Classic Canadian Foods Everyone Needs to Try at Least Once
Want to savour the greatest cuisine Canada has to offer? From centuries-old soups to decadent desserts, here are 10 truly iconic Canadian dishes—and where to find them.
Quintessential Canadian Food
Everyone knows that it means to go out for Mexican or Indian cuisine, but what would make the menu at a “Canadian restaurant” if you were asked to create such a thing? What Canadian food truly captures the time-honoured traditions and flavours of our country, and make for essential eating if you’re visiting from afar? Although it’s by no means exhaustive, this roundup of 10 quintessential Canadian foods is a great place to start.
One of the many culinary gems to come out of French Canada, poutine has emerged as the definitive Canadian food. Several small towns in Quebec claim to have invented this celebrated dish (or side dish), and it’s said to date back to the 1950s. A real poutine uses peppery meat-based gravy and “squeaky” curds on fries.
Where to eat it: Any Canadian diner with fries on the menu will typically offer poutine, including big chains like McDonald’s. National franchises like Smoke’s Poutinerie serve up just about any protein or vegetable in variations on the calorie-heavy dish. If you’re up for a real celebration, there are also annual poutine festivals in cities across the country.
What’s known in our country as “peameal bacon” is branded as Canadian bacon just about everywhere else. Unlike traditional bacon, which comes from the pig’s belly, Canadian bacon is lean pork loin that’s been brined and rolled in cornmeal. During the turn of the century, it was a key Canadian food export to England, which was experiencing a bacon shortage. At the time it was rolled in yellow peas for preservation, though over the years, that switched to cornmeal.
Where to eat it: Carousel Bakery in Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market is world-renowned for its Canadian bacon sandwiches, though they insist on calling them World Famous Peameal Bacon Sandwiches.
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The origin of the Caesar can be traced back to 1969, when Calgary restaurant manager Walter Chell first combined clam juice, tomato juice, vodka, Worchester and a salted rim. Since then, this cocktail’s been embraced from coast to coast, with an estimated 400-million Caesars consumed each year.
Where to eat it: Although the Caesar is considered a cocktail, several restaurants across the country have turned it into a meal. Vancouver’s Score on Davie offers the “Checkmate Caesar,” which is garnished with a full roast chicken, cheeseburger, chicken wings, pulled pork mac and cheese hot dog, roasted vegetables and a brownie.
What’s essentially a flattened donut without a hole, BeaverTails are a quintessentially Canadian food. The recipe was handed down in Graham Hooker’s family for generations, but it wasn’t until 1978 that he started to introduce it to a wider audience. A year later, he opened his first BeaverTails outlet in Ottawa to dole out the treat, which can come topped with sugar, Nutella and a variety of other sweets.
Where to eat it: BeaverTails has since expanded across the country, with locations in Canadian landmarks such as Vancouver’s Grouse Mountain and Halifax’s Waterfront.
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Sometimes it takes a fresh set of eyes (not to mention taste buds) to help us understand what makes Canadian food truly Canadian. Take Canadian-style pizza, for example, which is perhaps best defined by the menu at Ron Telesky Canadian Pizza in (of all places) Berlin, Germany. How did a German pizzeria end up making a name for itself with pies inspired by the Great White North? It turns out one of the owners did a high school exchange in Peterborough, Ontario, where he was impressed with the local pizza. It wasn’t quite as fried and doughy as American-style, yet the toppings were more inventive than traditional Italian-style pies. The resulting pizza on his Berlin menu is somewhere in-between: a thin-crust pizza with an array of creative pizzas toppings. Flavours include Cronenberg Crash (cilantro pesto, tandoori tofu, mango, peanuts and red pepper) and the Wayne Gretzky (feta, mozzarella and cheddar cheeses, Italian salami, speck and chorizo, hot peppers, chili flakes and caramelized onions). Maple syrup is proudly displayed as one of the additional (and complimentary) toppings.
Where to eat it: Ron Telesky’s is located in the Kreuzberg neighbourhood in Berlin, although you can always order a Canadian—typically bacon, pepperoni and mushrooms—at any domestic pizza parlour (no passport required).
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The origins of this rich, delectable and quintessentially Canadian food can be traced back to the late 19th century. Consisting of a delicate, crumbly crust and a creamy centre made of a butter, sugar and egg mixture, there’s constant debate over whether raisins should be added to the mix.
Fascinating facts about the humble butter tart:
- Mary F. Williamson, a retired fine arts librarian at York University in Toronto, traced the earliest mention of the butter tart recipe to 1900 in the Royal Victoria Cook Book.
- Margaret MacLeod’s recipe for “filling tarts” is the first documented recipe and called for one cup of sugar, a half-cup butter, two eggs and a cup of currants.
- By midcentury, Eaton’s department store in Toronto included a butter tart in its boxed picnic lunches.
Where to eat it: Most coffee shops and bakeries will have them on hand, but it’s worth making a trip to Ontario—the birthplace of the butter tart—if you want to get serious about this sweet treat. In rural Kenilworth, Ontario, you will find the Butter Tart Trail, a string of 18 bakeries which sell the prized pastries. If that’s not enough to satisfy your craving, drive three hours east to the City of Kawartha Lakes, which offers its own Butter Tart Tour.
This rich tri-layered dessert bar is made of crumb mixture, vanilla-flavoured butter icing, and melted chocolate. Its exact origin has never been confirmed, though a 1952 recipe for a “chocolate square” can be found in a book called The Ladies Auxiliary to the Nanaimo General Hospital. A year later, a cookbook was published with what’s believed to be the first recipe under the name “Nanaimo bar.”
Where to eat it: In your own home! In 1985, the Mayor of Nanaimo held a competition in hopes of finding the best, most definitive Nanaimo bar recipe. Joyce Hardcastle’s won, and her recipe can be found on the city’s website.
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Split Pea Soup
To mark the 400th anniversary of French explorer Samuel de Champlain’s travels, Ottawa chef Marc Miron became inspired to research what nourished him and other inhabitants when they settled in their new land. Turns out, they can be credited for inventing split pea soup, a classic French Canadian food. The explorers used cured meats and dried pea that were intended to last on their long journey, along with vegetables cultivated from their new land. The result is a Canadian dish that has lasted centuries and is still thoroughly enjoyed today.
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Here’s a deep-rooted French Canadian food that dates back to the 1600s. The flakey pie is said to have gotten its name from the vessel it’s baked in. Tourtière is typically filled with ground pork, beef, veal or game and a sprinkling of herbs and spices, though in some coastal towns ground fish is used. The hearty meal is most commonly consumed at Christmas and New Years, though Quebec grocery stores keep it stocked year-round.
Where to eat it: One spot that’s famous for its tourtiere is Aux Anciens Canadiens in Quebec City. The restaurant is renowned for specializing in traditional Quebecois culinary treats, with tourtiere at the top of their list.
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Ketchup… on Everything!
While it’s not so much a dish as it is a condiment, there’s still something inherently Canadian about ketchup. Of course, there are ketchup chips: a staple here but completely unheard of stateside. (Here are more Canadian snacks you can’t get anywhere else.) The same goes with slathering ketchup on Kraft Dinner (another favourite Canadian food), and grilled cheese dipped in ketchup. The latter is such a popular pairing that it was chosen as a winning flavour by Lay’s after they asked customers to come up with a new potato chip flavour combination.
Where to eat it: At your very own dinner table.
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