Canada’s favourite culinary traditions are regional mainstays that stem from a heritage that goes back to the Aboriginal ancestors and Canada’s first European settlers. These days, traditional Canadian foods are dished up with fun fresh epicurean twists that have the mouths watering for a whole new generation of foodie lovers.
Forged from the oldest bedrock on earth in a country where the oldest skyscrapers are the ancient Redwoods is it any wonder then that Canada’s finest natural ingredients have become fabulous fodder to the new Canadian culinary scene?
It also helps that Canada has experienced an explosion of rich ethnic dishes from its varied immigrant communities. No longer is the once-standard culinary scene of meat and potatoes considered a Canadian foodie staple.
Here are the mainstays, the quintessential Canadian tastes.
Traditional Canadian foods and drinks
1- Nanaimo bar
A creamy chocolate-rich treat invented in Nanaimo in British Columbia, this sweet treat is heaven in a block. The traditional Nanaimo bar is topped with chocolate and has a chocolate and coconut base with a creamy pastry filling.
Best place to taste: The best place to enjoy Nanaimo heaven is the Nanaimo Bar trail in Nanaimo. These days, there are all kinds of versions including gluten-free, vegan and organic. There’s a bacon-topped version, deep fried Nanaimo bar and a Nanaimo bar spring roll.
2- Peameal on a bun
A carb-heavy sandwich of Canadian bacon rolled in cornmeal pan fried ‘til the edges are crispy, Peameal on a bun is preferably served with pepper and regular mustard on a buttered Kaiser roll.
3- The Caesar
It might be mistaken for a Bloody Mary but it’s not. This spicy tomato juice cocktail is really a proprietary Clamato juice infused with vodka and droplets of salty Worcester sauce served in a celery salt-rimmed glass with a lime wedge.
Best place to taste: Everywhere in Canada but especially in Alberta at the Westin Hotel in Calgary, the old haunt where restaurateur Walter Chell crafted the libation in 1969.
4- Ice Wine
Canada’s liquid gold is served chilled and made from the juice of hand-picked vine-ripened frozen grapes. Compared to regular grapes, these have a higher sugar concentration and a heftier sticker price.
5- Cedar Plank Salmon
An old Aboriginal delicacy that’s been reinvented over the generations, Cedar plank salmon it has become a favorite staple on either coast. It involves putting a salmon steak – freshly caught and not farmed – between two slabs of cedar planks over a fire pit or BBQ. Enjoying a great gab session while the tasty salmon is cooking is all part of the social aspect of dining on cedar plank salmon.
Best place to taste: Either off the coast of British Columbia, while enjoying sweeping views, or the Atlantic in a quaint Nova Scotia hamlet.
A huge carb-heavy favourite, Poutine is really French Fries served over cheese curds topped with gravy sauce and is best consumed after a late-night drinking spell.
Best place to taste: A Quebec classic, poutine can be found anywhere in Quebec.
This sticky, goopy thick nectar tapped from Canada’s maple trees is highly anticipated every spring when Mother Nature begins the annual thaw. Sugar bush connoisseurs hit the forest and tap into Canada’s other liquid gold.
Best place to taste: Another Quebec classic but Ontario has some good spots and you’ll find a sugar shack just about anywhere where there’s snow.
8- Lobster Sandwich
There was a time when children of poor Atlantic fishermen used to take lobster sandwiches to school because there wasn’t any meat and codfish was strictly for reselling. Nowadays, lobster sandwich is en vogue and can be found in trendy restos around Montreal. It’s preferably eaten freshly steamed and lightly coated with mayo sandwiched between a heated hotdog bun.
When in Montreal, you need to try the bagels. There’s a rivalry going on between Montreal and New York as to which city has the best bagels. The bagels in Montreal are smaller and denser than the bagels made in New York. Montreal’s bagels come in different varieties and are commonly topped with sesame or poppy seeds.
Best place to taste: The two most famous places in Montreal are St-Viateur Bagel Bakery and Fairmount Bagel.
A traditional Quebecois meat pie usually stuffed with beef, pork or veal, the tourtiere is the quintessential Canadian comfort food with universal appeal.
Best place to taste: Anywhere in Quebec but for an Aussie twist (and the slight chance of bumping into Hugh Jackman) try Ta Pies in Montreal.
11- Butter tarts
Butter tarts are a quintessentially Canadian dessert but it inspires madness in the province of Ontario. The biggest rivalry happens at a stretch famously known as the Butter Tart Trail in the small town of Kenilworth in the Township of Wellington North. But there’s another area around the Kawarthas Northumberland region that has their own trail too. Whichever one you choose, sweet tooth lovers can take a self-guided butter tart tour on either trail.
The rich decadently sinful baked goodie is a traditional favourite that many an Ontarian grandma has made for every special occasion. Believe it or not, there are over a dozen varieties to try.
The best? This summer there was a butter tart bake-off contest in Midland, Ontario. The home baking winner was a peanut butter banana bacon butter tart by Hisako Niimi, an Ottawa based Japan-born home baker who was inspired by Elvis’ favorite food combo.
Five places to enjoy a Canadian foodie escape:
1- Aurora Village
Surrounded by nature on the outskirts of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories this iconic village comes to life during the Northern Lights season. That’s when hungry foodies enjoy the local flavours of Canada’s Great White North too.
2- Whistler’s Finer Things Dinner Tour
A veritable slalom course for foodies, you need to pack an appetite on this sky-high walking tour through Whistler, British Columbia that showcases haute cuisine from four of the city’s top restaurants. Enjoy delicious courses; learn how to saber champagne in a climate-controlled cellar storing 15,000 wine bottles, and make new friends along the way.
3- Sugaring-Off – Sucrerie de la Montagne, Quebec
Pure unadulterated sweet sticky maple syrup, it doesn’t get more Canadian than this. Take a road trip in the country’s largest maple syrup producing province of Quebec and stop at this famous sugar shack of sugar shacks.
4- Giant Bar Clam Dig Adventure – Tranquility Cove Adventures, PEI
Tranquility comes in buckets at Tranquility Cove. In this seafood lover’s fantasy a deserted island off Prince Edward Island turns into a dream-come-true as you dig for giant clams in your wetsuits and prep for the ultimate beach cook-out.
5-Lobster Tales – Shediac Bay Cruises, New Brunswick
Indulge in the world of lobsters in the “Lobster Capital of the World” on this riveting boat tour led by experienced lobster fishermen. Discover a rich Acadian heritage that is still alive, learn about the ancient maritime customs, and hear fabulous “Old Salt” stories passed down from generations as you sample the finger licking good crustaceans.
Ilona Kauremszky lives in Toronto and grew up on staple Canadian fare.