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Canada is a large and vast country with incredible diversity in landscape, climate, lifestyle and cuisine. Yes, that’s right, I said cuisine. Canada has a lot of traditional foods that most travellers are completely unaware about. In fact, if you ask a foreigner to name one Canadian food, they might go blank.
In this article I’ll share with you some traditional foods you may want to eat on your next trip to Canada.
Ever since moving to Canada, Nanimo bars have been my favorite sweet. I just cannot get tired of them, no matter how many I have. With crunchy and creamy textures, Nanimo bars are a perfect treat regardless of season.
Named after their place of origin Nanimo, British Columbia, these bars have been around since the early 1950s. However, there are unconfirmed references suggesting these sweets may date as far back as the 1930s. Having said that, Nanimo bars did not become hugely popular across Canada until they were featured as a classic Canadian dessert at Expo 86.
If you wish to make Nanaimo bars at home, you’ll be please to learn they do not require any baking, which is great when you’re craving something sweet on a hot day. They’re composed of three layers:
For instructions, see a recipe here.
Nowadays, you can also find a couple variations of the classic Nanimo bar where the icing layer is flavored. Usually you’ll find them with mint or raspberry cream, but sometimes you may also find cherry, espresso, or other unusual flavors. If you’re never tried Nanimo bars before, I recommend going for the classic ones with the custard icing.
Nanimo bars are available throughout Canada in most grocery stores. Look for them in the bakery section and/ or the freezer isle. You can also find them in some bakeries, coffee shops, and farmers markets, predominantly on the West Cost.
Originating from rural Quebec sometime during the 1950s, poutine is a simple dish composed of french fries, cheese curds, and gravy. It is one of the most traditional and well known foods from Canada.
While initially it was mocked, over the years poutine became widely popular across Canada and Northern United States. Some even go as far as calling it “Canada’s national dish”.
In addition to the classic recipe, you can now find poutine in all sorts of variations. Other popular toppings include: bacon, sour cream, ground beef, seafood, lettuce, pickles, and more.
Of course the best place to try poutine is in Quebec, however there are countless restaurants across Canada serving this dish. In fact, it is incredibly easy to find poutine in all of Canada’s major cities. From fast food places to food trucks and even upscale restaurants, a delicious serving of poutine will be waiting for you.
These small bite-sized pastries consist of a tart shell filled with a creamy, buttery caramel sauce, and usually topped with crunchy pecans.
Although similar to sugar and pecan pies, butter tarts are slightly different. Due to there being no flour or corn starch in the filling, the caramel center is slightly runny.
Mostly eaten in the English speaking parts of Canada, the earliest butter tart recipe dates back to 1900s Barrie, Ontario.
You can find butter tarts at most grocery stores in the bakery section, and at select bakeries and farmers markets across Canada. However, they are more popular in the Eastern Provinces, primarily in Ontario.
In fact, butter tarts are so popular in Ontario, there are multiple festivals dedicated to them. The Best Butter Tart Festival in Midland, Ontario is the largest, where they sell 150,000 to 200,000 butter tarts over the course of one day!
Have you ever tried a haskap berry? Also known as honeysuckle, the haskap berry is native to the Northern Hemisphere and tastes like a cross between a blueberry and a raspberry.
An interesting fact about this plant is that it can survive at temperatures as cold as -45°C. In addition, due to their high antioxidant content, haskap berries are also regarded as a superfood.
Thus on your next trip to Canada, you must absolutely try some haskap/ honeysuckle ice cream! You can find it at select grocery stores and small vendors at farmers markets across Canada.
This is my favourite ice cream because it’s very flavorful, but not too sweet. Just perfect during summer. If you’ll be visiting Edmonton or Calgary, I recommend the haskap cheesecake ice cream pints from Little Bear Gelato.
Another Quebecois food, tourtière is a delicious meat pie usually served for Christmas and New Years. It is typically made with ground pork, veal or beef and potatoes. However sometimes game meat is used and if you ever come across a game meat tourtière you should absolutely try it. And occasionally, if meat is not available, fish can also be used.
Although it’s native to Quebec, tourtière can also be found in the nearby provinces, as well as in North Eastern United States. It is believed that immigrants from Quebec introduced the dish to these regions during the late 19th century.
There are some restaurants, primarily on the East Coast, that serve tourtière. And if you’re attending a festival, you may find food trucks selling mini tourtières. However, you can usually find it frozen at farmers markets across Canada. Sometimes you’ll also see it in the freezer section of grocery stores, but I recommend getting it from the farmers markets if possible. They’re more expensive, but they taste better than the ones at the grocery stores which are factory made.
Tourtière is one of my favorite traditional foods from Canada and I would recommend it to all visitors.
Every culture has some sort of traditional doughnut and Canada is no different. Let me introduce you to BeaverTails: a long, deep-fried dough, in the shape and size of a beaver’s tail. You can get them sprinkled with sugar, or various toppings. From ice cream to chocolate, and even poutine, the possibilities are endless.
Personally I prefer the classic one sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. There’s something so comforting about freshly fried crispy dough, I really don’t think it needs any toppings that will make soggy.
Originating from late 1970s Ontario, BeaverTails have expanded all over Canada and a few other countries. You can find them in most Canadian cities and highly touristic areas like Banff.
While the exact origins of Montreal-style smoked meat are unknown, we know that it originates from Montreal sometime during the early 1900s. The recipe, created by Jewish immigrants, involves curing beef brisket with salt, spices and herbs for a week. The meat is then hot smoked and steamed to cook it thoroughly.
The best place to try Montreal-style smoked meat is of course in Montreal and nearby regions. There are multiple delis and restaurants like Schwartz’s that sell sandwiches with this type of meat. Sadly Montreal-style smoked meat isn’t very common in other parts of Canada, especially in the Western provinces. And if you’re lucky enough to find it, it won’t taste as good as it does in Montreal.
No trip to Canada would be complete without a stop by Tim Hortons, a Canadian chain of fast food restaurants. And the most beloved combo is a double double and a box of timbits.
A double double is a coffee with two creams and two sugars. While timbits are doughnut holes. They come in 10 varieties, in boxes of 10, 20, or 50 timbits. Perfect for sharing with your loved ones.
You will find Tim Hortons locations all across Canada. They are in city centers, residential area, malls, airports, large cities, small towns, everywhere.
Originating from the Prairie provinces, Saskatoon berry pie is a traditional summer pie with Saskatoon berry filling. Although they look a lot like blueberries, Saskatoon berries are sweet with a slight nutty aroma.They are typically harvested in late June and early July.
However, these wild berries are also quite rare and hard to find. Nowadays, they are threatened by industrial and residential development. But you can usually find frozen Saskatoon berry pies at framers markets, predominantly in the Prairie provinces during the summer months.
Saskatoon berry pies are typically served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Another Quebecois delicacy, Montreal-style bagels have recently been gaining a lot of popularity outside of Quebec. Brought over by Jewish immigrants from Poland in the 19th century, Montreal-style bagels are still made by hand in the traditional way.
To make Montreal-style bagels a simple dough is required, made with flour, yeast, honey, eggs, oil and salt. The dough is hand-rolled, dipped in honey-sweetened boiling water, then baked in a wood-fired oven. There are two varieties: sprinkled with sesame seeds or poppy seeds. Personally, I’m team sesame.
Unlike its rival, the New York bagel, the Montreal-style bagel is thinner, sweeter, denser, with a larger hole in the middle and always baked in a wood-fired oven.
The best place to get these bagels is St-Viateur Bagel or Fairmont Bagel in Montreal. However, there are a few select bakeries in large cities like Toronto and Vancouver that also make them. That being said, Montreal-style bagels are not very common outside of Quebec.
A staple in the diets of most North American indigenous peoples, bannock is a traditional flatbread. While the Scottish version is made with oatmeal, the Aboriginal one was made with whatever ingredients were available. This could have included maize meal, nut meal, various types of flour, tree sap, and different leavening agents. The cooking methods also used to vary a lot between the different First Nations groups.
Today, bannock is made with all-purpose flour and usually deep-fried, or sometimes oven-baked. This recipe has been influenced by the government rations sent to Indian Reserves during the 19th century when Aboriginals were restricted from hunting.
Bannock is the most well-known Native American food and you can typically find it a rodeos and festivals. Recently, it has gained some popularity as it started to appear in fusion dishes such as bannock burgers or bannock tacos. If you’re in Edmonton for the Heritage Festival, I highly recommend the bannock burger from the Aboriginal pavilion.
Additionally, you may be able to find bannock in the bakery section of grocery stores, but it’s not very common. Reason being that it is hard to store and it is best eaten fresh right after frying as it’s meant to be crispy. That being said, it is fairly easy to bannock make at home. Here’s one recipe you can try.
You can eat them in a variety of ways: cut them in half and spread jam, make sandwiches, dip them in soup, make bread pudding, the possibilities are endless.
Another tasty Native food is candied smoked salmon, which has been a staple of the tribes living along the Pacific Coast.
To make candied salmon you first need to remove the bones, then cut the salmon into cubes. Marinate the fish in a sweet and salty brine overnight, then smoke it. During the smoking process, you can also brush the salmon with maple syrup for additional sweetness. This food is meant to be consumed cold, so let the fish sit in the fridge overnight before eating it.
That being said, you probably don’t have the capacity to smoke your own fish at home. But don’t worry! You can find frozen candied salmon at select grocery stores and farmers markets across Canada, however it is most popular in BC as well as Quebec.
If you like bacon, you’re going to love this one. Canadian bacon is a meaty cut that includes the pork loin, and may or may not include a part of the belly as well. Whereas traditional bacon comes from the belly only.
This type of bacon is commonly used in British and Irish cuisines, but it got its name after it was imported from Toronto to New York City. Due to Canadian bacon being so lean, the flavor is more like ham than bacon.
Although it’s known as Canadian bacon in the United States, in Canada it’s typically called back bacon. However in Ontario you will most commonly find it as Peameal bacon. It is the same cut of bacon but rolled in cornmeal, giving it a yellow crust.
You can find Canadian bacon in most grocery stores across the country in the deli section, as well as in butcher shops and farmers markets. Peameal bacon is also widely available throughout Canada, though it is most commonly found in Ontario.
If you travel to the East Coast of Canada, you have to try some fresh Atlantic lobster. In fact, these lobsters are so good, they get exported to over 50 countries, primarily in East Asia and Western Europe.
Although you can find similar lobsters in North Eastern United States, the ones in Canada are in higher demand for a couple of reasons. Most importantly, the Canadian lobsters have more meat compared to the American ones. And secondly, they have higher chances of surviving shipping over long distances due to having a harder shell and higher blood protein levels. They can live up to 6 months in a tank!
No wonder many consider the Atlantic lobster to be one of Canada’s most valuable exports. In 2019 lobster exports reached a value of 2.6 billion dollars!
Now that I convinced you to try Atlantic lobster some dishes to consider include: baked lobster tail, boiled or steamed whole lobster, lobster rolls, and lobster bisque.
You can easily find lobster dishes at restaurants on the East Cost, as well as in most large cities. In the Prairies, your best bet is to get frozen lobster tails or whole, living lobster from the tank at a large grocery store. Asian supermarkets will almost always carry them.
And last but not least, I cannot write about traditional foods from Canada without mentioning maple syrup. Although the United States also produces some maple syrup, the majority of it comes from Canada. In fact, the province of Quebec alone produces 70% of all the world’s supply!
First harvested by the Indigenous People, the practice was quickly adopted by the European settlers. Before the winter, maple trees store starch in their roots and trunks, which raises into the sap. In late winter/ early spring, a hole is drilled and a tube is inserted into the tree trunk to collect the sap. This sap is then evaporated to make a concentrated maple syrup. The more concentrated it is, the darker the color and more intense the flavor.
Even though maple syrup production does not contribute to the economy too much outside of Quebec, it is a staple all across Canada. Most people have maple syrup in their homes at all times.
If you’ve never tasted maple syrup, it has a distinctive flavor unlike anything else. It’s as sweet as honey, but more aromatic and thinner in consistency. The first time I tried it I thought it tasted like a mix between a coffee and a caramel doughnut.
You can do all sorts of things with maple syrup, but most frequently people consume it with pancakes. Just make some fluffy pancakes and pour a copious amount of syrup over them. Additionally, you can make all sorts of baked goods, savoury dishes, and even sweeten your coffee with maple syrup.
You can find maple syrup everywhere. All grocery stores carry it; it’s on the shelf usually in the baking isle. You can also find it in souvenir shops, at airports, and even abroad.
Most commonly you will find them as two sugar cookies usually shaped like maple leafs, with maple buttercream in the middle. You can find these cookies in all grocery stores in Canada, souvenir shops in touristic destinations and airports.
There are two main varieties of maple candy: hard candy and soft candy. You will mostly find them in souvenir shops. I rarely see them at the grocery store where I live.
The hard candy comes in different sizes, but always shaped like a maple leaf. They’re just like regular hard candy, but made from maple syrup instead of sugar.
Soft candies are made from maple sugar, and they have a crumbly texture like fudge.
Maple candy makes for a great souvenir to bring to your loved ones since you don’t have to worry about any syrup leaking and ruining your clothes.
You will typically find maple chocolate and fudge in souvenir shops and at the airport. Additionally, specialty chocolate shops will also carry some.
The maple chocolate comes in a few varieties. There are both milk and dark chocolate bars, chocolate boxes, filled truffles, and even ice wine maple chocolate.
When it comes to fudge, it also comes in a few varieties. You can get plain maple fudge, with walnuts or pecans, chocolate, and even bacon.
Also known as maple taffy, tire d’érable, is a delicacy from the East Coast. It is made by boiling maple sap past the point of becoming maple syrup, then poured into skinny lines over ice or clean snow. Then a wooden stick (or even a fork) is rolled over it to collect it. It’s a bit like a chewy popsicle, but it melts very quickly.
You can typically find it at winter festivals, primarily in Quebec and Ontario, or frozen in select Quebec supermarkets. Additionally you cam make it yourself at home from maple syrup. If you’re interested, here’s a recipe.
And these have been 15 of the most traditional foods from Canada. Have you tried any of them?