Canadian Food Culture: 7 Specialties You Must Try

Pancakes and berries covered in maple syrup.
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Often what springs to mind when thinking of Canadian food culture is images of maple syrup-drenched bacon strips, however, spend a little time around these parts and you’ll find they have a fair few other scrumptious delicacies to lay claim to.

However, their food culture is not as easy to pin down as other world cuisines as it tends to be a jumble of other cultures due to a multi-ethnic population. Two of their most prominent cultures are French and British after being colonized by both, and you will see plenty of their influences when it comes to cuisine. French influence in Quebec is especially prominent, with tourtiere (meat pie) and French onion soup being popular dishes around those parts.

But with such a diverse cuisine, you can be certain to get some meal satisfaction whichever part of the country you are in. However, we think no trip to the land of the maple leaf could be complete without sampling these 7 specialties of Canadian food culture…so, get ready for a few cravings.

Poutine

Poutine.
Image by Larry White via Pixabay

First up, we couldn’t possibly talk about Canadian food culture without mentioning this one. Commonly referred to as Canada’s national dish and a true treasure amongst its people, poutine is a dish that may not sound particularly special, but one taste will have you wanting to become a Canadian citizen on the spot.

Originating in Quebec in the 1950s, it is simply french fries and cheese curds doused in gravy, however, it has become a staple of Canadian cuisine. Whether you opt for the classic version or take advantage of extra toppings, such as bacon or pulled pork, your tastebuds are in for a treat.

Pretty much everywhere you look in Canada you will find poutine on the menu, and it is even so popular that there are several poutine festivals throughout the country. So, if you find yourself falling in love with this tasty dish while on your travels you may want to enroll in the festival’s poutine eating contests and bag yourself a trophy to take home.

Bannock

Bannock.
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Once a staple of early settlers, bannock is now considered comfort food for many. This flatbread can be found in many variations, including oven baked, fried, or cooked over an open fire.

The versatility of this one means that each bannock tasting will bring something new to your palate. We recommend slathering on some Saskatoon berry jam (another Canadian delight) or perhaps melting some cheese inside for the ultimate flavor enhancement.

You will find bannock eaten at any time of the day, with it being a favorite for breakfast, as well as making a tasty dessert. It is also a popular camping treat, so if you’re spending some time in the wilderness, nothing beats a bit of bannock on a stick, cooked over some hot coals.

Maple Taffy

Sticks of maple taffy.
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What’s a Canadian food culture list without squeezing in a little maple syrup in some form or another? One of the tastier ways to get in that maple syrup fix is with maple taffy. Made by boiling maple sap to around 112 °C (234 °F) and then pouring on to fresh snow to harden, it is a popular winter treat around Canada’s ‘maple belt’ regions of New Brunswick, Ontario, Nova Scotia, and Quebec (with over 90% of the country’s maple syrup production).

Although often found at winter festivals and carnivals, if you arm yourself with a bottle of maple syrup and a few popsicle sticks, you will always be ready to enjoy this traditional treat come snowfall (clean snow of course). However, be warned, these little sticks of heaven can be pretty addictive, so you may need some serious self-control once you get a taste for them.

Montreal Smoked Meat

Montreal smoked meat sandwich.
Image by Chensiyuan via Wikimedia

One of several of Canada’s most popular cuisines to come from the Montreal region, Montreal smoked meat is a form of deli meat salted and cured. Thought to be Montreal’s answer to pastrami, this meat is much softer and stringier, due to being made from the brisket as opposed to the navel, from which pastrami is made from.

You will typically find this meat served in a rye bread sandwich, nestled between generous dollops of mustard, however, it is also sometimes used as a topping for the ever-popular poutine (a truly magical mix of flavors). And you certainly don’t have to be in Montreal to get your hands on some of this top-quality meat as it is now offered throughout the country in many diners and restaurants.

But if you do happen to be in its place of origin, make sure to check out Schwartz’s Deli. The smoked meat sandwiches from here have earned worldwide recognition and with over 90 years to its name, it is the oldest deli in all of Canada. So, what better way to sample one of the region’s finest products than by going to one of their ultimate landmarks too.

Butter Tart

Butter tarts on a plate.
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Quintessential Canadian food at its best, the butter tart is simple yet delicious. Made by filling pastry cases with butter, sugar, and egg, it is a popular choice in this part of the world, both as a snack or dessert.

But if you want to jazz this simple recipe up a little, raisins are the perfect addition. In fact, it is often the most divisive question amongst Canadians when it comes to their pastries – should butter tarts be ‘with raisins’ or ‘sans raisins’?

However, bakers across the country also put their own spin on the butter tart, with flavors such as mint Oreo, coffee, lemon, and pumpkin cropping up on the menu. So, while we feel the original butter tart is tasty enough, no harm in sampling some other local flavorings. As they say…’when in Rome.’

Montreal-Style Bagel

Montreal-style bagels.
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Ahh the bagel, the perfect morning staple. However, while most are familiar with the New York bagels, it is the Montreal-style bagel that is favored by the Canadians. Although being sweeter and thinner than the New York bagel, its main difference lies in being baked in a wood-fired oven for that extra crispy texture.

The Montreal-style bagel contains malt and egg and is boiled in honey-sweetened water before being baked. And while these poppy or sesame seed covered bagels are great plain, if you add a little salmon, cream cheese, and tomato, you’ve got yourself a top-notch breakfast.

And if you find yourself in Montreal, you simply must visit St. Viateur Bagel and Fairmount Bagel. These are two of the longest-running bagel shops and biggest hitters in the Montreal bagel scene, with Fairmount Bagel opening its first store way back in 1919.

Nanaimo Bar

Nanaimo bars.
Image by Craig Dugas via Wikimedia

And lastly on our Canadian food culture specialties is another one for those with a bit of a sweet tooth. A Nanaimo bar is the prime indulgent dessert around these parts. Taking its name from the British Columbian city of Nanaimo, this sweet treat, consisting of three layers of crumb base, custard, and chocolate, requires no baking.

Thought to have originated from the 1950s, when a Nanaimo housewife entered her recipe for a chocolate square in a magazine contest, they are now a household name across the country. Everywhere, from gas stations to supermarkets, you will see this rich delicacy. Even the popular fast-food chain, Tim Hortons, got in on the action by creating their very own Nanaimo bar flavored donut.

So, if you thought a butter tart might be your go-to when looking to quench that dessert craving, you may think again once setting your sights on one of these mouthwatering delights.

What is traditional Canadian food?

Due to a mix of other cuisine influences, traditional Canadian food is harder to pinpoint. However, in general, the cuisine of Canada focuses largely on meat and carbohydrates. It is also often rich and heavily spiced. However, their cuisine is as diverse as the population that makes up the country.

What are the 5 major foods found in Canada?

The 5 major foods found in Canada are poutine, bannock, butter tarts, maple syrup and Canadian bacon. However, game meat is extremely popular also, with caribou stew being a specialty in northern Canada. But for when you simply want a quick snack between meals, be sure to grab a packet of their favorite potato chips, ketchup flavored.

What is a typical Canadian breakfast?

A typical Canadian breakfast tends to revolve around fried foods. Eggs, bacon, potatoes, and bread drenched in their finest maple syrup is usually a top choice here. Fried delights, as well as bagels, cereals, yogurts, and pancakes will usually be on the menu for your breakfast in Canada. Breakfast here is remarkably similar to American and British morning meals.

What food is Canada most famous for?

While the icon of Canada is often maple syrup, the dish most widely regarded as their national dish is poutine. This delicious concoction of fries, cheese and gravy can be found everywhere in the country, from street stalls to McDonald’s, and is now a key example of Canadian food culture.

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