Photograph by Martin Thomas, Alamy
Maple Syrup, Lanark County
The best way to get a taste of that most iconic Canadian topping is to visit a working sugar bush, a stand of maple trees where the sap is collected and boiled into syrup. Many sugar bushes welcome visitors, offering tours and explanations of the production process, and of course plenty of samples.
Maple syrup can also be found at farmers markets and grocery stores across the province, but for maximum options head to Lanark County, the “Maple Syrup Capital of Ontario.” Lanark is located in Eastern Ontario, between Kingston and Ottawa; pretty, quiet Perth is the county seat.
Toronto’s Italian flavor dates back to the same surge of immigration that created Little Italy enclaves in most North American cities in the early 20th century. Today, nearly 10 percent of residents in the Toronto area claim Italian ancestry, and the city is home to two Italian-centric neighborhoods: Little Italy, on College Street West, and Corso Italia, on St. Clair West. Both areas are well stocked with Italian restaurants and cafes and tasty gelaterias. Award-winning pasta manufacturer Primo is based in Toronto.
Ottawa’s signature treat is the BeaverTail, a flattened oval of fried dough coated with butter and one of a range of toppings. Choices vary from the classic cinnamon and brown sugar to more elaborate concoctions loaded with chocolate sauce and fruit. They’re found across Canada—most often in kiosks at ski hills, theme parks, and other tourist-heavy locations—but their undisputed home is the nation’s capital.
Winter visitors can skate to a booth on the frozen Rideau Canal for a BeaverTail and a cup of hot chocolate, and there’s a year-round store in the Byward Market, too.
Corn on the Cob, Southern Ontario
Summer in Ontario means farm-fresh, handpicked corn on the cob. Roadside stalls manned by local farmers pop up in virtually every agricultural area of southern Ontario. Buy cobs by the dozen or half-dozen, then husk and boil them the same day for maximum sweetness.
Visitors who aren’t planning to drive the province’s rural roads can still find fresh, locally grown corn at any urban farmers market.
German-Style Sausage, Kitchener-Waterloo
The German heritage of the twin cities of Kitchener and Waterloo dates back to the mid-19th century, when the area was first settled by German-speaking Mennonite farmers from Pennsylvania. Their presence drew successive waves of German immigrants, and the region continues to have a distinctly Teutonic character today.
K-W, as the area is known, hosts a major Oktoberfest bash each fall. The twin cities are also home to several quality German-style delis and butchers, and these are the best spots to sample locally made sausage and other German specialties.
Ottawa has a higher percentage of Lebanese immigrants and people of Lebanese heritage than any other city in Canada. And while the government doesn’t track restaurants in the same way it does people, it seems probable that the capital has the country’s highest percentage of Lebanese restaurants, too. There’s a shawarma joint on every other corner in the city’s downtown core, and the meat-filled pita sandwiches are a quick, cheap must-have for visitors.
Ottawa’s Lebanese options are a good bet for vegetarians, too; falafel sandwiches are a universally available meat-free alternative.
Wild Blueberries, Halfway Lake Provincial Park
Indigenous wild blueberries are found across northern Ontario, but Halfway Lake, just north of Sudbury, is a scenic and accessible starting point in the heart of berry country. In the peak months of July and August, the park welcomes modern-day blueberry hunters, who (whether they know it or not) follow in the footsteps of the Ojibway people who lived in the area for centuries before European settlement.
Despite their name, wild blueberries are also actively cultivated in Ontario. They’re available at farmers markets, fruit stands, and roadside pick-your-own farms across the province.
Cheddar Cheese, Eastern Ontario
Top-quality, prize-winning cheddars consistently emerge from small dairies across the southern portion of the province, but Eastern Ontario probably has the highest concentration of options. Some of the dairies are open to visitors, and most have retail stores on site. Try big-name Balderson near Perth, Odessa’s Wilton Cheese Factory, or Forfar Dairy near Portland. Local cheddars are also available at health food stores and, often, even at major supermarkets.
Jerk Chicken, Toronto
Toronto hosts a substantial population of residents with Caribbean heritage—6 percent at the last census. As a result, the city is home to numerous Caribbean restaurants, where tasty West Indian standbys like jerk chicken and roti are on offer. Visitors will also find curried goat on some menus; chances are the meat is locally raised, since a goat-farming industry has grown up in Ontario to support the demand from Toronto’s Caribbean community.
Pickerel, Northern Ontario
Pickerel is a carnivorous freshwater fish, a member of the pike family. Its flesh is lean, white, and flaky, with a mild flavor. Pickerel are found from the east coast of Canada through to the western edges of the Great Lakes region, but they’re most commonly associated with Northern Ontario’s myriad lakes, where they’re a popular target for anglers.
For visitors who aren’t keen on catching their own, pickerel can be found served up at locally focused lodges and restaurants across the north. As a bonus, their numbers are healthy, making pickerel a sustainable dinner option.
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