Canada is probably not the first place you think of for a foodie destination. And I don’t blame you. I was pretty skeptical of Canadian food myself, to say the least. All I had every really heard of in the way of Canadian dishes was poutine, which didn’t sound all that appetizing.
When I went to Canada after my trip through the US I basically expected it to be pretty similar to stereotypical American food: sugary bread, plastic cheese, lots of fast food, little spice. Unfortunately, this turned out to be right. In my three months, most of the traditional Canadian food I encountered was meat and different shades of beige. But I was also pleasantly surprised by the amount of vegan and vegetarian options everywhere. For a country big on (game) meat, Canada is pretty veggie-friendly.
In the end, Canadian cuisine didn’t wow me, but I did find a few dishes worth trying. Here is my top picks for things to eat in Canada:
Poutine is without a doubt the most famous dish in Canada. Ask any Canadian what you should eat while in Canada and their answer will always be: poutine. So what is poutine? It’s actually a very simple dish. Classic poutine is fries topped with gravy and cheese curds. Basically just easy drunk food that you’ll find in every gastropub in Canada. But you can also get pimped up versions with a variety of toppings.
Most poutine is made with a beef gravy, but you can usually also get vegetarian poutine and sometimes even vegan poutine. Cheese curds are a bit strange, they’re like a combination between mozarella and halloumi. A little squeaky and they don’t melt all the way through. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t blown away by poutine. It’s pretty good (what’s not to love about fries, gravy and cheese?), but not exaclty mind-blowing.
Poutine was invented in Quebec and most Canadian will agree that the very best poutine is served at La Banquise in Montreal. Which is a friendly little diner that’s open 24/7.
Tim Hortons is Canada’s most famous fast food chain. Originally a donut shop from Ontario, it is now owned by Burger King and you can find it all over the US and Canada. Seriously, you can’t drive for more than 30 minutes without seeing a Tim Hortons in Canada. They’re everywhere.
Tim Hortons is a great option for cheap vegetarian and vegan food in Canada as they serve plant based options of their burgers and breakfast items made with Beyond Meat. I also ate a lot of their delicious and affordable cream cheese bagels. The donuts that made Tim Hortons famous are pretty good, but I wasn’t a huge fan of the “Timbits” (their version of donut holes) or the coffee.
Tim Hortons is a good option for a quick cheap snack but when it comes to a full fast food meal, I recommend A&W over Tim Hortons. A&W is technically an American chain, but I saw more of them in Canada than the US. They also serve Beyond Meat options and terrific fries. For a fast food restaurant, A&W in Canada is pretty high quality and sustainable.
Maple syrup is basically a separate food group in Canada, especially in the east. Canadian love maple syrup so much that they put it on everything, including eggs (I know, gross!). When I first tried maple syrup in Canada I realized just how different the real thing is from the faux “maple flavor” stuff. Pure maple syrup is absolutely delicious and totally worth the money! You find the best maple syrup in the east of Canada. Maple trees are also really beautiful and give these provinces some spectacular fall colors.
Maple syrup also makes for great gifts and souvenirs. If you’re traveling with checked luggage you can take as much as you want, otherwise you’ll be restricted to a few little bottles (like I was). Luckily, there is also delicious maple candy, maple cookies and other maple flavored goodies like tea and coffee to bring home with you. Or to just eat all yourself 😉
I also highly recommend maple whiskey, which even non whiskey drinkers will love!
From what I noticed, Canada doesn’t have a lot of “regional specialties”. Most things, like poutine, have spread all across the country. Nanaimo bars originate in Nanaimo on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, but you can find these delicious bars almost everywhere in Canada. They’re super popular and pretty much the national dessert of Canada. And with good reason!
Nanaimo bars are a no-bake dessert made from three layers: a cookie and coconut base, custard butter icing and chocolate ganache. The result is an extremely rich and sweet, but undeniably delicious cake. The one I’m holding in the picture above looks small, but it filled me up for most of the afternoon!
So, the food situation in Canada might not be much to write home about. But Canadian sure know how to brew a good beer!
Just like in the States, craft beer is a booming business in Canada. Everywhere you go there are tons of microbreweries churning out this liquid gold. I grew up drinking beer (The Netherlands is definitely a beer country) and I love a good craft brew. So of course I tried as many as I could throughout my trip.
Fun fact: aside from trying local dishes, I also always try local beers!
The problem with an abundance of craft breweries, is that some of them are great and some of them are… a little blah. So to save you some time and help you get straight to the good stuff, these were some of favorite beers and breweries in Canada:
- The Widowmaker IPA from Backcountry Brewing in Squamish, BC. I normally don’t love IPA, but this is not only one of the best IPA’s, but also one of the best all around beers I’ve ever had! And it’s won the awards to back it up.
- Last Best Brewery in Calgary, AB, serves a combination of their brews and guest brews on tap. I tried a delicious purple fruit beer there, that was unfortunately only available for a limited time. But if you like IPA’s their Tokyo Drift is a good choice.
- La Fin de Monde by Unibrue from Chambly, QC. Whereas IPA’s are as popular in western Canada as in the US, Quebec has embraced the Belgian style that I know and love. Although it’s never as good as actual Belgian beer (the best in the world by far!), Unibrue’s La Fin du Monde is a quality triple ale.
Aside from beer, Canada also produces some very good wine (I was shocked!). They also have a national cocktail: the Ceasar. Basically a Bloody Mary with clam juice. Although I love a good Bloody Mary (New Orleans serves the best), I didn’t try this one for obvious reasons: clam juice…
As you can see, even a country that isn’t famous for its cuisine still has plenty worth tasting! Any typical Canadian dishes that you feel should have made this list? Let me know in the comments.
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