Cansplaining: Breakfast Time in Canada

For Americans planning to breakfast in Canada, you'll need to know your caesars from your double doubles

Editor's note: Canada and the United States share a number of superficial similarities – but few know the differences better than Kevin Bracken, who moved to Toronto from Long Island, New York, in 2003 to attend university and never looked back. Based on excerpts from Bracken’s free-to-download book What’s Different in Canada?, our Cansplaining series will help Canadians know themselves better, and may be of interest to Americans who feel motivated to learn more about a new country. Ahem.

The most important meal of the day also sheds an interesting light on cultural traditions. Where in Switzerland you might find a breakfast with breads, cheeses, cured meats like prosciutto, and Nutella, you’re much more likely to feel at home having a Canadian breakfast, but with some important differences.

Don’t worry, you can still get your eggs over easy in Canada, but there are some things you should know about breakfast staples, from how you take your coffee, to clam juice for breakfast.

Canadian bacon

It’s not just a movie starring the late Canadian actor John Candy, but an essential breakfast item as well. Of course you can find regular old strip bacon in Canada, just like in the States, but if you’re looking for something a little thicker, ask for “back bacon.” This is what is meant by “Canadian bacon” in the U.S., and it means “bacon-cured pork loin.”

If you want it a little crunchy, ask for “peameal bacon,” which has crispy crumbs on the ends.

Diner tip: If you order toast with your bacon in Canada, don’t be surprised when the server asks if you want “white or brown toast.” It’s not an oxymoron:  Canadians refer to whole wheat bread as “brown bread.”

Tim Hortons

What could be more Canadian than a coffee chain named after a hockey player? Tim Hortons is a sacred Canadian morning tradition, fuelling a huge percentage of the country each day as they brave sub-zero temperatures on their way to work. The most similar American chain is Dunkin Donuts, but something about “Timmy’s” exudes more class and less desperation (although Tim Hortons could certainly learn something from Dunkin Donuts’ 24-hour breakfast sandwiches).  

An expression you’ll need to add to your Canadian lexicon is “double double,” which is a coffee with two sugars and two creams, the most common order at Tim Hortons.

(Wondering where the apostrophe went in the brand name? Although the chain is named after Tim Horton, adding an apostrophe-S suffix is not how you connote a possessive noun in French, so the apostrophe has been omitted to make the name bilingual.)

One of Tim Hortons’ most cherished traditions is its annual “Roll Up the Rim” game where you can win anything from a maple donut to a new car by rolling up the rim of a coffee cup, but the weird part is the skill testing question: Canadian law makes it illegal to operate a game of chance without a licence. To get around this, Tim Hortons includes a preposterously simple math question to make the claim that the game is not a lottery, but a game of skill.


Breakfast of champions … specifically, high blood sugar champions


If anything could be called Canada’s definitive brunch cocktail, the bloody caesar is it. It’s essentially a bloody mary made with tomato juice that has added clam broth (Clamato is the leading brand). But its history is deeper than that. The story goes something like this:A British guest at the hotel was privy to the barkeep’s experiments, and when the recipe had been perfected with the right amounts of tomato juice, worcestershire sauce, vodka, and spices, the guest remarked: “That’s a damn good bloody caesar!” The “caesar” name is supposedly an homage to the creator’s Italian heritage, not Julius Caesar (bloody though he may have been).

The National Post published a piece in 2010 proving that Chell's story couldn't possibly be true as it's usually told, but whatever happened in Calgary in 1969, Canadians have enthusiastically made the caesar their own in recent decades.

Meanwhile: How confident are you in your pronunciation of worcestershire sauce?  

Milk in bags

When you buy milk in a Canadian grocery store, you may be a little perplexed by your choices. In Ontario and points east, milk comes in plastic bags in addition to the waxed cardboard cartons, glass bottles and plastic jugs you’re likely more familiar with. Ever conservation-minded, Canadian farmers determined that delivering milk in bags would save huge amounts of material and energy in the transportation process. Because of this, most Canadian homes in the central and eastern part of the country have plastic pitchers whose specific purpose is to contain bags of milk in their refrigerator, along with a refrigerator magnet that contains a razor blade specifically for slicing a hole in the corner of a milk bag.

Once you’ve accepted your bizarre new form of milk container, there’s another twist: fresh homo milk (or “lait homo frais” in French.) It’s short for “homogenized whole milk,” and it isn’t even a colloquialism, it’s just straight up printed on the bags. Almost any milk you buy at a Canadian grocery story is homogenized, but in Canada, “whole milk” refers to creamline milk, a.k.a non-homogenized milk.

Meanwhile, if you prefer nondairy creamer for your coffee instead, it’s called “coffee whitener” in Canada. Way to be literal, guys.


Look for bagged milk at the bottom of a dairy aisle near you

Published Wednesday, October 25th 2017

Header image credit: A peameal bacon sandwich. Shutterstock



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