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Know What to Eat and Where to Find It - Part I
Experience the best foods in Canada and
the United States
Although written for visitors to Canada and the U.S., everyone should enjoy reading about local favourite foods
to try while travelling in North America.
Not only are these local favourites delicious, they are usually more nutritious than the fast foods served up to American and Canadian travellers.
Seek out the more traditional and nutritious alternatives
listed below, as well as the ethnic choices becoming more and
more popular in Canada and the United States. You will have a richer travel experience.
Sure, go ahead and try McDonald's to see
if its offerings do taste and look the same as at home. (They may
not as McDonald's varies its recipes to satisfy local preferences.) At McDonald's-type places, you'll certainly learn one reason Americans and Canadians are so incredibly fat. The portions are huge!
Many dishes below also use lots of starch, sugar, and fat, but please balance your diet by adding the salads (if not covered in fat) and cooked vegetables that used to be served with most meals in Canada and the U.S., as recently as 40 years ago.
Experience the tastiest foods
Some dishes to eat (or to avoid) as you travel
around Canada and the States include the following. The variety
of foods available throughout North America is so astonishing
that Dr. Voyageur can guarantee that few Americans or Canadians
have tried all of these.
- Banana cream pie: The name says it all.
Bananas are America's favourite fresh snack, followed
by apples and oranges, although some claim that apples and bananas
and other foods that are usually picked before they are ripe
to more easily store and ship lack their ripened nutritional
- Banana spilt: Vanilla ice cream scoops
arranged between a banana peeled and sliced lengthwise in a long
dish with whip cream, syrup, nuts, and candied cherries placed
on top. Yes!
- BBQ: Pork, beef, chicken, fish, and turkey
are cooked over a fire with the flavour of the wood used permeating
the meat. Heated (excuse the pun) arguments break out over whether
or not to cook with or serve with sauce or powdered spices, etc.
Styles centre on North Carolina, Texas, and Kansas City, but
barbecue remains popular throughout Sunbelt and elsewhere. Often
served on bread with coleslaw and beans as "sides."
- Biscuits and gravy: Flaky breakfast rolls
covered with usually a pork sausage and milk-based white gravy.
Most popular in the South and Southwest.
- Broccoli with cheese sauce. In the southern U.S., vegetables are often cooked with extra flavourings, such as cheese. (See "Greens" below.)
- Butter tarts: An Ontario version of little individual
serving pecan pies with raisins used instead of pecans in a rich
butter crust. Available in every Ontario supermarket and bakery.
When fresh, delicious.
This is one of Dr. Voyageur's favourite food fetishes.
When he lived in Ontario, he could be seen hauling big cartons
of these around, a weight that diminished as the day rolled on!
- Butterscotch pie: Rich and fantastic sugar-bloated
- Chess pie: Southern sugar rich pie. Delicious.
The top crust makes a crisscross pattern, hence the name chess.
- Chicken fried steak or chicken fried chicken (!): "National dishes" of
Texas and popular in adjoining states.
A steak or piece of chicken is pounded almost flat and thus tenderized. Then
it is dipped in a batter of milk, floor, salt, pepper (often
lots of pepper), and sometimes garlic. After this, it is fried
in oil—lots of oil—until its crust is golden brown. A thick
serving of rich cream gravy (a white, often pepper rich gravy)
is spread on a plate. Mashed potatoes topped with more gravy
are added at one side, and then the steak is placed on top of
the gravy on the portion of the plate not occupied by the potatoes.
Some chiefs will now cover the steak with more gravy, although
some say this makes the dish soggy. Because the steak has been
pounded so wide and so flat it often hangs over the edge of its
Restaurants live or die on their reputations for these dishes.
- Chips (called french fries in the States and more and more in Canada)
with gravy: Canadian-style chips with brown gravy. A version
with cheese sauce, instead of gravy, is popular in some parts
of the U.S.
- Chile (also chili) or chile con carne: Torrid arguments
occur over the best way to make chile. Should there be beans?
Should there be meat? How spicy should it be? Served by itself
or as a side dish or on top of a half of a hamburger, etc. Sometimes
we find cheese melted on top. New Mexican burgers are topped with a green chile salsa and cheese.
- Coleslaw: Shredded cabbage salad with
a dressing of oil and vinegar, sugar and mild spices. In Hawaiian restaurants,
the sugar may be left out to make the dish more appealing to
- Chow mien: Bastardized Chinese-style dish
usually made with lots of canned dry noodles and bean spouts.
Almost always best to avoid. More authentic Chinese-style restaurants
may serve freshly made lo mien, which is much better.
- Crab cakes: Usually delicious patties
composed of crab meat and a small amount of bread crumbs, "Old
Bay Spice", and mayonnaise, and then fried. Most common
among the eastern seaboard of the U.S., especially in the Baltimore
area. Beware of restaurants that decrease the crab meat and increase
- Date shake: Malt made with dates. Today,
it is hard to find this traditional California treat, but worth
Shields Date Garden in Indio, CA serves a wonderful version of this.
- Deviled eggs: Hard boiled eggs, shells
removed, cut in half, egg yolk removed, egg yolk mashed with
mayonnaise, mustard, and other spices, and then stuffed back
in. Think of these as little tarts with the egg whites as crusts.
Popular during Summer.
- Dirty rice: Side dish of rice cooked with
pieces of pork, celery, onions, and spices in the South. Yellow
rice, a similar dish, came to Florida from Cuba.
- Dressing: Baked dish made of bread crumbs
and/or cornbread pieces with celery, onions, the juice of chickens
or turkeys or butter, etc. In the Northeast, oysters may be added.
Chefs in the South use cornbread crumbs and often add a bit
of pork. Chestnuts, gibbets, apple pieces, cranberries, dates,
and other ingredients also may be included.
When possible, the dish is baked within the cavity of a turkey
or chicken. Or, it may be served with roast pork or even stuffed
into a rolled up steak.
Quality varies from superb to the mediocre of some packaged mixes.
- Egg foo yong: Sometimes unpleasant imitation
Chinese dish made with beaten eggs, veggies, including bean spouts,
mushrooms, soy sauce, and chicken or pork.
- Fiddleheads: Strange looking Canadian green
vegetable, which are actually coiled sections of fern plants. Tastier
than it sounds.
- Float: Ice cream scoop "floating"
on top of a glass of soda (pop or tonic). Mixed in a blender
this becomes an ice cream soda.
- French toast: Bread slices dipped in egg
batter and then grilled. Usually served with butter and maple
syrup for breakfast.
- Fried clams: A New England favourite.
Clam pieces deep fried in batter.
- Gherkins: Small sweet pickles. Dr. Voyageur
- "Greens": Leafy green vegetables
cooked in a broth flavoured by pork and spices in the South.
The mustard plant and turnip leaves are common components of
In the South, green vegetables of any type are usually flavoured
with pork with the exception of broccoli), and in the southern states vegetarians should also
note that baking, including pie crusts, is often done with pork
fat (lard). Ask if you are uncertain.
- Grilled cheese sandwich: Cheese placed
between two slices of bread and then browned on a grill or in
a pan while the cheese melts inside. Often grilled in butter.
- Grits: White corn gruel frequently served
as a side dish with southern and southwestern breakfasts. Even
seen in New York City. Besides butter, salt, and pepper, cheddar
cheese may be added.
Grits was a highlight of the film "My Cousin Vinnie". Dr. Voyageur
won't give away the plot, but let's just say that grits proved
to be an extraordinarily healthy food for two characters in the film, in spite of what dieticians might say.
- Hamburgers: Yes, you think that you know
what these are, but the variety is astonishing. Veggie burgers,
turkey burgers, sloppy Joes, and on and on. Even regular beef
burgers vary greatly from one end of North America to another.
Topped with mayonnaise in the South, with mustard in New England,
with fried onions in New York City, and with chili in New Mexico.
- Home fries or cottage fries: Slices or
cubes of potatoes fried on a grill or in a pan. Sometimes flavoured
with onions. Often served with eggs at breakfast, but may be
served with steak meals. Hash browns, a similar dish, are more
- Jalapeno rolls: Dinner rolls made with
hot peppers and sometimes cheese in the Southwest. Usually not
very hot, as the dough absorbs the heat of the peppers. Interestingly,
I have never seen these delicious rolls served in Mexican-style restaurants.
- Jello: Various desserts and salads usually
based on flavoured animal gelatin mixtures. May be made with
fruit pieces, cottage cheese, marshmallows, nuts, or served plain
(with just a flavouring). A fixture in cafeterias, rural midwestern
restaurants, and school lunch programmes.
- Key lime pie: There's usually an inverse
relationship between the amount of green food colour used and the
good taste in this Florida treat made of course with lime juice.
- Lemonade: Called sweet lemon water in
some countries. Very popular treat. Look for "homemade"
style lemonade made with fresh lemons, and avoid that made from
bottled syrups, which often gives a vile chemical taste.
- Lemon meringue pie: An American favourite.
A large lemon-based tart topped with a baked sugar and egg white mixture.
- Lobster roll: Poor person's lobster dinner.
Chucks of lobster, mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato fill a hot
dog bun. Found along the coast of eastern Canada and New England.
- Macaroni and cheese: Classic American
dish, served both as an entree and as a side dish. Cooked macaroni
is baked or otherwise heated with cheddar cheese, milk or cream,
butter, perhaps a touch of mild mustard, salt, and pepper. May
be baked with a butter and bread crumb crust on top.
This dish is so typically American that no one thinks of its
Also called "Kraft Dinner" after the popular packaged
mix (not as good as homemade). Very popular in Canada, too.
- Macaroni salad: Cooked and chilled macaroni
usually marinated in a lightly spiced oil and vinegar dressing
and then combined with mayonnaise, diced sweet pickles, small
tomato chunks, cheddar cheese cubes, and a touch of mustard,
salt, and pepper. Sometimes cubed ham is added. A summer favourite
at picnics with cold fried chicken.
- Maple syrup: Delicious sugar rich tree sap primarily
processed in central Canada and New England. Used on pancakes
and waffles. In Quebec, meats, especially pork, including sausage,
are often cooked or at least served with hot maple syrup.
Beware of imitation flavour maple syrup (a ghastly American abomination) served in many less expensive restaurants,
although the low cost maple syrup with cane sugar blends can
be quite good.
- Marshmallows: Sweetened (usually non vegetarian)
gelatin balls puffed up with air that are eaten plain, roasted on sticks over fires, or baked
on top of other foods such as yams. A somewhat similar but much
larger confection, cotton candy (on a stick), is served at fairs
and beach boardwalks.
- Mashed potatoes: The national dish of
Canada! Also, extremely popular in the States. White potatoes
are boiled and then mashed with milk, butter, salt, and pepper.
Usually served with a gravy based on the meat accompanying them
or butter. Nouveau versions may use garlic or exotic coloured
potatoes. Some chefs like to leave the peel on for extra colour
and texture. In Texas, you may find beef booth used instead of
or with milk.
National Lampoon magazine once joked that a sprig
of fresh parsley next to the mashed potatoes denotes a holiday
meal in Canada.
- Mexican food: Almost omnipresent now.
The flavours of Mexican-style food vary in the U.S., depending
on what part of Mexico has had the most influence and other factors.
In general, New Mexican food is quite hot, Californian is rich
with ample but mild sauces, and Texan is served more plainly.
Except for areas like Chicago with large immigration, the closer
you are to Mexico, the better the Mexican-style food. Thus, in
Dr. Voyageur's experience, Mexican-style food in Canada is often
less authentic than that in the U.S. (although there has been
Some of the most popular Mexican dishes
in Canada and the U.S. include:
Burrito - Rolled up wheat tortilla stuffed
with mildly spiced beans and/or meat, cheese, salsa, etc. A breakfast
version adds scrambled eggs to the mixture.
Chile relleno - Chile pepper stuffed with
cheese and sometimes meat and coated in an egg batter and fried
(sometimes deep fried) and served with a tomato sauce.
Enchilada - Cheese and/or meat wrapped
and baked in a yellow corn or blue corn tortilla that has been
coated with sauce and a bit more cheese. A version with sour
cream called Enchilada Suiza, is especially delicious.
Most are made with red sauce, but also try the green sauce.
Flan - Egg custard. One of the many dishes
that show the French influence in Mexico.
Guacamole - Mashed up avocado pears with
spices and sometimes sour cream and minced tomatoes. Wonderful
as a side order, with corn chips, or on tacos and tostadas. Sometimes,
restaurants in the states serve an inferior version based on frozen or preprocessed
and chilled avocados—Ask before ordering.
Nachos - A plate of corn chips baked with
cheese, refried beans, and sometimes sour cream on top. Guacamole
may be added before serving. This dish originated on the border
between Mexico and Texas, but has spread throughout the United
Refried beans - Partly or fully mashed
red beans served as a mild side dish.
Salsa - This chile and often tomato based
condiment has become more popular than ketchup in the U.S. Hundreds
of different types exist ranging from mild to extremely hot.
Instead of tomatoes, some varieties use fruits like raspberries
or a combination of both.
Taco - Sort of a bent over tostada sandwich
made with either a hard or soft corn tortilla. Tacos now outsell
pizza in the U.S.
Tostada - Fat hard corn tortilla topped
with beans or meat and lettuce, tomato, cheese, sour cream, etc.
Basically, a flat taco.
Torta - Mexican sandwich.
- Miracle Whip: A mayonnaise-like salad
dressing made by Kraft that is a staple of traditional every
day southern cooking, especially lunches and picnics (and popular
throughout the States).
- Okra: Uncooked, this small green slimy
vegetable orb can be disgusting to touch. Caked in a spicy batter
in a southern kitchen and deep fried, or included in a soup,
Okra can be delicious.
- Onion rings: Sliced, battered, and deep
fried in oil.
- Pecan pie: Dr. Voyageur's favourite dessert. A
sweet base topped with pecan nuts and baked in a bottom crust.
Preparation varies widely. Recipes emphasize everything from
maple syrup to molasses. At its worst this pie is almost tasteless,
and at its best it is divine. Like many pies, it may be served
with ice cream on top.
Most popular in the southern U.S.
- Pork and beans: White baked beans flavoured
by pork and molasses. Traditional food of New England, which
may be served at any meal. Popular as a lunch dish elsewhere
in the states. Canned Heinz vegetarian version sold in supermarkets.
Hot or cold.
- Potato salad: Very popular summer cold
salad usually made with a combination of cubed boiled potatoes,
mayonnaise, perhaps oil, hard boiled eggs, diced celery, a bit
of mustard, and various spices. Quality varies greatly.
- Pumpkin pie: Very popular sweet pie made
from pumpkin (a type of squash or gourd), eggs, sugar, and spices.
Almost always served on the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday. Often
topped with whipped cream (cream, vanilla extract, and sugar
- Red eye gravy: Made with coffee, flour,
and pork drippings. A wake up gravy when served on biscuits or
grits with breakfast in the deep South.
- Rocky Mountain Oysters. Cattle testicles
sliced and fried and served to unsuspecting tourists who have
not read this guide in Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming.
Dr. Voyageur kids you not.
You have been warned. Bon appétit inattentive readers!
Actually, these are quite good, if you have the stomach for them.
- Shake (or frappe in New England): Ice
cream mixed with milk and various flavours such as blueberry
syrup. Add malt powder, and this becomes a "malt".
- Shoo-Fly Pie: Dr. Voyageur thanks Christine
McCollum of Pennsylvania, who corrected the name. A super rich
Pennsylvania Dutch treat found mostly in the farm country west
of Philadelphia. Ms. McCollum described it as a "very sweet
molasses-based pie that you can buy from the Amish or in many
local supermarkets." It is "so sweet," she added,
that "you have to 'shoo' the flies away."
Dr. Voyageur hasn't had to shoo away any flies, but this pie is good!
In centre city Philadelphia, Ms. McCollum recommends the immense
Reading Terminal Market as does Dr. V, which has been around since 1892, as
the best source of shoo-fly pie. Also, Delilah's at the Terminal
offers delicious "soul food" with less fat than usual.
Whenever possible, seek out farmers markets such as the Reading Terminal
Market, which offer everything from just picked vegetables to complete
breakfasts and lunches.
Found throughout Canada and the U.S., some of the most well-known
urban farmers markets are located in
- Centre city Baltimore (the Lexington Market,
one of Dr. Voyageur's favourites. Try the crab cakes),
- Kitchener (an Ontario city with a strong
- Ottawa (just south of Parliament Hill),
- Vancouver (Granville Island, just south
of the city centre),
- Hollywood (adjacent to CBS Television City on Fairfax) (You
may see film stars there),
- Downtown Los Angeles (Grand Central Market,
near Amtrak's Union Station and City Hall, serving nearby predominately Hispanic neighbourhoods and the many government workers in the area), and
- Washington, D.C. (the Eastern Market within
walking distance of Capitol Hill, but stay on the main streets)
Most close in the late afternoon. Check locally for days of operation.
Americans, who yearn for food fresh from the farm, spent more than
an amazing $1,000,000,000 at such venues last year.
- Sugar Pie: Sort of a pecan pie without
the pecans found in Quebec. Incredibly rich.
- Surf and Turf: A steak and seafood combination
- Tang: An imitation orange juice made from
a powder developed for the American space programme, and now
sold in stores. Joins a plethora of popular processed American
foods, such as margarine, which are not as good as the real thing.
Especially vile are the imitation creams for coffee that may
have more fat than the real thing.
- Turkey and dressing (also pork and dressing):
Favorite American and Canadian holiday meal. On Thanksgiving
Day in the States, turkey and dressing are often served with
yams, mashed potatoes, several vegetables, and pumpkin pie with
whipped cream. On any day, turkey and dressing is served with
cranberry sauce, which is a tart berry jelly or preserve, and
Americans traditionally overeat at the Thanksgiving meal more
than any other, which is the foundation of many jokes such as
the great fanfare made of the loosening of belts while at the
Some restaurants in the South have turkey and dressing on their
menus every day.
- Watermelon pickles: Chucks of pickled
watermelon rind popular in the southern U.S. as a condiment.
Very, very good!
- Yams and sweet potatoes: Rich potato-like
vegetables with a high sugar content, which are cut into large
pieces and baked with butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon, and
sometimes with pineapple or raisins. Another version is mashed
with butter, brown sugar, raisins, and cinnamon, and baked, sometimes
with marshmallows browned on the top.
Typically a Sunday or holiday dish in the South, but these vegetables
can turn up as a side dish anywhere at anytime.
These are just some of the wonderful and a few
of the not so wonderful dishes that await us. And, you wondered why
Americans and Canadians tend to be so very obese!
Do we really want to leave this topic? Not Dr.
Go To >> Part
II, Finding the best restaurants and cafes
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