Adelina is a curious writer, journalist, a keen traveler and a big fan of bonny Scotland, her second home after Lithuania.
When you think of Canadian food, the first image that probably comes to mind is maple syrup, right? A lot of maple syrup. Perhaps flowing over pancakes, topped up with a cube of melting butter, and a few strips of crispy bacon on the side?
While maple syrup is unquestionably awesome, limiting Canadian cuisine to this beloved sweetness is the same as thinking that the French only eat croissants!
We picked the best and quirkiest Canadian dishes. Think a few are questionable? Don’t knock it before you try it! Canadians are extremely proud of their cuisine. Some dishes have their own museum displays, dedicated tours, and even festivals!
Grab yourself a snack before reading any further because your stomach WILL start growling!
1. Poutine: Québec
Poutine - not for the faint-hearted
Fries are a more complex cultural phenomenon than you might think. Most of the world seems to believe fries originated from France (French fries), though more than a few sources state they’re actually a Belgian invention!
Indians spice it up when they indulge in “finger fries.” Brits call them “chips” and serve them with salt and vinegar. But only Canadians are known make such a mess out of their fried potatoes. More accurately — “Poutine.”
So what is poutine? It’s is a three-ingredient dish that originated in Quebec in the 1960s. It’s a hodgepodge of fries, cheese curds, and gravy — all served together piled high on one plate.
It’s not clear who came up with the first poutine recipe, but rumor has it that in 1964, chef Fernand Lachance at Café Ideal received an order for fries topped with curds of cheese. The chef, caught off guard by the unusual request, exclaimed: "Ça va te faire une maudite poutine!" or “That’ll make a damn mess!” But, of course, he still made it, or otherwise we wouldn’t be talking about it now.
This famous dish is so beloved it even has a festival dedicated to it! Every Spring, Ottawa throws a Poutinefest, where locals and city guests are invited to try out the unusual and unexpected variations of the classic Canadian dish.
2. Beavertail: Ontario
Mouthwatering and gooey... Need we say more?
Soft or crusty, sweet or savory, nobody’s sure. What is for certain is that this flat doughnut is something all Canadians are proud of. First introduced in 1978 in Killaloe, Ontario, the beavertail is now available at most pastry shops in the country and easily found at a chain cafe of the same name. Named after the popular Canadian animal, this stretched-out pastry really does resemble a tail of a beaver.
Beavertails are usually sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon, then deep-fried into gooey goodness with many different toppings to choose from. But it’s not hard to guess what topping is the all-time favorite. BeaverTails pastry shops use up around 33.5 tons of Nutella a year! In comparison, a fully-grown brown bear weighs around one ton!
This mouth-watering dish is served all over the country. In Vancouver, you can try a salmon tail, with a generous spread of cream cheese and capers on top; Halifax offers a lobster tail; Mont Tremblant invites you to try irresistible ham and cheese tails.
3. Nanaimo Bars: British Columbia
Layers of YUM, just what the chef ordered
Do you have a sweet tooth? Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, is the place for you. The small city is home to the famous Canadian dessert — the Nanaimo Bar.
The first known recipe for the dessert was published in the Nanaimo Hospital Cookbook in 1952 and was called a “chocolate square.” A year later, the recipe came out again and this time it was rebranded after the city the bar was born in.
Nanaimo Bars have many variations, but the original recipe includes three distinct layers: a coconut-graham cracker base, a soft layer of yellow custard, and a rich chocolate ganache on top.
The city is so proud of the bar that the Nanaimo Museum has a special display dedicated to it. Fans should hit the Nanaimo Bar Trail, a sugar crawl with 39 places serving products related to the sweet little bite. Expect to taste anything from Nanaimo Bar-inspired fudges, lattes, and a martini, to maple bacon topped with Nanaimo Bars and a Nanaimo Bar spring roll. If that's not enough, take it to the next level with a Nanaimo Bar pedicure!
4. Maple Taffy: All Around Canada
Au Naturel - and all delicious
What do you do when you have more maple sap than you can cope with, and nothing but snow-covered fields and mountains everywhere you look?
It’s only natural that someone came up with maple taffy! This sweet candy is made from hot maple sap which is poured on snow to cool and form a delicious little lollipop. It’s safe to say this a time-tested recipe as it’s been around from as early as the 16th century!
The tasty treat is found in a few Canadian regions, including Quebec, New Brunswick, and Eastern Ontario. In different places, the lollipop has different names, such as Maple Toffee, Tire D'érable, and Sugar on Snow.
Maple taffy can also be used as an ingredient in savory dishes. Some Canadians use it to glaze their beef steaks, others enjoy the sweet flavor added to their turkey pot pies or to their dill pickles. Whatever floats your boat, there’s a maple taffy to suit your taste.
5. Montreal-Style Bagels: Québec
Nothing so delicious as the freshly baked bagel
Montreal bagels were first brought to North America by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. The bagel is now an inseparable part of Canadian culture. Some bagel shops in Montreal are open 24 hours with people lining up outside at 2 a.m.
Often compared to the similarly shaped New York bagel, the traditional Montreal-style bagel stands out as always baked in a wood-burning oven. It’s made with malt and egg, with no added salt, and the dough is poached in water with honey before baking. It takes a lot of skill to bake the perfect Montreal-style bagel, so they’re often only crafted by experienced chefs.
Most Montreal bakers still hand-roll their bagels and only season it with sesame or poppy seeds. Asking for chocolate spread on your bagel is playing with fire!
6. Butter Tart: Québec
Like a baby pecan pie
Soft butter, sugar, sweet syrup, maybe a dash of maple syrup, and a fresh egg — all baked in a flaky pastry shell to create a perfect tart. Gooey on the inside, crunchy on the top. If thinking about that doesn’t make your mouth water, nothing will.
A butter tart is considered a typical Canadian dessert, first appearing in cookbooks around 1900. But some historians trace it all the way back to the mid-1600s. With French colonists came the women, armed with their recipes of sweet treats. These were later adapted for ingredients available in the new territory. Now, the butter tart is the quintessential Canadian treat.
But it's Ontario who takes it to the next level! Muskoka Lakes is home to a butter tart festival, while Wellington North offers a Butter Tart Trail for tourists. Kawarthas Northumberland is also famous for its Butter Tart Tour. Yum yum!
7. The Sourtoe Cocktail: Yukon
This one isn’t for the faint-hearted!
Dawson City in the Yukon, once famous for being party-central for gold miners, is now known as the place where you can get a dehydrated human toe in your drink.
The story of this gruesome drink dates to the 1920s. According to the legend, a miner called Louie Liken had his frostbitten toe amputated. He preserved the toe in a jar of high-proof spirit. About half a century later, in 1973, a local captain named Dick Stevenson located the jar and brought it down to a saloon in the city. He started dipping the toe in the drinks of fellow drinkers who were brave enough to taste it. This led to the formation of the Sourtoe Cocktail Club. To join, just follow the club’s one rule: “You can drink it fast. You can drink it slow. But your lips must touch that gnarly toe.”
If you’re brave enough, visit Dawson City along the Dempster Highway and try this controversial Yukon special for yourself!
Have you tried any of these dishes?
What’s your favorite traditional Canadian food?
Share your best Canadian recipe with us! We’re guessing it probably isn’t the Sourtoe...