Calgary is known for many things including the iconic annual Stampede and the majestic Rocky Mountains. As such, there's no shortage of things to do in the city, but its food scene isn't frequently mentioned. This western Canadian city is also home to some iconic foods well worth trying when you visit.
While this may be a list of foods to try in Calgary, there is an important beverage worth including—the bloody caesar. If you haven’t had the chance to try one, think of the caesar as a relative to the bloody mary, but with a more of an umami element. The savory cocktail is said to have been invented in 1969 by Calgary restaurant manager Walter Chell at the Calgary Inn, (where the Westin Calgary is now located). Chell was purportedly inspired by the flavors in spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clam sauce) when he came up with the idea. Key ingredients are Clamato juice (tomato juice flavored with clam broth), vodka, Worcestershire sauce, and a salted rim. The drink is often garnished with a stalk of celery, pickle spear, and a few olives, though you can find epic caesars that come with decadent additions like lobster claws, mini sliders, or onion rings.
You can’t have a list of foods to try in Calgary without including beef. Alberta is the leading producer of Canadian beef and as such, the province is ripe with opportunities to get your protein fix in the form of a juicy steak, burger, brisket, filet or however you like to eat beef. Recognized around the globe for a rich taste and consistent quality, there’s a good chance that whatever cut you order, if it’s local beef, it will be tasty. In Calgary, there are no shortage of steakhouses to choose from, whether you’re in the mood for an elaborate feast or just a simple but expertly cooked slab of steak.
Another meat to be on the lookout for in Calgary (assuming you’re not abstaining from animal protein) is bison. The largest wild land mammal in North America teetered on the brink of extinction just over 100 years ago but has since bounced back in population thanks to various conservation efforts. Bison meat is known to be tender and full of flavor, though it does lack fat so it should be cooked on low heat in most cases. You can find bison on many menus throughout Calgary.
There are many who find doughnuts irresistible and if you find yourself in Calgary with a doughnut craving, Those Little Donuts, has you covered. The company introduced the mini-doughnut to western Canada in 1968, which has since become sweet staple at festivals, fairs, and events—most notably the Calgary Stampede. The little deep-fried treats covered in sugar and sold by the bag have become synonymous with the event and remain an iconic food in the province.
You might be surprised to see a Vietnamese dish on a list of foods to try in Calgary, but when you think about the fact that Alberta has one of the largest Vietnamese population in Canada (with a large number who call Calgary home), it makes a lot more sense that the city is home to quite a few pho and banh mi shops. This common Calgary street food (by way of Vietnam) comes on a crispy baguette and filled with various meats, cilantro, cucumber, onion, chilies and pickled vegetables.
Due to a high Ukrainian population in Alberta, it’s easy to get your pierogi fix in Calgary. Also ubiquitous in Polish and Russian cuisine, these tasty dumplings make for a filling and comforting meal. Whether from a sit-down restaurant, small take-away counter or anywhere specializing in traditional Ukrainian cooking, there are plenty of pierogi options in the city. Most often filled with potato or meat and served boiled or pan fried, you can also find pierogi stuffed with fruit for a sweeter take on the beloved dish.
Beef may already have a spot on this list of foods to try in Calgary, but ginger beef, an iconic dish in the city, needs a mention all its own. Available at almost every Chinese restaurant in Calgary, the dish was created in the 1970s by George Wong, a chef at The Silver Inn. He was reportedly trying to create a dish that appealed to western palates and the result was almost instantly popular. While there was no actual ginger in the original recipe (despite the name), today when you order the dish it is most often comprised of deep-fried beef, ginger, peppers, carrots and onions served in a sweet sauce over a plate of rice.
Taber, Alberta is one of the sunniest regions in Canada and known to produce some seriously good corn that is both sweet and crisp. But you don’t have to visit Taber to get it. The flavourful cobs are available in season at various Calgary farmers’ markets and food stands. But make sure that what you’re buying is authentic Taber corn as some of what gets sold isn’t the real deal.
Cheese lovers take note, if you’re looking for a taste of Calgary to bring home with you, why not pick up a few pieces of Gouda, courtesy of Sylvan Star Cheese. The company is renowned for it's farm-made Gouda and has won numerous Canadian awards. But it’s the extra aged gouda, also known as grizzly or old grizzly because of its intense flavor, that’s most renowned and is ranked number four in the world. The flavor is similar to that of an extra-aged beemster, with notes of caramel and a crystalline texture.