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.
Food in Canada has come a long way. 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.
- 22 Incredible Landmarks in Canada
- 30 Amazing Facts About Canada
- 50 Things To Do In Canada For Your Bucket List
- 11 Traditional Canada Foods and Drinks
- Weird Foods in Canada
- 10 Canadian Food Experiences
- 1- Okanagan Valley, BC: Wine Route
- 2- Nova Scotia Seafood Trails
- 3- Niagara Wine Trails
- 4- Quebec’s Sugar Shack Trail
- 5- Yukon Klondike Kitchens
- 6- Alberta’s Cowboy Cookout Banff National Park
- 7- Manitoba’s Around the World in 8 or 9 plates
- 8- Ontario’s Culinary Bounty of the County
- 9- New Brunswick - Lobster Capital of the World
- 10- Montreal croissant and bagel trail
11 Traditional Canada Foods and Drinks
Popular Canadian Food
By Ilona Kauremszky from Toronto
1- Nanaimo bar
At the top of our Canadian snacks list is the 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.
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.
Sounds delicious? You’re right! This typical Canadian food is an Ontario favourite.
So, eating peameal on a bun is one of the fun things to do in Toronto.
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 this traditional Canadian food?
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.
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.
Although Canadian maple syrup is another Quebec classic, Ontario and the Yukon have 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, the 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 hot dog bun.
Best place to taste this delicious Canadian food?
Anywhere in Atlantic Canada and Montreal.
Aside from the lobster sandwich, Atlantic Canada has some weird and wonderful food traditions worth investigating.
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.
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.
Weird Foods in Canada
By Sandra Phinney from Halifax
Every region of the world has them – indigenous foods or traditional ways of preparing dishes that seem peculiar, but are oh-so-delicious.
Atlantic Canada is no exception, join me on a tasting tour of some unusual foods in Atlantic Canada, where you’ll find some of the stranger food Canada is known for.
Nova Scotia Food
12- Wild game
Attend a Wild Game Evening & Auction at Le Club des Audacieux in Quinan (population 400), which is one of the oldest Acadian communities in Southwest Nova Scotia.
It’s hard to believe that such a wee place can hold such a big event and even more surprising is how 300 tickets sell out weeks ahead.
It’s all about the wild.
Wild bear, wild moose, goose, duck, deer, sea trout, eels, lobster, porcupine, beaver—you name it.
If it comes from the wild, you’re likely to find it here.
It’s about keeping traditions like hunting and trapping alive.
It’s also about raising money to keep the hall and events operating—and having a walloping good time in the process.
Lucky for me, this event is mere minutes away from where I live.
I always taste whatever’s on the go, and continue to be amazed at the variety of wild foods and the flavour.
No wonder I waddle to my car afterwards.
13- Rappie Pie
Another regional Acadian favourite is râpure, also known as rappie pie.
Actually, râpure is neither a pie nor a dessert.
It’s a main-course dish with a weird texture that looks like a lump of gray glue.
Fans of rappie pie are not fussed about the visual aspect of the food.
We think of it as soul food.
Rappie pie is found in some restaurants between Pubnico and the region of Clare, and is hugely popular as a home dish—especially for family gatherings, homecomings, and community celebrations.
Rappie pie is made from potato pulp (grated potatoes with the liquid squeezed out) mixed with hot chicken broth.
In a large pan, you add chopped onion, salt and pepper and layer the base with cooked chicken dotted with bits of pork fat.
After baking for three hours or so, the top turns brown and crispy.
Râpure is usually served with butter and can be accompanied by chow-chow or molasses.
New Brunswick Food
Maliseets, the original inhabitants, called Edmunston in New Brunswick Madawaska, meaning “land of the porcupines.”
Acadians who had fled the Deportation and French-Canadian colonists from Quebec settled the area in the late 1700s.
After the governor of the province, Sir Edmund Walker Head, visited in 1856, it officially became Edmundston.
Here’s the fun part: in 1949, two upstanding Edmundstonians invented the concept of the Republic of Madawaska, replete with a flag, coat of arms, and the Order of the Knights of the Republic.
The concept stuck.
Edmundston was declared the capital of the Republic, and whoever sits in the mayor’s seat automatically becomes the President of the Republic.
Take my word for it; a place with a story like this has a lot of character.
It also has great food.
14- La Ploye Buckwheat Pancakes
One of the specialties in the region is “la ploye”—thin buckwheat pancakes (cooked on one side only), which are eaten either as an accompaniment to a meal, or for a snack.
It’s common to spread brown sugar, maple syrup, or molasses on them, then roll them up and eat with your fingers.
It’s also common to see outdoor stalls at fairs, festivals and community events selling ployes.
They are undeniably addictive.
The first time I visited Labrador, my husband and I ended up spending a couple of nights as guests of Cavell and Ned Burke at the Grande Hermine RV Park (about 40 km from Labrador City).
Cavell cooked us a breakfast of bacon and eggs, sausages, bologna (referred to as “Newfoundland steak”), beans, toutons and molasses.
That was my introduction to toutons.
Made with fresh bread dough, they are about the size of flat doughnuts and are fried in butter and oil to a golden brown.
They are downright deadly.
We took a boat ride to the Wonderstrands, a historically significant 54km beach that juts from the mainland.
After the boat trip we went to Packs Harbour, where our host Pete Barrett from Experience Labrador Tours heated up stewed moose for lunch.
Sopping up the moose juice with homemade rolls, the discussion turned to food and Pete asked if we’d ever eaten flummies.
“Nope,” I replied.
Within seconds she produced a bag-full for dessert.
Flummies are a thick mix of flour, baking powder, salt and water.
The mixture is fried in margarine, topped with a brown sugar sauce and frequently laced with rum.
It was impossible not to have a second helping.
17- Fish and Brewis
At Battle Harbour, a National Historic Site on a small island, Myrtle Rumbolt showed me how to make fish and brewis (pronounced “brews”).
The soggy mashed bread and salt fish soaked in water, brought to the boil then drained, is not appetising to look at.
But when topped up with pork scrunchions (fried cubes of pork fat) and sautéed onions, it’s really delicious.
Although I suspect that all the salt and fat was probably going straight to my heart, that didn’t stop me from having seconds—and fried leftovers the next day!
Once we crossed on the ferry over to Newfoundland, I vowed to ease up on the food but soon changed my mind.
18- Jiggs Dinner
We chowed down to a “scoff,” featuring a Jiggs Dinner of corned beef, root vegetables and thick gravy served with peas pudding (split peas tied into a bag and cooked with the dinner) at Tuckamore Lodge in Main Brook.
What can I say?
These regional foods are so delicious, so comforting, and so addictive, that it’s really tough trying to be moderate.
Oh well, my husband says that it’s only polite to have seconds.
Mind you, none of these foods would win a prize for plating or design in a culinary show. Matters not; each dish is comforting and full of flavour.
Besides, one of the best parts is hearing stories from the people who prepare these foods, who often include some historical tidbits and rollicking tales.
10 Canadian Food Experiences
Mention the word ‘trails’ to a Canadian and they are bound to respond with a bunch of details, most of which, are a prelude to the big, beautiful natural bounty on a scenic scale.
Now throw in that you’re kinda hungry and observe the reaction. Depending on what part of this fabulous country you popped the vital question, “Are there any trails for hungry folk?” prepare for a response of gastronomic proportions.
Just don’t bother getting on a scale once you completed this hurdle of plates.
Read on for our pick of 10 food trails in Canada worth wagging tongues over.
1- Okanagan Valley, BC: Wine Route
This grape-growing region in British Columbia is superb wine country.
A combination of terroir, a climate bound by its southerly location, makes the spot not only a wine lover’s dream but a scenic fantasy where the mantra "know your farmer know your food" rings true.
Picture lake country with scenic sips in between. Don’t take our word for it though. Indulge in the Kelowna Wine Trail, with its various routes of 27 wineries.
Take a road trip around the Okanagan or join a hop-on-hop-off guided tour, for a stress-free easy-peasy experience led by knowledgeable wine enthusiasts.
The wine trails can be enjoyed year round too.
2- Nova Scotia Seafood Trails
This North Atlantic Ocean Maritime province knows how to lure seafood lovers.
Cast your net and indulge in some of the freshest, finest, and favourite culinary finds.
Nova Scotia has a new culinary trail with over 80 stops devoted solely to seafood.
It’s also Canada’s first trail devoted to seafood experiences from lobster boils and chowder to freshly shucked oysters and fresh catch of the day.
Whatever your seafood craving, Nova Scotians have your foodie niche covered.
Tour the Chowder Trail, the Lobster Trail, the Oyster Trail, and yes, the Fish and Chips Trail.
3- Niagara Wine Trails
Up the road from famous Niagara Falls lies that other popular attraction: Niagara wineries.
It seems every month there’s a new winery popping up.
Most of them have teamed up to form some kind of wine trail too, making it easy for wine lovers to track them down as they map out their quest to explore the next best attraction beside the Niagara Falls.
Wineries like Peller Estates and Ravine Vineyard Winery have also added a restaurant sidebar so you can sip and savour the seasonal flavours amid views of wine country or in a farm dining atmosphere.
4- Quebec’s Sugar Shack Trail
In the country of the maple leaf, there’s no better way to indulge in a national favourite than to hit the sugar shacks in Quebec for the most delicious discoveries.
The province is literally dotted with them.
Because it’s a long-standing Quebec tradition that dates back to the ancient Amerindians.
Choose a family one-stop shop in the woods or those bigger sugar shacks and you won’t be disappointed.
We like the Chemin du Terroir.
Tucked in the beauty of the Laurentians, there’s plenty to taste along the way as you head to one of the finest sugar shacks in the region.
5- Yukon Klondike Kitchens
Treasures abound in this world once ruled by prospectors and gold rushers who came in search of Eldorado.
From saloons to sluice boxes, discover your inner Klondike prospector in Dawson City as you sample some old-fashioned delicacies at the old-timey restos and bare bone bars.
No visit is complete to the Great White North until you bite into freshly caught Yukon fish at Klondike Kate’s or a decadent bourbon reubens (that's a smoked meat sandwich with Swiss cheese, pickles and sauerkraut) finished with a goopy doughnut dish smothered in cream cheese icing sauce at the old Triple J Restaurant.
Next, throwback local libations like the legendary Sourtoe cocktail at the Sourdough Saloon or martinis like Titillating Tart, the Temptress, and Spank my Naughty Ass, fun monikers reflecting the former past-time at Bombay Peggy’s Pub. (Read: It used to be an old brothel).
6- Alberta’s Cowboy Cookout Banff National Park
Nothing beats fresh air and splendid views to work up an appetite.
Now hitch a wagon ride or horseback into the pristine back country with a local tour operator offering cook-out experiences.
For this breathtaking trip head into the heart of Banff, Canada’s first national park with Discover Banff Tours.
Good for the family or novices, first-time riders can saddle up for a three-hour ride and enjoy an old-fashioned cookout.
Tasty comfort food reins big there.
Think big bowls of chilli and seared steaks.
7- Manitoba’s Around the World in 8 or 9 plates
Anywhere around Manitoba’s capital, you’re bound to hear patois spoken especially since the city ‘pegs’ over 100 languages.
That means expect culinary flavours galore.
So it's not surprising that one of the top things to do in Winnipeg is to savour the flavours.
Some favourites include Sun Fortune off Pembina Highway for Hong Kong style Chinese and Dwarf no Cachette in St. Boniface for Japanese dishes.
8- Ontario’s Culinary Bounty of the County
A cornucopia of plenty waits in Ontario’s farm country - Prince Edward County on the shores of Lake Ontario.
Locals stick to an undisputed regiment involving fresh farm-to-table gourmet sensations that have been so talked about.
There’s even a Taste Trail devoted to the epicurean delights.
Nicknamed “The County,” locals embrace and take great pride in their fruits of labour, be it a glass of wine or dining experiences.
No wonder the national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, has anointed this slice of terroir as Ontario’s Gastronomic Capital.
Look for the Taste Trail road signs for this foodie odyssey.
9- New Brunswick - Lobster Capital of the World
Indulge in the world of lobsters in New Brunswick, the “Lobster Capital of the World.”
Whether the setting is a quaint country-style restaurant or a lobster boil on the beach, the experience will be a bib full of fun with this finger-lickin' good lobster meal.
That’s how to eat them by the way… don a checkered red and white bib and dip the freshly boiled lobster into melted butter.
One of the finest discoveries is to take a riveting boat tour led by experienced lobster fishermen, like with Shediac Bay Cruises.
The rich Acadian heritage is alive and well. Besides learning about ancient maritime customs and listening to “Old Salt” tales, you'll feast on finger licking good crustaceans.
10- Montreal croissant and bagel trail
Packing the carbs on is pretty heavenly once you sample a bakery crawl like no other.
In Montreal, bakers like the locals take croissants and bagels seriously.
For croissants, head to either Patisserie Au Kouign Amann on the Plateau for a sinful sampling of buttery-infused croissants done by a Normandy-trained patissier or Mamie Clafoutis (there are five locations in Montreal) for her ‘Mon Dieu’ chocolate croissants.
For bagels, there’s been a long-running stand-off more like some healthy competition between two acclaimed bagel shops: the melt-in-your-mouth bagels from St. Viateur and Fairmount, Montreal’s first bagel shop. Try them both and tell us your favourite.