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10 Must-Try Canadian Dishes (and the Best Places to Find Them)

Want to savour the best Canadian food the Great White North has to offer? From centuries-old soups to decadent desserts, here are 10 truly iconic Canadian dishes—and the best places in the country to find them.

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PoutinePhoto: Shutterstock

Poutine

One of the many culinary gems to come out of French Canada, poutine is perhaps one of the most outlandish and definitive Canadian dishes. 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.

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Canadian bacon, or peamealPhoto: Shutterstock

Canadian Bacon

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, Canada would export its pork to England, which was experiencing a shortage. At the time it was rolled in yellow peas for preservation, though over the years, that switched to cornmeal. Want to cook bacon like a true Canuck? Avoid these mistakes everyone makes when cooking bacon.

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. (Check out 50 more Toronto attractions that will have you falling in love with the Big Smoke all over again.)

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Caesar drinkPhoto: Shutterstock

Caesar

Invented in 1969 by Calgary restaurant manager Walter Chell, this cocktail took off to become enormously popular from there. (Clamato-maker Mott’s claims more than 350-million Caesars are sold every year.) Its key ingredients are Clamato juice, vodka, Worchester and a salted rim. If you end up enjoying a few Caesars too many, this roundup of the best hangover cures from each province will come in handy.

Where to eat it: Although the Caesar is considered a cocktail, one Vancouver restaurant has turned it into a meal. 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. Sound incredible? It’s just one of the many reasons it’s great to live in Canada.

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Canadian dishes Canadian food - BeaverTailsPhoto: BeaverTails

BeaverTails

What’s essentially a flattened donut without a hole, BeaverTails are heralded as a quintessential Canadian dish. 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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Thin-crust pizzaPhoto: Shutterstock

“Canadian” Pizza

Sometimes it takes a fresh set of eyes (not to mention taste buds) to help us understand what makes a dish 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.

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Canadian dishes Canadian food - butter tartsPhoto: Maple Key Tart Co.

6. Butter Tarts

The origins of this rich, delectable and quintessentially Canadian dish 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. (Our recent Reader’s Digest Instagram poll showed Canadians were evenly split on the issue, with 50 per cent supporting raisins, and the other 50 per cent opposed.)

More 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 Toronto, the Baker Sisters are renowned for their Maple Key Tart Co. butter tarts—a must-buy on any Saturday morning stroll through the Evergreen Brickworks farmers’ market. 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.

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Nanaimo barPhoto: Shutterstock

Nanaimo Bars

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.” Check out more mind-blowing facts about Canada here.

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 soupPhoto: Shutterstock

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.

Where to eat it: Miron’s Habitant Pea Soup is a best seller at his gourmet food shop, Cuisine & Passion, proving it’s not only a Canadian food staple, but a tradition.

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Tourtière, a meat pie dishPhoto: Shutterstock

Tourtière

Here’s a deep-rooted French Canadian food that dates back to as early as 1600. The flakey pie is said to have gotten its name from the vessel it’s baked in. Tourtiere 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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Tomato ketchupPhoto: Shutterstock

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 winning snack here but completely unheard of stateside. The same goes with slathering ketchup on Kraft Dinner (another favourite dish in Canada), 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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