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There’s plenty to see on a train vacation across Canada but what should you eat along the way? Trying some iconic foods is the perfect way to explore culture in Canada, so why not try the best dishes by province.

Canada has 150,000+ miles of coastline, the most in the world, so we’ve got plenty of fresh fish and seafood. There are Indigenous foods from the land, too — forest mushrooms and fiddleheads, wild berries and game. We have many microclimates to grow tree fruits and wine grapes across the nation, with massive plains for livestock and fields of wheat.

Every corner of the country is unique in its geography and climate, and the culture in Canada is informed by both local Indigenous people and the waves of immigrants who call Canada home.

Canadian cuisine is inspired by all that bounty — seasonal, regional and ethnically inspired. You can have arctic char from Inuit fishers in Nunavut, caribou in the Yukon, a French cheese in Quebec and some of the most authentic Chinese food outside China in Richmond, British Columbia.

So expect the unexpected when you take a train vacation across Canada, and taste the unique dishes each province has to offer.

Toutons in Newfoundland

Try toutons when in Newfoundland.

Culture in Canada is very diverse. Newfoundland, for example, can seem like another planet, especially when it comes to local food — think cod tongues, seal flipper pie, bogs of bake apples (cloudberries) and screech (Newfoundland rum). But even if you ‘come from away’ you can ease your way into Newfoundland cuisine with a plate of toutons, a cross between a pancake and a flatbread. Served for breakfast with butter, molasses and wild berry jam, or fried in pork fat with crispy scrunchions (pork cracklings), toutons are a deadly way to start the day.

Ask your Experience Advisor about adding a self-drive trip in Newfoundland to your Canadian train vacation.

Lobster Rolls on Prince Edward Island

A close-up shot of fresh Lobster Rolls on a plate with fries and leafy greens in the background

This little island is quaint and pretty, rolling farmland circled in red sand beaches. While PEI potatoes are the big cash crop, it pays to seek out the fresh seafood in PEI. Whether a plate of fried clams, steamed mussels, Malpeque Bay oysters or a lobster supper, PEI is shellfish central. And the ultimate expression is the PEI lobster roll, a soft, toasted bun piled high with chunks of sweet lobster meat in mayo. Have one from a local lobster shack by the sea — with fries on the side!

Ask your Experience Advisor about adding a self-drive trip in PEI to your Canadian train vacation.

Donair in Nova Scotia

Donairs in Nova Scotia

When VIA Rail's The Ocean train arrives in Halifax, a pub crawl followed by a late-night nosh is in order. A stroll down the wide waterfront to the Historic Properties, inevitably ends with a rousing evening at the Lower Deck, singing sea shanties and hoisting pints of Alexander Keith’s, the local ale. When you get peckish, try the famous Halifax donair, the city’s official food. Spicy, spit-roasted shaved beef, rolled into a pita bread with onions, tomato and the unique Halifax donair sauce, it’s a savoury, sweet, messy, Maritime must.

Rappie Pie in New Brunswick

A close-up shot of a piece of Rappie Pie plated with leaves as embellishment

Coastal culture in Canada is vibrant in the Maritimes. You find many traditions still alive in the cuisine of New Brunswick, with its lobster fishery, Atlantic salmon rivers and famed dulse (seaweed) of Grand Manan. New Brunswick has its own rich cultural history — from indigenous Mi'kmaq people to the French Acadians who fled here in the 1700s. Try rappie pie (râpure), a homey Acadian casserole of grated potatoes layered with cooked chicken or clams and salt pork, a very regional specialty that’s still served along New Brunswick’s Acadian shore.

Discover the Maritimes on a Maritime rail vacation.

Tourtiere in Quebec

Tourtiere from Quebec

Quebec is arguably the culinary heart of Canada — the province with a celebrated regional French cuisine. Quebec’s artisan cheese is the finest in the land, and Quebeckers invented poutine by tossing fresh squeaky cheese curds on their French fries and gravy. But the dish to try in La Belle Province is tourtiere — the famed French Canadian meat pie. A double short crust pastry (made with lard, mais oui!), is filled with warmly spiced ground pork and/or beef, bound with mashed potatoes, and baked to golden perfection.

Explore this foodie destination on a Quebec train trip

Butter Tarts in Ontario

A close-up shot of classic Canadian maple Butter Tarts with pecans as toppings

From the country’s capital to remote mining towns and Niagara wine country, Ontario is a big province with a lot of contrasts. Toronto sits at the centre of Canada’s corporate and multicultural universe — an urbane metropolis steeped in ethnic diversity. But Ontarians also celebrate their Canadian peameal bacon sandwiches and iconic butter tarts. Take a Butter Tart Trail tour to taste sweet, syrupy, gooey butter tarts, and see if you prefer them with raisins and nuts, or without.

Explore Ontario on our Canadian Eastern Rail Classic trip.

Schmoo Torte in Manitoba

Schmoo torte cake sitting on a cake stand placed on table

Understanding food and culture in Canada means knowing a bit about its history. Manitoba was an early hub of commerce, from the fur trading voyageurs to the big banks, but it’s that French Canadian, First Nation and Metis heritage that’s often reflected in the food. Bannock, wild rice and lake fish (think smoky Lake Winnipeg Goldeye or pickerel) are classic Manitoba flavours. There’s also a strong Jewish community here, so try Winnipeg Cream Cheese and Schmoo Torte, a nutty angel food layer cake filled with whipped cream and drizzled in caramel sauce.

Saskatoon pie in Saskatchewan

A close-up shot of a slice of Saskatoon Pie plated with a scoop of ice cream on its side

There may be no food as symbolic of Saskatchewan as the saskatoon berry (they even named a city for it), and many a displaced prairie person yearns for the sweet taste of saskatoons in summer. The tall bushes grow wild across the province, and domesticated varieties are now cultivated. You’ll find saskatoon berry jams and saskatoon berry muffins, but the best place to enjoy this prairie fruit is in a saskatoon berry pie — the essence of a Saskatchewan summer. 

Perogies in Alberta

A plate of Pierogies garnished with red onion and herbs

From the Rocky Mountains to the open range, Alberta is known for its farmland and ranching cowboy culture. Fields of barley feed that famed Alberta beef and make craft beer — so have a barrel-aged stout with your steak. But as your train across Canada rolls through the province’s parkland, known for its historic migrations of Ukrainian immigrants, it’s the prairie perogy (pierogi) on every plate. Have yours traditionally topped with fried onions or loaded, poutine-style, with cheese curds and double-smoked bacon.

Nanaimo bar in British Columbia

A close-up shot of a Nanaimo bar on a napkin

When travelling through beautiful British Columbia, make sure you hug a tall tree and feast on wild Pacific salmon. But don’t miss the famed Nanaimo Bar — a sweet square with a crumbly coconut graham wafer crust, topped with vanilla custard and chocolate ganache. Follow the official Nanaimo Bar Trail in the namesake city where the recipe originated, and try variations on the theme, including peanut butter or maple bacon bars, and Nanaimo Bar martinis.

Cinda Chavich
A food and travel writer living in Victoria, B.C.