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Top Must-Try Canadian Foods for Foodies and Travelers

Top Must-Try Canadian Foods for Foodies and Travelers


Looking for the best Canadian foods to eat when visiting Canada? While Canadian cuisine may not boast the immediate recognition of Italian, Moroccan, or Greek culinary traditions, it holds a charm and diversity all its own, reflective of the country’s vast and varied landscape. Over the years, Canada has steadily crafted a distinct food identity that warmly embraces its multicultural roots and the abundant natural resources of the Great White North. If there’s one term that encapsulates the essence of Canadian cuisine, it’s ‘eclectic.’

From the sweetness of Quebec’s sugar pies to the savory delights of Nova Scotia’s seafood, the best traditional Canadian food is about taking the familiar and infusing it with a twist that’s as unexpected as it is delightful. This culinary journey invites food enthusiasts and travelers alike to discover the quirky and innovative flavors that define Canadian cuisine, a celebration of creativity and cultural fusion in every bite.

What Is Canadian Cuisine

Nobody says, “Let’s go out for Canadian food tonight.” We, as Canadians, often say, “Do you want Thai food today?” What about Korean or Japanese food? Other foods worldwide have a distinct theme and flavor, but not Canada. Traditional Canadian foods are a mishmash, and that’s how we like it!

Traditional Canadian Foods

Canadian dishes don’t have much that makes them stand out from the rest of the world except for their quirkiness and influence from other cultures. You name a country, we have the food. Even in small towns across Canada, you will find a wide variety of international cuisine. So, when you think about it, that is what makes Canadian food unique. We are diverse in every aspect of life in Canada, and food is no exception.

We have a few favorites that people may already know and love and some traditional Canadian foods that the rest of the world may or may not know about, so I thought I would share a list of foods unique to Canada.

1. Poutine – Quebec

best traditional canadian food poutine
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Poutine – The quintessential Canadian food

I think the world is starting to know about, love, and adopt our little secret, Poutine. This simple yet indulgent Canadian dish contains three key ingredients: crispy French fries, squeaky cheese curds, and a rich, savory gravy. It is sinfully delicious. Poutine is the ultimate comfort food and our go-to snack for a hangover.

French fries (ideally thick-cut) Fresh cheese curds Brown gravy (commonly a mix of chicken, veal, and turkey stock)

Poutine is our beloved Canadian dish, transcending its Quebecois origins to become a national comfort food staple. The heart of poutine lies in its unpretentious roots—a hearty, comforting dish often enjoyed in casual diners and pubs. It’s a symbol of Canadian culinary traditions, turning simple, readily available ingredients into a dish that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

We have recipes for poutine all over Canada with different toppings. The basic poutine recipe is cheese, gravy, and fries, but they love making Lobster poutine on the East Coast, and in Alberta, beef poutine is popularly made with Alberta beef. Pulled pork poutine is another popular option. The more you load it with, the tastier it gets! It can be found across the country. As a matter of fact, Poutine is often thought of as Canada’s national dish!

2. Nanaimo Bars – British Columbia

traditional canadian food nanaimo bars
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Nanaimo bars – traditional Canadian dessert

Nanaimo Bars are a classic sweet Canadian dish originating from the city of Nanaimo in British Columbia. These rich, no-bake dessert bars contain three delicious layers: a crumbly, nutty base, a creamy custard-flavored middle, and a smooth chocolate topping. They may be called a different name elsewhere, but rest assured, Nanaimo Bars were invented in Canada. Check out more about British Columbia The Best Places to Visit in British Columbia

Ingredients:

For the base layer: Graham cracker crumbs, coconut, almonds (or walnuts), cocoa, butter, sugar, and egg. For the middle layer: Custard powder, butter, heavy cream, and icing sugar. For the top layer: Semi-sweet chocolate and butter.

The Nanaimo Bar’s origins date back to the early 1950s and have since reached beyond British Columbia to become a nationwide favorite. This popular Canadian food is always featured in bakeries, cafes, and dessert menus across Canada. The combination of a crunchy base, a soft, sweet middle, and a chocolatey top makes these bars a unique and indulgent treat.

What sets the Nanaimo Bar apart is its no-bake nature, making it a popular choice for home bakers, especially during the warmer months when turning on the oven is less appealing. The bars are also a staple during the holiday season, often featured in Christmas baking assortments.

3. Butter Tarts

traditional  canadian food butter tarts
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These are still my favorite desserts. If I go to a buffet with butter tarts on the table, you can be sure I will grab a couple.  Butter Tarts are a quintessential Canadian dessert, embodying the simplicity and richness of the country’s baking traditions. These small, individual tarts consist of a flaky pastry shell filled with a gooey, buttery mixture of sugar, eggs, and often raisins or nuts.

Ingredients:

Pastry dough (usually a basic mix of flour, butter, and water) Butter Brown sugar Eggs Vanilla extract Optional: Raisins, walnuts, or pecans

The origins of Butter Tarts are traced back to the early settlers of Canada, with roots in Scottish and French pastry traditions. Over time, they have become a beloved treat nationwide, often found at local bakeries, community gatherings, and family tables. Our hometown of Paris, Ontario, even has the annual butter tart festival.

The charm of the Butter Tart lies in its simplicity and the comforting, homemade feel it embodies. Each tart is a delightful combination of a crispy crust and a soft, sticky center, offering a balance of textures and flavors that have made it a Canadian favorite. Regional variations of the tart exist, with debates over the inclusion of raisins or the desired consistency of the filling – runny or firm. My personal favourite are pecan butter tarts.

4. Beaver Tails

traditional food in canada beaver tails
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Head to any tourist destination, and you can be sure to see people munching on Beaver Tails. No, they are not what you think they are. Beaver Tails are delectable treats made of fried dough shaped like a beaver’s tail.

It can be topped with anything, but we like the original sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon.  Other toppings include ice cream, whipped cream, or jellies. Read more: Top Things to do in Ottawa

5. Maple Syrup

traditional canadian food boiling maple syrup in snow
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What tourist doesn’t leave Canada without a bottle of Maple Syrup in tow? The maple tree is a national symbol of Canada, and its syrup is scrumptious. 

Come to Canada in the dead of winter, and you can take a tour out to the woods and watch them tap a Maple tree for fresh syrup. If you visit Ottawa in Winterlude, Quebec, during Carnival or any Canadian winter festival,, you’ll always find someone rolling fresh boiling maple syrup over snow to create a delicious maple lollipop. You gotta try it; it’s delicious. Bring some maple syrup home with you and smother it over pancakes, french toast, sausage, or bacon. Maple syrup makes anything taste better.

6. Hawaiian Pizza

traditional canadian food hawaiian pizza
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Contrary to its name, Hawaiian Pizza is a Canadian creation. It’s famous for its unusual combination of ham and pineapple toppings, creating a perfect blend of sweet and savory flavors.

Ingredients:

Pizza dough Tomato sauce Ham Pineapple chunks Mozzarella cheese

Invented in Ontario in the 1960s, Hawaiian Pizza has sparked debates about pineapple on pizza but remains a popular choice worldwide. It used to be my favourite pizza and the only kind I ordered from Pizza Pizza all through college.

7. The Bloody Caesar Cocktail

traditional canadian food and drinks bloody caesar cocktail
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The Caesar is definitely Canada’s national drink. A Bloody Caesar is a lot like America’s Bloody Mary, except we use Clamato Juice over tomato juice. Clamato juice is a mix of clam and tomato, but don’t let that turn you off. It’s delicious.

The Bloody Caesar is a beloved cocktail in Canada, and we have adopted it as our country’s national drink. It’s a savory, spicy concoction with a unique Canadian twist: clamato juice which is a blend of clam juice, and tomato juice.

Ingredients:

Vodka Clamato juice Worcestershire sauce Hot sauce (such as Tabasco) Lime juice Celery salt Ground black pepper Garnishes: celery stick, lime wedge, pickled vegetables

The Bloody Caesar was invented in 1969 by bartender Walter Chell in Calgary, Alberta. He was inspired by the Italian dish Spaghetti alle Vongole and sought to capture its essence in a drink. Chell mashed clams to mix with tomato juice, creating the first clamato juice, which became the distinctive ingredient of the cocktail.

This drink is a favorite not only in Calgary but at all Canadian bars and restaurants and holds a special place in our country’s cultural landscape. It’s often enjoyed during brunches, on Canada Day, or my favorite, as a ‘hair of the dog’ remedy. The Bloody Caesar is customizable, with various garnishes like celery stick, pickled beans or peppers and levels of spiciness, making it a personal experience for each individual.

A lot of work goes into a Caesar made with vodka and clamato juice, from choosing the proper glass, to the right Clamato juice, rimming the glass properly and adding just the right amount of Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco sauce. Check our recipe here

8. Back Bacon

traditional canadian food back bacon
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Speaking of bacon, peameal bacon or back bacon is world-famous. Americans like to call it Canadian bacon, but we call it back bacon. Even Bob and Doug Mackenzie (aka Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas) sang about back bacon for their 12 Days of Christmas spoof. 

Unlike the streaky, fatty bacon often seen in the United States, Canadian Bacon is made from pork loin cut, giving it a more ham-like texture and flavor.

Ingredients:

Pork loin Brine (commonly made with water, salt, and sugar) Cornmeal (for peameal bacon)

The origin of Canadian Bacon is tied to Toronto, where pork loins were rolled in peameal (ground yellow peas) to preserve them in the late 19th century. While the peameal has since been replaced by cornmeal, the name, and the tradition continue.

Canadian Bacon is typically brined, smoked, and sliced into circular medallions. It’s less fatty than traditional bacon, making it a healthier option that doesn’t sacrifice flavor. It is part of our national identity. Even if you don’t eat bacon (like me), Canadian Bacon is still a huge part of Canadian food identity.

9. Kraft Dinner

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The Barenaked Ladies (a famous Canadian rock band) even sang about one of our favourite Canadian foods, Kraft Dinner. In their song they talked about putting ketchup on Kraft Dinner. “a Little Dijon ketchup.” While many places worldwide have macaroni and cheese, only Canada has KD. We Canadians love Kraft Dinner. When Covid-19 spread, people were buying up these boxes of goodness almost as quickly as toilet paper!

10. Tim Hortons Doughnuts

traditional canadian food tim hortons donuts
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I know everyone loves doughnuts, and we’ve tried them worldwide, but nothing compares to Tim Horton’s doughnuts. (Donuts for our American friends.) In fact, eating at Tim Hortons can be a Canadian food and cultural identity post all to itself. People are hooked on Tim Horton’s coffee. A lot of people order a double-double (double cream / double sugar) with an apple fritter or chocolate-dipped doughnut.

Tim Hortons has branched out and now offers oat milk, lattes, and cappuccinos. As Starbucks continues to close around the country, Tim Hortons is still going strong.

11. Smoked Salmon

traditional canadian food smoked salmon
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Our airports are filled with boxes of the stuff, and we love the smoked sockeye salmon. Eat smoked salmon alone, or add some capers and goat’s cheese on some crackers. Oh, my mouth is watering as I write about it.

12. East Coast Lobster

best traditional canadian food east coast lobster
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Other countries eat lobster, I know, but in the Maritime Provinces on Canada’s East Coast, Lobster is a way of life.  And the lobster from the East Coast of Canada is among the best in the world. Check out Best Things to Do in Nova Scotia – The Ultimate Travel Guide

13. Canadian Beer

canadian dishes and drinks molson canadian
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It is a meal where we come from! Canadians think their beer is superior to their southern neighbour’s watery brew. As a matter of fact, we think that their beer is superior to everyone’s. Canadians can’t figure out why the rest of the world doesn’t feel the same way. While many people think we only drink Molson Canadian or Labbatt’s, we have a very large microbrew scene. You can drink beer from all over Canada in small batches nationwide.

Regional Favourites – Traditional Canadian Cuisine

14. Montreal Bagels

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Montreal bagels are as popular in Canada as New York Bagels are in America. What makes these bagels so special? Unlike other bagels, Montreal Bagals have a larger hole, but the bagel itself is thinner, denser, and sweeter than regular bagels. Because they are baked in wood fire ovens, the outside is crispier, too! Check out 29 Best Things to Do in Montreal, Canada

15. Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich

Canadian dishes Schwartz's, Famous Montreal smoked meat restaurant
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Speaking of Montreal, Montreal Smoked Meat is another quintessential Canadian food. It’s a right of passage to visit Schwartz’s Deli. They’ve been serving their famous original smoked meat for nearly a century. A beef brisket is marinated for ten days using a secret blend of herbs and spices. This place sees lineups out the door. So head on in and order a smoked meat sandwich on rye bread. Check out: Where to Stay in Montreal – A Guide To The Best Places and Neighborhoods

16. Saskatoon Berry Pie

saskatoon berry pie best traditional canadian foods from the Prairies
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Saskatoon Berry Pie is a classic Canadian dessert, particularly cherished in the Prairie provinces. It’s made with Saskatoon berries, a fruit native to North America, known for their sweet, nutty flavor, reminiscent of blueberries and almonds.

Ingredients:

Saskatoon berries Sugar Lemon juice Flour or cornstarch (as a thickener) Unbaked pie crusts Butter Cinnamon (optional)

Saskatoon Berry Pie has a deep cultural significance in Canadian prairies. Harvesting these berries is often a family activity, and the pie itself is a frequent feature at community gatherings and family events. Its preparation and enjoyment are interwoven with a sense of local pride and tradition.

The pie showcases the Saskatoon berry, a staple in the diet of Indigenous peoples and early settlers. These berries provide a unique taste and are packed with nutrients. Read more: 23 Best Things to Do in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

17. Sugar Pie

best traditional canadian foods sugar pie
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Sugar Pie, a delightful dessert originating from Quebec, is a testament to Canada’s French heritage. This sweet pie is simple yet indulgent, primarily made with brown sugar or maple syrup, creating a rich, caramel-like filling encased in a flaky, buttery crust.

Ingredients:

Brown sugar or maple syrup Unbaked pie crust Heavy cream or condensed milk Butter Flour Vanilla extract

Sugar Pie’s history dates back to when early settlers used local ingredients to create desserts. Today, it’s a staple in Canadian celebrations, particularly during the holidays.

18. Nova Scotia Lobster Rolls

best traditional canadian foods nova scotia lobster roll
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Nova Scotia Lobster Rolls are a quintessential Canadian treat, especially popular in the Maritime provinces. These rolls combine fresh, succulent lobster meat with a light dressing in a toasted bun. Read more: Best Things to do in Nova Scotia

Ingredients:

Fresh lobster meat Mayonnaise Lemon juice Fresh dill or chives Buttered and toasted hot dog buns

Lobster fishing is a significant part of Nova Scotia’s economy, making these lobster rolls not just a culinary delight but a cultural experience.

19. Halifax Donair

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Halifax Donair, a variation of the traditional doner kebab, is a beloved street food in Halifax. It features spiced ground meat, typically beef, roasted on a vertical spit and served in a pita with onions, tomatoes, and a signature sweet garlic sauce.

Ingredients:

Ground beef Pita bread Garlic powder Onion powder Sweetened condensed milk Vinegar

This dish reflects the cultural diversity of Canada, showcasing how global cuisines have been embraced and adapted.

21. Split Pea Soup – A Comforting Canadian Classic

best traditional canadian foods split pea soup
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French Canadian Food – Pea Soup

I ate a lot of pea soup as a kid. I didn’t realize this was a “Canadian foodie thing” until researching this article. Perhaps my French Canadian background influenced my family to eat a lot of split pea soup. But apparently, Split Pea Soup is a Canadian dish from French Canada. There you go. I just learned something about my country that I had never known until today!

Split Pea Soup is a hearty and nourishing staple in Canadian cuisine, particularly cherished during the cold winter months. This traditional soup is made from dried split peas and often includes ham or bacon for added flavor, along with vegetables like carrots, onions, and celery.

Ingredients:

Dried split peas (green or yellow) Ham bone or ham hock (or bacon) Carrots Onions Celery Herbs (such as thyme and bay leaves) Salt and pepper

Tracing its roots back to Canadian fur trading days, Split Pea Soup was a practical choice for long, harsh winters, as the ingredients were easily stored, and the soup provided much-needed warmth and nutrition.

The soup is known for its thick, creamy texture and comforting, savory flavor. It’s a common homemade meal, often prepared in large batches to enjoy over several days as the flavors continue to develop and enhance with time.

Bannock

traditional canadian foods banncok
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Bannock is a simple and versatile bread deeply rooted in Canada’s Indigenous culinary traditions. This flatbread, which can be baked or fried, is made from a basic dough of flour, baking powder, water, and sometimes lard or oil.

Ingredients:

Flour Baking powder Water Salt Optional: Lard or vegetable oil

Bannock’s history in Canada dates back to the Indigenous peoples, who adapted it from Scottish fur traders’ bread recipes. It has since become a staple in many Indigenous communities across Canada, each region adding its own variations and techniques.

The bread is enjoyed in various forms – as a side for soups and stews, sweetened with jam or honey, or even used as the base for sandwiches. Its simplicity and ease of preparation make it a beloved food among Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians.

Bannock has seen a resurgence in contemporary Canadian cuisine, with chefs and bakers exploring its potential in traditional and modern dishes. It’s a testament to the enduring nature of this food and its significance in the tapestry of Canadian food culture.

Canadian Junk Food Scene

We have our own Canadian junk food scene and people are often surprised to find that we have several different candy bars (chocolate bars here in Canada) and potato chips than our American neighbors. To help you navigate the Canadian junk food scene when you visit, here are a few of our favourites.

22. Ketchup Chips

canadian foods ketchup chips
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We love our potato chips. Lays is a popular brand for Ketchup chip lovers. Ruffles is our favorite ridged chip brand here in Canada. While I don’t love Ketchup Chips and lean more towards salt and vinegar chips, I discovered that Ketchup Chips are a Canadian thing.

I believe we pioneered the trend of flavoring our chips here in Canada. I am probably wrong, but I am going to go with it. We really do take it all to a whole new level from other countries. All-dressed chips or dill pickle chips, anyone? I remember once upon a time having a hard time finding salt and vinegar chips while traveling. We do love having variety here in Canada.

23. Smarties

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When you eat your Smarties do you eat the red ones last? Smarties are similar to M&Ms, only better. Hey I’m Canadian, I have to like Smarties more; it’s my job! Made by Nestle, Smarties are a little crunchier with a thicker shell.

24. Caramilk

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Canada has a lot of different chocolate bars that you cannot buy in the United States. From The Crunchie Bar to the Coffee Crisp but I think the Caramilk bar is the most popular. However, I do love a coffee crisp. Caramilk is a chocolate bar filled with creamy caramel. It is produced in Toronto and when I need a chocolate fix, I get myself a Caramilk.

25. Chocolate Bars

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In Canada, we call them chocolate bars, not candy bars. And I love other chocolate bars that are exclusively Canadian Big Turk – a candy twist on Turkish delight. Dave hates it, I love it! Aerobar – a chocolate bar with bubbles. I find it a little too light. Mr. Big, it’s big, and I don’t like it, but when I was a kid, I always asked for it because it’s the largest chocolate bar out there. And finally Wunderbar. This is Dave’s personal favourite. When you come to Canada, do yourself a favour, go into a corner store and check out the chocolate bar selection.

Best Canadian Foods – FAQs

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What are traditional Canadian foods?

Traditional Canadian foods are a mosaic of dishes influenced by the country’s diverse heritage, including indigenous, French, British, and more recent global influences. Staples like Poutine, a hearty dish of fries topped with cheese curds and gravy, and Tourtiere, a savory meat pie from Quebec, is quintessentially Canadian. Bannock, an indigenous flatbread, and Butter Tarts, a sweet pastry filled with butter, sugar, and egg filling, showcase Canada’s culinary heritage. These traditional foods offer a glimpse into Canada’s rich history and cultural diversity.

Poutine: Originating from Quebec, this dish of fries, cheese curds, and gravy has become a national favorite. Butter Tarts: A sweet treat featuring a flaky pastry shell filled with a buttery, sugary filling. Maple Syrup: Canada, particularly Quebec, is the world’s largest producer of maple syrup, a staple in Canadian kitchens. Saskatoon Berry Pie: A delightful pie made from the native Saskatoon berries, found predominantly in the Prairie provinces. Caesar Cocktail: A unique Canadian twist on the Bloody Mary, featuring clamato juice and often enjoyed as a brunch cocktail.

What do Canadians eat at home?

At home, Canadians enjoy a variety of foods, reflecting the country’s multicultural makeup. Comfort foods like macaroni and cheese, roast dinners, and homemade soups are common for quick meals. International cuisines like Italian pasta dishes, Chinese stir-fries, and Indian curries are also popular, showcasing Canada’s diverse population. The focus is often on seasonal, locally sourced ingredients, with a growing emphasis on healthy, sustainable eating. We cook a lot of Thai food in our house as well. However, my brother’s family is a big meat and potatoes type of household. In Canada, anything goes when it comes to food.

What are the different food cultures in Canada?

Canada’s food culture is as varied as its landscape, encompassing French-Canadian, British, American, Asian and Middle Eastern pulse First Nations influences. Each region has its specialties – from the seafood of the Maritimes, the poutine of Quebec, to the wheat-based dishes of the Prairies. Urban centers like Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal offer a rich tapestry of international cuisines, reflecting the diverse communities that call Canada home.

What are Canada’s most famous foods?

Canada is famous for several foods that have become symbols of its culinary identity:

Poutine: A beloved dish nationwide, originating from Quebec. Maple Syrup: Emblematic of Canadian cuisine and used in various dishes. Peameal or Back Bacon: Known as Canadian bacon outside the country, this is a Toronto specialty. Butter Tarts: A classic Canadian dessert, simple yet delightful. Ice Wine: A luxurious dessert wine made from grapes frozen on the vine, primarily produced in Ontario.

And there you have our unique foods to Canada.

Canada is a land made up of immigrants, and settlers of this country make it a true melting pot of cultures and cuisine.  Just like our national identity, Canadian food is also a blend of the best of every land on the planet.

Read More About Canada Traditions and Culture



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