They say you are what you eat, so…how Canadian are you, eh? We’ve put together a list of 28 essential Canadian foods you have to try at least once in your life. Do it for the honour, the maple leaf, the true north strong and free. Or, like, if you’re hungry.
Here are 28 ultimate Canadian foods:
You knew we’d start here, right? This is the quintessential Canadian snack food: Fries loaded with authentic squeaky and gooey cheese curds, and swimming with gravy. Poutine is the ultimate snack, late night eat, hangover food, appy, or even main dish. Canada’s calling card dish has been jazzed up in a thousand different ways from coast to coast (and even abroad) from veggie versions to heaps and heaps of meat and more.
Depending on who you ask, a Montrealer will likely tell you that their favourite place to get a Montreal-style bagel is either Fairmount or St-Viateur. Both are 24/7 joints in the city’s Mile End neighbourhood, and the longstanding rivalry creates fierce loyalties. And, of course, there ain’t no bagel like a Montreal bagel.
Sure, you’ve had gyros. But the Donair is distinctly Canadian, and even more, it’s such a part of the food fabric of Halifax life that in 2015 it was named the official food of the city. This spit-roasted meat “loaf” that’s sliced and grilled and stuffed into a pita (or piled on poutine or pizza, because we’re Canadian) is an essential eat.
Salted and cured kosher-style, beef brisket that ends up between slices of mustardy rye bread as the one and only Montreal Smoked Meat (or, to Montrealers, just “smoked meat,” mais non?) is like no other. Others have tried, but if it doesn’t happen in Montreal, can Montreal Smoked Meat really happen?
No actual beavers are harmed in the making of this favourite festival snack. This hand-stretched pastry is fried up and topped with anything from simple cinnamon and sugar to some way more indulgent versions with the sweet, sweet works.
Ah, the All Dressed Potato Chip. It’s a flavour sensation, a taste explosion, a veritable cornucopia of savoury notes that is cherished by Canadians and misunderstood (or envied) by those outside our borders. For the uninitiated (and un-Canadian, really), the All Dressed chip basically is a mashup of every possible basic chip flavour. You’ve got your vinegary tang, your bold BBQ, your sweet ketchup-y bits. Or, as some might say, it’s like eating a pile of salt. Oh, Canada!
Did someone say Ketchup chips? Yep, it’s a thing. A very Canadian thing. Just have napkins handy, that red ketchup powder on your fingers is a dead giveaway you’ve had your hand in the chip bag.
This no-bake bar dessert gets its name from Nanaimo, B.C. and is comprised of a graham cracker crust topped with a custardy icing, coconut, and chocolate. “This creamy, chocolatey treat’s origin is elusive, shrouded in mystery, and claimed by many as their own,” says the City of Nanaimo. Indeed.
Bannock is a traditional First Nations fried bread that is typically made of flour, baking powder, sugar, lard, and water or milk. The ingredients are kneaded together and are formed into circles and are fried.
These are not M&Ms, guys. Canada owes its love of Smarties, the candy-coated chocolate circles, from the UK. Known for their bright colours, they’re a favourite in kids’ Halloween trick or treat bags, and work great as a sub for chocolate chips in cookies.
Calgary is the birthplace of a Chinese-Canadian regional staple: Ginger Beef. Take Albertan beef and deep fry it and toss in a sticky sweet sauce along with veggie like carrots and peppers, and you’ve got a Westernized dish that calls YYC home. It’s a signature dish on some of the city’s long-standing Chinese restaurants, too.
Edmonton, on the other hand, is known as the home of the Green Onion Cake. Considered the dish of the city, this is a Westernized–or Edmonton-ized–version of a Northern Chinese staple that locals regularly line up for at festivals and elsewhere around town.
Canada is Timmies, and Timmies is Canada, and this now-global donuts and coffee chain’s signature menu item are their donut holes, known as Timbits. You can’t call yourself a Canadian and not have eaten this.
What’s in a name? Well, if you are a Canadian, you pick up a blue box of macaroni-style noodles and do a little DIY assembling at home with a packet of powdery bright orange cheese, butter, and milk and voila, Kraft Dinner is served. But don’t call it “Mac & Cheese.” If you want KD, you’re going to call it KD in Canada.
It was in Canada where, in 1962, Greek immigrant and restaurant operator Sotirios (Sam) Panopoulos reportedly took canned pineapples and pieces of ham and combined them on a pizza crust. The name Hawaiian came from the brand of the canned pineapple, and the polarizing combo has become a standard on pizza menus in the US and Canada.
The drink, made with Canadian spring water and natural flavourings, was at the forefront of the “New Age” beverage movement, and was extremely popular, even inspiring off-shoot brands and flavours. It’s made a come back, and you can once again swill your favourite fruit flavours of this trendy late 80s-early 90s drink.
Yet another food item that has a UK parallel, Shreddies are a wheat breakfast cereal that in Canada come in a yellow box. Sometimes we get fancy and have them in Honey flavour, or the more exciting Banana Bread. But there’s nothing like a bowl of basic Shreddies.
Hawkins Cheezies are known as Canadian, though they do have US roots. “Founding owner, W.T. Hawkins and Jim Marker, who is the actual developer of Cheezies®, had spent years in Chicago in the confectionery industry perfecting their craft.” The craft was “a technique of extruding cornmeal into various shapes, cooking them in vegetable shortening and then coating them in aged cheddar cheese.” They headed north to Ontario, and the rest, as they say, is snacking history.
Tourtiere is French Canadian meat pie, often made with a blend of meats (usually veal and pork) with spices, and is often found on festive tables during the holiday season (and in winter months–it’s quite a warmer). This double crusted pie is thought to have earned its name thanks to the dish in which it is baked. The tradition of eating it at Christmastime stems from a longstanding practice of Quebecois eating Tourtiere during réveillon, the feast enjoyed following Catholic Christmas Eve mass.
Canada’s signature cocktail in its purest form is made with vodka, Clamato juice, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce, and is served in a glass rimmed with celery salt and a celery or olive garnish. The birthplace of the Caesar is Calgary, where it was invented in 1969 by barman Walter Chell to mark the opening of a new Italian restaurant. The flavours do indeed reflect those of Spaghetti alle Vongole, or clam pasta.
First of all, since we are in Canada, to be clear, we just call this “back bacon.” We can thank our friends to the south who labeled it with its country of origin. Back bacon is a ham-like ready to eat pork product that results from the curing, smoking, and cooking of the eye of loin, which is served in thick circular slices. Find it on your Eggs Benny. You’re welcome, America.
Now that we know what back bacon is, we can take it a step further. Peameal bacon is when the pork loin is wet cured–but not smoked–and coated in cornmeal, before being sliced and cooked. Hailing from Southern Ontario, Peameal Bacon has made its way into our hearts, arteries, and memories best when enjoyed as a sandwich.
l an American friend you’re enjoying some fine Canadian wine, and immediately they ask if it’s ice wine, amiright? Setting aside the fact that Canada has tremendous wine-making regions, we do have to own up that we are known for that sweet dessert wine in the slender bottle.
Yet another journey into the snack aisle to find Hickory Sticks. Not only is this a distinctively flavoured hickory smoked potato chip, but the chips are matchstick sized, and come in bag designed to look like wood. Because, you know, hickory. You’ll be hard-pressed to get a hold of these outside of Canada.
The nation’s most iconic dessert is the Butter Tart, with a history born of necessity: Use what you’ve got. Taking sugar and butter and creating a gooey, sticky, crunchy-topped filling for individual tarts turned into a Canadian legacy. Allegiances are born, though, from whether you like yours with or without raisins, or soft or firm. Taste a few and find your team.
Consider this Canada’s original power bar. Pemmican is made from a concentrated mix of fat and protein, often formed into balls or bars, which can be stored and transported. First Nations people would turn dried meat into a powder and mix it with hot grease and shape it into the food that they could live off for some time. You may have to DIY this at home and see if it helps fuel your hike or workout.
It might be called Swiss Chalet, but this chicken chain is very Canadian, and boy do Canadians love their Chalet Sauce. It’s the gravy served in a cup along with the fast casual restaurant’s rotisserie chicken, perfect for dunking. It is so beloved that Lays even made a potato chip flavour of Chalet Sauce.
Say what? Yep. The California Roll as we know it started life out at as the Tojo-maki roll, created by sushi master Chef Hidekazu Tojo of Vancouver’s Tojo’s restaurant. Seeing that patrons might not like this new-fangled Japanese import called “sushi” with the seaweed exposed, he rolled a layer of rice on the outside of his roll, and renamed it the California Roll.