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10 Canadian foods you really need to eat

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Canada’s provinces vary tremendously when it comes to regional foods. Go east to Quebec for a stuffed sandwich that is hard to contain between two slices of bread, and go west to British Columbia for a dessert so sweet, it may be the only sugar you need for the week.

Although Canada isn’t as cold as it used to be, there is still a formidable winter that requires comfort, and Canada’s regional foods reflect that with ample cheese, meat and butter. If you find yourself up north, it’s worth putting on your stretchy pants to give these dishes a try.

Nanaimo bars

This dessert was created in Nanaimo, B.C. and it has three layers: coconut graham cracker crust, buttery custard center and chocolate ganache top. Travelers with a penchant for the sweet can participate in the Nanaimo Bar Trail, a self-guided tour that will showcase the many variations on the classic, including a Nanaimo bar martini.

Poutine

Poutine — Photo courtesy of Shelby Bell

Poutine: the dish that doesn’t photograph well. No wonder; in Quebec, poutine is slang for “mess.” Poutine first appeared in 1950s snack bars in Quebec and became incredibly popular throughout the country in the 1990s, particularly as an apres-ski replenishment.

Authentic poutine has squeaky cheese curds, beef gravy and thick cut potatoes. Try The Big Cheese Poutinerie in Calgary for one of the largest selections you can find in Canada.

Butter tarts

Butter tarts — Photo courtesy of Carolyn Coles

Every Canadian has an opinion on what makes the perfect butter tart. Should it be runny or sticky? Should it have raisins or not? The gooey buttery filling is reminiscent of a pecan pie with a flaky, single serving crust, and the brown sugar mixture typically runs down your chin when you’re eating it.

The Pie Hole in Vancouver makes butter tarts with beautiful ruffled edges.

Tourtiere

Tourtiere — Photo courtesy of Dawn Huczek

This French-Canadian meat pie has been a classic since the 1600s. Ground pork and other ground meats are mixed with breadcrumbs and spices and surrounded by a delectable buttery crust. It is a common Christmas Eve main around Canada. Maison du Roti in Montreal makes excellent pies to go, ready for re-heating.

Beaver tails

Beaver tails — Photo courtesy of Norio NAKAYAMA

Although beaver tails sounds like the stereotype of something a Canadian would eat, they are in fact, quite delicious. This Canadian-based chain sells fried pastries that are stretched and shaped like – you guessed it – beaver tails. Served simply with cinnamon sugar, or smothered in Nutella, this Canadian doughnut is a sweet indulgence based on the bannock (see below).

Bannock

Bannock — Photo courtesy of Nicholas

This flat, quick bread was originally from Scotland, but adopted early by the indigenous Canadian community. Cut into wedges, bannock resembles a simple scone that can be made anywhere from your kitchen to an open fire on a camping trip. Go to Bannock in Toronto for Canadian comfort food, including the bannock of the day. 

Smoked meat sandwiches

Smoked meat sandwich — Photo courtesy of Calgary Reviews

Developed by Jewish delis in Quebec, beef brisket is salted and cured with spices to make one heck of a sandwich. Served simply with mustard and a pickle on the side, it’s also known as viande fumée. Try George’s Deli in Laval, P.Q. for an impressive meat-to-bread ratio that will be impossible to fit your mouth around without deconstructing.

Montreal bagels

Montreal bagels — Photo courtesy of TMAB2003

Many bagel shops outside of Montreal attempt to replicate the chewy-sweet interior, but they can never seem to get it exactly right. What makes a Montreal bagel so special? It’s a wood-fired, baked bagel that is smaller, sweeter (due to the addition of honey) and denser than its New York counterpart. Poppy seed and sesame seed are the classics.

The first bagel bakery in Montreal is Fairmont Bagel, which still rolls all its bagels by hand before baking them to the perfect crisp-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside consistency.

Maple syrup

Maple syrup — Photo courtesy of @JayBe

Canadians truly do not understand why you would take a perfectly good pancake (or waffle for that matter) and defile it with anything but maple syrup. Canada produces over 70% of the world’s maple syrup, which must be made exclusively from maple sap to count as maple syrup.

Maple products have become emblematic of Canadian pride and are sold in different forms, from lollipops to soft candies to a spread for toast.

Peameal bacon

Peameal bacon — Photo courtesy of snowpea&bokchoi

This back bacon made from boneless pork loin is extremely different from what is labeled as “Canadian bacon.” Cured in a pickling brine and then rolled in cornmeal, it’s so named because it was originally rolled in crushed yellow peas. It makes a fantastic sandwich when paired with mustard, and Carousel Bakery at the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto is a fine place to get one.

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