Fact: Canada is basically utopia. And in accordance with the requirements of all utopias, the nation is home to delicious, soul-satisfying grub. The food is a product of the country’s climate and ecosystems (mostly boreal and maritime), as well as its inhabitants: indigenous peoples, English and Acadian settlers, and more recently, immigrants from all over the world.
While iconic Canadian specialties like poutine and maple syrup are, in fact, tasty af, if you’re a big-city foodie, you’ve probably been there, ‘grammed that. Go beyond the stereotypes! Don’t be a boring, unadventurous food tourist. Test drive the country with Air Canada, and see if you can’t be the first (American) to discover these other delicacies while you’re there:
Think jerky on steroids. This stuff is made from lean game meat — elk, moose, buffalo, etc. — mixed with fat and, on occasion, local berries. Pemmican literally means “manufactured grease” in Cree, the aboriginal culture where it was born. Unsurprisingly, it’s highly caloric, making it ideal for long hikes, expeditions, and scaring away juice-cleanse types.
Soups and stews are a staple of Canadian cuisine, and pea soup is perhaps the most archetypal of them all, originating hundreds of years ago with early French explorers. It’s made from cured meats and dried peas — flavorful ingredients that were able to withstand all manner of weather- and travel-induced abuse. Various other meat and fish stews are worth trying throughout the provinces, and fish chowders are must-eats on the eastern coast.
Pies are also an essential part of Canada’s culinary canon. Tourtière, the holy grail of savory pies, is a Québécois meat pie made with the most flawless trifecta of meats: pork, veal, and beef. You can locate this rich, flaky pastry across Canada year-round, even in grocery stores (which is a perfectly acceptable place to go when desperate for a late-night pie imo).
Eating dessert pie is even more not-to-miss than tourtière. Bakeapple pie, traditional to Newfoundland and Labrador, is a fruit pie made from cloudberries, the raspberry’s larger, tarter northern cousin. Other worthwhile sweet and oh-so-Canadian pies include wild blueberry, rhubarb, and maple sugar.
Forget everything you know about the bastardized “Canadian bacon” we have here in the States. The real stuff is pork loin that has been wet-cured in a maple brine and rolled in cornmeal. (Its name predates the contemporary Age of Corn, when the pork was encrusted in crushed, dried yellow peas.) The delicacy is typically eaten sliced and grilled in a sandwich, most notably in Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market.
Derived from Turkish döner kebab, Canadian donair has become famous in its own right. This version uses beef instead of lamb, paired with a sweet sauce adapted to local tastes. Donair is found in Halifax and, as per the unspoken laws of street meat, is best consumed late at night.
A dish that’s much more appetizing than its name (“grandfather”) might suggest, grand-peres are soft, pillowy dumplings boiled in a maple syrup concoction. It’s usually eaten for brunch or dessert and, respectively, tastes incredible paired with peameal bacon or vanilla ice cream.
Colder parts of the world seem to be responsible for the best alcoholic elixirs, ice wine included. The sweet, concentrated wine, produced primarily in Ontario and British Columbia, is pressed from grapes frozen on the vine after the fall harvest. The result is a flavor that’s exquisitely intense — and one that’s impossible to achieve without Canada’s infamously cold winters.
Of course, it’s not possible to stamp your foodie passport with these next-wave comestibles via the internet. The only real way to get a sense of Canada’s multifaceted culinary scene is to visit in person and eat your way through the provinces. Air Canada makes it easy to test drive the country by offering direct flights from virtually every major U.S. city.
Angela Wang is a Senior Writer for Studio@Gawker.