Travel brings the senses to life and, of course, one of the great pleasures of travel is savoring the local specialties. Street food in Canada is affordable and tasty. Whether it’s at a food cart, a stall in a market or a tiny restaurant with a few tables and stools, it feels good to enjoy the same quick pleasures as the local population amid the hustle and bustle, day or night.
What makes Canadian street food?
One of the world’s younger countries, Canada hasn’t had a long history to create a significantly distinctive cuisine, but it does dominate in one domain. As the Canadian flag boasts, the country produces ninety percent of the world’s maple syrup. This locally sourced ingredient elevates plenty of well-known dishes adapted the Canadian way.
Those looking for an authentic street food experience in Canada will want to discover created-in-Canada comforts such as Quebec’s poutine or Halifax’s donair. Each province or territory boasts a unique mix of immigrant cultures whose cuisines have been locally adopted.
What’s more, eating on the street is bigger than ever, as Canadian cities have recently embraced the food truck phenomenon. Trendy finds might be grilled cheese sandwiches or pulled pork creations native to any gentrifying neighborhood.
When passing through Canada’s Maritime cities and towns, expect to snack on the bounty of the sea, which is best expressed in lobster rolls. They’re easy to find wherever you travel in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland, and they come in a wide variety.
In driving the beautiful Gaspé peninsula in Quebec, stop at a “cantine” and practice French. A lobster roll in Quebec is called a “guedille au homard.”
Discover the Donair
In visiting Halifax, try the city’s official food: the donair. Based on another well-known street treat, the Greek pita-wrapped gyro, the donair was invented in the 1970s when a creative cook replaced traditional tzatziki with a sweeter sauce. Donair sauce is made with sweetened condensed milk, vinegar and garlic powder. Find donairs not only in donair shops, but also in the local pizza joints, where the sauce may also be used on other creations as well.
Quebec’s Comfort-Food: Poutine
In the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec, there is the hearty poutine. In its basic fill-you-up form, it’s made with french fries and squeaky cheese curds then smothered in gravy. These can be topped with Montreal’s famous smoked meat. The ultimate in comfort food begs for walking the streets a little slower afterward.
Battle of the Bagels
Boasting a large and established Jewish community, Montreal bagels have evolved over a century to become a denser, sweeter taste experience. Pick up bagels at the source in the neighborhood of Mile End. Pick up a dozen sesame or poppy seed bagels fresh from the wood-fired oven at either St. Viateur Bagel or Fairmount Bagel. Get some cream cheese too, then take a stroll around the hipster neighborhood.
Taste of Toronto
The largest and most multicultural of Canadian cities, Toronto is like New York or Chicago, but more polite. With such a diverse multi-cultural landscape, the street food here will reflect the neighborhood. One local must is the roti. The wrap comes in West Indian and East Indian variations, prepared with a spicy curry in contents that range from veggie to goat and everywhere in between in a handheld flatbread shell.
Perogies were brought to the prairies by the Eastern European immigrants who settled there in the early 19th century, making perogies the go-to comfort food in the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Whether Ukrainian, Polish, Russian or Lithuanian, what goes inside these delicious dumplings is an adventure you must explore. Find them served up at any social gathering and at plenty of eateries big and small in the cities and towns of the prairies.
A discussion of Canadian culinary creations wouldn’t be complete without a nod to the Bloody Caesar cocktail. Invented in the city of Calgary, it’s a spiced concoction of vodka and Clamato juice, garnished with a stick of celery in a glass rimmed with celery salt.
Eating local in British Columbia means indulging in the glorious tastes of the Pacific Ocean and the cuisines that have crossed the Pacific to settle there. It is possible to get salmon or crab fresh right off the boat, or seek salmon smoked according to local tradition.
In Vancouver, fresh to-die-for sushi is everywhere. It is even possible to order sushi in the raw from a beach vendor at Wreck Beach, the city’s famous nude hangout since the Sixties.
Since the eighties, Vancouver has experienced an immigration boom, welcoming new Canadians from Latin America, South and Southeast Asia and particularly China. Over half of the city’s residents’ first language is a language other than English, meaning roughly half of the cuisines enjoyed in the city come from elsewhere too.
And for a twist on tasting adventures, head to Chinatown. It’s a quick walk from the downtown core because the first wave of Chinese immigrants settled there at around the time the city was established in the late 19th century.
Canada is a vast young country that prides itself on welcoming the world and celebrating diversity, and this is reflected in its comfort foods and street cuisines. Whether eating in a fancy restaurant or on the run, it is possible savor both the local and international in every bite.