One of the great pleasures in visiting distant countries is the opportunity it presents at mealtimes. Exciting new dishes to try and unusual dining rituals make eating abroad an adventure in itself. Of course, Canada brings its own unique culinary efforts to the table and there are plenty of menu options to make your mouth water.
Discover what exactly poutine is and get a head start on other cuisine to order on your next holiday to Canada with our guide to Canadian delicacies and popular foods from the country.
As far as Canadian foods go, poutine truly is a national dish and one you may well have heard of before.
A hearty combination of chips, flavourful gravy and cheese curds, poutine is a comforting dish that makes an appearance on most menus in the French-influenced province of Quebec. Haute cuisine it is not, but if you want something oh-so-satisfying and definitely Canadian, then head to one of the many Smoke’s Poutinerie locations in Quebec. Here you can select the authentic meal or opt for one of the upgraded menu variations on the classic poutine.
If you’re after the province’s famed continental cooking instead, see some of the best restaurants Quebec has to offer.
The sweet treat so good they named a city after it… Well, perhaps not, but there’s still no mistaking that Nanaimo Bars are as much a part of this harbourside destination on Vancouver Island as the natural beauty that surrounds it.
For those exploring western Canada, Vancouver city in British Columbia is a must, but if you have the time and fancy some R&R after exploring the top attractions in Vancouver, then a cruise to Vancouver Island with its fantastic wildlife spotting opportunities is just the thing.
Be sure to visit Nanaimo while you’re there, where you’ll find a curious delicacy comprised of layers of biscuit, custard butter icing and melted chocolate. As Chelsea from Tourism Nanaimo says:
“Sampling a homemade Nanaimo Bar in Nanaimo will taste better than anywhere else in the world!”
If you’re keen to find out more about this favourite Canadian cake, Chelsea adds:
“You definitely need to sample a traditional Nanaimo Bar; it dates back and is tied to the mining history here. The Nanaimo Museum has a small exhibit featuring the first published Nanaimo Bar recipe in the 1950s. If you pick up the Nanaimo Bar Trail brochure you can circle the variations you would like to try and find your favourite. Most of the Nanaimo Bars on the trail are made in-house at each location.
“In Nanaimo we are very proud of our namesake bar and each café/bakery/restaurant takes pride in making them from scratch and keeps their recipe close to their heart. Each year in July there is a Nanaimo Bar competition for bragging rights and the community participation is huge – over 200 people line up early to sample and vote for their favourites.”
Fish and brewis
At first glance, fish and brewis – a traditional dish made popular in the fishing villages of Newfoundland – may not appear as appetising as some of the other foods on this list, but this hardy dish has provided sustenance to Canada’s Maritimes for generations.
Fish and brewis features salted cod pieces – a nod to Newfoundland’s seafaring ways – and is served with pieces of fried pork fat known as scrunchions and traditional hard tack bread. While originally favoured by sailors at sea, today the dish has been revitalised to stand up to other menu options in the region’s elegant seafood restaurants and bistros.
If you’re making the most of convenient car hire in Canada on a road trip to the Maritime Provinces, be brave and dive into this heritage dinner from naval Newfoundland.
“I think poutine is the quintessential Canadian dish, enjoyed across Canada. That said, as Canada is such a large and diverse country, there are many regional favourites. Here in Ontario, there are Butter Tarts,” says Jennifer from Seasons and Suppers.
If you’re looking for a pick-me-up on your journey around Ontario, stop off at one of the province’s talented bakeries and grab one of these sweet pastries. Butter tarts are essentially a flaky pastry shell encasing a gooey centre of baked butter, syrup, eggs and sugar, but one bite and you’ll understand why the nation loves this delicacy.
The blogger and food writer is an expert in this popular baked tart, living herself in the Muskoka region of central Ontario known by the locals as “cottage country”. Jennifer explains:
“It is about a two-hour drive north of Toronto and is a beautiful part of Ontario, with soaring pine trees, huge granite outcrops and over 1600 lakes. It is also home to multi-million dollar cottages of the rich and famous. It’s an area worth visiting for anyone visiting Ontario. It’s a nice day-trip out from Toronto.”
Think of Calgary, the capital city of Alberta province, and cowboys, desert-like landscapes and the world famous Calgary Stampede might come to mind. Calgarians take a more sophisticated stance when it comes to what they sip, however. If you’re spending an evening in the city, ask the bartender for a Caesar and you won’t regret it!
The Caesar is a tangy cocktail not dissimilar from our Bloody Mary. The story goes that Walter Chell, a Calgary newcomer from Montenegro and bartender in what is now the luxury Westin Hotel, was inspired by rich Italian tomato and seafood dishes. He shook a classic clam sauce with Tabasco and Worcestershire, adding vodka and a celery stick to give it one final kick.
Today, the Caesar’s popularity continues and nearly every bar you go in will have its own top secret recipe to sample. If you like your cocktails strong and full of flavour, then an evening sipping on Caesar cocktails in lively downtown Calgary certainly won’t disappoint. Why not try mixing a glass or two at home? Follow this unique recipe from the Cookin Canuck and you’ll be serving up Caesars in no time!
Canadian cooking doesn’t come much more homely than a traditional Tourtière from Quebec province. This classic meat pie encased in a thick buttery crust is comforting cuisine enjoyed by families across Canada, particularly on Christmas Eve.
Don’t worry, you won’t need to wait until the winter to try a slice as the dish features on menus in several Montreal restaurants all year round. You’ll find different variations on the original, but the staple Montreal Tourtière usually comprises ground pork meat, onions and spices such as clove or cinnamon. One forkful and you’ll feel at home in Canada instantly!
Saskatoon berry pie
Saskatchewan is Canada’s true prairie land, with grasslands stretching the length of the Trans-Canada Yellowhead Highway through the province. These lush landscapes also offer nature’s ingredients for a pudding that’s just ripe for the picking!
The Saskatoon berry pie is a childhood treat for the people of Saskatchewan’s largest city, Saskatoon. While you’ll find these dark, juicy berries elsewhere on Canada’s west coast, no one bakes the dessert quite like the grandmas and mothers of Saskatchewan – or so the residents will say anyway.
Bursting with wild hedgerow flavours, the Saskatoon Berry Pie is sweet and full of ripe fruit cooked in a golden pastry crust. Make sure you leave room for pudding if you’re eating out in Saskatchewan because you don’t want to miss this nostalgic dish. Think hazy memories of picking fruit in sunny fields and you’ll soon understand the appeal of the Saskatoon berry pie.
Looking for more foodie inspiration? Edible Destinations has shared their shortlist of additional Canadian delicacies to try in Canada’s different provinces.
Foodie culture in Canada
Canada may be the global giant in maple syrup production and while this sugary golden sap is the best accompaniment to a warm stack of pancakes, if you’re looking for a little more foodie inspiration the country has lot more to offer.
Montreal and Vancouver, for instance, are Canada’s culinary capitals and have a well-established foodie reputation – world-class chefs are constantly introducing innovative gourmet recipes to menus in the city’s swankiest of restaurants and cafes.
Elsewhere in the country’s provinces, Canadian delicacies are lovingly passed down from generation to generation and reflect the individual culture, peoples and farming in these regions.
Sharing delicious experiences from her own culinary adventures in the kitchen and beyond, Jennifer of the online food and cookery diary Seasons and Suppers describes how choice plays a role in making mealtimes in Canada so tasty:
“Canada is a very diverse country, made up of immigrants from all over the world. Canadians have embraced food from all the cultures that make up our population.
Canadians are very adventurous eaters, willing to try and adopt all kinds of cultural foods. There is also a traditional British and French culture of food, owing to the original settlers, who largely emigrated from those areas.”
Fresh is best in Canada too, and many opt for locally sourced ingredients and simple yet exceptional cooking. JoAnn of Edible Destinations, organising cuisine inspired trips around the world, explains:
“Canadians really like to go for what is fresh and in season and grown close to home and because Canada is such a diverse country, there are lots of fusions of different countries’ foods. For example, Canada cooks outside on the BBQ grill during any time of year…every day of the year!”
If you’re interested in sampling the best of BBQ culture in Canada, there’s perhaps no better view when dining than that of Whistler on the West Coast. Better known as a prime spot for winter skiing in Canada, the resort hosts weekly mountainside BBQ sessions in the warmer seasons too. Find out how Whistler offers summer wanderlust and the many activities you can enjoy when the snow melts.
So which Canadian foods should you try first? When travelling to Canada, Tourism Nanaimo’s Chelsea has the following advice for culinary explorers:
“Canadians are lucky enough to get such a variety of taste, as well as the influence from other cultures. Canadians are really celebrating fresh, locally grown, and appreciate taste with healthy options.
“When on holiday, mix well-known chain restaurant visits with locally owned and operated dining experiences to get the opportunity to see what type of food locals are growing, making and enjoying in the area.
“You can also find the other well-known Canadian foods people are familiar with such as maple syrup which is made here, poutine is a popular menu item and the Sunday Caesar specials are featured at almost every restaurant/pub in town!”
Image Credit: Kyle Strickland, Megan Lawrie Cole, Ted’s photos , Michael Vesia (visualhunt.com), jamleanne, Gerry Thomasen, Gary J. Wood (flickr.com), Hisakazu Watanabe, Mr. Granger, AnnaKucsma (wikipedia.org)