The Great White North, aka Canada, has some pretty great lakes and cool mountain ranges, but did you know they have some delicious eats too? Considering the fact that Canada is the second-largest country in the world, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
A relatively new nation, Canada is just over 150 years old. It has a large immigrant population that lends itself to a wide variety of cultures, flavors, and tastes. You will notice the fusion of cultures in a few of these dishes, notably number 15. The food scene in Canada is as diverse as its population.
You may not have ever considered Canada to be a culinary destination, but we’re here to try and change your mind. To help you navigate Canadian foods, here are some traditional dishes (and one drink) that you should definitely check out for yourself. It might even surprise you to learn that number three is Canadian! Its name would certainly have you thinking otherwise.
Visiting other destinations in Canada? Check out our other guides:
- 13 Best Things To Do On Salt Spring Island BC
- 10 Best Mont Tremblant Restaurants
- 7 Best Winnipeg Restaurants
- 12 Best Toronto Brunches
- The Canadian Food Guide: 16 Best Foods in Canada
The Canadian Food Guide: 16 Best Foods in Canada
The only logical place to start a list of the best Canadian foods is with poutine. It might as well be Canada’s national dish, and it’s easy to see why. It’s hard not to love crispy French fries and gooey cheese covered with rich beef gravy. When made correctly, the French fries are crispy on the outside but soft inside. This combination of textures is more easily achieved with a thick-cut potato.
While a variety of French fry styles and gravy can be used, not just any cheese will do. Poutine is made strictly with cheese curds. These little morsels of ooey-gooey goodness are small pieces of curdled milk. They have a very mild and almost cheddar-like flavor. When you bite into a fresh cheese curd, it should squeak. There is a whole science behind the squeak, but simply put, the proteins in a cheese curd are so tight that when you bite into one, it rebounds and makes a squeaking sound.
Traditional poutine was first created in the 1950s in Quebec. Numerous adaptations can now be found all over the globe. Flavors range from vegan Butter “Chicken” to Prime Rib, pictured here from Steeps Bar & Grill atop Whistler Mountain. No matter the adaptation, for it to be called poutine, it must have three things: French fries, cheese curds, and gravy.
Hailing from a small town on Vancouver Island, BC, Nanaimo Bars is a popular dessert bar. The Nanaimo Bar became a national icon after it was presented at Expo 86 World Fair as a classic Canadian dessert.
The traditional version consists of three layers: chocolate, nut, and coconut crumb base, a creamy custard filling, and a thick chocolate top. These dessert bars are decadent and require no baking, making them a simple yet delicious dessert.
As with everything popular, there are many variations of Nanaimo Bars, including ones with green minty fillings, peanut butter toppings, and those made with a variety of nuts. No matter how you slice them, these sweet dessert bars are sure to be a crowd-pleaser.
Contrary to what its name would have you believe, Hawaiian pizza was actually invented in Canada. Pineapple on pizza originated in the small town of Chatham, Ontario by a restaurant owner named Sam Panopoulos. He named it Hawaiian Pizza after the brand of canned pineapple that he used.
Little did he know at the time, but he created one of the most controversial foods. Highly debated, the use of pineapple on pizza is extremely popular in Canada. Gordon Ramsay has very publicly stated that pineapple does not belong on pizza, while The Rock, Dwane Johnson, is a supporter. No matter the controversy, Canadians love their Hawaiian pizza.
A traditional Hawaiian pizza has a tomato sauce base and uses canned pineapple and ham or bacon, or sometimes both. It is then covered with shredded mozzarella cheese. Numerous variations can be found at pizzerias worldwide, but the traditional Hawaiian remains a Canadian favorite. It’s the combination of sweet, savory, and tangy that keeps people coming back for more.
The only drink on this list of Canadian foods, the Caesar rightfully deserves a place here. After all, it has its own day of celebration every May. And yes, Canadians celebrate it with vigor.
Invented back in the late 1960s in Calgary, Alberta, the Caesar has become something of a national beverage. The Brunch Caesar is a common Sunday special at restaurants and bars across the country. For those who don’t like Mimosas, Caesar’s has become the brunch beverage of choice.
A Caesar is similar to a Bloody Mary, but it’s made with Clamato juice instead of tomato juice. Clamato is a blend of tomato and clam juices that has a unique and delicious flavor. Don’t let the clam juice scare you off; it’s quite delicious.
The classic Caesar consists of vodka, Clamato, Worcestershire sauce, tabasco, and horseradish in a celery salt-rimmed glass that is garnished with a stalk of celery. Bars and restaurants all over the country serve their variations of a Caesar. Pickled asparagus, olives, or beans often replace the celery stalk. If you’re lucky, you’ll get all three along with a stick of pepperoni or slice of bacon. You’ll also find ones made with gin or tequila in place of vodka.
At some establishments, a Caesar is served with your meal on top. The infamous Score on Davie Street in Vancouver serves everything from onion rings to grilled cheese to a full roasted chicken on top of their Caesars.
Montreal Smoked Meat
Synonymous with Montreal, Schwartz’s smoked meat is the crème de la crème of smoked meat. Schwartz’s opened back in 1928, making it the oldest deli in Canada. They still do things the same way today as they did back then. They continue to make their own smoked meat in-house, and they’ve had the same recipe since the day they opened.
Their Montreal-style smoked meat comes from beef brisket and is salted and cured, but it’s the delicious spices they add that give it that something special. Schwartz’s begins making their smoked meat by marinating raw brisket with their own secret blend of spices for between ten to twelve days. Many speculate that their prolonged curing is what sets them apart.
After their ten-day minimum curing period, they smoke the brisket for eight to nine hours, and then they steam it for another three. After which, they slice the smoked meat by hand and serve it on rye bread with mustard and a pickle on the side. Shwartz’s reportedly serves over 1,000 sandwiches a day and are a must-try on any visit to Montreal.
Not the sugary stuff you find in grocery store aisles, we are talking about real Canadian maple syrup. Tapped straight from the source, pure maple syrup contains numerous health benefits. Chock full of antioxidants, it also contains vitamins B1 and B2 as well as zinc, calcium, and magnesium. You can actually feel good about pouring it all over your breakfast.
Quebec is the world’s largest producer of maple syrup. It is one of Canada’s main exports, and with the world’s love of pancakes, we can certainly see why. Chicken and waffles just aren’t the same without a healthy dose of real maple syrup. Neither are pancakes.
Not just an accompaniment for breakfast foods, you’ll also find maple-flavored items, including cookies, cakes, and coffees. Using maple syrup as a sweetener is healthier than other sugar-laden flavorings, plus it tastes way better than grocery store pancake syrup. If you haven’t yet tried it, you’re missing out. Be sure to ask for real Canadian maple syrup next time you’re dining in the Great White North.
Yes, you read that right. Ketchup flavored potato chips. Everybody loves potato chips, but for some reason, Canadians seem to be the only ones that love ketchup chips. And they LOVE them. Often touted as the best ones, Lay’s brand of Ketchup Chips are only available in Canada. There’s something about the sweet and tangy flavor that keeps people coming back for more.
French fries dipped in ketchup are a cult favorite worldwide, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that ketchup flavored chips are popular, and yet they remain a Canadian phenomenon. Maybe it’s the patriotic red color, or maybe the rest of the world is missing out on something. The next time you’re in Canada, give them a try and decide for yourself.
Game meats such as elk, bison, and venison are popular in certain parts of the country but not so easily found nationwide. In the vast majority of Canada, when game meat is available, it is farmed and not wild. The sale of wild game meat is largely prohibited in Canada, but this doesn’t stop farms from filling the void. The variety of game meat will vary depending on which province you are visiting.
One of the most prolific dishes containing game meat would be the ever-popular burger. Lamb burgers are a staple at most Irish pubs across the country, and Elk Burgers can be found everywhere in Alberta. Wild Boar is another popular game meat. It tends to be found in pasta dishes.
If you think you have to eat fish or take fish oil supplements to get your omegas, think again. Game meat, such as venison, is one of the healthiest sources of good fats because of its optimal Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids ratio. Plus, as an added bonus, it doesn’t affect our oceans.
Originating from the east coast of Canada, more specifically the Maritime Provinces, Lobster Rolls are a simple yet delicious meal. Most often, the lobster is boiled or steamed, then served with butter and mayonnaise in a crusty bun.
The best Lobster Rolls start with freshly-caught lobster that is boiled and then cut into chunky pieces. Although mayonnaise is used as a binding agent, it is used sparingly, so the flavors don’t overtake the delicate lobster meat. Traditionally, the only other ingredient is finely chopped celery or chives and maybe a spritz of fresh lemon juice.
Lobster Rolls may be one of the only other sandwiches frequently served in a hot dog bun. The next time you have to buy two packages of eight hot dog buns to accompany your package of ten hot dogs weiners, you know what to try making to fill the remaining six buns. You can thank us later.
A seasonal French-Canadian dish, tourtière is a spiced meat pie enveloped in a flaky pastry crust. Traditionally served between Christmas and New Year’s, it’s filled with meat, herbs, and vegetables.
The original version contains pork, but it can also be found with beef, veal, or various game meats. This hearty dish is served in restaurants during the holidays. It is not commonly found outside of Quebec, but it can often be found in the frozen section of most grocery stores.
The second dessert on this list, the ooey-gooey butter tart is one sweet treat. While its exact origins are debated, they were common in pioneer Canadian cooking and remains a characteristically Canadian pastry.
Similar to pecan pie, but with a runnier filling and no cornstarch, butter tarts are never a pie; they are only ever made as a tart. The base of a butter tart is a flaky pastry crust. They are then filled with butter, sugar, and eggs. There is no pastry topping on a butter tart.
Depending on who is making them, raisins and nuts, such as pecans or walnuts, can also be added to the filling. Raisins in butter tarts are almost as highly debated as pineapple on pizza. Since they are individual tarts, it’s easy to add raisins to some and leave them out of others.
As the name implies, Canadian bacon is, well, Canadian. It’s actually just back bacon with a different name. Back bacon includes the pork loin from the back of the pig and is much leaner than bacon made from pork belly.
Canadian Bacon is cured, smoked, cooked, and then cut into circles. It more closely resembles ham than bacon in both its appearance and taste. Before we scare you off from eating breakfast in Canada, don’t fret, they also have regular strips of delicious pork belly bacon. If you order an Eggs Benedict, it may come with Canadian Bacon on the Benny, then hash browns, and strips of bacon on the side. That’s what we call a win-win.
Rather ironically, it is not called Canadian Bacon up in Canada; it’s simply called back bacon or peameal bacon. Another interesting fact? It wasn’t invented there either. It was brought to Toronto from New York and that’s how it got its name. Either way, it’s a decidedly Canadian food.
Not something you can make at home, these delicious morsels of donuts come from the Tim Horton’s fast-food chain. While it may seem strange to include fast food on a list of the best Canadian dishes, you simply can’t have an article about Canadian foods and not include Timbits®.
Timbits® are small, round donuts covered with a glaze or powdered sugar or filled with fruit flavorings or custard. These are often accompanied by a Double Double, which is a coffee with two cream and two sugar. It’s a great day at the office when a co-worker shows up with a box of Timbits® to share.
The coffee shop chain Tim Horton’s was started by the aforementioned hockey player, and it is as prevalent in Canada as Starbucks is in the United States. There are now almost 3,500 locations across the country.
When Timbits® launched, the Internet went into a tizzy about what to call them: donut holes, Munchkins, or Timbits®. At the end of the day, they are all a glorious, sweet treat. Just don’t call them Munchkins when you’re in Canada. There are no Dunkin’ Donuts locations in Canada.
Salmon may hold only one spot on this list, but several methods of preparation are popular in Canada. You will often find salmon served on a cedar plank in restaurants as a main dish, while strips of smoked salmon and jerky are beloved snacks. Smoked salmon is also delicious when served with cream cheese and capers on a bagel.
If you’ve ever meandered through an airport in Canada, you will no doubt have seen a large salmon section. There, they offer everything from smoked salmon, to salmon patê, to the cedar planks on which to cook your salmon.
For a truly Canadian experience, combine numbers 6 and 13 on this list, and you have maple salmon. It’s a truly sweet and delicious combination. Smoked salmon is often found in the deli departments of grocery stores in a variety of flavors, including maple.
As we’ve seen, seafood is very popular in Canada. So is sushi. For a nation practically surrounded by water, this makes perfect sense. While Canada might not be top-of-mind for sushi restaurants, perhaps it should be. After all, they have their own roll named after one of their provinces.
A BC roll is a Maki-zushi style sushi roll that is made with sushi rice, barbecued salmon (or barbecued salmon skin), and cucumbers. Invented in Vancouver in 1974 by a Japanese chef named Hidekazu Tojo, BC stands for British Columbia. This west coast province is well-known for its wild Pacific salmon.
While dishes are often named after places, see above for a prime example, this is a case of the opposite. The city of Saskatoon was actually named after the berries and not the other way around.
Native to Saskatoon, the most popular way to enjoy Saskatoon berries is in a pie. A slice of Saskatoon berry pie, à la mode, of course, is the optimal way to savor these berries. The word Saskatoon is derived from Cree, an Indigenous language spoken in parts of Canada.
Saskatoon berries very closely resemble blueberries; however, they are actually more closely related to the apple family. Saskatoons are native to North America, but not just Saskatoon. They grow in the wild from Alaska to Maine.
And there you have it, the top sixteen Canadian dishes. How many of these Canadian dishes have you tried? And which ones are you the most excited to try?
If I could put together an ideal Canadian meal, I would combine a few of these. The perfect lunch would consist of a Hawaiian Pizza washed down with a Caesar, followed by a slice of warm Saskatoon Pie. And if the bill arrived with a mini-Nanaimo Bar, I wouldn’t complain.
While some of these can’t be found outside of the country, many can be made in the comfort of your own home. Why not try making some of these Canadian foods at home? A great way to travel virtually is to cook culinary delights from other counties. We’ll drink (a Caesar) to that!
Which of these Canadian foods do you want to try first? Let us know in the comments section below!
Kathryn Anderson is a freelance health, wellness and travel writer whose mission is to inspire others to live a life they love through adventure, travel and self-care. Based in Vancouver, BC she has visited 21 countries on 5 continents. A member of IFWTWA (International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association), follow Kathryn on Facebook, Instagram and her travel blog Coffee and Mascara.