In a multi-ethnic, restaurant-heavy country like Canada, it can sometimes be a bit of a challenge to define what exactly “Canadian food” is. In general, most Canadians can be said to eat a largely “western” diet broadly similar to the diet of Americans and Europeans, with a heavy focus on processed grain and dairy products, farm-grown beef and chicken, certain cooked or fresh fruits and vegetables, and questionable amounts of salt and sugar.
Canadians usually eat three standard meals a day — breakfast, lunch, and dinner — though each tends to be quite distinct.
Breakfast is eaten first thing in the morning, shortly after waking up, and is intended to provide fuel for the day ahead. Unfortunately a lot of Canadians tend to be too rushed in the morning to give the meal much effort, and as a result it tends to be the most widely skipped or half-hearted meal of the day. Traditional breakfast foods in Canada are cooked eggs, fried pork sausages or bacon, fried or deep-fried potatoes, toasted bread, pancakes (or egg-battered French Toast) and syrup, cereals, or hot oatmeal. For those in a rush, a breakfast may only consist of one of the above; for those who take it seriously, it’s not uncommon for a “hearty” Canadian breakfast to contain almost everything mentioned.
Lunch can often be a light meal as well, as it’s traditionally eaten on or around 12:00 noon, a time when most Canadians are still at work. As a result, in recent years traditional Canadian “lunch foods” have tended to be those which are portable or easy to make, such as sandwiches, soups, or salads. On occasions when more time and effort is available (for instance, on the weekend or when visiting a restaurant), lunch meals can be largely indistinguishable from dinner meals.
Dinner is almost always the largest and most well-prepared meal of any Canadian’s day, something one looks forward to enjoying after a long day of labour. This desire to make the meal enjoyable and satisfying means Canadians tend to have a lot of different things for dinner, however, and it can be hard to summarize a “traditional” Canadian dinner food as a result. Broadly speaking, Canadian dinners will usually feature a large meat entree of some sort, such as chicken breast, steak, pork chop, hamburger, or ground beef, cooked vegetables (most commonly carrots, peas, green beans, cauliflower, broccoli, or corn), and a grain or starch-based “side” such as rice, pasta, potatoes, or bread. The mix-and-match possibilities are virtually endless!
Unique Foods of Canada
Though there are a lot of popular Canadian foods, the list of popular foods that are explicitly Canadian — that is, unknown or obscure outside of Canada — is considerably shorter. Most “Canadian foods” of this sort tend to be snacks, treats and ingredients rather than complete meals. Here are some notable domestic favourites:
Probably the single most famous “Canadian food,” poutine is a rather unhealthy dish produced by smothering French fries with gravy and lumps of white cheese curd.
A flaky pastry shell filled with a rich, sugary mixture of buttery baked cream and raisins. Delicious!
Exactly what they sound like — ketchup-flavoured potato chips. The mix of sweet and salty is a decidedly acquired taste. Pickle-flavoured chips are also popular.
Contains no actual beaver. Instead, it’s a hearty hunk of deep-fried dough, usually covered in sugar and cinnamon.
Originating from the British Columbian town of the same name, these treats are made from a thick, buttery cream sandwiched between two kinds of chocolate.
The national symbol you can eat! Along with the ubiquitous maple syrup, Canada is home to all sorts of maple-flavoured cookies, candies and treats.
|Jos. Louis™ cakes
According to a recent National Post poll, these store-bought snack cakes are one of Canada’s favourite foods. A chocolate frosted cake with white icing inside.
Perhaps Canada’s most iconic chocolate bar. Coffee Crisp houses vaguely coffee-flavoured wafers in a milk chocolate coat.
Made by the good people at Tim Hortons, Timbits are little more than your run-of-the-mill donut holes. But so many flavours…
Canada has an ample domestic beef supply thanks to Alberta, the country’s thriving capital of cattle ranching. Good steaks and burgers will often brag about being “Alberta-fresh.”
Rye is a grain that tends to grow well in cold temperatures, making it a natural Canadian crop. “Canadian-style” rye bread tends to be fairly light and fluffy.
|Smoked beef sandwich
Combine beef and rye and you get a favourite offering of Montreal delis. Thick, peppery slices of spiced beef cold cuts served on equally thick rye bread.
Cooked for many hours in a special wood-burning “smoke oven,” this is the traditional aboriginal way to enjoy British Columbia’s famous salmon.
Another French-Canadian favourite, tourtiere is a savoury pie made with ground beef and spices. They come in both group and individual sizes.
The most iconic fruit of North America, apples are grown across Canada, with the most famous variant being the McIntosh — first grown in eastern Ontario.
Like rye, potatoes thrive in winter climates and have remained another popular staple crop of farmers across the country. The tiny province of Prince Edward Island is known for little else.
Interestingly enough, Canada may actually be more famous for its drinks than its food, particularly in the world of liquor.
Homegrown beers, particularly lagers, are perhaps the single proudest Canadian drink. Mega-corporations Molson and Labatt’s dominate the market, but most major cities have their own local breweries as well.
Rye whisky has long been Canada’s most famous hard liquor, with Canadian Club and Crown Royal being among the most well-known brands.
Canadian winemaking has undergone a bit of a renaissance in recent years, mainly in warm regions of B.C. and Ontario. Chardonnay, Cabernet and Pinot noir tend to be standard fare.
A delicacy of many cold countries, ice wine is produced by pressing grapes while they’re still frozen. The result is an extremely sweet wine usually drunk as a dessert.
Dubbed the “only truly Canadian cocktail,” the Caesar is a mix of Vodka and Clamato juice, sometimes accompanied by various other spices and garnishes as well.
Canadians drink stuff other than booze, of course. Ginger ale is a somewhat bitter, ginger-flavoured soda invented by a Toronto pharmacist in 1919. Canada Dry™ remains the leading brand.
|Milk in a bag
Americans find these fascinating. Basically, some stores sell milk in plastic bags that you can use to refill your pitcher with minimum waste.
Canada is home to some of the largest freshwater reserves on earth, due to an abundance of lakes and glaciers. “Glacier fresh” Canadian bottled water can be found just about everywhere.