Canada is a nation famous for its kind hospitality, cold winters, and beautiful natural surroundings. While Vancouver’s towering mountains and Ontario’s majestic Niagara Falls are awe-inspiring, there’s one area where the country might deserve more credit – its food.
With influences from the French, Indigenous peoples, and the many immigrants that have made the country their home, Canadian cuisine is rich in diversity and packed with flavor. To make sure you get the most out of your experience when visiting and try as many dishes as possible, we’ve rounded up our favorites.
In no particular order, here are ten of the most famous foods in Canada:
Poutine has often been called “Canada’s national dish” and with good reason. It’s perhaps Canada’s most famous culinary export to the rest of the world. Consisting of french fries, cheese curds, and a brown gravy made from chicken or beef that is lightly spiced with pepper, poutine is as delicious and filling as it sounds.
The perfect food on a cold winter day, poutine will keep you happy and full no matter the temperature. Originating in the dairy region of Quebec in the late 1950s, the dish came about when someone had the idea to add cheese curds to their french fries and top it all off with brown gravy. Several restaurants claim they are the inventors of poutine but no one can agree on an official origin.
For many years, poutine was looked down upon and considered an unrefined late-night junk food that was enjoyed only by those in the rural country. Fortunately for all of us outside of rural Quebec, the dish was eventually accepted by the rest of the country and became a fundamental part of Canadian cuisine.
With variations across Canada, some things you should always experience when enjoying a great poutine. There should be crispy large fries that won’t become soggy due to the gravy and cheese curds heated to room temperature, although sizes vary. Most importantly, the gravy and cheese curds must be added just before serving to maintain the perfect texture.
One of the first items that might come to mind when you think of the food of the “Great White North” is Canadian bacon. Interestingly, in Canada, it’s usually referred to as back bacon and is different from what’s traditionally consumed in the United States. Coming from the loin of the pig, the meat is often sold precooked and is generally leaner than American bacon.
Generally eaten at breakfast, you might be wondering how Canadian bacon got its name. One theory is that in the mid-1800s, there was a shortage of pork in the United Kingdom. Importing the meat from Canada, the English would then smoke it, creating what we now know as Canadian bacon. This new cut of meat then traveled all the way back to the US.
Maple syrup is such a large part of the Canadian national identity that the leaf of the maple tree is boldly emblazoned right in the middle of the country’s flag. Maple syrup is made from the sap of the maple tree and is produced in winter when the tree converts starch stored in the trunks and roots into sugar.
In order to collect the syrup, a hole is drilled into the tree and a tap is placed to allow the sap to be retrieved. After collection, it’s heated to remove excess water, leaving behind the sweet sugary liquid we know as maple syrup. Producing 85% of the world’s maple syrup, in 2020, Canada’s exports of the product were worth more than $486.3 million.
Maple syrup is enjoyed the world over and was exported to 68 different countries in 2020. Often used as an alternative to cane sugar, maple syrup is usually enjoyed with waffles, pancakes, oatmeal, or anything else that needs a touch of sweetness.
It’s considered healthier than traditional sugars because of its raw nature, it contains trace minerals and nutrients that you don’t find in processed pancake syrups. Purchase some online (affiliate link) and add it anywhere you want an extra kick of sweetness.
The beaver is considered a national symbol of Canada and the beloved animal also lends its name to one of Canada’s most popular sweet treats, the beaver tail. Similar to a doughnut or funnel cake, a beaver tail consists of fried dough that’s often topped with cinnamon sugar. It gets its name from the shape the dough is formed into before it’s fried.
Often stretched into a flat oval shape before cooking, it comes out in an appearance similar to a beaver’s tail. While cinnamon sugar is the most traditional topping, there are countless variations that include toppings such as Nutella, bananas, or chocolate. Savory beaver tails are also prepared with toppings like cream cheese and capers.
Beaver tails take their inspiration from the early 19th century when Indigenous peoples were observed cooking actual beaver tails over an open fire to be able to get access to the meat inside. Early Canadian settlers cooked their bread in a similar way using the open flame of the campfire.
In 1978, Grant Hooker, inspired by the fried dough treats that his German-Canadian grandmother made growing up, trademarked the dessert and opened the first store to officially sell the dessert known today as the beaver tail.
While many would say that New York City is the bagel capital of the world, many would argue that Montreal is actually the home of the best bagel. But what makes a Montreal-style bagel different?
Montreal-style bagels are smaller, denser, sweeter, and thinner than their New York counterparts. They are boiled in water that’s sweetened with honey before being baked in a wood-fired oven. There are generally two varieties: a black-seed bagel covered with poppy seeds and a white-seed bagel that’s coated with sesame seeds.
Similar to New York-style bagels, Montreal-style bagels were brought to Canada by Jewish immigrants from Eastern European countries such as Poland. The differences in the way the two bagels are prepared may have to do with the way bagels were produced in the respective home regions of the immigrant bakers.
Bagel bakeries began to pop up in Montreal at the beginning of the 20th century and the demand for the savory treat has never been higher.
Named after the city of Nanaimo in British Columbia, Nanaimo bars are a decadent no-bake dessert. They first came about in the 1940s following World War II when sugar and butter became widely available following wartime rationing.
Usually consisting of three layers, the base is a combination of butter, sugar, cocoa, graham cracker, shredded coconut, and almonds. The middle cream layer is a vanilla custard that includes cream, butter, and sugar. It’s then topped with chocolate and put into the refrigerator to cool until set and is then ready to eat.
Originally popular only in the town of Nanaimo, the bar with the same name has sky-rocketed in popularity branching out to all parts of Canada. In 2006, the National Post held a poll that declared Nanaimo bars to be Canadian’s favorite dessert.
Another sweet treat that is close to the heart of many Canadians is the butter tart. Influenced by the sugar pie, the butter tart is a small pastry tart that is made with a mixture of sugar, butter, syrup, and egg that’s then filled into a flaky pastry cup. It’s then baked until caramelized on top and the filling is semi-solid.
Lacking flour and cornstarch, the texture of the filling is often left a bit runny. The butter tart is a uniquely Canadian dessert that has origins in the 17th century when young women were sent to Quebec from France to help with colonization. Especially popular in Ontario, you can take a self-guided Butter Tart Tour that features over 50 bakeries specializing in the famous Canadian treat.
As mentioned previously, early Canadian settlers were known to cook their bread on a griddle called a bannock stone that was placed on the floor in front of a fire. This bread was called bannock and was often made of barley or oatmeal. At a later time, the bread was made with wheat flour.
This bread was introduced to the Indigenous people of Canada and remains a staple in people’s diets. Today, bannock is often prepared by deep-frying or pan-frying a dough made of flour, baking powder, salt, and olive oil. Known as Indian fry bread in the United States, it’s often eaten at festivals or family gatherings.
Some have called ketchup chips the official snack of Canada. This snack is exactly what it sounds like, a flavor of potato chip that’s meant to replicate the taste of ketchup on french fries. Sold almost exclusively in Canada, these unusual snacks are beloved all across the nation. First manufactured in the 1970s by Hostess, ketchup chips were an instant hit.
With a mix of sweet, acidic, and salty flavors, ketchup chips strike a nice balance that’s reminiscent of the classic french fries and ketchup.
With the rise in popularity of the chip, companies such as Lays wanted in on the action and began making their own version of the Canadian classic. Everyone in Canada has their favorite brand (affiliate links) but one thing that they can all agree on is, ketchup chips are delicious and an essential part of the Canadian experience.
Who doesn’t like coffee and chocolate? Rowntree’s, a company that made candy bars, thought that was a safe bet and in 1938 came up with the Coffee Crisp chocolate bar. The inside of the bar consists of layers of coffee-flavored foamed creme and vanilla wafer and which is then covered in milk chocolate.
A light and refreshing inside covered by a savory chocolate shell make Coffee Crisp one of Canada’s most beloved candy bars. Coffee crisp has long only been available in Canada but this appears to be slowly changing as some supermarkets in the US are beginning to carry this national treasure. Or just buy this special Canadian candy bar on Amazon (affiliate link).
With a coastline of over 150,000 miles and over 30,000 lakes, it’s no surprise that Canada is home to some of the best seafood in the world. Each province of the country is known for its own unique offerings specific to the region.
Prince Edward Island on the east coast of the country is well known for its PEI mussels, which are beloved for their sweet flavor. They are often served steamed with additions such as olive oil, white wine, and garlic.
The western province of British Columbia is renowned for its five species of salmon, some of which can grow up to 32 inches in length and weigh up to 20 lbs. The city of Shediac in the province of New Brunswick is famous for its lobster fishing industry and is even known as “the lobster capital of the world”.
While Canada is rightfully known for beautiful natural wonders like the Banff National Park and the Cabot Trail, Canadian food is not to be missed. Home to some of the kindest people you’ll ever meet, if you make it to the Great White North, you’ll leave with a full and happy stomach.