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Food and DrinkBack to top Back to main Skip to menu
Canada - Food and Drink
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 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. 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 restauranteurs 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.
French-Canadian cuisine is distinctive and includes such specialties as tourtière (meat pie), 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 (French fries with cheese and gravy), 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.
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 20oz. 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.
You will find most of the American chains with a well established presence here.
- Tim Hortons franchises are spread across the country, and can be hard to avoid - an important, if somewhat humble, part of the Canadian culinary landscape. Why not? Especially since they will serve you a small and relatively healthy lunch for about $8. They are certainly a reasonable, healthier, alternative to most other fast food chains. Be aware though, most of their food is frozen. The coffee is their main service, and is widely regarded as the best in Canada. You will probably find it very hard to avoid a Tim Hortons while in Canada. There are as many Tim Horton's per capita in Canada as there are McDonalds, Burger Kings, Pizza Huts, Wendy's and Subways per capita combined.
- Boston Pizza was founded in Edmonton, Alberta. Pizza and Pasta. Casual family dining. BP's lounges are usually a popular local watering hole.
- Earls is a chain of casual full service restaurants found only in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba (although there are also two locations in the western United States). Like Boston Pizza, it also opened its first restaurant in Edmonton.
- 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.
- East Side Marios are American Italian restaurants with a New York theme.
- Swiss Chalet sit down restaurants are operated by the same company that runs Harvey's. They specialize in rotisserie chicken and ribs.
- The Keg steak houses, usually with tables and booths for 4-6 people. Apart from the steaks they also have good salads and starters.
- Kelsey's provides casual family dining, very similar to Applebees or T.G.I. Friday's in the United States.
- Second Cup serves coffee and cakes.
- White Spot offers burgers, pasta, and "west coast style" cuisine, but only in British Columbia and some locations in Alberta.
- 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.
- Lone Star Texas Grill is a family friendly restaurant which is very popular with both locals and tourists. The Lone Star offers a Canadian take on Tex-Mex food and has locations in Toronto, Ottawa, Etobicoke, Kingston, Pickering, Richmond Hill, Sault St. Marie, Halifax, and Moncton. Lone Star is famous for fajitas served on a sizzlin' skillet and makes fresh homemade tortillas throughout the day. The menu also offers other Tex-Mex classics and American favourites.
- Mary Brown's can be found in Alberta, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Nunavut in addition to Newfoundland, where they can be found in nearly every community. Offering unique chicken and famous for its taters, it would be considered a fast-food restaurant.
- Humpty's specializes in its all day breakfasts but also serves dishes for lunch and dinner as well, and is one of the few chain restaurants to feature pirogies. Mostly in Alberta, but also some locations in the other 3 western provinces; many are open until after midnight, some 24 hours.
- St-Hubert is a French-Canadian restaurant with a cuisine similar to that of Swiss Chalet, popular for its roasted chicken and coleslaw. It has many locations throughout Quebec, and a small number of locations in Ontario and New Brunswick.
- La Belle Province is one of the most popular fast-food restaurants in Québec, especially among teenagers and young adults. They serve cheap hot-dogs, hamburgers, poutine etc...
- A&W Found all over Canada; although unrelated to the American A&W, most menu items are similar if not identical.
- Yogen Fruz 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.
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 (a holdover from Prohibition) is that liquor and beer can only be sold in licensed stores and this usually excludes supermarkets. 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. 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. Alberta is the only province where alcohol sales are completely decentralized, so many supermarket chains will have separate liquor stores near the actual supermarket.
Canadian adults enjoy beer and other alcoholic beverages quite often. Watching sports, especially the sport of hockey, is a popular time to consume these type of drinks. A favourite and uniquely Canadian cocktail is the Caesar (Vodka, Clamato juice, Tabasco sauce, Worcestershire sauce).
Canadian mass-market beers (e.g., Molson's, Labatt's) are generally a pale gold lager, with an alcohol of 5% to 6%. This alcohol level may be higher than popular beers in the US or Great Britain, so it pays to be careful if you're a visitor. Like most mass-market beers, they are not very distinctive, however, the Canadians 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 flavors 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.
Ice wine, a (very) sweet dessert wine made from frozen grapes is a Canadian specialty, with Inniskillin  in particular found at airport duty-free stores around the world. However, due to the tiny yields (5-10% compared to normal wine) it's relatively expensive, with half-bottles (375 ml) starting at $50.
Canada is famous in other countries for its distinctive rye whiskey, a beverage too common locally to be much appreciated by Canadians. 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.
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 Horton's 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.
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