nut cakes, of Germany, Austria and Hungary. In Montreal, there are cheese bagels ― a horseshoe-shaped pastry made with a flaky dough filled with a sweet cheese filling. It has common roots with the cheese-filled pastries of Eastern Europe. In the same city, there is also salade cuite, a slow-cooked dip made of tomatoes, roasted red and green bell peppers, garlic, paprika and olive oil. Also known as matbucha, meaning “cooked stuff,” it has its roots in Morocco.

Salade cuite

Jewish Restaurants in Canada

Jewish cuisine restaurants range from kosher restaurants to those serving modern interpretations of classic dishes.

Restaurants that are certified kosher adhere strictly to Jewish food laws and are under the supervision of a mashgiach, meaning supervisor or overseer. (See also Judaism.) These restaurants are found across Canada, mainly in cities with large Jewish populations such as Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver. (See Jewish Canadians.) Kosher restaurants do not only serve classic Jewish dishes. You can also find kosher restaurants serving pasta, sushi, burgers and General Tso, along with many other dishes.

Certain Jewish restaurants are deeply rooted in some cities’ culinary landscape. Both Jews and non-Jews visit them, making them iconic restaurants of these places. In Montreal, Jewish restaurants have had a significant impact on the food culture. Many have become icons of the city’s restaurant industry. These include Wilensky’s Light Lunch, Schwartz’s Deli, Lester’s Deli, Beauty’s Restaurant, Moishes Steakhouse and Snowdon Deli. Similarly, Toronto also counts Jewish restaurants as an important part of its culinary identity. These include Centre Street Deli, United Bakers Dairy Restaurant and Pancer’s Original Deli.

In recent years, Jewish restaurants run by younger generations of Jews often reclaim and remake Jewish food. The dishes served at these restaurants are rooted in traditional Jewish cooking but with modern cooking techniques and modern ingredients. These restaurants draw from Ashkenazi, Sephardic and Mizrahi food traditions, making them more representative of the diversity of Jewish cuisine. For the most part, these restaurants are found in Montreal and Toronto. Some examples include Fat Pasha, Arthur’s Nosh Bar, Schmaltz Appetizing and Hof Kelsten.

Jewish Cookbooks

Much of Jewish cooking happens at home. Recipes made by home cooks are often family recipes that have been passed down through generations. These recipes may have been passed down orally or written down on recipe cards. However, cookbooks are also an important part of home cooking. Throughout the years, cookbooks served a variety of purposes from being a manual on how to run a household to explorations of particular cuisines. These books also act as a resource for people who may not have family recipes to turn to, offering recipes that one day become staples.

Within the Canadian Jewish community, there are cookbooks that have become beloved guides to Jewish cooking. A Treasure for My Daughter is an iconic Canadian Jewish cookbook. The Montreal chapter of Hadassah-WIZO first published it in 1950. This cookbook is filled with Ashkenazi recipes from the period. It was also a guide to running a Jewish home, often being given as a gift to Jewish brides.

Another classic is Second Helpings, Please! by Norene Gilletz. It was first published in 1968 as a project of the Mount Sinai Chapter Montreal of B'nai Brith Women of Canada. In its 18th printing, it has become the go-to for traditional Ashkenazi recipes.