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Enjoy Delicious Meals While Travelling
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 value.

  • 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 dessert.

  • 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 plate.

    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 Japanese tastes.

  • 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 the filler.

  • Date shake: Malt made with dates. Today, it is hard to find this traditional California treat, but worth the effort.

    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 loves these.

  • "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 this dish.

    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 thinly shredded.

  • 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 Italian origins.

    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 improvement).

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 States.

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 whipped together).

  • 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 German influence),

  • 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 plate.

  • 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 gravy.

    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 dining table.

    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. Voyageur!

Go To >> Part II, Finding the best restaurants and cafes

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