Even as a born-and-raised Canadian, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what Canadian food is. Is it poutine? Timbits, those famous donut holes from Tim Hortons? Montreal-style smoked meat sandwiches? We spent an afternoon sampling some of the best eats in Old Toronto as part of the Lonely Planet Experiences Canadian Food Discovery Tour powered by Urban Adventures. What better way to get a taste of Canada than at the city’s original roots?

Our walking tour began at the Hockey Hall of Fame, where our tour guide, Jason, told us all about this historic neighborhood, known as the town of York back in the late 1700s.

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Toronto has a beaming coffee scene, and we warmed up with hot drinks at Sam James Coffee Bar. This local coffee chain sources in-season coffees and roasts them in small batches, so it’s always fresh. I ordered the vanilla latte, which was sweet but not too sweet. 

Two hands hold up cups of artisinal coffee.
Stopping for coffee at Sam James Coffee Bar © Jessica Lam / Lonely Planet

We then walked over to Mystic Muffin, a small mom-and-pop shop that I’d walked by dozens of times, but never thought to stop in. Turns out they’ve got a famous apple cake, and it truly lives up to its status. The owners of the shop are originally from Lebanon, and they’ve been serving up other Lebanese dishes like falafel for over 30 years.

A hand holding a sandwich filled with thick slices of Canadian bacon
A Canadian bacon sandwich at Carousel Bakery © Jessica Lam / Lonely Planet

St. Lawrence Market, which has been going on since 1803, is known as one of the world’s best food markets. We started off with the world famous peameal bacon sandwiches at Carousel Bakery. Jason told us all about the history of Canadian bacon and suggested we add some of the maple mustard to our sandwiches. The sandwich itself is dry, but the maple mustard adds a sweet and spicy touch. We then headed to Kozlik’s Mustard to sample the various mustard flavors, before heading to Olympic Cheese, which has the largest selection of Canadian artisan cheeses in the city. 

A hand holds a container of sour-cream topped pierogi.
Sour cream topped pierogi from European Delight © Jessica Lam / Lonely Planet

Our next stop was St. Urbain Bagel, the first company to introduce Montreal-style bagels to Toronto back in the early 1990’s. Montreal bagels are boiled in water and honey for a sweet flavor, then baked in a wood fire oven for a unique taste and texture. We then stopped by Wine Country Merchants, where they offered samples of a few different products. I decided to go for PJ’s Salted Caramel Liquor, and I imagined how wonderful it would taste inside a hot cup of espresso. There’s a whole other floor filled with shops downstairs, and we tasted authentic pierogi from European Delight. They were cheesier than I expected, a pleasant surprise. We had some butter tarts before we headed out, which were buttery and perfect. Jason informed us that butter tarts are a pastry you likely won’t find outside of Canada, and our American friends on the tour had never even heard of it before.

A hand holds a container with a selection of pastries in a plastic container.
An assortment of butter tarts © Jessica Lam / Lonely Planet

The last stop of the tour was another popular local spot called Betty’s, just a short walk from St. Lawrence Market. They do something a little different when it comes to poutine: poutine spring rolls. French fries and cheese curds wrapped up in rice paper, deep fried, then served alongside vegetarian gravy.

So, what is Canadian food? There really is no one dish that defines it. Canada is such a multicultural country, and even restaurants that classify their cuisines as Canadian feature fusion dishes from other cultures.

Tour highlight:

Getting a taste of history beyond just Canadian food, and learning about how the city of Toronto came to be.

Perfect for:

Foodies and history lovers.

Don't forget:

Comfortable walking shoes and cold weather accessories if you’re visiting during Toronto’s frigid winters.

Final word:

This tour gives you a true local experience from a local’s perspective. All the while, you get to learn fun history facts and sample all kinds of delicious and diverse eats!

Lonely Planet Experiences, in partnership with Intrepid Travel & Urban Adventures, are a new range of multi-day, day and half-day tours offering amazing experiences in the world’s best-loved destinations. 

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