Canada has an interesting culinary scene as a result of its historical mix of cultures and influences. Yes, there are the world-famous poutines, the butter tarts, and the Nanaimo bars. But there's also a wide mix of regional and international Canadian foods that might surprise you.
From bagels that are considered better than New York’s own, to tomato and clam flavored cocktails, Canadian food comes in all shapes and sizes. Some of the dishes in this post are unique to particular areas of Canada, and some have fascinating stories linking them to the past. Dive in to explore Canada’s varied food scene.
- 27 Popular Canadian foods and when they come from
- 1. Garlic Fingers
- 2. Persians
- 3. Butter Tarts
- 4. Timbits
- 5. Nanaimo Bars
- 6. Montreal-Style Bagels
- 7. Swiss Chalet Roast Chicken
- 8. Nova Scotia Lobster Roll
- 9. Poutine
- 10. Caesar Cocktail
- 11. Tourtiere
- 12. Cold Plate
- 13. Beaver tails
- 14. Maple Taffy
- 15. Saskatoon Berry Pie
- 16. Donairs
- 17. Bannock
- 18. Blueberry Grunt
- 19. Peameal Bacon
- 20. Pouding Chômeur
- 21. Oreilles de Crisse
- 22. Fish and Brewis
- 23. Pierogies
- 24. Ice Wine
- 25. Split Pea Soup
- 26. Montreal Smoked Meat
- 27. Ketchup Chips
27 Popular Canadian foods and when they come from
1. Garlic Fingers
Garlic fingers look a bit like a strangely cut pizza. Divided into thin strips, this tasty snack is made from pizza dough with a garlic butter, melted cheese and parsley topping. It’s particularly popular on the East Coast of Canada, where it's eaten as a side dish and dipped in sauces like Donair sauce (sweet and creamy garlic in flavor).
Canadians certainly know their way around sweets and desserts. Persian rolls are classic cinnamon pastry rolls with pink icing. They come from Thunder Bay on the coast of Lake Superior in Ontario. It’s thought that they might be named after a general called John Blackjack Pershing – no one really knows when.
They are sweet doughnutty cakes, oval in shape, topped with a sickly strawberry (or raspberry) glaze that makes them so recognizable.
3. Butter Tarts
Another signature sweet food in Canada is the glorious butter tart. A flaky pastry shell filled with butter, sugar and egg, butter tarts are sure to melt in your mouth. Sometimes they have raisins in, or maple syrup, or more unusually butter tarts will include walnuts or pecans.
Timbits are named after the popular coffee chain Tim Horton’s which can be found on practically every street corner in Canada. Timbits are basically bitesize doughnut balls – super easy to eat and popular all over the country.
They’re often ordered alongside a ‘double-double’, which is short for a coffee with two creams and two sugars.
5. Nanaimo Bars
This no-bake luxurious sweet is a favorite dessert in Canada. Nanaimo bars are built of three layers – a crumb-based bottom topped with custard and a thin layer of melted chocolate. The result? A delicious combination of crunch and gooeyness.
Nanaimo bars get their name from the British Columbian city of Nanaimo where they were invented in the 1950s – a local competition was held to determine the best recipe.
Fun fact – in 2019 Canada Post released a series of novelty stamps featuring some of the nation’s best-loved desserts. These included the Nanaimo bar, the blueberry grunt, the butter tart, Saskatoon berry pie, and tarte au sucre (sugar pie).
6. Montreal-Style Bagels
You won’t get far in Canada without hearing tell of classic Montreal bagels. How do they differ from their famous New York counterparts? They’re thinner, slightly smaller, and with a larger hole in the middle.
Montreal-style bagels are individually shaped, then poached in honey water, before being baked in a wood-fired stove which gives them a rich and crispy crust and sweet doughy interior. They’re often sprinkled with poppy or sesame seeds. The most famous of these are the Fairmount and St. Viateur bagels.
This style of bagel arrived in Montreal in the early 1900s with a surge of Eastern European Jewish immigrants. They are eaten with a variety of toppings – smoked salmon and cream cheese is a sure-fire winner.
7. Swiss Chalet Roast Chicken
Swiss Chalet is a top chain restaurant in Canada that opened in 1954 and quickly became known for its mouthwatering rotisserie chicken. So much so that roast chicken cooked in ‘Swiss Chalet-style’ is a popular homemade recipe in households around the country.
It’s the marinade (concocted of paprika, tomato, ginger, thyme, garlic, sugar among other things) and the slow rotisserie method of cooking that makes this dish so iconic. It’s crispy and juicy, and can be dipped in Swiss Chalet dipping sauce to make this a roast chicken to remember.
8. Nova Scotia Lobster Roll
Canada boasts some world-class seafood, and one of the more popular culinary experiences is the Nova Scotia Lobster Roll. This is simply a toasted bun filled with tender lobster meat, butter or mayonnaise, and sometimes some lettuce or other extras. Lobster rolls are a favorite among tourists and locals alike.
For such a simple dish, poutine certainly has a big reputation. Poutine is a really popular Canadian food – compiled of french fries topped with a gravy sauce and finished off with white cheese curds.
Poutine began its life in the 1950s in Quebec and it’s had its ups and downs in popularity ever since. A good poutine is all about the gravy, which should be made from meat stock, flour, butter, pepper, cornstarch, and water. This is then drizzled in large quantities over the french fries and cheese to make one of the most famous Canadian dishes – poutine.
10. Caesar Cocktail
The Caesar Cocktail is a national drink in Canada – although it might sound a bit strange if you’ve never had one before. It’s made up of a combination of tomato and clam juice (known as clamato juice), Tabasco hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and vodka.
It’s a sort of Canadian version of the classic Bloody Mary. It’s often served with a side garnish like a stick of celery and a salt rim. However, some restaurants and bars have taken this even further and serve up entire burgers, onion rings, roast chickens (you name it!) along with their Caesars, such as Vancouver’s famed Checkmate Caesar.
This hearty meat pie is originally from Quebec in Canada – formerly a traditional Canadian Christmas pie but now eaten all year round and all over the country.
The recipe varies depending on the region but the traditional version is made with a filling of veal and pork meat alongside onions and spices, stuffed in a pastry crust. The meat pie can be added to – vegetables, potatoes or other meats are common additions to the filling. There are even seafood alternatives that use clams, scallops, or salmon.
12. Cold Plate
All the world over there are variations of the meal known as ploughmans – and Canada is no different. Introducing the Canadian Cold Plate – a popular Newfoundland dish made up of cold meats and vegetables.
Originally it would have been leftovers from the Sunday roast. Today, this comfort food dish includes pasta salads, roast beef, turkey, ham, salad vegetables, bread, sauces, dressings, and pickles. Popular as home lunches and dinners, and also as special feast meals at weddings and events.
13. Beaver tails
This Canadian dish definitely has one of the best names. It’s named after its appearance – long slabs of bread dough stretched out in the shape of a beaver tail. This dough is then deep-fried and buttered, and sprinkled with a topping of brown sugar and cinnamon.
The beaver tail was developed in Ontario in 1978 but the dessert has spread across the whole of Canada and grown into different variations. Now you can get them with toppings such as chocolate, banana, cream, oreos, and nuts.
14. Maple Taffy
Everyone knows that one of the most iconic of Canadian foods is maple syrup. This sticky sweet liquid is mainly produced in Quebec, where 70 percent of the maple syrup in the world comes from.
No trip to Quebec is complete without trying one of its staple desserts. Maple Taffy (known locally as “tire d’érable”) is a candy made by pouring molten maple syrup over snow, which hardens it. This toffee-like substance is rolled up with a popsicle stick to make a taffy.
15. Saskatoon Berry Pie
The Saskatoon Berry Pie is a traditional Canadian recipe that interestingly gave the city of Saskatoon its name (not the other way round!). Saskatoons (known sometimes as juneberries in the United States) are native berries to Canada and North America. They have a sweet flavor with almond-like undertones and are sometimes paired with rhubarb in a flavorful summery pie that your taste buds will love.
It’s a classic menu option in Canada – often served up with a scoop of ice cream or some whipped cream.
Donairs (relatives of gyros or doners) are a Canadian fast-food invented in the 1970s by the chain King of Donair (that have been featured on the Food Network Canada, the National Geographic and more) in Halifax. They quickly earned a place in the nation’s heart and were even made the city's official food.
Donairs are spiced ground beef kebabs combined with garlic sauce, onions, and diced vegetables in a grilled pita bread. They apparently make excellent hangover cures, midnight street snacks. The recipe is also fairly easy to make at home.
The bannock is a true traditional Canadian food that is thought to have arrived with some Scottish fur-traders in the 18th century, when it was absorbed into the culture of the First Nations.
The bannock recipe varies from family to family but the basic version is a simple biscuit-like bread that’s often served with a cup of tea, or to soak up the juices of a stew or soup.
18. Blueberry Grunt
One of the more strangely-named traditional Canadian dishes is the blueberry grunt – called this because of the noise that it makes when cooking. Grunt is a steamed dumpling dish made of wild blueberries on top of homemade dough. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream and you have the perfect blueberry grunt.
19. Peameal Bacon
Peameal bacon was originally invented in the early 1900s in Toronto. It’s made of lean pork loin, trimmed of its fat, wet-cured and rolled in cornmeal. It has a recognizable yellow crust and is juicy and tasty.
Originally it was coated in peas instead of cornmeal, which is what gives the recipe its name. It’s unlike traditional Canadian bacon which is smoked back bacon made from pig belly – peameal bacon is made from boneless lean pork loin instead. If you want to try a classic example of this pillar of Canadian cuisine head to St Lawrence Market in Toronto – famous for its peameal bacon sandwich.
20. Pouding Chômeur
Pouding Chômeur has an interesting history. Its name translates as “unemployment pudding” and it was invented during the Great Depression in Canada.
This sweet traditional Canadian food has one key ingredient – maple syrup. It’s made from a maple syrup-infused cake batter that swims in a syrupy sauce – utterly decadent and a treat for the taste buds.
21. Oreilles de Crisse
This tasty Canadian food is created from crispy pork rinds that are either deep-fried or baked. It’s a savory/ sweet crossover dish, as these Canadian pork rinds are drizzled with syrup or served as a side with stews or fried eggs. It’s popularly served up in Canadian sugar shacks (cabanes à sucre) in the spring.
22. Fish and Brewis
This is one of the most authentic historic Canadian foods coming from Newfoundland. It comprises dry biscuits served with cod. This is an example of traditional rural cuisine – fish and brewis would have been part of the menu for fishermen working on long fishing trips.
Something that has been introduced to Canada from the Eastern European menu is the dumpling. Pierogies can be sweet or savory and come in a variety of flavors. A popular filling in Canada is potato and cream cheese, and they are often served with a dollop of sour cream.
24. Ice Wine
Ice wine is a popular Canadian dessert wine produced in certain regions of the country. It’s made from freezing the grapes while they’re on the vine which produces a concentrated sweet wine.
25. Split Pea Soup
This classic Canadian soup is one of Quebec’s must-try foods. It’s one of the more basic Canadian dishes, made of dried yellow split peas, herbs, and pork.
It’s easy to whip up a split pea soup recipe at home in your own kitchen, but there’s also a commercial version called Habitant Pea Soup which is widely popular.
26. Montreal Smoked Meat
Montreal smoked meat is one of the Canadian foods you can find in most delis across the country. If you’ve tried pastrami you have an idea what it’s like – but it is made with much stringier, leaner meat.
The recipe is created from salted and cured spiced beef brisket served with rye bread in a sandwich with mustard, or sometimes as an extra with poutine.
27. Ketchup Chips
If you go to Canada you might notice that ketchup is a big thing there. In fact, ketchup is added to a wide range of Canadian foods – even chips! Ketchup chips are just one of the uniquely flavored chips there are in Canada, alongside All-Dressed.
It’s always interesting to see how foods in different countries differ – and how sometimes there are variations of food that sounds familiar. It’s worth sampling as many of the Canadian foods on this list as you can if you visit this beautiful country.
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