10 Must-Try Canadian Dishes (and Where to Find Them)
Canada’s culinary contributions range from centuries-old savoury soups to rich desserts with mysterious histories. Here are 10 truly Canadian foods and the best places to try them.
One of the many culinary gems to come out of French Canada, poutine is perhaps one of the country’s most outlandish and defining 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. Franchises like Smoke’s Poutinerie serve up just about any protein or vegetable in the calorie-heavy dish. If you’re up for a real celebration, there are also annual poutine festivals in cities across the country.
2. 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.
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.
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.
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.
5. “Canadian” Pizza
Ron Telesky is a pizza joint in Berlin, which offers up “Canadian-style” pizza. When one of the owners did a high school exchange in Peterborough, Ontario, he was impressed with the style of pizza they served in his surrogate home. 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 at Ron Telesky’s 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, complimentary toppings.
Where to eat it: Ron Telesky’s is located in the Kreuzberg neighbourhood in Berlin.
6. Butter Tarts
This rich, delectable treat is considered a staple of early Canadian cooking and can be traced back to the turn of the 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.
Where to eat it: Most coffee shops and bakeries will have them on hand – but it’s worth making a trip to rural Ontario if you want to get serious about butter tarts. In Kenilworth, Ontario, you will find the Butter Tart Trail, a string of 18 bakeries which sell the prized pastries. If that’s not enough, drive three hours east to the City of Kawartha Lakes, which offers the rival Butter Tart Tour.
7. 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.”
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.
8. 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 dish. 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 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.
Here’s a deep-rooted French Canadian dish 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 on 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 (where else?) Quebec City. This joint is renown for specializing in traditional Quebecois culinary treats, with tourtiere at the top of their list.
10. Ketchup…on Everything
While it’s not so much a dish as it is a condiment, there’s still something extremely 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 new combination.
Where to eat it: At just about any grocery store.