My First Authentic Canadian Food Memory - The Canadian Food Experience Project

Inspired by the call to action heard at the First Canadian Food Bloggers of Canada conference Valerie from a Canadian Foodie put out the call for all Canadian food bloggers to share their experiences with Canadian food.

I’ve answered that call and over the next 12 months, on the 7th of every month I will write about a variety of pre-determined topics, share my culinary and cultural perspectives and post my recipes.

On the 15th of the month, Valerie will post a recap of all posts for readers to share.

I encourage you to share your thoughts and feelings here, on the Canadian Food Experience Project Facebook page or, on Twitter with #CanadianFood. Thank you Valerie for putting out this call, I’m thrilled to be participating and can’t wait to read about what other bloggers across the country share as their food experience.


The Canadian Food Experience Project began June 7, 2013. As we (participants) share our collective stories across the vastness of our Canadian landscape through our regional food experiences, we hope to bring global clarity to our Canadian culinary identity through the cadence of our concerted Canadian voice. Please join us.

My first authentic Canadian food experience started long before I came to Canada – it started with salt-cured cod from Newfoundland. 

First Canadian food memory - saltfish

I am from Trinidad which is the southernmost island in the Caribbean, situated just off the Northeastern coast of Venezuela.  Salt cured cod was brought to Trinidad by Canadian East Coast shippers, who traded it for molasses, rum and sugar.


The British plantation owners included it as part of the rations for slaves on the sugar plantations because fresh meat and fish was too valuable to be shared with them. The slaves then re-hydrated the cod by boiling it with starchy root vegetables to make a hearty and filling meal.


Salt Cod - First Canadian Food Memory

By the mid 20th century, salted cod referred to locally as "saltfish" continued to be eaten by the working classes because it was also cheaper than purchasing fresh meat or fish. Ironically, today saltfish is considered a delicacy and is more expensive than fresh meat or fish.  

As a child, I only ate saltfish when my grandmother made her fish cakes - accras. As I've gotten older, I've made more of an effort to maintain a connection to my culture especially through food. So about once every 2 months I make a Caribbean Sunday brunch where I’ll make various dishes that remind me of home and family. One of those dishes is saltfish buljol - pronounced "bull joll".

Authentic Canadian Food Experience #CanadianFood

Buljol is a mixture of salted cod, oil, onions, tomato and hot peppers, and the name is  local slang of the French words - brule - burnt and gueule - mouth which refers to the heat from the hot peppers.

Saltfish Buljol - Canadian food memory #CanadianFood

There is no right or wrong way to prepare saltfish buljol. While the basic ingredients are largely the same, my recipe differs from the traditional preparation because I use whatever I have access to here in Canada. Instead of serving it with heavy starchy vegetables, I’ve served buljol with fiddleheads in the spring, squash in the fall and have been known to include it in lentil dishes from time to time.


Canadian Food memory - #CanadianFood Saltfish Buljol


Saltfish is a popular food item amongst the Caribbean community in Canada. It’s one of the key foods that purchased and eaten in most Caribbean households. It’s part of the fabric of our culinary culture and has unified us - the diaspora - as we prepare recipes for our friends in our newly adopted homeland.


Who’d have thought that a simple cod from the east coast of Canada - could evoke such strong memories of the Caribbean? 




Saltfish Buljol Recipe



½ lb. salt fish

1 large onion, finely chopped or sliced

1 tsp of tomato paste

1 sweet pepper, any colour finely chopped

2 fresh hot peppers, seeded and finely chopped

2 tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped

1 clove of garlic

2 tbsp. Olive oil

2 tbsp of fresh herbs

1/2 lemon (garnish)


1. The fish comes in several large pieces so cut into the amount that you want and place in a pot with cold water.

2. Let the pot come to a rolling boil and boil for about 15 minutes.

3. Remove from pot. Replace boiled, salty water with fresh cold water and return to a rolling boil for another 10 minutes.

4. After time has elapsed taste a small piece of the fish to ensure that it isn’t too salty. If it’s still too salty, repeat until the fish tastes fresh and the salt is removed.

5. Once fresh remove from water and using a fork shred into small pieces.

6. In a frying pan, heat oil, add onions and saute until nearly translucent.

7. Then add tomato paste and cook stirring occasionally until the tomato paste turns a rust colour.

8. Add all other ingredients (except lemon) and saute for another 2-3 minutes. Then add shredded fish and cook until peppers have cooked down to desired consistency (4-5 minutes).



Copyright © 2013, Olive & Ruby. All rights reserved.


Valerie Lugonja is....A Canadian Foodie's picture

Who’d have thought that a simple cod from the east coast of Canada - could evoke such strong memories of the Caribbean? .... yes! Who?
Your story blew me away. I had no idea that the history of Canadian Salt Cod was so embedded in Caribbean culture, too. In the west, we never eat it at all. Only have made Italian recipes from it... and had no idea what a Canadian tradition this was for the East, as well, until the last several years.
Your recipe LOOKS delicious. I cannot handle heat... is it like Salsa... meaning - can there still be a mild version that would have delicious flavour, or does it have to be hot, or it won't be tasty?
Sounds like it would be good, but I know how long it takes to prepare, and before I start, I want to know - as hot peppers are out for this family.
Thank you for the beautiful sharing, Rhonda!

Rhonda's picture

Hi Valerie,

you can absolutely make this without hot peppers. :) I'm glad you enjoyed the story. It's so interesting that Canada has such a strong connection with the Caribbean. 



Valerie Lugonja is....A Canadian Foodie's picture

I will definitely give this a go, then... probably at Christmas, when i usually do an Italian Baccala Dip!

bellini's picture

Who knew that cod fished off the Grand Banks were enjoyed all the way down in the Caribbean.

Rhonda's picture

Can you imagine than long journey those first dried fishes made? :)

It's such a treat up and down the Caribbean. 


Redawna's picture

What a wonderful story!
I have never had salt cod but am now compelled to try it.
Your dish looks fabulous. And I imagine it is as delicious as it looks.

Very cool that the history of a fish from Canada can bring back such memories for you. Loved to hear of the history of it as well.

Rhonda's picture

Hi Redawna,

Thanks. I thought that it was a story that many probably didn't know. What is really interesting is that this has been going on for centuries without fail.


Sarah G's picture

Canadian history is more fascinating than many believe. I visited Louisvile on Cape Breton Island a few years ago. This was the staging area for ships going all over the Atlantic including your homeland. Salt cod was a staple export. Interesting that Europe and Carribean enjoy it way more than we ever did. My father remembers salt cod rations during the war and they had no idea how to prepare this in western Canada.

Rhonda's picture

Hi Sarah

Canadian history is indeed very interesting. I would love to visit Louisvile one day. Thanks for commenting. 


Shari's picture

I love this story! I Nova Scotia, we eat dried fish (pollock, haddock, etc), which is like a jerky of sorts. It's similar, in concept, to salted cod, but they are prepared differently. I've never heard of anyone cooking our dried fish. I think salted cod would make really great fish cakes and look forward to trying them some day.

Thanks for sharing, Rhonda.


Rhonda's picture

Hi Shari,

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. We also make fish cakes out of them which are actually quite tasty.


little kitchen girl's picture

I met a nice man from Trinidad in the grocery one day a few years ago who was picking some unusual tubers out of a bin I had never cooked and screwed up the courage to ask him how he cooked them and what they were like. He was so pleased to be asked he told me how to make the dish you list here, and said it was one of his favorites when he was feeling homesick. He said he serves it with purple taro plantain and yucca roots, and to make sure to wear gloves when pealing the taro because they can give you a rash when raw. Boiled well they are interesting. boiled like a potato you can skewer these roots when they are cooked. I use the yucca because I like them best now that i have tried all three but they are different enough to make the stew an adventure.

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