The most important tip I can give you on Canada  local food, and the only one that will make you elevate from being a tourist to becoming a real traveler immersed in the local culture, is “Stay away from McDonalds“. When visiting Canada, there is awesome local food to try. Head to the local eateries too, and go where the locals go. For me, the food, wine and and even the water is part of the travel experience.

What to Eat in Canada

English Canadians may be mystified if you ask where you can get Canadian food. Although you will find some regional specialties, especially at the Eastern and Western edges of the country, in English Canada there isn’t much food known as “Canadian” except for maple syrup, nanaimo bars (chocolate-topped no-bake squares with custard or vanilla butter filling and crumb base), buttertarts (tarts made with butter, sugar and eggs), beaver tails (fried dough topped with icing sugar), fiddleheads (curled heads of young ferns), and a few other examples. They are an important, if somewhat humble, part of the Canadian culinary landscape. In other respects, English Canadian cuisine is very similar to that of the northern United States.

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Photo by srboisvert

Canadians may be unaware that they even have national dishes, especially in the more urbanized areas, such as Toronto, and if you ask for a beaver tail or fiddlehead, you may receive nothing but a strange look or a polite giggle. That being said, there is a rising trend among Canadian chefs and restaurateurs to offer locally-produced ingredients, and most major cities have bistros which specialize in local cuisine. This can even include game meat dishes such as caribou, venison, moose, grouse or wild turkey prepared in a variety of European styles. Tourtière French-Canadian cuisine is distinctive and includes such specialties as tourtière, a meat pie dish that dates back to the founding of Quebec in the 1600s, cipaille (meat and vegetable pie), cretons (mince of pork drippings), ragoût de pattes (pigs’ feet stew), plorine (pork pie), oreilles de Christ (fried larding bacon), poutine, a dish consisting of French fries, cheese curds and gravy (its popularity has spread across the country and can be found from coast to coast), croquignoles (home-made doughnuts cooked in shortening), tarte à la farlouche (pie made of raisins, flour and molasses), tarte au sucre (sugar pie), and numerous cheeses and maple syrup products. Staples include baked beans, peas and ham. French-Canadian cuisine also incorporates elements of the cuisines of English-speaking North America, and, unsurprisingly, France.

One peculiar tradition that you may notice in nearly every small town is the Chinese-Canadian restaurant. A lot of the reason for this is the role Chinese immigration played historically in the early settlement of Canada, particularly in the building of the railroad. These establishments sell the usual fast food Chinese cuisine, adjusted for Western ingredients and tastes. Most American visitors will find this cuisine very familiar, since the Canadian cuisine developed in parallel with a virtually identical version in the States. In Toronto and Vancouver , two large centres of Chinese immigration, one can find authentic Chinese cuisine that rivals that of Hong Kong and Shanghai. In Toronto, visit the Chinatown area of Spadina-Dundas; if north of the city, consider a visit to the Markham area, which has recently seen an influx of newer Chinese immigrants. Montreal is well known for its Central and Eastern European Jewish specialties, including local varieties of bagels and smoked meat. In the prairie provinces you can find great Ukrainian food, such as perogies, due to large amounts of Ukrainian immigrants. If you are more adventurous, in the larger cities especially, you will find a great variety of ethnic tastes from all over Europe, Asia and elsewhere. You can find just about any taste and style of food in Canada, from a 20 oz T-Bone with all the trimmings to Japanese sushi (indeed, much of the salmon used in sushi in Japan comes from Canada). Consult local travel brochures upon arrival. They can be found at almost any hotel and are free at any provincial or municipal tourist information centre. Americans will find many of their types of cuisine and brands with subtle differences, and many products unique to Canada, such as brands of chocolate bars and the availability of authentic maple syrup.

National franchises You will find that many American chains have a well-established presence here. Canadian chains include: A&W Found all over Canada; although unrelated to the American A&W, many menu items are similar if not identical. It’s targeted mostly to the boomer demographic, and as such has offerings of an arguably higher quality than most American chains, but prices can approach those of cheaper sit-down restaurants, with a combo meal (a “trio” in Québec) usually setting one back no less than $7. Boston Pizza was founded in Edmonton and found throughout Canada (especially the Western provinces and Ontario). Boston Pizza is casual dining that specializes in pasta and pizza, but also offers a range of other meals, including sandwiches, steaks, and hamburgers. Booster Juice is Canada’s largest chain of fresh juice and smoothie bars. Cactus Club Cafe is based in Vancouver and is quickly expanding with locations in British Columbia, Alberta, and soon Ontario and Saskatchewan. Somewhat trendier and more upscale (though not very pricey) than more casual dining establishments and offers a more basic menu with extensive drinks. Cora’s started in Quebec, and is rapidly expanding across the country. Cora’s serves only breakfast and lunch. If you want a hearty, North American style breakfast that makes you feel that you started your day right, Cora’s is the place to go.

Earls is found throughout Ontario and Western Canada (and is even in a couple cities in the US) and specializes in trendy, casual dining with a variety of dishes (though most are normal staples of North American cuisine). East Side Marios is a chain restaurant specializing in Italian cuisine that is found throughout Canada. Harvey’s is a fast food chain, common in Ontario and found in almost every province, that features made-to-order hamburgers and other sandwiches. Jugo Juice is a fast food chain, specializing in smoothies, sandwiches, and wraps. The Keg steak houses, usually with tables and booths for 4-6 people. Apart from the steaks they also have good salads and starters. The Keg Mansion in Toronto is worth a visit. Kelsey’s provides casual family dining, very similar to Applebees or T.G.I. Friday’s in the United States. Lick’s Homeburgers & Ice Cream is a restaurant chain famous for its fresh, thick, juicy burgers, which are called “homeburgers”. mmmuffins is a coffee, muffin and doughnut retailer. Currently owned and operated by Timothy’s World Coffee Inc. as an independent brand. Montana’s is a family oriented, outdoor wilderness themed restaurant. Montana’s promises hearty portions of home-style cooking and friendly, efficient service in a lodge setting. Mr. Sub is a submarine sandwich store chain. New York Fries is a fast food restaurant that mainly serves french fries and hot dogs. There are locations in several provinces throughout Canada. Pizza Pizza is a national chain (known as Pizza 73 in Alberta and parts of Saskatchewan and B.C.) of pizza delivery restaurants. Second Cup serves coffee and cakes. This chain is very similar to Starbucks, in terms of atmosphere and product offerings. Smitty’s is a pancake house/coffee shop chain similar to Denny’s in the US. Smoke’s Poutinerie is a restaurant chain specializing in Poutine. Swiss Chalet is a casual sit down restaurant are operated by Cara, the same company that runs Harvey’s, Kelsey’s, and Montana’s. They specialize in rotisserie chicken and ribs and are known for their special sauce. Chocolate glazed timbits Tim Hortons franchises are spread across the country. Started by a hockey player as a chain of doughnut shops, their coffee has become an obsession for many Canadians, and are actually starting to make inroads in the United States, particularly border states such as New York and Michigan. A common joke holds that if a Tim Hortons was placed on every corner of every street, there would still be a lineup out the door.

Even though coffee is what they are famous for, their menu is worth considering, offering a variety of very inexpensive sandwiches, soups, bagels and baked goods. Their doughnuts are very popular, as are the ‘Timbits’, small balls of doughnut. Tim Hortons is so popular that visitors from other countries are often shocked and amused by the Tim Hortons franchises (and coffee cups) found nearly everywhere. You will probably find it very hard to avoid a Tim Hortons while in Canada. The ‘double double’ – two cream and two sugar – is a common coffee. Timothy’s World Coffee [50] (a.k.a. Timothy’s) is the third-largest Canadian-owned chain of cafés, behind Tim Hortons and Second Cup. Yogen Fruz [51] is a leading frozen yogurt chain featuring Probiotic frozen yogurt, which was founded in Canada in 1986. Yogen Fruz is a staple in malls all over Canada.

What to Drink in Canada

The drinking age in Canada varies from province to province. In Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec the age is 18, while in the rest of the provinces and territories it is 19. A peculiarity of many Canadian provinces is that liquor and beer can only be sold in licensed stores and this usually excludes supermarkets, corner stores, etc. In Ontario alcoholic beverages can only be sold in licensed restaurants and bars and “Liquor Control Board” (LCBO) stores that are run by the Province; although you can also buy wine in some supermarkets in a special area called the “Wine Rack”. Supermarkets in other provinces generally have their own liquor store nearby. Québec has the least restrictions on the sale of alcohol, and one can usually find alcohol at convenience stores (depanneur), in addition to the government-owned Société des Alcools du Québec (SAQ) stores.

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Photo by Ted & Dani

Alberta is the only province where alcohol sales are completely decentralized, so many supermarket chains will have separate liquor stores near the actual supermarket. Prices may seem high to Americans from certain states, bringing alcohol in to Canada (up to 1L of hard liquor, 1.5L of wine, or a 24 pack of beer), is advisable. American cigarettes are also quite popular to bring in as they are not sold in Canada. Canadians are known for their love of beer, although wine and hard alcohol or spirits are also popular. Like neighboring United States, some places in Canada are dry communities. Which, just like in the dry counties in the U.S., means that the sale of alcohol is either prohibited or restricted. Beer Canadian variant of Molson beer Canadian mass-market beers (e.g., Molson’s, Labatt’s) are generally a pale gold lager, with an alcohol content of 4% to 5%. Like most mass-market beers, they are not very distinctive (although Americans will notice that there are beers made by these companies that are not sold in the States), however, Canadian beer drinkers have been known to support local brewers. In recent years, there’s been a major increase in the number and the quality of beers from micro-breweries. Although many of these beers are only available near where they are produced, it behooves you to ask at mid-scale to top-end bars for some of the local choices: they will be fresh, often non-pasteurized, and have a much wider range of styles and flavours than you would expect by looking at the mass-market product lines. Many major cities have one or more brew pubs, which brew and serve their own beers, often with a full kitchen backing the bar. These spots offer a great chance to sample different beers and to enjoy food selected to complement the beers. Wine Canadian Ice Wine The two largest wine-producing regions in Canada are the Niagara Region in Ontario and the Okanagan in British Columbia. Other wine-producing areas include the shores of Lake Erie, Georgian Bay (Beaver River Valley) and Prince Edward County in Ontario, and the Similkameen valley, southern Fraser River valley, southern Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands in British Columbia.

There are also small scale productions of wine in southern Quebec and Nova Scotia. Imported wines from France, Italy, the US, Australia, and others are also popular and available in large varieties Ice wine, a (very) sweet dessert wine made from frozen grapes is a Canadian specialty, with products made by Inniskillin vinery in particular found at airport duty-free stores around the world. In contrast to most other wine-producing regions in the world, Canada, particularly the Niagara Region, consistently undergoes freezing in winter and has become the world’s largest ice wine producer. However, due to the tiny yields (5-10% compared to normal wine) it’s relatively expensive, with half-bottles (375 ml / 13 fl oz) starting at $50. It is worth noting that Canadian ice wine is somewhat sweeter than German varieties. Distilled spirits Canada is famous in other countries for its distinctive rye whiskey. Some famous ions include Canadian Club, Wisers, Crown Royal to name just a few. In addition to the plentiful selection of inexpensive blended ryes, you may find it worth exploring the premium blended and unblended ryes available at most liquor stores. One of the most-recognized unblended ryes is Alberta Premium, which has been recognized as the “Canadian Whiskey of the Year” by famed whiskey writer Jim Murray. Canada also makes a small number of distinctive liqueurs.

One of the most well-known, and a fine beverage for winter drinking, is Yukon Jack, a whiskey-based liqueur with citrus overtones. It’s the Canadian equivalent of the USA’s Southern Comfort, which has a similar flavor but is based on corn whiskey (bourbon) rather than rye. Other beverages You can find most nonalcoholic beverages you would find in any other country. Carbonated beverages (referred to as “pop”, “soda” and “soft drinks” in different regions) are very popular. Clean, safe drinking water is available from the tap in all cities and towns across Canada. Bottled water is widely sold, but it is no better in quality than tap water, so you’ll save a lot of money by buying a reusable water bottle and filling it up from the tap. A non-alcoholic drink one might drink in Canada is coffee. Tim Hortons is the most ubiquitous and popular coffee shop in the country. Starbucks is massively popular in Vancouver and becoming more so in other large centres such as Calgary (where it is larger than Tim Hortons), and Toronto. There is a Starbucks in most every city, along with local coffeeshops and national chains such as Second Cup, Timothy’s, mmmuffins (currently owned by Timothy’s Coffees of the World but operated under original trade name), Country Style, Coffee Time. Tea is available in most coffeeshops, with most shops carrying at least half dozen varieties (black, green, mint, etc.)

Other local foods, or drinks that you recommend? Please add and comment.