The must-try local food in each province

by Vasanthi Vasudevan and John Williams

There’s more to Canadian cuisine than poutine, maple syrup and the double double. In every province, Canadian chefs are making the most of fresh flavours by putting local specialties on their menus. Here are some not-to-be-missed local foods from every province. [Photo credit: iStock.com/steele2123]

The must-try local food in each province

Canadian menus are influenced not only by what ingredients are available locally but also by our richly multicultural history. Where else in the world would you find pemmican perogies, butter chicken pizza or bannock burgers? With a wealth of choices, we picked this list of 10 because each is a fun way to experience the history, geography and culture of each province.

Newfoundland and Labrador: Cod tongues

When the first European explorers of Canada visited Newfoundland, Atlantic cod were plentiful and the abundant fishing brought armadas of fishing vessels from England, Spain, Portugal and France. Cod tongues (actually a muscle from the back of the throat) were part of the fish heads thrown away during processing – a cheap source of protein for anyone willing to scrounge a meal. Overfishing has now made cod tongues a delicacy. Traditionally battered, fried in pork fat, and topped with scrunchions (crisp pieces of rendered pork fat), cod tongues are now showing up in upscale restaurants, garnished with contemporary touches such as garlicky aiolis and zesty salsas. Try the Cod Tongue Salad at Bacalao’s, a St. John’s restaurant known for its innovative take on local cuisine.

Prince Edward Island: Lobster

PEI was part of the locavore movement long before it was fashionable. Local restaurants are passionate about serving PEI potatoes, produce, fruit, mussels and lobsters in traditional and contemporary recipes. Take the local food idea to its delectable extreme on a family-friendly lobster boat tour. You’ll haul up lobster traps with the crew, hear stories about the history of lobster fishing on the Island and end your adventure with a freshly caught lobster dinner cooked in seawater. It doesn’t get fresher or more local than that! If you’re wanting more lobster and less adventure, make your way to New Glasgow Lobster Supper, which serves up a lavish and traditional Island lobster supper beginning with seafood chowder and fresh homemade rolls and ending with your choice of desserts.

Nova Scotia: Donair

You’d think that a Maritime province would choose seafood as the local must-have favourite. But when people in Halifax get late-night cravings, what they’re craving is donair. A distinctly Canadian spin on the classic Greek gyro, the donair was named the official food of the city in 2015. Created by the Gamoulakos brothers in the 1970s to appeal to local tastes, a donair is made of spiced beef rather than lamb, encased in a pillowy pita and topped with tomatoes, onions and a distinctive garlicky sweet and sour sauce. You can find donair meat and donair sauce in all sorts of foods now, across Canada, but you should try it at King of Donair, where the recipe was born.

New Brunswick: Fiddleheads

Fiddleheads! That’s not the name of a new ska band playing at your local pub. No, fiddleheads are the tender, curled fronds of a particular type of fern – and they taste absolutely delicious. Fiddleheads grow in the wild throughout New Brunswick and the best way to get the full experience is by foraging for your own. However, make sure if you take this route you tag along with an experienced forager as some species of fiddlehead ferns are poisonous.

If you want to play it safe and let someone else do the dirty work, many restaurants serve the delicacy throughout the short fiddlehead season between April and May. If you’re lucky enough to be in New Brunswick during this time, get yourself to Chantal’s Steak House and give their version a try.

Québec: Tourtière

In the province of Québec, you’ll find the tourtière, a traditional meat or game pie, on the menus of cozy family restaurants and all dressed up as haute cuisine as well. If you’re seeking a uniquely Québecois food experience, go in spring when the sap is running and visit a maple sugar shack. Many sugar shacks include a ride to the maple grove by sleigh, dogsled or carriage, a demo of how the maple syrup is made, a hearty traditional brunch or lunch (including tourtières, of course), music, dance and the making of maple sugar taffy. A wonderful sugar shack experience can be had at Cabane à Sucre Constantin, very near Montréal.

Ontario: Icewine

Your Ontario visit could include good German sausage for breakfast, coffee and baklava at a Syrian patisserie, and a parade of spanakopita, calzones, samosas, perogies and dim sum to keep you going through the day. A world of flavours awaits you in Canada’s most populous province, courtesy of the many immigrants who call it home. But if you’re looking for a flavour born of Ontario’s soil, head to the Niagara region to sip some of the world’s best icewines – they’re lush, fragrant, sweet and beautifully balanced. Made from grapes that have frozen naturally on the vine, icewines are sometimes referred to as “liquid gold” for their colour, intense flavour and the challenges of producing them. Wineries such as the award-winning Inniskillin Wines on the Niagara Parkway offer wine tastings and tours.

Manitoba: Lake Fish and Wild Rice

Known as the Land of 100,000 Lakes, Manitoba’s not-to-be-missed foods are fresh from the water: lake fish and naturally growing wild rice. Lake fish include varieties such as pickerel, northern pike, lake trout and whitefish, all needing only the simplest preparation to make a memorable meal. Visit a Gimli Fish Market location in Winnipeg for their delicately smoked Winnipeg Goldeye. The perfect accompaniment to these lake fish is Manitoba wild rice, a traditional favourite gathered by First Nations peoples for centuries. This uncultivated wild rice has a more distinctive flavour than the cultivated variety and can be served steamed or baked in casseroles or popped and served as a garnish on salads or soup.

Saskatchewan: Saskatoon Berries

If you’re in Saskatchewan, you’re going to come across Saskatoon berries often and in many varieties. These berries are similar to blueberries in appearance, but are actually more closely related to the apple family. The flavour is unique in its nutty, almond hints. Try them in a pie, as a jam, or au naturel. And what better place to experience Saskatoon berries than The Berry Barn? Here you can try berries in every form from pie to crispy Saskatoon berry perogies to a luscious Saskatoon berry ice cream. Insider tip: get the waffles, smother them in Saskatoon berry glory, and try to resist adding bacon.

Alberta: Beef

Where’s the beef? It’s in Alberta. Not just any beef either – it can be argued that Alberta beef is the best in the world. Aside from the environment, which provides ideal conditions for raising cattle, Alberta cattle producers practise the highest levels of animal care, food safety, and environmental protection to ensure their cattle are treated well and taste delicious. More adventurous food lovers may also want to try ranch-raised, pasture-fed Alberta elk or bison, which is lean and flavorful, without the gamey taste of many wild meats. If you want a friendly, inviting atmosphere to devour a steak or two, try Longview Steakhouse.

British Columbia: Wild Pacific Salmon

With its bounty of fresh, locally grown produce and seafood, it’s hard to pick just one must-try food in BC. No visitor should miss a taste of Dungeness crab, spot prawns, crisp Okanagan apples, wild mushrooms and berries in season. But if there is one story that we all associate with the province, it is the story of the wild Pacific salmon that return against all odds to the BC rivers where they were born. Long a staple of the First Nations of British Columbia, five species of salmon (Chinook, Coho, Sockeye, Pink and Chum) can be found in BC, with the melt-in-the-mouth Chinook considered a particular delicacy. Don’t be surprised if, once you’ve tasted BC salmon, you find yourself possessed by a powerful desire and instinct to return to our beautiful Pacific Northwest.

This list is just the beginning! There are thousands of food experiences to be had across Canada that help you understand the beauty, abundance and diversity of every region. Get the inside scoop on these experiences with Yellow Pages’ City Guides when you plan your travels.

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