There’s people out there who’d say there’s no such thing as traditional Canadian food. They’d be wrong. Sure, Canada is perhaps better known for its snow, its hockey, its nice citizens. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a tonne of unique dishes out there.
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Traditional Canadian Food
With our rich culture, traditional Canadian food is often brought in from other countries, but some have been invented here. Whether you’re visiting Canada or looking for recipes for Canada Day, we’ve got you covered with these 20+ dishes unique to the Great White North.
Probably the best-known Canadian food, Poutine originated in a variety of small towns in Quebec in the 1950s. The name poutine is Québécois slang—for a “mess.” Which, it kind of looks like.
Eaten as a side dish or as a meal, original poutine uses meat-based gravy and cheese curds (preferably fresh and squeaky) over fries. If you’re headed out for a night of drinking, poutine is both a prevention and a cure.
Poutine can be found pretty much anywhere in Canada, so expect to see variations. Some restaurants also like to spruce it up by adding meat, veggies or if you’re in the Atlantic Canada, by adding stuffing! But the holy trinity is: fries, cheese curds and gravy.
Originally made in Ontario, butter tarts date back to the late 19th century. The treats consist of a gooey center made of butter, sugar and egg, wrapped in a crumbly crust. Depending on where you get the butter tarts, they may or may not have raisins. (We think the inclusion is sacrilege:)
There’s a Butter Tart Trail in Ontario’s Kawarthas Northumberland region – about a two hour drive from Toronto. If you make it out there, try to sample one at Ravenna Country Market, where your first one is free. If you can’t get out and are scared to make them from scratch, there are a lot of mixes to choose from that won’t steer you wrong.
If you’ve ever been to Vancouver Island, you’ve probably been told to try a Nanaimo Bar. But what actually is a Nanaimo bar and what does it have to do with the city of Nanaimo?
A Nanaimo bar is a three-layer dessert consisting of a chocolate crumb crust, vanilla custard/butter icing middle, with a layer of melted chocolate on top. These can be found in bakeries on the West Coast and often throughout Canada.
What do these bars have to do with Nanaimo on Vancouver Island? The first mention of this recipe was found in the cookbook for the Nanaimo General Hospital. You can even buy it as a mix, which is something I’ve given my international friends.
The Caesar cocktail, often known as a Bloody Mary in other countries, was actually invented in a hotel in Calgary, Alberta in 1969. Unlike a Bloody Mary, Caesars are made from clamato juice – instead of tomato juice. Yeah, clam juice sounds gross until you try it. It doesn’t taste like seafood, trust.
Then like a Bloody Mary, you add in vodka, a few dashes of Worchester, some hot sauce and serve it with a salted rim (celery salt!) and stalk of celery, pickled asparagus or long green bean. Caesars can be found at most Canadian restaurants and some really pimp out their garnishes – adding shrimp, bacon, even mini burgers!
One of those distinctly Canadian products, ketchup chips are definitely a Canadian snack. While they aren’t confined to Canada anymore, they were originally a Canadian-only flavour.
Ketchup chips are thinly sliced, fried potatoes that are covered in red powder that tastes like ketchup. Eat them straight from the bag or serve them at an outdoor BBQ or picnic.
Despite farming them to near extinction over 100 years ago, bison are becoming more easy to spot in the Canadian wilderness and are becoming more and more popular in the meat industry.
Bison is eaten like beef, usually as a steak or a burger. It’s healthier than beef because bison are grass-fed and have less fat and cholesterol. Bison meat is often more expensive than beef, so if you see it on a menu and it’s around the same price as beef, you’ll want to go for the bison option. It tastes great and not at all gamey.
Did you know that cranberries are grown mainly in Canada? Quebec and British Columbia are the largest growers of cranberries in Canada. They produce a variety of species of cranberry, including American (generally farmed for commercial production), European and Mountain cranberries.
Cranberries are usually consumed fresh, frozen, dried or processed as juices and sauces. Besides using them as a side dish during thanksgiving, cranberries can be made into jams, thrown into sauces and used to elevated cocktails.
Generally eaten in Atlantic Canada, a moose burger is a patty made from moose meat with the usual suspects for toppings. Moose burgers can be found all across Canada, especially where moose are prevalent, places like Newfoundland, New Brunswick and Quebec. Moose sausage is also worth a try.
Smoked salmon isn’t solely a Scottish delicacy. Canada is sandwiched between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, both of which sport tonnes of salmon. After catching or farming the fish, the fillet is cured by being smoked – either hot or cold.
Smoked salmon is often eaten on bagels, or on its own. You’ll also see a lot of smoked salmon eggs benedicts on menus across Canada.
Alberta farmers will tell you that their beef jerky is the best you’ll ever try. Alberta jerky is made from 100% Alberta beef and it is marinated in brine before being hickory smoked.
When thinking of Canadian food, maple syrup is often what comes top of mind, but it’s more than just table syrup. Maple syrup was originally created by the Indigenous Peoples of Canada by making holes in Maple trees and collecting the left-over sap.
Quebec produces over 70% of the world’s output of Maple Syrup. In Canada, it’s a half billion dollar industry. The province of Ontario has many maple trees too, but their industry isn’t nearly as big as Quebec’s.
Maple Syrup is usually used as a condiment on pancakes, waffles and other breakfast foods, like oatmeal. If you’re into healthy baking, you’ll notice maple syrup replacing sugar in a lot of recipes. If you can’t find pure maple syrup locally, it’s available online.
If you think that all bagels are the same, you definitely haven’t tried Montreal bagels. These bagels were brought to Canada from Poland and originally were only found in Montreal.
Montreal Bagels are smaller, denser and sweeter than New York or East Coast bagels. Montreal Bagels get their sweet taste from being boiled in honey-sweetened water before being cooked in a wood-fired oven. Most Montreal Bagels are either black-seed (poppy seed) or white-seed (sesame seed).
Saskatoon Berry Pie
True to its name, a Saskatoon Berry Pie is a pie made from Saskatoon berries. The Saskatoon berry is similar to a blueberry, but is smaller and has a nuttier, slightly sweeter taste. These berries grow in many different climates and are normally best in the summer months.
You can find Saskatoon berry pie (and muffins, crumble and jam) at most bakeries in Western Canada during the summer months.
Montreal Smoked Meat
Montreal smoked meat (or viande fumee in French), is a cross between beef and pastrami. Originally served in Jewish delis in Montreal, it’s been around since the early 1900s.
Montreal smoked meat is most commonly eaten as a sandwich, made with rye bread and mustard and with a side of coleslaw or a dill pickle. Montreal smoked meat can be found in most places in Canada, but it’s super popular in Montreal.
Found at Tim Hortons coffee shops, Timbits are a must-try Canadian treat. Timbits were originally created in 1976 and are essentially the ball that comes out of the donut hole.
These bite-size donut pieces are made from Tim Horton’s traditional donut flavours and go great with coffee or dunked in hot chocolate. It’s so popular, it’s now a cereal!
You can purchase Timbits individually for a few cents or in a 10, 20 or 40 pack. Must try flavours are chocolate, birthday cake, and sour cream glaze.
Bannock was originally made by Indigenous Peoples with camas bulb, a root in the asparagus family. Then the Europeans introduced flour to the Indigenous Peoples of Canada.
Now it can be made with unleavened flour, butter, salt, water and baking powder. Or, keep it simple with flour and water, wrapped around a stick and baked over a campfire.
The name Bannock comes from Scotland but this bread goes by a variety of names among different Indigenous Peoples groups, including Palauga (Inuit), luskinikn (Mi’kmaq) or ba’wezhiganag (Ojibwa).
Another East Coast delicacy, cod tongues aren’t actually made of tongues. Rather, these battered appetizers are made from a small muscle extracted from the back of the fish’s neck.
Cod tongues are typically shaken in a flour, salt and pepper mix before being fried in pork fatback. The fried bits of pork fat are called scrunchions and are the perfect accompaniment. If they’re cooked well, cod tongues will taste similar to a small scallop.
The humble donair was first created in Halifax by a Greek restaurant owner. He found that his original gyro didn’t sell well, so instead, he changed up the meat and added a sweet sauce.
A traditional Halifax donair consists of ground beef cooked on a rotisserie, with chopped onion and tomato, drizzled with a garlicky sauce made from sweetened condensed milk and stuffed into a pita.
Donair is so popular in Halifax, it was named the official food of the city. Try not to go for a donair until you’ve had a night on the town. The most authentic experience is had in the wee hours of the morning, standing on a street corner with new friends.
Tourtière is a meat pie that also originated in the province of Quebec. Usually the minced meat is a combination of beef and pork, but veal and wild game can also be used. The thing about all these dishes is that they’re open to interpretation. The tourtière you’ll get in the Saguenay region is different than what you’d likely get in Outaouais. Luckily, they’re all delicious.
Interestingly, where I live in Western Canada, quite a few families eat tourtière for dinner on Christmas Eve – even if their family heritage isn’t French Canadian. It’s that good.
Christmas Morning Wife Saver
Speaking of Canadian Christmas dishes, there’s one recipe that pretty much everyone I know in Western Canada serves on Christmas morning. Christmas Morning Wife Saver is a strata recipe from the Best of Bridge cookbooks. Layering bread, eggs, cheese and Canadian bacon (we refer to that simply as back bacon), it’s one of those lovely dishes you can prep the night before and toss in the oven 45-minutes before you want to eat.
A Jiggs Dinner, also known as a Sunday Dinner or a boiled dinner, is found in Newfoundland Labrador. And though it’s called a dinner, it’s typically eaten around lunch time, like how Christmas dinner is served earlier, so everyone can lie comatose for a few hours after.
The dinner usually consists of salt beef, roast turkey, peas pudding, then boiled turnips, cabbage, potatoes and carrots. The boiled vegetables’ pot liquor (the remaining water in the pot) is mixed with the juices from the meat roasting pan to make a sumptuous gravy. If you’re lucky, the meal would be capped off with a blueberry duff. (A duff is a boiled dessert – like Christmas pudding.)
Canadian Ice Cream
OK, you got us. Ice cream itself isn’t a Canadian invention (unfortunately).There are, however, a couple of flavours that are unique to Canada that you must try.
Moon Mist is a top-selling ice cream flavour in Nova Scotia. It’s made from three flavours; banana, grape and bubble gum (or blue raspberry depending on the maker). The mix of these cause a galaxy-like swirl of colours, hence the name Moon Mist.
It can now be found in some provinces outside of Atlantic Canada, but it’s not as popular there as it is out east.
As a Canadian, I had no idea that you couldn’t get this ice cream anywhere else. Tiger Tail is named after the stripes on a tiger’s tail. It’s made with orange ice cream, swirled with black licorice. Sounds disgusting, but it really is quite delicious.
Now if you’re a visitor to Canada and ever come across a Cows Creamery, you’ll want to head inside. This Price Edward Island ice cream parlour is really fantastic with original flavour combinations (they have nanaimo bar!) and super cute cow-themed merch.
And in case you were wondering, Canadian’s favourite ice cream flavours are: chocolate, vanilla, mint, butterscotch, strawberry and pistachio.
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Which food on this list is your favourite?