When we think of the greatest foods around the world, it's not usually Canada’s cuisine that comes to mind. The little-known neighbours to the North are somewhat of an enigma to a lot of us and their traditional foods are part of the mystery.
With a diverse range of foods from the East Coast, to the Prairies, the French twist of Quebec and in the heart of Ontario, you’re guaranteed to find at least one Canadian dish to love.
There’s no set parameters here, they have everything from smoked meats, to soups and delectable desserts, and these original dishes are held in high esteem by proud Canadians, with many traditional recipes being passed down from generation to generation. You can learn a lot about the culture through these foods, with roots that reach so far back it’s hard to believe these meals have stood such an immense test of time.
Here you’ll find 25 foods that are as underrated as Canada itself; it may surprise you to learn that Canadians are behind some of these dishes, while others it’s possible you’ve never even heard of before. Whatever the case, these delicious items are well worth a trip up north to try, and you'll experience some true Canadian kindness and hospitality along the way.
25 Poutine - We all know this creation is the best!
This Canadian classic is at the top of most visitors lists of things to try. Fries loaded with gravy and cheese curds, there's not much nutrition to speak of here but it's certainly a hearty and delicious meal on a cold, Canadian winter day.
Popular at fairgrounds as well as food trucks across the country, poutine was invented in 1957 and is a French term in Quebec meaning “a mess”. It’s super affordable and easy to eat on the go so if you’re exploring some of Canada’s top tourist spots like Toronto or Montreal, make sure you grab a bite.
24 Beavertails - They aren't exactly what they sound like
No, Canadians don’t really eat the beaver’s tail. This food item has a misleading name in that it contains absolutely no animal product (vegan’s get your forks ready!), but is actually a dessert item.
Sold at fair grounds and festivals throughout the country, beavertails are fried dough sculpted in the shape and size of beaver’s tail. They can be eaten fairly plain with some sugar or cinnamon or loaded up with chocolate drizzle and candy for an extra sweet treat! A far cry from the image that initially comes to mind upon hearing the name.
23 Crush Cream Soda - A sweet treat!
In the US they might have cream soda but they don't have Crush Cream Soda. This exclusive Canadian beverage is carbonated, sugary and delicious. Orange was the original distinct flavour of this drink, sold in vending machines across the country, with the orange flavour even being available in the US.
Nowadays, the pink bottled Crush Cream Soda is a delightful vanilla, raspberry flavour that Canadians enjoy exclusively. What we know as cream soda, Canadians may mistake for vanilla root beer (particularly if it says A&W on it).
22 Nova Scotia Lobster Rolls - Better than Maine
Of course the East Coast of Canada is renowned for its fresh seafood, and one of the luxuries of living in this beautiful part of the country is the chance to enjoy delicacies local to the region such as Lobster Rolls.
McDonalds’ on the East Coast at one point even served the McLobster, a great nod to the traditional cuisine, but sadly in 2017, due to lobster prices skyrocketing, the menu item was discontinued. Luckily you can still get a taste of the real thing!
21 Montreal Bagels - The only place we should be getting bagels
Montreal will change the way you think about bagels. If you are used to New York style, it’s time to open your heart to the hand made beauty of Montreal’s finest.
Thinner than a New York bagel, Montreal Bagels are boiled in honey water before being baked in a wood oven. You can either eat it fairly plain, or take advantage of some of the incredible bagel shops in the city and load up with meats, cheeses, avocado and more to make it a sandwich.
20 Maple Taffy - Pure Canadian goodness
With the national symbol of the maple leaf being so prevalent, it should be obvious that Canadians thrive on maple. From tapping their trees for sap to boil down to syrup, there comes another delicacy of the country; maple pull taffy.
Sugar shacks are popular in Eastern Canada during the winter months where families can go for sleigh rides, see the maple forests, witness the sap being boiled down and of course, enjoy freshly made taffy. To create this treat, molten pure maple syrup is poured over a tray of clean white snow, hardens and then children (and parents) can roll a line of taffy onto a stick for tasting.
19 Hawaiian Pizza - Sorry, not sorry
The great debate rages worldwide as to whether or not pineapple is an appropriate pizza topping. While the President of Iceland has made his anti-pineapple stance quite clear, the opinions of Canadians are mixed. To some this is a favourite, and to others a serious turn-off.
Invented by the late Sam Panopoulos in Canada (after he moved from Greece) in 1962, he certainly knew how to create a dish that is a talking point. There is a common misconception that this pizza was created in America because of its name, but actually it was named for the brand of canned pineapple used on the first one.
18 Kraft Dinner - The highest consumers of KD in the world
The Canadian food of childhood, Kraft Dinner is the equivalent of the US' Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. Saving broke college students everywhere one heaping yellow bowl full at a time, this satisfying and creamy instant meal is available on Canadian shelves for less than $2.00, which is certainly part of its appeal.
Stories of its inception date back to the Great Depression in the 1930s where a salesman allegedly had the idea to sell the cheese and pasta together as a means to survive and it was then released as Kraft Dinner by the company Kraft, in 1937 (Overtheedgenewspaper.ca).
17 Nova Scotia Donair - bigger and better, just like the country
The official snack of Halifax, Nova Scotia Donair is similar to the concept of a gyro pita. It consists of a signature sauce on shaved beef with tomato and onions, served in a pita (Foodnetwork.ca).
It was in fact brought to Halifax by Greeks in the 1970s, and is an altered version of the Greek dish catered to accommodate North America’s tastes. It has become so iconic, that in 2015, the city of Halifax voted it their official food, making it a necessary item on your food list if you ever find yourself on Canada’s Atlantic coast.
16 Peameal Bacon - baby got back (bacon)
For anyone outside of Canada, this one might seem a little weird but it is a well-loved way to enjoy breakfast meat throughout the country.
Peameal bacon is back bacon that has had its fat removed and has been rolled in cornmeal. Leaner than your traditional bacon, this is a healthier option and its taste will blow you away.
One of the most Canadian meals you can try is a peameal bacon sandwich, available at markets like the St. Lawrence market in downtown Toronto. If you enjoy it, you’re sure to find a booth where you can also purchase some more to take home!
15 Maple Syrup - well, duh
Maple Syrup is the life that runs through Canada’s veins. Sugar shacks, maple forests and wintertime are the image of Canada to a lot of the world. Canada produces 71% of the world’s maple syrup according to Puremaplefromcanada.com, exporting it to nearly 50 countries.
It has many uses, both in its pure, boiled down form, it is used for topping pancakes and waffles and drizzled into many other recipes. Maple glazed carrots or salmon are popular, along with adding it to baked goods for a Canadian twist.
14 Ketchup Chips - Ketchup flavored everything!
Yes, you read that right America, ketchup-flavoured chips. To Canadians, this is the norm but to everyone else it’s downright weird. President’s choice, Doritos and Lays are among some of the brands that produce ketchup-flavoured chips for Canadian shelves.
It’s believed that this product was introduced to the market in Canada in the 1970s though officially, no one knows by whom. Of course the taste is not quite the same as the ketchup you would eat from a bottle but it’s certainly a nod to its name...try it for yourself and see!
13 Nanaimo Bars - A Canadian delicacy
Named for the town of their creation, Nanaimo, Vancouver Island in British Columbia, these Canadian squares are a gift to the world. Dating back to 1952, the scrumptious square features a layer of chocolate ganache, followed by a layer of custard flavoured butter and the base is a graham cracker/coconut crust.
Sound heavenly? It absolutely is - you’ll find these popular desserts all over Canada both at cafés and at public gatherings. Only the bottom layer requires baking - the custard and chocolate ganache are simply refrigerated after each layer is applied.
12 Bannock - Hearty goodness
This food comes from Canada’s aboriginal people and is a hearty, dense fried bread. A simple mix of flour, salt and baking powder in the modern day, it was at one time created from plants foraged off the land.
Some sources suggest that Scottish fur traders initially introduced the bread to Canada’s aboriginal community. Still made today both by the aboriginal communities and served in restaurants with indigenous heritage, there is a question of morality attached to this item in regards to the history of the treatment of aboriginals in Canada.
11 Montreal Smoked Meat - Montreal nails it again
This kosher deli meat is the pride of Quebec, and is also fierce competition to New York’s pastrami. Montreal’s meat, though, can be described as “smokier and richer” (Seriouseats.com).
Prepared by salting and curing beef brisket, smoked meat sandwiches are an absolute necessity on a trip to Montreal. Schwartz’s Deli is a particularly famous location for purchasing smoked meat in Montreal serving both sandwiches and meat plates. Very affordable (unless you’re going for a steak) and an authentic experience to boot, you really can’t go wrong dining here!
10 Kraft Peanut Butter - Just can't get enough of Kraft
While peanut butter is obviously not unique to Canada, Kraft Peanut Butter is. While we enjoy Planters or Jif, Canada runs on Kraft.
This classic jar with two teddies and full of creamy, nutty goodness is comfort food for many Canadians. A classic peanut butter cookie recipe by Kraft is also available on each jar and they are also wildly popular, being so simple to make. Not the healthiest of the peanut butters but also not too high in sugars or saturated fats, this is one that has been a staple in Canada’s kitchen for years.
9 Tourtière - The French influence
This minced meat pie is native to Quebec and contains veal, pork or beef with potatoes in a fluffy pie pastry shell. Foodnetwork.ca says this traditional dish is particularly special for the holidays with its presence on the table dating back to the 1600s when French settlers would attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve and then sit down for a meal afterwards.
As a heavier dish, it’s eaten more on special occasions and cooked at home rather than being seen frequently on the menu at your average restaurant.
8 Hickory Sticks - A must-try!
Hickory Sticks are a uniquely Canadian snack that you’ll find at almost any grocery store, convenience store or even gas station.
Created by the Hostess brand, these are very thin, hickory-smoked potato chips. They can be eaten on their own, directly from the bag, but they can also be worked into various recipes for some added crunch. These include green bean casserole, toppings for hot dogs or Mexican style salads. While good on their own, their flavour is subtle enough that it adds to a dish rather than stealing the show.
7 Saskatoon Pie - Better than apple pie
Though its name suggests otherwise, this berry can be found in many places besides Saskatoon including the Central United States, but the famous pie is a Canadian Prairies creation.
Similar in appearance to a blueberry, a Saskatoon berry has a sweet, almond flavour. High in antioxidants and fibre, it shares similar health benefits to a blueberry as well. An integral part of Canadian culture in this part of the country, this sweet and flaky pie dish hits the dessert table more frequently than any other.
6 Tim Hortons - Quintessential Canadian
If you go to Canada and don’t have Tim Hortons, did you really go to Canada? America might run on Dunkin’ but in Canada, they run on Tim’s. Opening in April 1964 in Hamilton, Ontario, it was originally just a shop for coffees, teas and their famous doughnuts, but Tim Hortons has vastly expanded its menu in recent years.
Now a one stop shop for people on the go you can order breakfast sandwiches, bagels, salads, potato wedges and a large variety of wraps and sandwiches. Of course the TimBit is a unique item, a tiny ball of dough, essentially the doughnut hole.
5 Butter Tarts - It's not just in America that butter goes in everything
Another delectable dessert to get your mouth watering north of the border! Flaky pastry shells and creamy, sweet butter filling make this Canadian treat is popular at family dinners, farmers markets and bake sales.
Cottagelife.com reports that the butter tart actually dates back to 1900 in the province of Ontario where it was first published in a cookbook from the city of Barrie. Midland and Muskoka, Ontario have both hosted Butter Tart Festivals respectfully, where you can buy, eat and sell this delightful traditional pastry!
4 Figgy Duff - Doesn't contain a single fig
Coming out of the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Figgy Duff is a traditional bag pudding that usually makes an appearance on dinner tables with a Jiggs dinner. Jiggs dinner consists of salted beef, steamed pudding and vegetables and is a favourite of Newfoundlanders.
Strangely enough, Figgy Duff does not contain any figs at all. Initially, raisins in Newfoundland were referred to as figs which is where this pudding gets its name. Of course, English and Irish heritage play a massive role in its inception.
3 Kinder Egg Surprise - the surprise is that they are allowed
Kinder Egg Surprise is a stocking stuffer favourite for children in Canada. Ticking all the boxes, it’s not only a delicious chocolate snack but it provides a toy inside for kids to build themselves and then play with. Part of the fun is the uncertainty of what’s inside - hence the surprise.
This product is actually banned in the US because it contains “non-nutritive objects” (Huffingtonpost.ca), and this is seen as making the chocolate portion unsafe for consumption along with the concern that the toy may be ingested by small children. People have actually been fined at the US border for trying to sneak these eggs in illegally.
2 Shreddies Cereal - A great way to start the day
Made in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada, Shreddies is a classic Canadian breakfast cereal and is 100% whole wheat. The perfect way to start a healthy day, and have been serving Canadians for over 75 years. Created in 1939, the name was changed to Shreddies in 1941 (Postconsumerbrands.ca).
While they come in flavours like Honey and Banana bread, Shreddies are no competition to more sugary cereals in terms of taste, but if you’re okay with a fairly plain cereal, they’re a very healthy option that is high in fibre. Even better, you can add some berries to the mix for more flavour and nutrition.
1 French Canadian Yellow Split Pea Soup - More, peas!
A staple of the French Canadian diet, this hearty soup has been warming Canadians for many years. It’s believed that the origin of the soup comes from Samuel De Champlain’s ships from France (Foodnetwork.ca) since all of the basic ingredients would’ve been on board. Once settlers left the ships and made homes on Canadian soil, the recipe evolved and became the meal Canadians know and love today.
It contains yellow split peas, ham hock, vegetables but can sometimes also include other wild game.
References: Cbc.ca, Mtl.org, Foodnetwork.ca, Urbnspice.com, Whatsdifferentincanada.tumblr.com, Thecanadianencyclopedia.ca, Time.com, Huffingstonpost.ca, Seriouseats.com