Canada’s Sweetest Secret

Ask a Canadian about his favorite dessert and “Nanaimo bar” (pronounced nuh-NYE-mo) is the likely reply. Named for the harbor town on Vancouver Island, the no-bake treat has sweetened the collective Canadian memory for decades.

The three-layer dessert — a textured crust (chocolate, coconut, almonds, and butter) that is smothered with a vanilla custard middle and topped with a firm layer of chocolate — is assembled, refrigerated, then cut into squares. Vancouver Island’s coal mining families packed them in lunches.

The first known recipe to use the name Nanaimo bar was published in the Vancouver Sun’s 1953 Edith Adams’ Fourteenth Prize Cook Book. The moniker stuck, and the ubiquitous bar is baked into the national culture.

Nanaimo resident Joyce Hardcastle won a highly publicized competition in 1986 declaring her recipe the town’s “official” formula for a confection that now lures curious tourists from all over the country. “That’s why we added a Nanaimo bar exhibition,” says David Hill-Turner, curator of the Nanaimo Museum.

For a tasty trek, pick up a Nanaimo Bar Trail map featuring over 25 toothsome stops around town, including the Modern Café for a Nanaimo bar martini. Traditionalists, however, may prefer Mon Petit Choux, where French pastries fight for attention next to Canada’s most beloved dessert.

Kimberley Lovato wrote this Local Flavor article in the August/September issue of Traveler magazine. 


  1. Texan
    November 5, 2013, 5:22 pm

    Pecan Pie is way better

  2. Firda
    October 26, 2013, 11:36 pm

    Pretty sure butter tarts would beat Nanaimo bars if there was a real survey. ;-)

  3. Ian Faulds
    Kirkland, Washington, USA
    October 26, 2013, 12:21 pm

    Best desert bars I’ve had. Lucky for me they seem to be catching on in the US too, but that might just be due to Seattle’s proximity to the border.

    Ian Faulds

  4. Joanna
    united states
    October 25, 2013, 7:42 am

    Looks delicious! Silly me, I was expecting somesthing with maple syrup!

  5. Winnie
    October 25, 2013, 1:27 am