If one of your favourite things about travelling is sampling new foods and delicacies from different cultures, then Canada is for you. Although its food bravado hasn’t been talked about worldwide, it is home to some of the world’s best snacks. In this article we will make your taste buds tingle and make you want to book that holiday to Canada you’ve always dreamed of as we fill you in on the best Canadian snacks you’ve probably never heard of.
The Montreal bagel
Although many think New York holds the crown for the world’s best bagel, Montreal locals will put up a good argument. Cooked in a wood-fired oven, the Montreal bagel is smaller and sweeter than its American brother. Boiled in sweet honey water before being baked gives these bagels their distinct flavour. You’ll often find them topped with poppy or sesame seeds.
For the most traditional bagels in Montreal, join the Saturday morning queue in St-Viatuer Bagel. St-Viatuer have been baking since 1957 and have now perfected the art of the Montreal bagel. The family-owned business has grown from humble beginnings and now consists of 8 bakeries, 3 of which are Bagel Cafes. Their flagship bakery can be found in Montreal and is a landmark of the city.
Montreal smoked meat sandwiches
Staying in Montreal, after you’ve had your fill of bagels for breakfast, try a smoked meat sandwich for lunch. This smoked meat is made by salting and curing beef brisket but differs from pastrami in its flavour, thanks to its unique seasoning. Pile that high on rye bread, with lashings of yellow mustard and you’ve got yourself a classic.
By far the most popular place to sample one of these is Schwartz’s Deli, just a few minutes’ walk from Jeanne-Mance Park. Schwartz’s was founded in 1928 and hasn’t moved since. Their smoked meat is marinated for 10 days, and the recipes haven’t changed for 80 years. The queue often trails down the street, so you’ll have to put in some work to try a Schwartz’s but trust us, it’ll be worth it.
We spoke to Frank Silva, the general manager of Schwartz’s, who told us a bit more about the deli: “Schwartz’s was opened in 1928 by Reuben Schwartz, and is currently owned by a group, including Celine Dion. Schwartz’s is a landmark where you will meet very interesting people, including celebrities and politicians.”
Nanaimo is on Vancouver Island, just a short ferry ride from the city, and is home to the Nanaimo Bar. This no-bake treat has three iconic layers, a wafer crumb base, topped with custard and finished off with a layer of chocolate. Although these can be found worldwide, they are a staple of Canadian origin, and what’s better than to try them in their home town?
A long rivalry held in Nanaimo means you’ll have to search for your perfect bar. Luckily, Tourism Nanaimo have created the Nanaimo Bar Trail to help you out. With 34 stops, you’ll be able to try a range of Nanaimo bars and Nanaimo Bar inspired treats, although we can’t recommend doing the full trail in one go!
We spoke to Tourism Nanaimo, who told us why they created the trail: “The Nanaimo Bar Trail was created a few years ago to celebrate this iconic dessert and give visitors the chance to sample different variations on this treat and discover their favourite version. The Nanaimo Bar Trail boasts everything from Nanaimo Bar cupcakes to Nanaimo Bar pedicures.”
We asked them why they think Nanaimo Bars are so popular: “No one really knows what caused the Nanaimo Bar to reach the level of fame that it has. It might be because many of the locals’ have grown up with this dessert as a staple in their family or simply because these bars and their trio of flavours are so delicious!”
Finally, we asked them where the best place to try a Nanaimo Bar is: “You’ll have to find out for yourself! With so many variations on the iconic treat, there is certainly something for everyone.”
The BeaverTail pastry is a Canadian sweet treat that is beloved by all but has never made it out of the country. Inspired by the cooking methods used by aboriginals to cook actual beaver tails, this snack is very similar to a donut. It was first sold in 1978 by Grant Hooker at the Killaloe Craft and Community Fair and is now so popular that BeaverTail can even be found in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary!
The stretched dough is usually coated in cinnamon, sugar and lemon but nowadays you can find all kinds of flavour combinations gracing it. The original however, can only be found in the ByWard Market BeaverTail flagship store in Ottawa, and the former US president Obama even paid a visit to try one of these himself. Although you don’t have to ttravel to Canada to try one as the brand has now expanded to Japan, France, Mexico and UAE, as well as across the US, it is still best to try one in it’s home nation.
We spoke to the team at BeaverTails, who told us some more about the history of the business, and the invention of the BeaverTail: “BeaverTails pastries were first created by husband and wife duo Grant and Pam Hooker. Grant grew up with his grandmother making the treats on weekends. It wasn’t until his daughter (age 6) started calling them “beaver tails” that the official name was born. The couple first started selling the pastries at their local craft fair in Killaloe, Ontario in 1978. In 1980, the first store opened in the Byward Market, Ottawa, Ontario and the rest is history!”
“BeaverTails pastries are hand-stretched, float-fried, slathered with whichever indulgent toppings you wish, and served fresh and piping hot! What could be more delicious than that?”
Finally, we asked them what the perfect way to enjoy a BeaverTail is: “The perfect way to enjoy a BeaverTails Pastry is while having fun with friends and family! A BeaverTails pastry is the sweetest addition to an already memorable day. That’s why we love opening stores in tourist landmarks, amusement parks, and attractions.”
The butter tart is a small pastry loaded with buttery, sugary goodness. The tart is stuffed with a filling made of butter, sugar, syrup, and egg baked until the top is crunchy and the filling is still soft. Butter tarts can be served in the traditional way, but a lot are topped with things like pecans or raisins.
For the best of the best go to The Maids’ Cottage in Newmarket, Ontario. Butter tarts aren’t taken lightly in the province, and every year they hold the Butter Tart Festival. In the 2017 festival, it was The Maid’s Cottage pecan butter tart that took the crown.
Saskatoon Berry Pie
The Saskatoon Berry Pie gains its distinct flavour from the saskatoons that make it. The purpleish-blue berries have a nutty, fruity flavour – like a mixture of almonds and cherries – and make a gorgeous-looking pie filling. The berries, cased inside a buttery crust, create this masterpiece, which is often served warm and with ice-cream, the way any good pie should be.
This nostalgic dish is perfect to warm you on a cold winter day. Although there are many ways to eat saskatoons, the pie is most popular. One of the best places in the country is The Berry Barn just outside of Saskatoon city. The Berry Barn’s fresh berries make for one of the best pies in the country, and its views of the South Saskatchewan River make for the perfect backdrop.
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We spoke to the team at The Berry Barn, who told us more about their history-making the pies: “We have been making Saskatoon berry pies from the same recipe for over 20 years and is easily our top moving dessert.
“Saskatoon berry pies are popular for a couple reasons. First, it’s a local berry that the city of Saskatoon takes its name from and local people are proud of. Second, it’s not overly sweet or sour, has a nice smooth taste, rich in its own distinctive flavour, which makes for an enjoyable pie. A Saskatoon berry pie has a subtle sweet taste, rich flavour, and no pits or seeds to disrupt the pie.”
Okay, we have to admit you’ve probably heard of this one, but we had to include it. It’s the epitome of a Canadian dish and something everyone needs to try as soon as possible. If you think you’ve had chips, cheese and gravy, you haven’t had it like this. Whether it’s a late-night snack after dancing the night away, or in the middle of a winter’s day to warm you up, poutine is greasy, it’s hot, it’s cheesy, and it’s delicious.
The true secret to proper Canadian poutine is the cheese curds. A by-product of the cheese making process, these little gems of melty-goodness are what bring poutine it’s distinct flavour.
Poutine was created in Quebec, and if you want to try it as authentic as you can get it, head to La Banquise, a 24-hour restaurant in Montreal that specialises in poutine. They have over 30 flavours on the menu, from classic to variations like ‘La “3 Amigos”, topped with a hot-dog sausage, a pork and beef sausage and a merguez sausage.
Anything from Tim Hortons
Again, we know you’ve probably heard of Tim Hortons, but unless you’ve been there you don’t know the beauty of it. Full of fantastic treats and exceptional coffee, a trip to Tim Hortons can indulge your snacking-desires and tick another item off of your Canadian bucket list at the same time.
Their most popular snack is the Timbit. A small, bite-sized piece of donut-heaven. Grab a snack pack and you’ll soon be back for more. With flavours including apple fritter, honey dip, old fashioned plain, chocolate glazed, sour cream glazed, blueberry, lemon and much more, you’ll want to try one of each before you leave. If these donut holes aren’t for you, you can just go for the full donut instead!