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Column: The most Canadian meal

A personal opinion piece on the most Canadian meal.

What do you consider the most Canadian meal?

I've been asking this question to a lot of people I met throughout my journey here.

Some people recalled poutine. I'd never heard of it prior to coming to Canada, so when I had to put it in writing, I spelled it as "putin", wondering why Canadians would name potatoes after the Russian president.

Others told me that it was a steak and potatoes. While indeed really popular, at least around Saskatchewan and Manitoba, I'd say it's something generic and popular probably everywhere but India.

Of course, Tim Horton's with Timbits and a double-double came up just as a Canadian phenomenon, and so did maple syrup.

I even thought of pizza, the ones that apparently are known outside the province as Regina-style, which have more filling than dough, are cut into square slices, and have little in common with their Italian ancestors.

I also heard a "big meal" option, which is definitely true. Portions here are big, and the way meals are served in restaurants and most times at home differs from what I was used to. (When my husband travelled to St. Petersburg with me for the first time, it took him a while to figure out a system, in which you need to order meat, a side and salads/soups all separately, along with the bread and condiments, and even after that portions were way smaller compared to traditional Canadian meals).

Believe it or not, for years no one could give me a convincing answer.

One day, looking for supper ideas, I finally ended up finding it myself.

It was the casserole. Anything casserole.

I've never come across any other country where the diversity of meals made in a casserole would be as great, and where those food dishes would be as popular as they are here. My quick research on the topic showed that indeed very few countries cook entire meals with the mix of ingredients in a casserole. After I made maybe thousands of them at home, I finally realized that it would be the most Canadian meal, at least in my Canadian journey.

Casseroles are something comparable to Mexican tacos, which is a form of meal rather than a particular food that can come with any kind of filling in a variety of dough, as long as it's in a tortilla or a shell.

The word casserole is derived from the French word "saucepan" and the meals made in this pan were popularized by French Canadians. Casseroles originated as communal pots that people shared for meals, and that's probably what helped inscribe it into generous Canadian culture and into the traditional cuisine.

I feel the casserole is not only a popular meal here, but it also has its cultural flair. Like the Hispanic food with its bright accents and heat reflects on cultural openness to emotions, the casseroles mirror many interesting and beautiful aspects of Canadian culture.

Casseroles reflect on the value of comfort and lifestyle, in which meals must be tasty and filling, but preparation shouldn't require a lot of time by the stove. It's also a meal that ensures that there will be enough for everyone in the family, even if everyone comes for the second plate.

I believe the meal also reflects cultural diversity. Even though you put a variety of ingredients in one pot and add a sauce to bring them together as one dish, the end product allows them to stand out, preserving the highlights. Unlike blended or mixed foods, Canadian casseroles have a variety of textures and flavours, which work together for a great experience.

It's just like the general approach, which states that diversity is Canada's strength. And it's interesting to see how that approach is implemented and is actually working in life.

One of the many examples I've seen: this week I was tasked to write several stories about new businesses in Estevan. (Here at the Mercury, we try to keep an eye on everything that happens within the local business community and the community in general, of course, so such stories are a regular thing for us.) And as we are celebrating the annual Small Business Week, it was even more exciting for me to note how diverse our local business casserole is becoming with women and men, young and old people of different walks of life and backgrounds joining the local business community, bringing their talents, skills and experiences to the table, diversifying what we offer and making us stronger.