11 Foods Canadians Seem to Be Crazy About (And Strangely, I Am Not)

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Oreo Ice Cream, Toronto Island, September 2013

Oreo Ice Cream, Toronto Island, September 2013

Our relation to food is deeply cultural. The flavours, brands and staples we grew up with stay with us forever. A specific smell or taste can trigger powerful memories, much like Proust’s madeleine.

Because I didn’t grow up in Canada, I sometime don’t get what all the fuss is about. These “treats” weren’t part of my childhood and it’s harder to adopt them later in life.

Or maybe I’m just a picky French girl after all.

So here are some foods Canadians seem to be crazy about… and I don’t get why!

Pop-Tarts – In my last job, we had “Foodies Fridays” where we took turn to bring breakfast for our group every week. One Thursday evening, everyone was excited because it was Stacy’s turn. “Oh my God, I am so skipping lunch!” one my co-workers even said. I was curious to see what was so special about Stacy’s breakfast. Some folks brought great food, like freshly baked muffins, quiches, pies, etc. Well, it turned out that Stacy’s specialty was… boxes of Pop-Tarts (and a toaster). I had never heard of that treat before and I really couldn’t understand why everybody was so excited about it—Pop-Tarts are basically pre-baked rectangular pastries with a sugary filling. You put them in the toaster and ta-da! I mean, it’s not bad but definitely not something to get excited about… at least from my point of view.

Bacon – I don’t understand the “bacon-mania”. I mean, there is nothing wrong with bacon. Although strips of bacon are not common in France, French like charcuterie (salami, ham, various types of sausages, pâté, etc.) with bread. In Canada and in the US, bacon is often a breakfast item, but people love adding it to anything: for instance, in many restaurants, you can pay $1 or $2 extra to add a couple of strips of bacon to whatever dish you’ve ordered. Popular fast food joints advertise some kind of bacon extravaganza, such as Wendy’s Baconator® (two 1/4 lb. patties topped with juicy applewood smoked bacon on a premium fresh bun… and yes, 980 calories). There is bacon ice-cream, deep-fried bacon, maple bacon donuts, bacon toppings sold in bits or pieces in a jar… Oh yeah, and you can even find bacon wallets, bacon lip balm or bacon soap.  A bit much, no?

Frosted cakes  – Here, decorating baked goods seems more important than eating them.  I find cakes look fun and colourful but taste “meh”. The base is often just a sponge cake with layers and layers of frosting and food colouring on top. There is even a blog dedicated to cake wrecks, i.e. frosting gone wrong. Like most French, I love bread and unfortunately, this kind of cakes—little carbs and lots of sugar—doesn’t satisfy my craving. I like denser cakes or a nice pie (and the dough!). When I worked in an office environment, every event called for a cake with frosting and people always thought I was on a diet because I would either decline or take a very small piece!

Cupcakes – For the same reason, I have never understood the craze about cupcakes. Sure, they look very artistic and colourful but again, too much frosting. I like muffins better—they are more bread-y. Plus, cupcakes are outrageously expensive!

OreosOreos, “milk’s favourite cookie”, is a sandwich cookie consisting of two chocolate disks with a sweet cream filling in between. It’s a best-seller treat, a bit like “Choco BN” in France. I don’t mind Oreos but I’m definitely not crazy about them. There are many Oreo-flavoured products, such as Oreo ice cream, and limited-editions flavours. Oreos are apparently as addictive as cocaine—not for me!

Shrimps – When Canadians don’t add bacon to their food, they add shrimps. Maybe it’s just me—I grew up in Brittany where people take seafood relatively seriously—but I don’t feel the need to add shrimps to pasta, pizza, tacos or whatever. When I eat shrimps, I eat them as the main ingredient. Like a good coctel de camarones, for instance.

Peanut Butter – This must be an acquired taste and if I have to choose, I go for Nutella over peanut butter anytime. I’m not a big fan of the staple “PB&J” (peanut butter and jelly) sandwich kids seem to love.

General Tsao’s chicken – This dish (unknown in China) seems to be a staple menu item in many Chinese restaurants in North America, much like “riz cantonais” is always on the menu in Chinese eateries in France.  It is a sweet, slightly spicy, deep-fried chicken dish often served with broccoli. It’s… okay, I guess. But it’s not Chinese food.

Ice cream – Okay, I know most people like ice cream and I’m not going to say I hate it—I just find Canada is cold enough that I don’t have to experience brain freeze with my food! Dairy Queen here is extremely popular and it’s not rare to see a huge lineup even in the dead of the winter.

Cinnabon – Like Lush, the soap store, you can’t miss a Cinnabon franchise—the smell is that strong. Cinnamon is not a flavour French use a lot: I can’t remember eating anything with this spice as the main ingredient. Cinnabon sells large cinnamon rolls, often topped with frosting and sugary sauces. The rolls are about 800-1,000 calories each, which I find pretty scary!

Weird hybrids of favourite foods – Do you like croissants? Do you like donuts? Well, somebody came out with the best of both worlds—the cronut, a croissant-doughnut pastry attributed to chef Dominique Ansel in NYC. Love dougnuts and burgers? Well, you can have a doughnut burger, a hamburger (or cheeseburger) with one or more glazed doughnuts in place of the bun. Most fast foods have so-called “secret menus, i.e. items that are regularly requested but rarely publicized, including the infamous McGangBang (a Double Cheeseburger with a McChicken Sandwich in the middle), the Mc10:35 (a McDouble and a Egg McMuffin, to be ordered right before the changeover from the breakfast menu to the standard menu) and Burger King’s “Suicide Burger” (4 patties, 4 slices of cheese, bacon). Note that it works for drinks too: Starbucks has a secret menu as well!

Any local favourite food you’ve never truly adopted?

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

41 Comments

  1. Now I want pop tarts and a grilled-cheese with bacon and maybe to finish it a sunday from Dairy Queen!

    I have not adopted a French Diet: I don’t eat cheese or yogurt, I miss spices, I don’t like gravy with everything, can’t eat mutton, I’m a picky eater on this side of the ocean!

  2. Food? I couldn’t NOT comment.
    I moslty agree with you (Oreo? Pop Tarts? Cronuts? General Tao? Fake cinnamon-flavoured everything? Come on, those are not even real “food”).
    But bacon? Bacon is soooo good (not in ice creams or donuts though). And I do love a GOOD cupcake from time to time. And I am totally hooked on peanut butter (or even better: almond butter)

    • I tasted almond butter and I like it better than peanut butter. I don’t mind bacon but I don’t get the bacon-mania. And cupcakes… well, I am not going to work on the addiction 😉

  3. I simply can´t stand iced coffee. To me, coffee always has to be hot, but cold with tons of ice…yuk!
    And although my child love sweet treats (like every kid in the world), she removes all the icing from ‘canadian’ cupcakes before eat them, “too much sugar for me, Mom”.

    • I found the idea of iced coffee very weird at first but I got hooked to it in Asia, where it’s popular! I love your kid, that’s so cute (and wise!).

  4. Salut Zhu,

    I never got crazy about Macarons… They are OK but I would not queue up an hour or more for it.
    Otherwise, I don’t like Yop( I would rather eat plain yogurt; some French are crazy about it. Pas moi!

    On the opposite switch, I no longer like peanut buteer. I also find patisserie to be less sweet than many bakery cakes in North America. I rarely indulge in a patisserie but when I do, I don’t regret… 🙂
    Bises.

  5. I grew up in Canada, but my family ate meals prepared at home, from scratch. We ate rice at every meal, didn’t eat processed food, and fast food was something we were allowed only very rarely and then it was A&W or a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. They are also religious and follow the Hebrew Bible, which meant we ate like Jews: no shellfish or pork products. My two schools were lacto ovo vegetarian (dairy and eggs only). I didn’t taste bacon or shrimp until I was 18 and had already left home.

    So it isn’t surprising that I got hooked on none of these 12 things. But I noticed more of them while living in the east side of Canada (Ontario) — I only saw Gen­eral Tsao’s chicken for the first time in Toronto, I don’t recall ever seeing it in Vancouver, or even Alberta or the Prairies, although it’s probably crept into the buffets there by now.

    I do remember a lot of Slurpees in the summer, growing up in Winnipeg. I’ve read that Winnipeg has the biggest consumption of Slurpees anywhere. Not surprised because it’s crazy hot and humid there in the summer.

    I always found frosting too sweet. I liked it better when my school mates would have Dairy Queen ice cream cakes for their birthdays. I’ll eat ice cream if it’s being served, but I think the only time I went actively searching for it was to try Berthillon ice cream in Paris.

    I don’t drink soft drinks, so the only alternative to water in restaurants is iced tea, but it’s defaulted to sweetened in Canada. It’s mostly in the U.S. where I can find unsweetened ice tea.

    In Portugal they have a lot of pastries, and their favourite ingredient is egg — I think they’ve got a million recipes for how to turn it into a dessert. But I really like how the pastries and desserts are smaller here, and how plain fruit is also on the dessert menu. I love that I can order a single peach or slice of melon for dessert, and not have only options of giant slabs of sugar-on-sugar that often characterizes a dessert in Canada or the U.S. I tweeted the other day how perfectly good desserts and hot drinks are ruined by this tendency to add whipped cream or other things on top (Starbucks is very guilty of this). It’s total overkill.

    • I don’t know much about Portuguese food (and I’m guessing it’s quite different from Brazilian food, which I love) but I do love these little egg tarts, popular in Macao. Do you actually have them in Portugal or is it just an Asian twist?

      Slurpees… I don’t think I have ever had one! I had asked Feng about it when I first came here and he jokingly said it was like a cheap frappucino for kids.

      I think the food is very different from East to West in Canada, same goes for the US I guess. For instance, I saw a lot of perogees in Winnipeg but I guess we don’t have a big Ukrainian community in Ottawa because we don’t have them here.

  6. Food and drink is very regional, I can give you lots of examples of that in Canada. In each of the five provinces I lived in, I ate differently, especially according to which immigrant communities were the biggest. I ate a lot of Caribbean food in Winnipeg — especially roti — also, Ukrainian and Hungarian. It’s not popular in Vancouver, so it wasn’t until I lived in Toronto that I ate West Indian food regularly again. Lots of Japanese in BC; sushi is plentiful and the best quality in Vancouver. I love Montreal’s food scene as I’m a big fan of Jewish delis and Moroccan cuisine.

    Here in Portugal, everyone asks “What is Canadian food?” and it’s not an easy answer. I’m probably not a typical Canadian, even after 30-some years of living there.

    In Winnipeg we used to head to the U-Pick fields every autumn and it was such a chore to can and freeze (as a kid isn’t everything a chore?), but that’s what we would eat all winter: jars of fruit, fruit jams, peas, corn on the cob, we even canned fish. Cook and freeze, bake and freeze. I also remember my parents buying venison and other meat in bulk then freezing it. It was simply too expensive to buy from supermarkets during the winter.

    If you want to learn how to survive anything, see what the immigrants are doing — a very resourceful bunch!

    Iberian Portuguese and Brazilian cuisine share a lot of dishes, from what I can tell comparing both in the Azores and Toronto and here in Portugal (have not been to Brazil, but Paulo has, and Mozambique). In Toronto there are plenty of Brazilian grills, more than Argentinian, and they are a meat-fest. But I had a couchsurfer from Brazil who was vegetarian, so there is hope for vegetarians there.

    It seems the Portuguese kitchen has a big influence in all their former colonies. The egg tarts are called pastel de nata, and there are many variations:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pastel_de_nata

    Even though Portugal is technically not a Mediterranean country, the people follow a Mediterranean-style diet which is healthier: lots of fish, vegetables, and fruit. By contrast, my husband returned from two-week work trip to the southern U.S. and it’s no surprise that he gained weight. He was the only one of the four who has been to the U.S. before. The other three were continually surprised by what was served up there.

  7. Ahhhhh malheur à toi Zhu!!! 😀 Même si ça n’a rien de chinois, t’aimes pas le Général Tao??? Moé j’capote ben raide là-dessus, j’en fais une fois de temps en temps chez nous 🙂 Bon c’est clair qu’il faut aimer le sucré/salé 🙂

    Mais je suis d’accord avec toi pour les pop tarts, c’est pas vraiment bon 😀

    Les gâteaux ça dépend, faut pas que les crèmes soit trop écoeurante. Quand tu te trouves une bonne pâtisserie qui les fait bien, tu la gardes! 🙂

    Le beurre de peanut ah oui, c’est catégorique, soit on aime, soit on aime pas 🙂 T’aurais oublié de Cheese Wizz dans ton top 10? 😀

    • Oh mon dieu, le cheese whiz…. c’est pas de la nourriture, si? 😆

      J’aime bien le sucré/salé mais je ne vois pas le général Tao comme de la bouffe super bonne, ni vraiment chinoise en fait. Je capote pas dessus quoi!

  8. I have to give my 2 cent on this post since food is my favourite topic (Vivre pour manger). Having left Canada for 8 years, so many great (Canadian) food I miss badly. Since I grew up in Québec, lots of things seem to be typically Canadian food to me: poutine, timbits, pâté chinois (not a chinese dish), blueberries, kraft dinner. My mother never bought processed food, so pop tart and those sugary things were a big no-no. Eating out is also cheaper and better quality in Canada than in France.

    • I love eating out in Canada because we have so many REAL ethnic food options. Ethnic food in France is often expensive and bland I find. I have never tasted Kraft Dinner… is that the Mac & Cheese thing?

      • I agree. There isn’t much choice for ethnic food in Bordeaux and what little can be found is expensive.

        How can you have made it almost ten years without having tried Mac & Cheese?! My husband tried it and hated it, but you gotta try it at least once!

  9. I’m with you on all of these! Except ice cream. Here in Mtl there are lovely artisanal ice cream makers, and it does get quite hot in the summer, so we regularly walk out to get some as a hot evening treat. But I’ve never been to Dairy Queen.

    And I agree with the weird seafood usage. My boyfriend tried to get me exited in lobster pizza. All I could think was, if you have lobster, why put it on a pizza? I mean, ew. Maybe we are picky frenchies after all 🙂

    • I hear you about lobster! I don’t even want to touch a lobster burger, considering how freaky meat patties usually are in fast food, I don’t expect much of “lobster” there!

      Yep, maybe we are food snobs 😆

  10. Couldn’t agree more about the cakes and cupcakes – I’m not a fan of the trend for North American cupcakes that are all bad cake and icing. But I’m not a huge fan of French patisserie either because of all the cream. The best bakers for me will alwaysbe my mum and my Cumbrian granny (so you’re definitely right about the childhood flavours!)

    I’m quite impressed by all the uses for bacon though. British people love a bacon roll, but I’d never heard of some of the things on your list!

    • Maybe it’s a regional thing because in Brittany, pastries and “viennoiseries” are typically very buttery but don’t have a lot of cream.

  11. I don’t understand Pop-Tarts, but Oreos– oh, Oreos! So good with a glass of milk. Unfortunately I finished my last pack (which I brought from the States) a few days ago, and I find them to be overpriced here.

    Does anyone actually eat doughnut burgers??

  12. YES. I love just how much you “get” Canadian culture! I’ve lived in France for 8 years and the French still do (and eat!) many things that befuddle me.

    This list is totally accurate, and I’m a big fan of most of those things. My Dad is obsessed with bacon, and I’m obsessed with ice cream. I actually worked at my local Dairy Queen from the ages of 16 to 22, so DQ will always have a place in my heart.

    As for Pop Tarts…I think they are gross and way too sweet. It’s also pretty terrifying to see what goes into them when you read the ingrédients list on the box…

    Another great post, Zhu!

    • Thank you! What food French eat you don’t enjoy? I can completely understand that some French stuff are cultural. My husband find “oeuf à la coque” super gross for instance!

  13. I so agreed that our relationship with food is cultural. I miss eating rice and noodles everyday. I have tried to love French pastries, but I failed. My husband still buys 3 pieces of pastry for us, but I have stopped eating it as I really don’t like them (too sweet, weird texture…). However, I love homemade dessert especially fruit tarts. I didn’t like dessert in US in general with all the colorful frosting and sweetness.

  14. I Totally agree with all of them!! I would never eat oreo’s or a pop tart, I can’t imagine ever going to DQ in the winter, I don’t get why someone would put bacon with waffles and maple syrup and don’t get me started on hybrid foods! I saw people going nuts over cinnamon rolls with bacon the other day??? What the hell?! We often joke they might not give us citizenship because me and the boys hate peanut butter! Poutine is another thing I don’t get… Fries, gravy, cheese with a heart attack for dessert no doubt! 😀

    • Yuck, cinnamon rolls with bacon? I’ll pass! And they say English people have weird food… 😆 I have never tasted poutine, it just doesn’t look appealing to me.

  15. I never really caught on to Pop Tarts, I think I just always saw them as a cookie more than anything and I perfer other cookies far more than Pop Tarts.

    I am guilty of the peanut butter, although I now finally see the error of my ways. A lot of the peanut butter in Canada has added sugar and once I started to eat the non-sugar added ones in Denmark, I noticed quite a difference. I grew up eating peanut butter with honey as well as jam. I prefer the crunchy one to the smooth one.

    There is one thing you forgot – pastrami or Montreal smoked meat! I didn’t appreciate smoked meat that much when I still lived in Canada. It’s only now that I’ve come to really love it. Even my husband’s hooked. And those kosher pickles that go so well together with smoked meat… mmmmmmm

    I used to love those frosting cakes when I was a kid. Now I just think they are terrible. Thankfully I’ve gotten used to eating more simple cakes, loafs instead of layered icing cakes.

    I would die for an ice cream sandwich. I know you can find them in Europe, but they are not the same.

    Guilty as charged with the bacon. When I am in Canada I want nothing more than a pizza with bacon bits on it. I always order bacon on my burger.

    Harvey’s hamburgers come to me!

    I don’t understand this General Tsao’s Chicken craze. It’s the same thing with red velvet cake. I never remember seeing these things when I still lived in Canada. They just came out of nowhere!

    Yes, I love cinnamon. I don’t understand why the French seem to have such an aversion to cinnamon… and to raisins as well…?

    • Ah yeah… what’s the deal with the red velvet stuff?

      Harveys… I live very close to one and we did the “free burger day” a few years in a row. 😆 We get coupons and Feng goes there sometimes. I like the idea of customizing my burger but I hate their meat patties for some reason.

      I have nothing against bacon… but would you have a bacon donut for instance?

      • No, I don’t like that weird stuff either. I found some strange macaron flavours here in Bordeaux: bacon, goat cheese and chili. I don’t think I’m going to try them.

        I know exactly the Harvey’s you’re talking about… the one I grew up with! I can even picture the layout of that place in my head. Now there’s a new one on Merivale Road that is closer to my parents’ place. There never seems to be any coupons when I visit Canada(in the middle of the summer) and I guess the free burgers are in the spring? That doesn’t stop me from going anyway. Really, you don’t like the patties? I feel that the meat is of better quality than the competitors. And I always ask for extra pickles whenever I go there. mmmmmm

        Dreaming of Harvey’s…

  16. I totally understand your point – I’m also used to proper bread and don’t get the point of frosted cakes. Sure, they look pretty – but it just feels wrong to eat something green and purple that tastes like coloured sugar.

  17. All of these items are very popular in the US. I am not a fan of Pop Tarts (too sugary for me), peanut butter (i am a HUGE fan of Nutella!), & Oreos (not bad). Seafood is king in Maryland and they have a way to incorporate it with other foods in a good way (shrimp pizza =not a fan). I love ice cream, but it seems that i would have to either give it up when i move to Ottawa or eat it while being under a heated blanket lol. I am a Starbucks fan and i love their secret menu. It is true that their drinks are high calories but everything in moderation 🙂

        • Second Cup is more like Starbucks. You would probably like it! Bridgehead is also very popular in Ottawa.

          Timmies does taste different in the US for some reason.

          • I agree, Timmies is different in the US. There’s also a few Timothy’s Coffee to try (I used to frequent the one at Billings Bridge a fair amount); I thought it was solely Canadian until I found one at the Cleveland airport. Great hot chocolate, I usually buy a couple tins.

          • I also thought Timothy was Canadian! There are a few downtown, one at the Byward and some small outlets in various gov’ buildings.

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