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When in Canada, eat: A sampler of regional cuisine

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Even if the food served aboard your cruise ship is amazing, you owe it to yourself to sample some regional favorites. Isn't travel a great excuse to indulge in gravy-covered french fries with cheese curds?

Mussels, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

PEI restaurants favor cultured mussels, grown in mesh stockings suspended from long lines (ropes) in the cool waters surrounding Prince Edward Island. They're sweet, plump, and redolent of the sea. Proof that PEI is a mussel mecca: a popular souvenir is a "mussel" shirt.

Local hotspot: For lunch, Sims Corner Steakhouse & Oyster Bar, downtown, offers mussel and frites in a seasoning flavor that changes daily. www.simscorner.ca

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Donair, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Some call it a classic, some say it's the Haligonian version of a late-night Domino's run. Either way, this spiced, spit-roasted ground beef sandwich — similar to a gyro, minus the lamb and yogurt sauces — is a five-napkin-worthy nosh.

Local hotspot: At one of the shops at "Pizza Corner," at the junction of Blowers and Grafton streets. Almost every pizza place sells them, and some Chinese takeout joints serve donair egg rolls.

Fresh Cheddar cheese curd, Saguenay-Lac Saint-Jean, Quebec

In these parts, fresh cheddar cheese curd is the primo snack food. Curd = cheese minus the whey, and it's sold by the bag, while still warm. (Eat them quickly or they lose their "squeak.") You'll see the after-school crowd pair this with a bag of salt-and-vinegar potato chips.

Local hotspot: Buy it by the bag in corner stores (called depanneurs.) Fromagerie Boivin is a popular brand.

Tourtiere, throughout Quebec

This traditional, double-crusted meat pie is filled with minced pork, beef, veal, or wild game mixed with onions, parsley, celery, carrots, and a sprinkle of nutmeg. In the Gaspé region, they do a fish pie (look for cipaille aux fruits de mer).

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Local hotspot: In Quebec City, head to Aux Anciens Canadiens (www.auxancienscanadiens.qc.ca), which specializes in classic Quebecois cuisine.

Poutine, Montreal

The origins of this dish are debatable, but most folks trace it to rural Quebec in the 1950s. One thing is certain: Poutine is Quebecoise comfort food at its finest, a heavenly mishmash of french fries topped with fresh cheese curds, smothered in gravy. The classic version uses fresh cheddar, but this dish lends itself to chef-ly experimentation. Foie gras poutine, anyone?

Local hotspot: La Banquise (www.labanquise.com) offers 28-plus varieties, including a Mexican version with hot peppers, tomatoes, and blackolives.

DIANE BAIR AND PAMELA WRIGHT