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9 delicious Canadian dishes: a guide for international students

Read Time

6 minutes

One of the biggest perks of studying abroad is getting to learn about different cultures - and that includes trying out the local food!  

In Canada, there are tons of amazing dishes to discover. If you walk down a busy street in Toronto, you’ll pass by a line of restaurants serving shawarma, sushi, pizza, souvlaki, dumplings - and so much more.  

Canada is so multicultural that Canadian food can be difficult to pin down. But there are some uniquely Canadian dishes to try, many of which were invented in the country. So in this guide for international students, we’ll check out 9 Canadian dishes you won’t want to miss out on.  

1. Nanaimo bars 

Nanaimo bars are named after the city of Nanaimo, British Columbia. They’re made up of graham crackers and shredded coconut, creamy butter icing, and a sweet chocolate topping - and are the perfect small treat to satisfy your sweet tooth.  

If you’re a student at Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, you’ll likely have lots of opportunities to enjoy this rich dessert. The city even put together a map of all the places you can try them, called The Nanaimo Bar Trail. Following the trail is a delicious way to explore your new city! 

You can also find Nanaimo bars in bakeries, cafes, and grocery stores throughout Canada since they’re so popular around the country.  

2. Montreal smoked meat 

If you’re a meat-lover, this dish is for you. Montreal smoked meat is made of thinly-sliced and marinated beef, and is stacked on rye bread with lots of mustard - it’s a mouth-watering combination. While historians aren’t sure who first began making the sandwiches in the city, Montreal's smoked meat has roots in Romanian and Jewish cuisine.  

If you plan to study in Montreal - at Concordia, McGill, LaSalle, Dawson or the Montreal College of Information technology - you’ll be able to find Montreal smoked meat in delis across the city. But one of the most popular places to eat it is Schwartz, Canada’s oldest deli that’s been serving the sandwich since 1928. 

3. Saskatoon berry pie 

Saskatoon berries grow throughout the Canadian prairies, British Columbia and Yukon. In fact, the city of Saskatoon is named after the word for the berries in Cree, an indigenous language. Saskatoon berry pie - made with Saskatoon berries (of course), lemon, and a little bit of sugar -  is a favorite among people in the prairie region. So if you plan to study in the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, or Manitoba, you’re in luck!  

4. Poutine  

Poutine is a Québécois food - meaning it comes from the province of Quebec. It consists of fries topped with cheese curds and gravy. It was first served in rural Quebec in the 1950s, and slowly grew into a favorite nationwide. Today, you can find poutine in restaurants just about anywhere in Canada - and if you’re a student, you might enjoy it as a late-night and tasty takeout meal. Yum!  

5. California roll 

Sushi isn’t Canadian. But the california roll? Chef Hidekazu Tojo claims he invented the roll in Vancouver in the 1970s. When he noticed Canadian customers weren’t fans of raw fish and seaweed, Tojo decided to make the roll inside-out to hide the ingredients. It was a big hit - and today california rolls are sold at sushi restaurants throughout North America.  

Interested in trying them out? If you’re studying in Vancouver - like at the University of British Columbia or Vancouver Film School - you might want to check out Tojo’s, a Japanese restaurant owned by (you guessed it) Tojo himself.  

6. Maple syrup 

What’s more Canadian than maple syrup? Canada makes 85% of the world’s maple syrup, using sap from local maple trees. You can enjoy maple syrup on pancakes or waffles. You’ll also find that lots of food in Canada comes in maple flavor - like ice-cream, fudge, and even some breakfast sausages.  

You can find maple syrup in just about any corner in Canada. But if you study in Quebec, Ontario, Nova Scotia, or New Brunswick, you might enjoy going to a maple farm - often called sugar bushes or sugar shack. You’ll be sure to enjoy some maple treats and see how the syrup is made.  

7. Bannock  

Bannock is a flatbread that can be baked, pan-fried, or deep-fried. It’s thought to be first brought to Canada by Scottish fur-traders. Indigenous people later adopted the bread and began making it with corn-flour. However, it’s also said many Indigenous communities made bannock before Scottish fur-traders arrived.  

Today, bannock is a popular cuisine found in restaurants around the country - particularly on the west coast. If you’re studying in the city of Kelowna, check out Kekuli Cafe, which is famous for the dish!  

8. Butter tarts  

With a name like butter tart, it has to be delicious. And believe us, it is. Butter tarts are filled with sugar, syrup, butter and egg - and make for a sweet and gooey treat. The recipe is thought to be developed in the 1600s by women sent from France to Quebec. It’s now a popular dessert Canadian dessert that is easy to find in bakeries and cafes.  

9. Halifax Donair 

If you study in the city of Halifax - at Dalhousie, St. Mary’s or Halifax Community College - you can’t miss out on Halifax Donairs. Roast beef, onion, tomatoes and special sauce - served together in a pita bread. Similar to a Greek gyros, they’re so popular that Halifax even proclaimed donairs their official food back in 2015. 

Hungry yet? Us too! Learn more about Canadian culture and universities on our blog - from articles on top Canadian authors, to student life in Canadian cities. Read more here.