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Canada is a country of immigrants. With the exception of the Aboriginal Peoples, all Canadians are from or are descended from peoples of other lands. Consequently, Canadian cuisine is an eclectic mix of many cultures. Canada was home to the first culinary society in the New World, the Order of Good Cheer founded by Champlain in early 17th century Nova Scotia.
Popular ethnic cuisines include the omnipresent Italian and Chinese restaurants. In larger communities, you'll likely find Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian, German, middle eastern, and Greek cuisine. In the cosmopolitan hubs of Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver, you'll find anything and everything under the sun. One interesting difference between Canada and its American neighbor is Mexican restaurants. Though plentiful south of the border, they are considered more of a specialized cuisine here (with the exception of Taco Bell).
Hamburgers: Although Canadians are just as fond of hamburgers as Americans are, Americans are sometimes dismayed that they are not able to order hamburgers cooked rare or medium-rare. Canadian health regulations require hamburgers to be cooked to well done, due to the risk of contamination by E. coli O157:H7. So don't blame the restaurant for denying your request, their hands are tied.
Canadian beer: Americans may find Canadian beers strong in flavour; Europeans might prefer Canadian beers. The most popular Canadian beers are Molson Canadian and Labatt's Blue. Molson is the oldest brewery in North America, established in 1786 in Montreal. If interested in popular regional beers, try Moosehead (New Brunswick), Alexander Keith (Nova Scotia), Gahan House (Charlottetown, PEI), Unibroue (Quebec), Big Rock (Alberta) or Kokanee (British Columbia). There is also a burgeoning craft-brewing scene in Canada, particularly in British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario. This link shows a list of craft breweries in Canada.
Canadian wines: Canada is famous for its ice wines, but there are many wine-growing regions in the country. In the west, the Okanagan valley of BC has many wineries, while in eastern Canada, it is the Niagara peninsula of Ontario that is best known for its wines. Better-quality Canadian wines have Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) logo on the bottle.
Popular food culture in Canada is worthy of note. Families will generally gravitate towards countless "road houses" that seem to serve the same burgers, chicken wings, and salads. Large American family restaurant chains such as International House of Pancakes or Bob Evans have not had much luck in Canada. Typically, American chains in Canada charge the same prices as in their U.S. restaurants, adjusted to Canadian dollars according to the exchange rate.
Canadians seem to prefer less-publicized independents, or regional chains. An exception is roast chicken. Verging on national food status, Canadians have a love affair with the rotisserie roasted chicken. The mega chains of Swiss Chalet (ironic name) and St. Hubert can, between the two of them, be found from coast to coast. They offer fresh food and a very good opportunity to go mingle with locals. The Keg Steakhouse offers good quality fresh food in a casual atmosphere, but as a steakhouse, the Keg does not cater to families (although there is a children's menu). Joey's (formerly Joey's Only) specializes in seafood; most locations also offer rotisserie chicken and ribs. IHOP fans will find Smitty's a good source of pancakes and other comfort food, while Cora's offers fruit laden brunches.
Within the fast food scene, in addition to the usual global chains, Harvey's is a "made in Canada" alternative. This Canadian style fast food burger is typically grilled and you get to choose your toppings as your hamburger is prepared for you at the counter. Quebec has a unique fast food culture of its own and offers fast food items that are not available elsewhere.
Mr. Sub is a Canadian chain of submarine sandwich shops, somewhat analogous to Subway, which also is ubiquitous in Canada..
Tim Hortons is a national institution with coffee, baked goods, fresh sandwiches, and soups. Many offer 24 hour walk-in and drive-thru service. With over 2,500 outlets, "Timmies" is the largest fast food chain in Canada, surpassing the McDonald's hamburger empire both in earnings and number of stores.
Restaurant hints & tips: Like the southern United States, Canadians apparently prefer their iced tea prepared sweetened. Before you order, make sure it's the way you want it. Also, most places charge for refills of tea and cola.
For information on tipping in Canadian restaurants, see Inside Canada: Tipping and Etiquette.
Haute cuisine: Like all Western nations, Canadian cities have many fine restaurants. More recently the major centers have begun gaining international reputations for their cuisine. Rob Feenie in Vancouver, and Susur Lee in Toronto are two examples of Canadian chefs gaining international attention and celebrity. Feenie and Lee have appeared on the popular TV series Iron Chef America twice. Trout Point Lodge in Nova Scotia has gained international renown for its seafood cookery and culinary classes.
If you ask a Canadian "What food is uniquely Canadian?" chances are, most will mention " poutine ", a 20th century concoction from Quebec that combines french fries with cheese curds and gravy. Most visitors find the concept disturbing but quickly grow to love it. Poutine is now readily available across the country in many fast food and casual restaurants.
Tourtiere is a meat pie made with ground pork, ground veal, and/or ground beef and spices. It is part of French-Canadian food culture across the country and throughout the year, but is especially popular at Christmas and New Year's. Ideally, it is home made, but it can also be bought premade in grocery stores across the country.
Donairs are a Canadianized version of the middle eastern doner kabab, found most often in Atlantic Canada and Alberta (brought by Maritimers who travel there to work). A donair is made of donair meat (spicy meatloaf cooked on a vertical spit, sliced off the spit for serving), placed on a pita bread and piled up with chopped onions, lettuce, and/or tomatoes. Donair sauce (a sweet creamy sauce) is dribbled on top before the pita is folded to make the whole thing into a wrap. Careful, it is very messy to eat! Note that, for food safety reasons, the donair meat must be heated up (fried, microwaved) after slicing, Fans of gyros may recognize the meat, but it is the garlicky sweet sauce that makes the difference. It is traditionally served in a steamed pita, which makes it potentially quite messy to eat. Atlantic Canadian pizza chains often make "donair pizza", another way to experience this uniquely Canadian meal.
Thick pea soup, made from yellow or green split peas, is also an important French-Canadian contribution to food culture, and is a popular "comfort food" across the country.
Pickerel fish (what Americans call "walleye"), smoked Winnipeg goldeye, whitefish, and of course wild salmon all have a special place in the hearts of many Canadians.
Perogies (potato dumplings) were introduced into Western Canada by Ukrainian immigrants, and they are now quite popular; there's even a giant perogy statue in Alberta.Today, frozen perogies are available in grocery stores with mashed potato fillings in flavours ranging from cheese and onion, to pizza!
Sugar pie and butter tarts are kissin' cousins to the pecan pie of the American South. Sugar pie is a traditional Quebec dish, best made with maple sugar or maple syrup, and sometimes with a top crust. Butter tarts are similar, but smaller; some Canadians like raisins or pecans in their butter tarts, while others consider that a proper butter tart is raisin-free.
Saskatoons (aka saskatoon berries) are a small purplish-blue berry native to right across Canada and belonging to the genus Amelanchier; their common names are serviceberries or juneberries. They are popular filling for pies, and is also made into syrup and jam. The berry has a sort of almond-cherry flavour, despite its blueberry-like appearance. They are much easir to pick than blueberries - you don't have to bend over, and the berries are much larger. The city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan is named after this fruit.
Nanaimo bar 's origins are shrouded in mystery, but this small, sweet square is a very popular dessert. The traditional Nanaimo bar has three layers: a chocolate-flavoured crumb base; a butter-cream icing centre; and a thick layer of chocolate on top. In the last few years, different Nanaimo bar flavours have been created by changing the flavouring of the centre, base, or top to create Irish Cream Nainaimo bar, mint Nanaimo bar, etc.
Pacific Salmon are known for their healthy Omega-3 fatty acids content. Chinook are the largest with the most flavourful and richest flesh, and higher fat content. Chum have a low fat content with a mild, delicate flavour. Coho are an excellent table food with firm, flavourful, red flesh and a moderate to high fat content. This fish is a First Nations food staple and is the symbol for a number of BC First Nations tribes. The Sockeye is the most expensive of all. It has deep red flesh and a high level of fat. Some ways that salmon can be eaten are baked, poached, smoked or candied - the latter is considered a real treat. Cooking can be as simple as baking with a simple lemon butter sprinkle.
The Bloody Caesar (called "Canada's national cocktail" by some) was invented in Calgary, AB. It is made with a tomato-clam cocktail mix.
Armstrong, Julian. A Taste of Quebec , 2d ed. A walk through modern and traditional Quebecois cuisine, organized geographically.
Benoit, Jehane. The Canadiana Cookbook: A Complete Heritage of Canadian Cooking. Now out of print, sadly, along with the rest of Mme Benoit's works.
Canadian Home Economics Association. Laura Secord Canadian Cookbook. Old, but still a useful guide to long-time favorites from across the country.
Cormier-Boudreau, Marielle; and Melvin Gallant. A Taste of Acadie. A culinary tour of traditional Acadian dishes.
Staebler, Edna. Food That Really Schmecks . Canadian Mennonite cooking.