Canada is a country brimming with amazing food that you can’t get anywhere else. Sure, we all know the most stereotypical dishes—poutine, maple syrup, and back bacon—but the cuisine of the Great White North has way more delicious depth than you would think. The next time you’re in any of these Canadian provinces (and territories), expand your horizons and sample some of these quintessential local foods.
Wild Pacific Salmon
British Columbia is on the west coast of Canada, so it has a whole ocean full of seafood at its fingertips. One of the province’s specialties is wild Pacific salmon, which is harvested from the Pacific Ocean in the summer when schools of salmon migrate to the West Coast.
To try some of the best fresh salmon that BC has to offer, head over to The Sandbar in Vancouver and order their Cedar Plank Salmon. This seafood restaurant uses only fresh fish, and some of their shellfish even comes from live tanks onsite. Anything fresher than that would have to be raw.
Unsurprisingly, Nanaimo bars come from Nanaimo, BC. These chocolatey, custardy squares are a delicious Canadian dessert that everyone should try. The city of Nanaimo has made it easy for tourists to track down these bars—the Nanaimo Bar Trail was created to map out all of the locations where you can buy them. Why try just one recipe when you can try a whopping 39 variations of the classic treat?
The maple bacon variety of these bars comes from Smokin’ George’s BBQ, listed as #33 on the Nanaimo Bar Trail. While the traditional recipe is just as mouth-watering, it’s made even more Canadian with the addition of maple syrup in the filling and bacon on top. Staying true to their BBQ roots, Smokin’ George’s makes the bacon themselves and even adds a hint of cayenne pepper into the chocolate topping for that signature kick.
Alberta beef is the best known in Canada for a reason—Alberta produces 41% of the national cow herd, and exports primarily to other Canadians. That makes it easy to find amazing cuts of beef across Canada. Naturally, Alberta is the best place to try the beef that it raises.
Longview Steakhouse in Longview, Alberta is one of the most heavily recommended steakhouses in the province. It uses local beef to construct beautiful dishes that feel homemade and offer a true taste of what Alberta has to offer.
This berry is so important that it actually gave the city of Saskatoon its name, not the other way around. They’ve been a vital staple of the region since before European settlers came to Canada. Not only are they historically significant, but they’re also super tasty.
While Saskatoon berries can be enjoyed in a number of ways, the Berry Barn in Saskatoon offers Berry Barn Waffles: delicious Belgian waffles topped with a mix of berries and whipped cream. If you don’t like sweet food, don’t worry—the restaurant also makes Saskatoon Berry chicken wings.
Pickerel is one of many fish found in regions across Manitoba. It is typically farmed in the province, but it can also be fished in the wild. The residents of Winnipeg, Manitoba even consider it the “most important local fish” (probably because of how delicious it is when cooked fresh).
Taking its local pride to heart, Winnipeg’s Prairie 360 honours pickerel with more than one dish. Combined with Manitoba-grown ingredients, what better place is there to sample this fish than the city that loves it so much?
Take a break from all the delicious Canadian food and sit back with some crisp Ontario wine to finish your meal. Southern Ontario’s Niagara Peninsula is one of two primary wine-growing regions in Canada. Suffice to say, Ontario wine is local and delicious.
The Fielding Estate Winery in Beamsville, Ontario is the perfect place to get away from the real world, get a little tipsy, and eat some good food to boot. You can even tour the vineyards where Fielding Estate grows some of Ontario’s finest grapes.
Okay, let’s talk about the most stereotypical Canadian dish. Is it greasy? Yes. Is it sometimes disgusting? Yes. But is it the best meal in Canada? Probably.
The great thing about poutine is that presentation really doesn’t matter. Honestly, the worse a plate of poutine looks, the better it will taste in your mouth. It’s hard to go wrong with greasy fries, squeaky cheese curds, and piping hot gravy.
Frite Alors has 15 locations across Canada (and even one in Lyon, France), and embraces the true meaning of poutine. Their fries are greasy without being soggy, and the gravy is the perfect temperature to melt the cheese.
The idea of a plain meat pie—crust with a filling of only ground beef—may seem unappealing at first, but it’s truly delicious. If you’ve ever had Shepherd’s pie and dug through the potatoes and vegetables to get to the meaty goodness, you’ll love tourtière.
One of the most Québécois restaurants in the Province is Aux Anciens Canadiens (“To the Old Canadians”), which serves traditional French Canadian dishes in the cozy, historic Maison Jacquet, which has stood in Québec City since 1675. Their tourtière will make you feel like a very well-fed settler in la Nouvelle France.
Newfoundland and Labrador
Newfoundland’s Screech Rum gets its name from the screeching noise made by an unsuspecting American serviceman who took a shot of this extremely strong provincial drink. It’s a key part of Newfoundland’s Screech-In ceremony, where non-Newfies take a shot of the rum, recite a speech, and kiss a cod fish. Yes, it’s as weird and wonderful as it sounds.
Screech Rum is a signature local drink, and the 40% alcohol content is hard to beat. If you’re looking to become an honorary Newfie, Christian’s Pub has daily Screech-In ceremonies that always draw a fun crowd.
Cod tongues are actually cut from a muscle in the cod’s neck, not their actual tongues. These bites of fried fish used to be sold by the bucket, but now they’re more of a local delicacy.
Bacalao is a restaurant in St. John’s dedicated to serving local, fresh food from Newfoundland and Labrador. The owner thinks of herself as “an ambassador for Newfoundland cuisine to the world,” so if you want to experience real Newfie food, this is the place to do it.
This classic seafood dish is the lifeblood of Nova Scotia, and many of the province’s inhabitants still make their living catching these critters in the north Atlantic Ocean. You may think you’ve had lobster before, but Red Lobster doesn’t come close to being as tasty as fresh Nova Scotia lobster.
Salty’s is a restaurant that sits right on the Halifax waterfront. Their lobsters are bought locally and cooked straight from their in-house tanks. Though a whole lobster may be daunting at first, a little studying ahead of time will make you look like a pro at the dinner table.
#SpoonTip: Order Salty’s chilled seafood sampler if you want to try a nice selection of Nova Scotia seafood all at once.
Prince Edward Island
As if I would forget to include PEI potatoes. These spuds account for over a billion dollars of the island’s yearly economy and have been grown there for two hundred years. The crop is both delicious and a really important part of the province’s identity.
Anyone can cook a potato and call it a day, but Red Island Baked Potato brings their local food to a whole new level. Their baked potatoes are loaded with tons of toppings, most of which are as local as their spuds. Their Facebook page has also hinted at crispy potato cheese rolls being added to the menu sometime soon, so get pumped.
While mussels can be found all along the East Coast, PEI does them best. Like oysters, some people can be grossed out by what’s hiding inside these pretty shells, but once you get over the tentacle-like appearance of the mussels, you’ll find yourself eating more than you can count.
One restaurant that makes it possible for visitors to happily gorge themselves to death on mussels is the appropriately named Blue Mussel Cafe. Their bowls of blue mussels, steamed in white wine and garlic, are only $11. You’re welcome.
Rich in protein and vitamins, and they’re aphrodisiacs to boot. Oysters are famous worldwide for their health benefits and unique texture. While there are many variations of oysters, Atlantic Oysters are harvested along (you guessed it) the Atlantic coast. New Brunswick oysters, specifically, are called Caraquets. These oysters are small and have a very subtle, briny flavour that make them the perfect dish for first-time oyster eaters.
Grannan’s Seafood Restaurant in St. John’s serves up oysters either fresh (with horseradish and lemon) or broiled (with garlic butter, parmesan, panko, and lemon), making the perfect adventurous appetizer.
#SpoonTip: Don’t tip out the juice in the oyster shells. This is called the liquor, a type of filtered sea water meant to help oysters survive out of water. Not only is the liquor delicious, but it’s considered bad etiquette to waste this precious liquid.
Sorry, Santa: looks like Rudolph is dinner tonight. Reindeer meat is reportedly as healthy as some fish, so if you can get over the idea of eating your Christmas hero, you’ll feel no guilt while trying this northern dish.
Klondike Rib & Salmon in Whitehorse was actually featured on the Food Network show You Gotta Eat Here in 2013. The restaurant embraces northern-inspired dishes, including their “King of the North” reindeer stew. Any tourist visiting the territories has to try game meat, so why not start strong with reindeer?
I know what you’re thinking — shawarma isn’t Canadian, from Nunavut, or even remotely northern. Surprise! The shawarma found in Nunavut is pretty special.
Believe it or not, Yummy Shawarma in Iqaluit, Nunavut is actually the most northern shawarma place in the world, and it’s really good too. Plus, isn’t it representative of Canadian diversity that you can find tasty shawarma anywhere in the country?
Arctic char is one of few freshwater fish in the world that live this far north, spending their lives in crisp lakes and coasts. Arctic char is also incredibly sustainable to farm, because they require less resources and thrive in cold, controlled waters.
Bullocks’ Bistro in Yellowknife puts a northern twist on fish and chips with their dishes that are locally and nationally famous. The restaurant changed ownership in April 2016, but don’t worry—the conditions of the sale demanded that “almost nothing about Bullocks can change.” For amazing fried Arctic char, Bullocks’ Bistro will always be the place to go.
If you can’t go out of your way to hunt down these awesome restaurants, hunt down your nearest Tim Horton’s instead. It’s traditional Canadian cuisine, right?