Canada is known for its beautiful landscapes, the incredible politeness of its residents, and ice hockey.
However, most visitors have no idea what to expect when it comes to food. From fresh seafood to sweet treats and, of course, all things maple, here’s what to eat and drink in Canada.
Visit a sugar shack for a pancake breakfast
Maple syrup might be Canada’s most famous food. However, despite what some people think, Canadians don’t just go into their backyard and tap a tree to get fresh maple syrup to pour over their morning pancakes. Creating maple syrup is a process, and the best way to see it in action is to visit a sugar shack or maple syrup farm. Maple season depends on the weather but usually starts late in February and runs into early April.
Where to try it: Ontario and Québec are full of sugar shacks that are open to visitors during maple season. Most of them have on-site restaurants that allow you to sit down for a pancake breakfast featuring the local maple syrup. You can always pick up a bottle or can at the grocery store if you aren't visiting during sugar season. The all-you-can-eat spread at Cabane du Pic-Bois in Québec is the quintessential sugar shack experience.
Indulge in poutine
One of the most Canadian foods out there is poutine. What exactly is it? Traditional poutine is made up of fries, cheese curds and gravy. The hot fries and gravy melt the cheese curds creating a greasy, gooey mess that just might be one of the most delicious things you have ever eaten. The classic flavor is arguably the best, though many restaurants and chip trucks offer additional toppings, including anything from bacon to lobster to jerk chicken.
Where to try it: Poutine originated in Québec but can be found in dining establishments across Canada. The best poutine really depends on who you’re talking to, but trying it at a chip truck or casse-croute (roadside stand) in Québec is almost always a good bet.
Chow down on the Lobster Trail
Nova Scotia is famous for its lobster. From classic lobster dinners to lobster rolls, lobster boils and even lobster ice cream, the maritime province does this crustacean like nobody else. Lobster fishing occurs year-round off the coast of Nova Scotia, though they do have a month-long lobster festival every February in the South Shore.
Satisfy your sweet tooth on the Butter Tart Trail
Visitors with a sweet tooth should seek out butter tarts. These tiny pie-like pastries are considered one of the best desserts in Canada. A rich, buttery crust surrounds a filling made from butter, sugar, eggs and syrup. They are often super gooey and sometimes topped with pecans, walnuts or raisins. However, the raisins are very controversial.
Where to try it: This treat can be found Canada-wide, but the ultimate experience is Canada’s Butter Tart Trail. It was established in 2006 in Wellington County and is only about 1.5 hours from Toronto, Ontario. There are over three dozen local participants, so come hungry!
Go ice wine tasting in Canadian wine country
The best-known Canadian wines are ice wines – sweet dessert wines made from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine. Ice wine is very smooth with an intense sweet flavor. It’s pricier than the average wine bottle due to the lengthier process, but most people love it, and chances are you’ll want to buy a bottle or two.
Where to try it: Ice wine is made primarily in Ontario, most notably around the Niagara Peninsula. You will also find wineries producing ice wine in British Columbia, Québec and Nova Scotia. That being said, you can buy a bottle at most liquor stores.
Beat the cold with Caribou at Carnival
Yes, a caribou is a wild animal, but in this case, we’re discussing the well-known alcoholic punch served at Québec City’s Carnival. Commonly described as “liquid sunshine,” this 22% alcohol beverage is served in everything from ice glasses to long canes and consumed in large amounts by visitors to keep warm while enjoying the outdoor carnival’s festivities. The name Caribou comes from the coloring of the drink, which is a dark red resembling… well, caribou blood. But don’t worry, there’s no blood in this recipe – just wine, alcohol, natural flavors and sulfites.
Where to try it: The best place to try Caribou is during the Carnival in Québec City, which takes place every year in February. Caribou is exclusive to Québec’s liquor board, so you won’t find it in any other provinces or territories.
Vegetarians and vegans
Canada is an incredibly diverse country that prides itself on its multiculturalism and inclusion. While many of the popular dishes here are meat-based, vegetarians and vegans will be glad to know that it’s easy to find plant-based foods across the country.
British Columbia has the country's highest population of vegetarians and vegans, but every major city in Canada has vegan and vegetarian cafes and restaurants, such as Urban Herbivore in Toronto and Heartwood Bakery in Halifax. It’s also easy to find products like oat milk and tofu at local grocery stores, although larger cities will have much more choice and variety.
Worth a try
Beaver Tail: A fried dough pastry served with various toppings.
Bannock: A pan-fried quick bread often made by Canada’s indigenous community.
Caesar cocktail: Canada’s spin on the classic Bloody Mary. Instead of tomato juice, this recipe calls for clamato juice, which is a clam and tomato juice blend.
Nanaimo bars: A sweet dessert bar made of a coconut wafer base, a custard middle and topped with a thick layer of chocolate ganache.
Tourtière: A traditional French-Canadian meat pie. It’s often made with minced pork, veal, beef or potatoes, but some recipes may use game meat.
Halifax Donair: Canada’s take on a Greek gyro. A donair is a pita filled with shaved beef, onions, tomatoes and a secret sauce.
Ketchup and all dressed chips: These uniquely Canadian flavors can be found in the local grocery stores.