23 Traditional Canadian Foods You Need to Try & Where to Get Them


Dorathy Gass

Last Updated:

Life

Thanks to Canada’s rich history, the diversity of its inhabitants and the variety of ingredients originate from across of its vast landscape of 13 distinctive provinces and territories, there are many popular Canadian foods where ingredients within the dish retell a historical and cultural story about a particular region of the country.

What is Canadian Cuisine?

Canadian cuisine differs vastly across the country, and truly depends on which region of Canada you reside in. The nation’s three earliest cuisines were influenced by the First Nations, as well as French, Scottish, and English roots. In fact, traditional English Canadian cuisine is linked very closely to British cuisine, where French Canadian cuisine has ties to French cuisine, as well as winter provisions made from fur traders.

As immigrants from South and East Asia, the Caribbean, as well as the Southern, Eastern, and Central parts of Europe began settling into this nation in the 19th and 20th century, as such, dishes from these areas of the world began landing on Canadian dinner tables, and as such, influenced this country’s culinary dishes. Offering, once again, a wonderful example of how multiculturalism was ingrained in this country, even during its earliest years of existence. 

There is no single definition of Canadian cuisine. It starts with ingredients that spring from the landscape and with traditional dishes steeped in the region’s history and culture. On the front lines of Canada’s culinary scene, each chef innovatively reinterprets these elements to reflect a very personal vision of the land, food, and people around him or her.”

Jennifer Cochrall-King, Canadian food culture writer and author

1. Poutine

  • Origin: Quebec
  • Where to eat it: Due to its surge in popularity, poutine can be found within most restaurants (including fast food franchises) in Quebec, Ontario, and the Maritimes.

Undeniably one of the most popular foods linked to Canada is poutine! It is as simple as it is delicious, made up of French fries and cheese curds, covered in gravy – although, these days, there are plenty of add ons to this dish, including the likes of bacon, pulled pork, onions, and so on. Poutine originated out of the province of Quebec, in and around the Centre-du-Quebec, in the late 1950s.

2. Saskatoon Berry Pie

  • Origin: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
  • Where to eat it: Saskatoon or other Prairie provinces

With a sweet and nutty/almond-like flavour, Saskatoon berries are also referred to as “prairie berries” and while they look a lot like blueberries, they’re more closely related to apples. Nutritious and sweet, the berry was a staple for early settlers and the Indigenous Peoples of the region, where it could be eaten fresh, or preserved to consume during the wintertime. 

The pie consists of Saskatoon berries (obviously), sugar, flour or cornstarch, lemon juice (or zest), all piled into a pie crust, and often enjoyed with a scoop of ice cream, it the urge strikes.

3. Peameal Bacon

Credit: Smooth Bites
  • Origin: Toronto, Ontario
  • Where to eat it: Tourists can enjoy some peameal sandwiches at Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market; however, it is available at most restaurants (in and around the Greater Toronto Area), and can be bought at most grocery stores or butcher shops in the province and fried up at home.

Also known as “Canadian bacon”, peameal is a leaner alternative to traditional bacon, simply a pork cut from the back of the pig, where the fat has been trimmed off, and then rolled in cornmeal. It can be prepared the same ways as bacon – fried up in a pan or baked in the oven. With a steak-like texture, and salty taste, peameal can complement a side of eggs (any style), or made into a sandwich. The opportunities are endless.

4. Beavertails

Deep-fried dough that is stretched and resembles a flat donut, the beavertail’s origins go back to the 19th century when indigenous peoples of Canada  would cook actual beaver’s tails over an open fire and eat the meat inside. Early settlers took inspiration from this and started to cook their dough in the same way – stretched across two sticks in the shape of a beaver’s tail.. 

In 1978, Pam and Grant Hooker turned a family recipe into a Canadian corporate phenomena when they sold their pastries at the Killaloe Craft and Community Fair. While beavertails were  served simply with some sugar sprinkled on top, thanks to BeaverTails, Canadians and tourists alike enjoyed them with a wide variety of toppings including frosting, Nutella, peanut butter, candy bar sprinkles, and more.

5. Bannock

Credit: Calgary Sun
  • Origin: Innuit of Canada, Canadian First Nations
  • Where can you eat it: While it is hard to find many establishments that serve bannock these days, you can make some in the comfort of your own home, with the proper ingredients

Speaking of, much like beavertails, the Indigenous Peoples would also cook doughy bread over an open fire, and bannock can be described as circular flatbread. It was a staple for the Indigenous, as it was easy to make and cook  – where only flour was needed. It was once eaten on its own, but today many enjoy it with jam or meat fillings.

6. Butter Tarts

Credit: Rock Recipes
  • Origin: Eastern Ontario
  • Where to eat: Most bakeries all over Canada, and can be enjoyed at butter tart festivals all across the country

Records indicate that the butter tart stemmed from Eastern Ontario in 1915. Mixing butter, vanilla, syrup, sugar, and eggs, and placed into a flakey crust shell, it offers a little piece of dessert heaven, right here on earth. 

Today’s butter tarts have exploded with a variety of types, with add-on ingredients, including chopped nuts, raisins, pecans, chocolate chips, and more.

7. Fish and Brewis

  • Origin: Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Where to eat it: Maritime provinces

Mix some hard bread (sometimes referred to as “hard tack”), with salty cod, and you have this traditional dish from Newfoundland that was originally developed by sailors away at sea for weeks, maybe months who required long-lasting dishes that could withstand these trips. The bread and fish are mixed together and soaked overnight, served with scrunchions (salted fried pork, crumbled up).

8. Montreal-Style Bagels

  • Origin: Montreal, Quebec
  • Where to eat it: While they can be found in differing establishments across Canada, if you want a good Montreal-Style bagel, head to Montreal

What distinguishes a Montreal bagel from the rest of the bagel pack? While New York bagels are doughy, chewy, and soft, Montreal’s variations are sweeter, denser, and smaller – cooked up in a wood-fire oven. 

The bagels popped up in Montreal, Quebec in the 1900s when Eastern European Jewish immigrants arrived in Canada, and were exclusively made (and sold) within Jewish communities at first. When the 1950s hit, Montreal bagels could be found in non-kosher bakeries and stores across the city.

9. Nanaimo Bars 

Credit: Rock Recipes

Named after a city in British Columbia on Vancouver Island, the Nanaimo bar requires zero baking and consists of three layers, including a wafer, nut, and crumbled coconut base on the bottom; custard middle; and chocolate ganache on the very top. Its origins stem from Vancouver in the early 1950s, and nowadays, is a sweet treat that many Canadians like to indulge in.

10. Tourtière

Credit: Simple Bites
  • Origin: Quebec
  • Where to eat it: Quebec

Early Quebec settlers developed this double-crusted meat pie as a dish for Christmas back in the early 1600s when they first settled in the country. While the meat base is generally made from veal, beef, and pork, there are other variations of the tourtiere that are made with a fish-meat base. And in Montreal, the tourtiere is generally just made of pork; however, traditionally, gaming meat (rabbit, pheasant, pigeon, or moose) was used, back in the day.  

Aside from that meaty-middle, the tourtiere is all about the spices, with four main ones used (clove, allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg), offering a festive-like savoury flavor in every flakey bite. It is often accompanied with a sauce or condiment of sorts, from ketchup (homemade or bottled), to pickled beets, cranberry sauce, and more.

11. Jiggs Dinner

  • Origin: Canada’s Atlantic provinces
  • Where to eat it: Canada’s Atlantic provinces

Also referred to as a cooked or “boiled” dinner, this is a traditional meal that residents in and around the Atlantic provinces prepare on Sundays. Stemming from the popular comic strip, Bringing Up Father that ran from 1913 to 2000, the “Jiggs” family’s favourite meal was cabbage and corned beef, thus the name. 

The meal consisted of salted riblets or salted beef, which is then boiled together with cabbage, turnip, potatoes, and carrots, accompanied typically with butter, cranberry sauce, pickled beets, and thin gravy (made from the roasted meat drippings).

12. Figgy Duff

Credit: Rock Recipes
  • Origin: Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Where to eat it: Newfoundland and Labrador

Speaking of, if you live in Newfoundland and Labrador, you may enjoy a nice helping of figgy duff, after your Jiggs dinner. A pudding composed of raisins, breadcrumbs, molasses, flour, butter, brown sugar, and other spices, everything is placed into a pudding bag, mixed up, wrapped with cheesecloth (or an empty can), and then boiled along with the Jiggs dinner that is being prepared in one pot!

13. Baked Beans

  • Origin: Canada’s Indigenous Peoples
  • Where to eat it: Cans can be found in most grocery stores across Canada – or they can be made at home

Whether it’s for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, baked beans are a versatile side dish that can be eaten alongside any meal from morning eggs (made any way you like), to hot dogs, grilled cheese, BBQ ribs, and so much more. With a sweet and savoury flavour, they can even be eaten as a main dish, by sprinkling some crumbled bacon atop, and adding a crusty bun on the side. They also happen to be an excellent source of protein and fiber, and a great meal option for those who prefer to go meatless.  

Originating with Canada’s Indigenous peoples, baked beans are uniquely Canadian, thanks to the maple syrup stirred within. While you can pick up a can at any local grocery store, there are also many recipes out there when it comes to this dish that simply require a slow cooker or Dutch oven. 

14. Maple Taffy on Snow

  • Origin: Quebec
  • Where to eat it: Anywhere where you can find some clean snow (or some winter festivals all across Canada)

While on the topic of maple syrup, nothing screams “Canadian” more than boiling up that sweet golden liquid to pour over snow. The result equals out to a sticky, sweet, gooey dessert (lollypop-like) on a stick! As the story goes, back in the 16th century, a nun set out hot molasses within the cold snow to help recruit younger natives to her school, and maple taffy was born!

15. Split Pea Soup

Talk about the best-of-the-best when it comes to Canadian comfort food (especially for those long and hard winters). The cream soup combines peas and pork, mixed together with some herbs and spices. Often referred to as soupe aux pois and accompanied with a bun or slice of bread, it is a traditional dish in Quebecois cuisine, and has spread nationwide, thanks to its popularity in Quebec.

16. Pouding Chômeur

Credit: foodlavie
  • Origin: Quebec
  • Where to eat it: Quebec

Directly translated as the “unemployment pudding”, pouding chômeur popped up in Quebec kitchens during the Great Depression. It consists of cake batter with hot caramel or syrup poured atop prior to baking. An interesting fact about the dish is that during the Depression, households often used stale bread in lieu of batter.

17. Toutons

Credit: Rock Recipes
  • Origin: Newfoundland and Labrador
  • Where to eat it: Newfoundland and Labrador

Generally made from leftover bread dough, a touton is like a “Newfoundland” pancake in the sense that it is made by frying dough on a pan with either pork fat or butter. They are served at breakfast (or brunch), and can be found on menus within many restaurants and establishments across the province. While it is a challenge to pinpoint its exact date of origin, records trace back to mention of “touton” word to the early 1800s.

18. Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich

  • Origin: Montreal, Quebec
  • Where to eat it: Variations of this dish can be found in restaurants across Canada, but there’s nothing like having Montreal smoked meat, in Montreal – specifically at Schwartz’s Deli

While the exact origins of Montreal smoked meat are still uncertain, it began popping up at deli’s in the city in and around the early 1900s. A salted and cured beef brisket, with a variety of spices, the meat is then steamed and smoked to perfection. It is generally sliced, piled high and served as a sandwich, usually on rye bread (and topped with mustard); however, as of late, it can also be seen as a poutine topping.

19. Persian

  • Origin: Thunder Bay, Ontario
  • Where to eat it: Thunder Bay, Ontario

A cinnamon bun-type of sweet roll (with pink icing made out of either raspberries or strawberries), the Persian was first created in the 1940s, by Art Bennett, the original founder of Bennett’s Bakery and The Persian Man, and continues to be a popular sweet treat favourite among Thunder Bay locals and tourists alike. Eating competitions are hosted around these doughnut-like buns, as well as fundraisers within the community; however, if you are hankering for a taste, then you’ll have to head to the Northern Ontario city, as they are only sold in that neck of the woods.

20. Cipaille

  • Origin: Quebec
  • Where to eat it: Quebec

A traditional dish in Quebec, the cipaille is unlike other variations of this meal (which sometimes includes fish), as it doesn’t contain any seafood – rather the “meat” in the pie is generally chicken, pork, beef, moose, partridge, or hare. It is an adaptation of a layered meat pie stemming from the 18th century known as “sea pie” that was served to British sailors.

21. Sucre à la Crème

  • Origin: Quebec
  • Where to eat it: Quebec

A soft, sugary confection that is cut up into small squares, sucre à la crème differs slightly from fudge as it is a bit more brittle, and has a grainier texture. It can have a variety of flavours, and at times, nuts are added.

22. Rappie Pie

  • Origin: Maritime provinces
  • Where to eat it: Maritime provinces

Originally an Acadian dish, the meal was adapted by families in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. A casserole meal consisting of grated potatoes, along with onions and meat (either chicken, bar clams, or beef), it appeared on Maritime tables during the Acadian Expulsion, circa the mid-1700s, when Acadians were exiled to Canada.

The immigrants thus shared experiences, ideas, as well as cultural recipes. As the rocky farmland in this area was the perfect environment for growing potatoes, rappie pie became a very popular dish that would be passed down from generation to generation.

23. Date Square

  • Origin: Canada
  • Where to eat it: Bakeries and coffee shops across the country

There are many different names for this traditional Canadian dessert square that is made of cooked dates with oatmeal crumble atop. In the east of Canada, it’s known as date crumbles and can be found in coffee shops, while the west refers to the dessert as matrimonial cake, which makes it understandable as to why there is such a debate around the square’s origin. 

While some believe it stems from a Scottish influence of settlers (thanks to the oats), many French and Eastern Canadians believe that the dessert’s origins began in their neck of the woods. While it is hard to pinpoint, the good news is, east, west, or in between, this it is clearly and truly a Canadian-owned sweet treat.

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