If asked to name the first things that come to mind when you hear the word "Canada,” Canadian food probably doesn't make the list. Instead, you might name Niagara Falls (yes, part of the falls is located in Canada), austere natural beauty, the Canadian Rockies, majestic wildlife, French-Canadian, Celine Dion, etc.
But did maple syrup cross your mind? If not, it should, as, according to Canadian Affair, approximately 80% of the world's maple syrup is produced in Canada. And what about poutine? Canada's national dish, consisting of fries, cheese curds and gravy, is practically sacred. This traditional French-Canadian concoction can be found anywhere in the country, and sometimes comes with non-traditional additional ingredients, such as butter chicken or pulled pork.
Exploring the Great White North also means discovering traditional food from Canada, which is as eclectic as this vast country.
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Although Canadian staples are eaten throughout the country, Canadian food differs from province to province. For example, if you find yourself in French-Canadian country, in addition to poutine you can expect to find heaping plates of pudding chômeur, aka "poor man's pudding”; tourtière, a classic meat pie; and split pea soup.
Do you prefer good old-fashioned steak? If so, light out for Alberta, whose prairies are teaming with prize cattle and renowned for world-famous Western beef. Keep heading west to British Columbia where global fusion cuisine abounds. Here you will find the delectable B.C. Roll, Vancouver-style sushi that consists of cucumber and barbecued salmon, and butter chicken pizza, a unique Indo-Canadian treat.
Going back all the way across the country to Nova Scotia? Prepare to eat mounds of fresh seafood, especially lobster. In fact, Nova Scotia is the "Lobster Capital of Canada.” And wherever you find yourself in Canada you will find the ubiquitous and delicious Canadian bacon.
Canadian Maple Syrup
For many visitors to Canada, Canadian food begins and ends with maple syrup. Maple syrup is as Canadian as the maple leaf that adorns the country's flag. Canada's most productive maple syrup-producing provinces are Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, but this Canadian classic is shipped all over the country and the world. According to Good Housekeeping, some of the best Canadian maple syrup includes Aldi Specially Selected Canadian Maple Syrup, Acadian Maple Organic Pure and Asda Extra Special 100% Pure Canadian Maple Syrup. Keep in mind that Canadian maple syrup is categorized into Grade A, a golden amber to dark shade with a light to medium intensity, and Grade B, which is a very dark amber.
For many Canadians, traditional food from Canada means poutine, which originated in Quebec in the 1950s. This quintessential Canadian food is now so revered that there are annual poutine festivals in Quebec City, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa and even Chicago, USA.
Some of the best restaurants in Canada to find poutine include:
- Award-winning Fritz European Fry House in Vancouver
- Au Pied de Cochon in Montreal, which serves a renowned foie gras poutine
- Whistle Stop Cafe in Peterborough, Ontario, which serves over 100 varieties of poutine, including poutine topped with Polish sausage and Thai rib
- Willy's Fresh Cut in Halifax, Nova Scotia, whose fries are hand-cut daily
- Big T's BBQ in Calgary, Alberta, which has been featured on the Food Network's "You Gotta Eat Here.”
Whether you put it on pizza, in a sandwich or have it with your eggs, no trip to Canada is complete without sampling some Canadian bacon. Keep in mind, however, that in Canada it's called back or peameal bacon. This popular Canadian food has a distinct, ham-like taste and is leaner than side bacon, and is brined and rolled in cornmeal.
Another revered Quebecois dish, tourtière (meat pie) is typically made with minced pork, veal, beef, chicken or even duck. It's a very popular dish for Christmas dinner and New Year's Eve, and is eaten all over Canada, not just in French-Canadian provinces. This hearty meat pie can also be spiced up with onions, seasonings and potatoes, and is baked in a pie crust.
Do you believe all bagels taste the same? Guess again. Montreal-style bagels have a distinct flavour all their own and are smaller and sweeter than your average bagel. They are also boiled in water that has been sweetened with honey and then baked in a wood-fired oven.
Although they originated in their namesake city, Montreal-style bagels are enjoyed throughout Canada, and even rival those made in New York City, considered the king of the bagel.
Montreal-Style Smoked Meat
Another staple of Montreal, and one you can put between your Montreal-style bagel if you're feeling adventurous, is Montreal-style smoked meat. This kosher-style deli meat simply called smoked meat (viande fumée) in Canada, is salted and cured beef brisket with spices.
It is similar to corned beef and pastrami, but with a taste of Canada, and is usually served on rye bread with mustard. Canadians and visitors alike have been enjoying Montreal-style smoked meat for more than 100 years.
Another favourite pie in Canada is rappie pie. However, unlike tourtière, the main ingredient in rappie pie is grated potatoes instead of meat, although chicken is added. This traditional dish from Nova Scotia is casserole-like and formed by grating potatoes then squeezing them through cheesecloth.
Hot broth made from chicken, pork or seafood is then added for extra flavour, and the mixture is then poured into a pan and baked. Although chicken is typically the preferred meat to add, other meats or seafood are often used, including bar clams, venison or corned beef.
B.C. (British Columbia) roll combines barbequed salmon and cucumber for a succulent sushi surprise, and the rice is located on the outside. The B,C. roll is ubiquitous in restaurants all over Vancouver, as it was created in this city that is world-renowned for wild Pacific salmon.
Some of the best B.C. rolls in town can be found at Koko Japanese Restaurant, aptly named Sushiholic, Yamato Sushi, Samurai Japanese Restaurant, Ajisai Sushi Bar, Miko Sushi and Ki-isu Japanese Restaurant.
Protein-rich pemmican combines lean, dried meat, rendered fat and dried berries for a long-lasting and nutritious staple. It was an important part of First Nations cuisine, particularly among the Cree, as the name is derived from the Cree word "pimi,” which means fat or grease.
The dried meat in pemmican can be beef, bison, deer, elk or moose, and sometimes salmon or even duck, while the dried berries can include cranberries, Saskatoon berries, blueberries, cherries and chokeberries.
Split Pea Soup
The Canadians take credit for inventing split pea soup, so naturally, they make it to perfection. Early Canadian explorers mixed cured meats and dried peas to make a dish to sustain them on their long explorations, and this traditional food from Canada is still widely consumed all these centuries later. Today, ham, split peas, carrots, onion, celery, thyme, bay leaf salt, and pepper comprise this classic.
Butter Chicken Pizza
Butter chicken pizza is so popular in Canada you can even find it at Pizza Hut. This is Indian food with Italian ingredients on grilled pizza dough. In addition to butter chicken, ingredients include butter or ghee, onion, cloves, tomato paste, garam masala, ground ginger, olive oil, mozzarella and more to make a truly mouth-watering pizza.
Fear not, you won't be eating the tail of the cute rodent. BeaverTails are in fact flattened fried-dough pastries topped with cinnamon or sugar and a plethora of other sweets of one's choosing. BeaverTails Pastry has locations across Canada, and they are even served in some restaurants.
Another uniquely Canadian sweet treat is the Nanaimo bar, named after the city of Nanaimo in British Columbia. Nanaimo bars consist of three layers: a wafer, nut and coconut crumb base, custard in the middle and chocolate ganache on the roof. This iconic Canadian food is quite sweet and does not require baking.
The butter tart is another quintessential Canadian treat. This flaky sweet tart is made with a filling of butter, sugar, syrup, and egg and is baked in a pastry shell and has a crunchy top. Butter tarts go back as far as Canadian pioneer days and today are still eaten in every province of Canada.
Don't let "poor man's pudding” (pouding chômeur) fool you, this delectable dessert is rich in flavour. Created by Canadian factory workers in Quebec during the Great Depression, pouding chômeur, also known as "unemployed man's pudding,” is a moist vanilla cake cooked in a maple sauce. Jardin Nelson, in Montreal, has perfected pudding chômeur, and is widely considered the best restaurant in the country that offers this traditional food from Canada.
Saskatoon Berry Pie
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan's largest city, is big on berries, and what better way to utilize them than to put them in pies? Saskatoon berry pie, naturally, has a Saskatoon berry filling and is often paired with vanilla ice cream.
This traditional Canadian Prairie treat has a distinct flavour, as the berries grow wild and have a sweet, earthy taste. Some say Saskatoon berries even have a slight almond-like flavour. But whatever the taste, they are perfect in a pie.
No, this isn't a salad. The Caesar, in Canada, is a cocktail, perhaps the most quaffed in the entire country. In fact, more than 350 million Caesars are consumed every year. Invented in Calgary in 1969, the Caesar consists of Clamato juice (made by Mott's), vodka, Worcester and a salted rim.
If visiting Vancouver, you can even eat one, as the restaurant Score on Davie serves the Checkmate Caesar, which comes with a full roast chicken, cheeseburger, chicken wings, pulled pork mac and cheese hot dog, roasted vegetables and a brownie. They also offer an Egg MC Caesar with ham, egg, cheddar cheese, English muffin and tater tots and a Royale with Caesar, a cheeseburger with pickle and onion rings.
This Calgary, Canada, cocktail is not concocted to make you mad. On the contrary, depending on how many you drink, Angry Canadians are bound to leave you feeling downright blissful. Mix Canadian rye whiskey, bitters, club soda or water and pure maple syrup and you're in business. Add a maraschino cherry or two for more flavour. Although Calgary in origin, Angry Canadians are drunk from coast to coast, from Nova Scotia to Vancouver.
New Brunswick's Donald Sutherland is one of Canada's most beloved actors. He is so revered they even named a cocktail after him, the Donald Sutherland. This drink is a combination of Canadian rye whiskey and Drambuie, both of which are poured into an ice-filled old-fashioned glass and stirred. Some Canadian mixologists will even garnish a Donald Sutherland with a lemon twist.
Another famous Canadian actor who has a famous Canadian drink named after him is Academy Award-nominated Raymond Massey, who hails from Toronto where the drink was created. The Raymond Massey is also made with rye whiskey but mixed with ginger syrup and champagne, and usually garnished with lemon or lime peel and served on the rocks.
Ice wine has become a worldwide phenomenon for oenophiles. This Great White North dessert wine is made from grapes that have naturally frozen on the vine, which ensures extra sweetness. Ice wine is one of the most labour-intensive wines to make, as the frozen grapes are picked on the vine at around -7°C (20°F) and pressed while they're still frozen. Although other countries with cold climates create this variety, Canada is the largest producer of ice wine in the world, and it is a speciality here.