When it comes to food, one way to stop other people from erroneously claiming something as their own is to name it after yourself. Apple pie didn’t do this and now everyone thinks its American (it’s actually English). Nanaimo Bars on the other hand, is named after the city in which it was invented. So while no one knows specifically who created the first bar, everyone knows it was born in Nanaimo.
Nanaimo is found on the eastern coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. It’s a bit of an odd place. Apparently, it is known as the “Bathtub Racing Capital of the World”. I don’t even know what to say to that. Moving on. Nanaimo is also known as the birthplace of Nanaimo Bars and that designation makes the place worth a visit.
Many people in Nanaimo insist that they have the best recipe. This means, of course, that there is competition all across the city. For dessert aficionados and for tourists, this is great – there is a Nanaimo Bar Trail! There’s a map and everything. Each spot on the map corresponds to an actual shop of some sort. Not everyone sticks to tradition and makes regular bars, though – there are also lattes and alcoholic drinks, pedicures, deep fried bars, fudge and cinnamon buns, cupcakes and cheesecake, and even a spring roll! But they all feature the Nanaimo Bar in some form or another.
By now you’re probably wondering, what in the world is this Nanaimo Bar?? Well, it’s a three layer dessert – bottom layer is graham cracker crumbs, coconut, nuts, cocoa, sugar, butter, and egg. The middle layer is more butter, custard, vanilla, icing sugar, and cream/milk. The top layer is yet even more butter and chocolate. Once layered, it is put in the fridge to solidify and then voila – chop into bars and there you go. Everyone has their own version, of course, but these are essentially the traditional ingredients.
If salt rather than sugar is your thing, you can still visit Nanaimo for its fish. The city is a harbour and if you head down to the downtown harbour front, you’ll see all sorts of boats and fishermen working or selling their catch. If fresh air makes you hungry, keep your eye out for Trollers, a floating restaurant amongst the boats. We stumbled across it and that turned out to be a happy accident – this place, voted the best fish and chips in the city, was delicious. For fish and chips, there were three options: halibut, salmon, and cod. I had the halibut and it came with a nice thick batter that gave it a yummy crunch. French fries and creamy coleslaw topped off this filling meal.
After you’ve stuffed your face with fish, take a wander around the downtown area – not a whole lot to see but there is some nice architecture and a pier from which you can watch sea planes take off and land. Once you’ve digested a bit, you can move on to whatever Nanaimo Bar item you’ve not tried yet. In my one afternoon in Nanaimo, I tried about five different items. Wouldn’t have been pretty if I tried to eat more. But it was a good afternoon – fried foods and sweet buttery goodness…what more could you want?