From the Pacific to the Atlantic, and everything in between, Canada’s offers a variety of unique dishes—as diverse as the country’s landscape. Some recipes date back centuries and are rooted in the traditions of First Nations communities, while others are only decades old and have much more mysterious origins. With a wide range of sweet and savoury, there’s sure to be something to please your palate.
Fried Atlantic cod tongue is a delicacy in Newfoundland and Labarador. It is generally cut into bite-size pieces before it is breaded and fried. The tongue (in fact, a small muscle from the neck of the fish) is often served with scrunchions—nuggets of fried pork fat and salt. Though it was once found in abundance, it has become luxury since Canada introduced a moratorium on cod fishing in the 1990s.
Don’t be fooled by the Prairie oysters you’ll find on menus in the landlocked plains of Western Canada—the term actually refers to calf testicles. To create this famous dish, farmers castrate calves to control their stock, providing a source for some unique cowboy cuisine. The testicles can be served in a variety of chef-inspired ways, including sautéed, grilled, or battered and fried.
The birthplace of the poutine is contested amongst several communities in Quebec. The combination of French fries and cheese curds topped with warm gravy dates back to as early as the 1950s. Since then, there have been a variety of new takes on the traditional French-Canadian dish: caramelized onions, bacon, sliced sausage, and Montreal-style smoked meat are just a few examples of toppings that have been added.
This deep-dish meat pie dates back the 17th century—a pre-Confederation Canada when Quebec was known as Lower Canada. It can be made with diced pork or beef, and often includes wild game. The meat is usually seasoned with allspice, cloves, and/or cinnamon. On the coast, fish is sometimes incorporated. For many French-Canadian families, tourtière is a Christmas tradition.
Bannock is a simple bread traditionally made by First Nations and Inuit communities with corn and nut meal, and flour made of ground roots. (It is different than Scottish bannock, made of barley or oats.) Bannock can be cooked in a pit, rock oven, or over an open fire on sticks. Today, it is mainly deep-fried. For a modern spin, try a bannock burger.
Did you know that the city of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, took its name from the purplish-blue berry that used to grow in abundance in the region? Various North American Indian tribes traditionally used the berry to make Pemmican, a dried meat, like bison, elk, or deer, that is pounded and mixed with fat and berries. Different species of the berries are known as juneberries, serviceberries, shadberries, bilberry, and Indian pear. The berries are used to make various desserts, including pie and jam.
The three-layer dessert featuring a wafer crumb base, a butter icing filling, and a chocolate finish was supposedly invented in Nanaimo, British Columbia. The sweet treat has evolved with recipes that call for different types of fillings, including mocha, mint, and even peanut butter. Nanaimo, a seaside city on Vancouver Island, invites visitors to take the Nanaimo Bar Trail, with more than 30 stops featuring different varieties of the dessert.
Its leaf is the iconic image on our flag, but it’s the sap inside maple trees that can be reduced to the sweet syrup we use to flavour everything from pancakes and whisky to meat and fish. First Nations people taught settlers how to tap the trees and boil the sap down to a concentrated golden syrup. It takes about 40 litres of sap to make a single litre of syrup. Canada produces 85 percent of the world’s maple syrup, according to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Of that 85 percent, producers are concentrated in Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.
We may be known as a nation of beer drinkers—and with good reason—but Canada is also the birthplace the Caesar, a tangy cocktail popular in brunch circles. A Calgary bar manager who had been tasked with creating a signature cocktail for an Italian restaurant invented it in 1969. Walter Chell drew inspiration from a spaghetti and clam dish on the menu, mixing vodka with tomato juice and mashed clams, and seasoning it with Italian oregano and a dash of Worcestershire Sauce. Originally garnished with a stick of celery, it was called the Roman Emperor.