The region of Manitoba in the Canadian Prairies became home to immigrants from all over eastern and northern Europe in the 1800s, but it’s the Icelandic community that perhaps had the most surprising effect on the area’s cuisine. A large group settled next to Lake Winnipeg in 1875 and named the area New Iceland, building schools and churches the minute they arrived. Today, Manitoba is home to the largest Icelandic community outside of Iceland, and some of the local delicacies on offer stem right back to the old country.
Vinarterta is a classic example of how Canada’s society has absorbed international influences. The layer cake, filled with prune jam and flavoured with cardamom, is now a common Christmas treat in Manitoba, made popular by the Icelandic settlers way back in the 1800s, who brought the recipe with them from overseas. However, if you’re after a slice in Iceland itself you might be searching for a while – it is now all but unheard of on the Nordic island.
Other Icelandic delicacies are eaten with aplomb in Manitoba (and, nowadays, the rest of Canada). Kleinur (also known as Icelandic doughnuts), laufabrauõ (flatbreads decorated with patterns and eaten around Christmas), kransakaka (an Icelandic wedding cake originally from Scandinavia flavoured with almonds) and rugbraud (Icelandic rye bread)can be found in the Icelandic bakeries of Winnipeg, where there is still a strong patriotism associated with Icelandic ancestry and customs.
As you can see, a lot of Canadian food didn’t originate in Canada. But by actively encouraging a multicultural society and nurturing the international communities which came to seek a new life throughout the 1800s, the Canadian people have been rewarded with one of the most diverse cuisines in the world. The smoked meats, tourtières and vinarterta found in different areas of the country sit side by side with native ingredients such as maple syrup, while contemporary chefs drive forward local food scenes, constantly discovering new combinations of ingredients. It’s an exciting time to be a foodie in Canada – a country that’s quickly becoming a world renowned culinary destination.