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canadian food gifts for US visit

hey chowhounders!

i'm heading to visit an good GF in california at the end of february. she used to live in canada and i want to surprise her with some 'fun' canadian food gifts. nothing fancy but nothing like the traditional maple syrup etc.

so, what do we canucks get that our american neighbours don't?? and i'm posting this on the ontario/toronto board b/c i'm hoping to be able to find things quickly/easily/locally...

here's what i've got so far:

- coffee crisp
- mr. big
- smarties
- clodhoppers
- ketchup chips (not sure how these will travel)
- swiss chalet sauces/marinades (my friend LOVES swiss chalet)
- tim hortons coffee (grounds)
- PC cookie mix for the decadent chocolate chip cookies
- maltesers

any other ideas? i'd prefer non-liquid items but i'm easy for size; i'm planning to do quite a bit of shopping while i'm down there so i'm taking a big suitcase and i can unload all of these gift items as soon as i get there.


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  1. Nanaimo Bars... my wife is from the southern U.S. and she always brings some "home" when she goes back there because her family and friends love it.

    Just be careful when crossing the border as the US FDA has regulations with regards to food importation, might want to read up on that first.

    1. I just did the same thing for a local-foods gift exchange at a conference, and paid a visit to Culinarium on Mount Pleasant, which carries only Ontario products. The products carried are not old-familiar stuff that your friend would remember, but it might be nice to supplement your list with other "unknown" items.

      My goodie bag included red fife flour, Kernal peanuts from Norfolk County, and Manitoulin Island hawberry syrup.

      1. Macintosh toffee is usually popular - and it packs well!

        1. how about indian candy? Tat's the sweet cured salmon and is avail at SLM at caviar direct for sure but maybe elsewhere as well (dunno offhand if you're in toronto or not). Keep in mind that this is different than the salmon jerky you can get in BC quite readily but I haven't seen it here in Ontario.

          There's also the Konzelmann Vidal Niagara Peninsula Ice Wine 2006 that was released in 2008. It was #100 on wine spectator's top 100 wines of 2008 list. AFAIK the only Canadian wine to place on that list.

            1. Kozlik's Amazing Maple Mustard, or any of the other flavours.

              1. Shreddies. A friend of mine lives in Seattle these days, and he always stocks up when he visits. And don't forget to point out the "new improved diamond shape" :-)

                I think that plain Kraft Dinner is also hard to get in the US.

                6 Replies
                1. re: aveivy

                  No, it's not, it's just called Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner there. But if you think your friend would be nostalgic for the box, then it's a good idea (my friends sometimes take home boxes of KD as cheap souvenirs for their friends).

                  Most of the things I would have suggested are already on your list - dill pickle chips are another idea, and pretty much any variety of Cadbury bar. I think those are now made by Hershey's in the States, so they really don't taste the same. And Mars bars don't exist down there anymore.

                  1. re: Wahooty

                    What? No mars bars in the US? Isn't Mars a US company? wow....

                    1. re: Squeakycheese

                      M&M/Mars is still making plenty of candy, but the American Mars bar was different than the Canadian/UK versions - it had almonds in it. It was discontinued a few years ago, when they started making Snickers with almonds. The Milky Way bar is awfully similar to a Canadian Mars bar, but a little less sweet. So it's not like it's a gaping hole in the market or a sign of the company's demise...just something that, if I moved back to the States, would be a happy reminder of my time in Canada. :)

                      1. re: Wahooty

                        Interesting! Thanks for that, didn't know.

                  2. re: aveivy

                    My kids live in Savannah and when we visit we have to bring OREO cookies..(apparently U.S. ones don't taste the same as ours)....We also take Strub's New Dills and if I feel like smuggling "Deli" cream cheese..ie' Lola's' from Daiters. Almost forgot "Wonderbars" and last but not least "Red River Cereal"
                    Now on the other hand I bring home fresh Georgia Pecans (if they're in season) and Pecan Rolls & Pralines!!!

                    1. re: pearlD

                      I tried some of those mini wonderbars for Halloween. I noticed they didnt taste the same and when I checked the label, they were made with mockoalte( aka fake chocoalte). They were horrible.

                  3. Canadian Oreos!
                    I recently sent a friend boxes of PC white cheddar mac n cheese per her request

                    1. hey everyone,

                      thanks SO much for all of the suggestions! i've got quite a long list now.

                      it's amazing how many things we get here and take for granted! :)

                      tks again!

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: lilaki

                        I guess Butter Tarts would be a little hard to carry. How about "Cherry Blossoms"?

                        1. re: middydd

                          Butter tarts not only would be difficult to carry, they'd be easy to make anywhere in the world as the raw ingredients aren't anything exotic (unless you insist on maple syrup).

                          I know it's not a truly Canadian suggestion, but for some reason Walker's Shortbread from Scotland, something you can get everywhere here, is ridiculously expensive in the U.S. (check Google and Amazon to verify this). My mother-in-law loves shortbread and can't get anything that good in the southern U.S. so we smuggle it across the border for her (either to bring it to her house, or mail it from Buffalo). The first time I brought her a box of Walker's she was hooked. Best deal is the huge box they sell at Sam's Club for $10. So if your friend is a shortbread fan, this is an obvious import.

                          1. re: TexSquared

                            Why do you have to smuggle it across the border?

                          2. re: middydd

                            Cherry Blossoms haven't tasted good for years. There's absolutely no chocolate flavour, and they're excessively sweet.

                        2. When I travel to visit friends or family I like to take Dufflet's packages of Canadian treats. My favourite is chocolate covered blueberries.

                          1. Ms 'vickies Salt and Malt chips,
                            Malt Vinegar (small plastic bottle, easy to travel)

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: smr714

                              I was in Santa Fe this weekend and was surprised to see Miss Vicky's chips everywhere... and dismayed to see they're now owned by Frito-Lay and are made in the U.S.

                            2. I live in LA and I visit Toronto quite often, and each time leave tons of room in my suitcase to bring back all my favorites. Here is the stuff I bring back:
                              PC Decadent cookies - nothing comes close to these cookies
                              PC exotic flavors chips - these are a new item, I get szechuan and general tao - wrap these in clothes or towels and they travel just fine
                              Ketchup chips - same as above
                              Crumpets - you do not get these in the states! My favorite - PC brand
                              Hickory Sticks
                              Flamingo butter tarts - I get a huge box and surround it in clothes - it has travelled fairly well for me
                              Tea - I get salada but red rose is good too - the tea bags are much stronger in canada
                              Crunchie, Aero, Coffee crisp
                              Foie gras - really hard to get here. I buy it the day I'm travelling, and it stays cold in the cargo compartment of the plane
                              PC Naan bread
                              Anything PC brand really..
                              I have lots more but this list is probably getting kind of long. Mmmm...can't wait for my next trip to TO!
                              ps. Also ice wine!! Almost impossible and extremely expensive to get here.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: dvkrani

                                I used to buy crumpets at Trader Joes. They might still have them.

                                1. re: dvkrani

                                  The tea bags are stronger in Canada for one simple reason. Canadian tea bags are meant to make 2 cups, American tea bags are meant for 1 cup. You can just look at them and tell the Canadian bags are larger/heavier. Of course, go buy the 1 gallon size Lipton Iced Tea at Sam's Club in the U.S. and you'll find tea bag on steroids :-)

                                  We have a friend in Maryland who married a woman from Yorkshire so we always bring his wife stuff from here that she can't get in Baltimore. English bacon, bangers, steak-and-kidney pie, and black pudding in particular (those items would DEFINITELY be confiscated by U.S. Customs...)

                                2. Kicking Horse "Kick Ass" coffee!!! It's organic, it's fair trade, it's Canadian.... and it's completely delicious!!!

                                  As for regulations re: food importation, all you have to do is declare it when you fill out that form at customs. I always thought it was forbidden to bring fruit on the airplane, but it's not. Just tell the customs person and you should be fine. Well. I was, with my little tupperware container of wild blueberries.

                                  Speaking of which, too bad it's not summertime! You could bring wild blueberries!

                                  Also, Dill Pickle chips!!! Bring those!!!

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Sarah Cat

                                    Yeah, nothing on your list so far will pose any customs issues. One thing about fruit, though - if it contains seeds, you're better off if it still has the sticker on it indicating its origin. I find the customs folk at Pearson are less picky about this than the people at the border, but strictly speaking, if it has seeds and you can't prove where it came from, they're not supposed to let it in. On a bus to Buffalo, I once saw a guy lose a whole bag of apricots that were originally from the States, but he couldn't prove it, so they were confiscated. Another friend of mine once lost his lemons driving to Detroit.

                                    That being said, I've taken all manner of food and drink back and forth, always declare when in doubt, and have never had a problem. With the exception of foie gras, none of the things suggested here will even need to be declared. Have fun - your friend is very lucky to have someone showing up at their door bearing so many lovely treats. :)

                                    1. re: Sarah Cat

                                      Kicking Horse coffee is not exactly a Canadian product (coffee is not grown here), but it is roasted here. And my personal favourite of their blends is "Hoodoo Jo." It's the only coffee I buy.

                                    2. hey everyone,

                                      holy moly ... i'm starving just thinking about all of the ideas you've posted! thanks so much!! i think i may need to bring a second suitcase filled with goodies! ;)

                                      quick question about declaration ... i've never traveled to the US with food before (short of whatever i've bought at the airport for the flight) ... what exactly am i declaring?? i'll go through US customs @ pearson and i find them to be WAY stricter than the folks at the border going to buffalo ...

                                      i've scanned a bunch of pages on the US customs and border patrol site and it says nothing about packaged/processed foods ...


                                      6 Replies
                                      1. re: lilaki

                                        They give you a form that details exactly what you need to declare. Usually it's things like fruit or veggies, livestock (!), plants, etc. You won't have to declare any of this stuff, I don't think. Don't worry about it. The only food I've ever had to declare were those blueberries, and I always bring snacks and food on trips. Well — wine, of course, I've had to declare!

                                        1. re: Sarah Cat

                                          Yeah, like Sarah Cat says, cookies, chips, mustards, candy...these are all things that you won't have to declare. Declaration is for anything that could potentially bring a disease or invasive species into the country, i.e. if you're bringing in raw meat, or something with seeds that could accidentally end up growing a plant that doesn't belong, etc. If there's anything that you think might fit into a category on the form, check the box and tell the agent about it. For example, the last time I went back, I had to check the box that includes meat...the agent asked me about it, I told him I had some smoked fish, he said, "oh, that's okay" and put me through. It's really nothing to get worried about.

                                            1. re: lilaki

                                              Here's a link to an OK Globe and Mail article that was published in the summer...it talks about what you can/can't bring into Canada...


                                            2. re: Wahooty

                                              You have to declare meat (cooked or raw,canned, whatever) even if it is clear that it would not bring disease or an invasive species into the country.

                                              I had a can of gulasch from Switzerland confiscated at Pearson. The customs officer asked if the gulasch contained meat, and when I said it contained beef (he couldn't read the ingredients which were in German), I was given a strong reprimand and warning that all meat products were to be declared at Pearson (I had forgotten to declare the can, it was just something I hadn't eaten during my trip, and had tossed into my luggage), and I was told I was lucky that he wasn't going to give me a fine (which could have been something like $500 at the time for a can of gulasch that was worth about $3). Swiss beef, under no conditions, is allowed through customs in Canada.

                                              I wouldn't be surprised if Swiss beef is safer and healthier than most beef we're able to find here in Canada.

                                              After dealing with US customs officials at Pearson on another non-food related occasion, I wouldn't try bring meat products of any kind into the US, either.

                                              1. re: phoenikia

                                                Okay, perhaps my wording was misleading - I would never carry meat or any animal product without declaring it. I also have never had my meat or cheese confiscated or been given a hard time, because I always declare them and they have always been of American or Canadian origin so they get through easily. I would think that any foreign beef, however, would be a no-no ever since the mad cow scare.

                                                I've never taken raw meat or beef (raw or cooked) in either direction, but I can say that I've had no problem taking smoked fish, BBQ pork, dried pepperoni, etc. both ways. Most of the bad customs experiences I've heard of stem from people not declaring something and getting yelled at - the worst I've ever gotten is a raised eyebrow or an extra question about what I DID declare, and then been sent on my merry way.

                                                Now, I will admit that the US customs guys are probably more friendly towards those of us bearing US passports, but some are just cranky no matter where you come from or what you tell them you have. That doesn't mean they won't let you keep it if it's legal. I would be floored if anyone tried to take away any of the aforementioned fully cooked, carbohydrate-based, properly declared, delicious snack foods. :)

                                        2. I used to not declare things like chips and cookies, until I inadvertantely mentioned it to a customs agent and he had it out with me for not declaring it. Something about how if I did not declare all food items (he pointed to where it says "food" on the form) it was called smuggling and I could be charged with it or something. Ok he was obviously having a bad day, but still every since then, I declare each and every item of food and carry receipts. Raw meat, produce and I believe dairy products are not allowed. Processed meat is fine.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: dvkrani

                                            Okay, here's the actual declaration form:


                                            So as long as you check "yes" next to "food," you've covered your bases. This really isn't as complicated as we're all making it sound. :)

                                            1. re: dvkrani

                                              Plus, if its something really tasty, they might take it into the back room for *ahem* "examination" :)

                                            2. I can tell you that Canadian Coke is positively currency in some American circles. US Coke is made with Corn Syrup whereas Cdn Coke is cane sugar. The favour is really quite different as a result!

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: Otonabee

                                                Oh yes, the cane sugar vs. high fructose corn syrup issue. Dr. Pepper actually tastes better in Canada because of this -- the American version (unless you're buying the special cane sugar version that comes from Dublin, Texas, which yes, I have tried) leaves this obvious bitter aftertaste you don't get with the Canadian version.

                                                A friend of ours in NYC says that Canadian Budweiser tastes better than American Budweiser.... now that's funny...

                                                1. re: TexSquared

                                                  Hey Tex.

                                                  I was reading something online about Dr. Pepper. Apparently it's made here, there and everywhere and it doesn't all taste the same. This guy travelled all over the US and had his spots to get it and spots to leave it alone.

                                                  I've noticed a difference in Diet Pepsi from up here to down there.


                                                  1. re: TexSquared

                                                    If Canadian Budweiser is brewed in Canada, the Canadians brewing it may not be as good as their American counterparts. Seriously--it takes a lot of skill and effort to brew beer with as little flavor as Budweiser has.

                                                2. I doubt you'd be interested but of course peameal would be great. But only if you can keep it cold. Like kvkrani said with the fois gras.

                                                  Canadian Heinz ketchup is supposedly much better too. You could take a bottle. If only for a fun taste test.


                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: Davwud

                                                    Heinz ketchup tastes better here because, it too, is made with sugar rather than high-fructose corn syrup as it is in the States.

                                                    1. re: Tatai

                                                      I suspected the CS thing. Is it that we think it's better because we're used to it and they'd have the same opinion except opposite?? Or does it really taste better??


                                                      1. re: Davwud

                                                        My American wife prefers the Canadian versions of Dr. Pepper and Coca-Cola because of the difference in taste. For those who have never experienced this, seriously, try an American and a Canadian can of the same soft drink one after the other. The American one, if it's HFCS, will have this bitter aftertaste the Canadian one will lack. That's the difference.

                                                        She prefers the U.S. versions of most food items (needless to say we bring home a lot of groceries when we cross the border) but soft drinks she won't buy there unless it's an item not available in Canada (Coke Zero Cherry in particular).

                                                        1. re: TexSquared

                                                          You guys sound like us. Back bumper scraping on the ground, "Any food items??" "Just some bbq sauce!!" LOL


                                                  2. Having Spent 30 days on a US road trip, these are the little things I miss:

                                                    Wine Gums
                                                    Licorice Alsorts
                                                    Oreos -- the American ones have cream the clings to your mouth badly
                                                    Big Turk
                                                    Hickory Sticks


                                                    Other items I have noted:

                                                    Heinz Ketchup (as prev. mentioned) tastes better here. But, Heinz Organic ketchup tastes close to same as Canadian regular Heinz Ketchup in both places (i.e. in the States there is quite a difference in flavour -- unlike here -- with the organic version tasting quite a bit like Canadian regular or organic versions).

                                                    As Davwud mentioned, Diet Pepsi tastes quite a bit different down there (the only pop I drink enough of to notice a difference) -- but, it seems foolish to bring beverages that far.

                                                    1. Maple sugar is easy to transport,
                                                      Balderson 6 year old cheddar, a staple at Costco
                                                      Alberta Springs 10 yr, old true rye (plastic bottle, now owned by Beam!)
                                                      Thomas Utopia canned tomatoes (Loblaws organic section)
                                                      Ceylon tea from Lee Valley (they won't ship it to the U.S.)
                                                      Parmigiano Reggiano $25/kg at Costco, cheaper than U.S.
                                                      duPuy lentils from Saskatchewan (needs a cool climate)

                                                      4 Replies
                                                      1. re: jayt90

                                                        The Balderson cheese is killer. I could eat a whole block.


                                                        1. re: Davwud

                                                          Canadian cheddar is really well know throughout the world. i dont really like balderson. I prefer i'l aux gru, Avonlea clothbound cheddar and cheere noir goat cheddar.
                                                          ice wine is my go to gift for people outside of canada, but now that i think about it cheddar woudl be another great idea

                                                        2. re: jayt90

                                                          The reggiano is great, but its now 26.49kg. Used to get it for 19.99kg.

                                                          1. re: Calipoutine

                                                            if you're bringing cheese, might as well get serious about it!! bring some beautiful artisanal quebec cheese!! chèvre noir, benedicton bleu, la sauvagine, peau rouge .... those cali folks won't know what hit them!
                                                            i do love good old balderson, though.