11 cultural foods that you haven’t tried in Ottawa

Let your palate travel the globe, while your body stays in Ottawa.

One of the greatest joys of travel is discovering new foods. One of the greatest joys of Canada is that you really don’t need to travel very far to eat said food. Beyond pho and shawarma however, Ottawa’s many menus can be harder to navigate than the parking lot at the Bayshore Shopping Centre. We’re here to help guide you in branching out and discovering some new favourites. Here are our top bites, organized by the country they are from:

Korea

What’s popular in Ottawa? Korean BBQ / Korean Fried Chicken
What we suggest you try: Gamjatang at Alirang. Get there early for their take on this delicious, hearty Korean pork bone soup. Spicy comfort food. Other favourites include bibimbap (that crispy rice at the bottom of the bowl!), naengmyeon (korean cold noodles), and bulgogi.

Special shout out to Seoul Mart – a grocery store that also makes hip korean bites including savoury donuts stuffed with bulgogi.

Malaysia

What’s popular in Ottawa? Pad thai
What we suggest you try: Chili Fish (Sambal Ikan) at Chahaya Malaysia. One of the best dishes in town if you’re craving a high level of spice. Haddock in a thick tomato-based sauce spiced with chilis, belacan (shrimp paste), galangal, lemongrass, and garlic.

Lebanon

What’s popular in Ottawa? Shawarma
What we suggest you try: Kafta at New Middleast Supermarket – just put this seasoned meat on a barbeque, pair it with some pita bread and you’ll be in heaven. While shawarma gets most of the love in Ottawa Lebanese joints, the meat and cheese selection here will make you forget all about those ubiquitous wraps.

Special shout out to Les Grillades for their Lebanese breakfast (try fateh or foul) and La Brioche for arabic desserts like knafah and halawet el jibn.

Vietnam

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What’s popular in Ottawa? Phở
What we suggest you try: Bún bò Huế at Huong’s Vietnamese Bistro. The soup, which originates from the Central Vietnam city of Hue, is one of Vietnam’s must-try noodle dishes. Fragrant, spicy, sour, sweet, salty, it’s basically got a bit of everything. Other favourites include bún riêu (a rice noodle soup with a tomato and crab soup base, a staple in Hanoi), papaya and beef jerky salad, bánh xèo (sizzling crepe-like pancakes) … We have a soft spot for vietnamese food so the list could go on and on and on – explore for yourself!

Special shout out to SEN Asian Cuisine, which is a local restaurant hidden amongst chains in Lansdowne. Their Vietnamese menu has a lot of options you can’t find elsewhere, including the legendary bún chả Hànội!

El Salvador

What’s popular in Ottawa? Tacos
What we suggest you try: Pupusas at La Cabaña or Tukan. Thick tortillas stuffed with combinations of cheese, beans and pork, what more could you need? The El Salvadorian staple is enjoyed best when topped with curtido (fermented cabbage) and tomato sauce. Wash it down with marañon (cashew apple pulp juice), tamarindo (tamarind drink), or horchata (nut-and-spice based drink).

Haiti

What’s popular in Ottawa? Beef Patties
What we suggest you try: Haiti’s combination of African and Caribbean influence makes it a cuisine that is tasty to discover. Though Fried Chicken, Rice and Beans, or plantains may sound like familiar items, topping them with a creole red sauce or pikliz (a spicy cabbage slaw), makes everything pop. Fried pork cubes “griot” are also worth trying. We recommend Margo Caribbean or Soleil Des Iles for your Haitian fix.

Venezuela

What’s popular in Ottawa? Tacos
What we suggest you try: Arepas at Gooney’s. Surrounded by buildings in the downtown core, it is surprising to find arepas hiding in a local lunch spot. These corn-based cakes are a blend of crunchy and soft and taste great when stuffed with shredded beef, pulled pork or a variety of other fillings.

Sri Lanka

What’s popular in Ottawa? Ceylon Tea. Indian food.
What we suggest you try: Kothu Roti at Kothu Rotti. When driving through the Sri Lankan countryside, it is not uncommon to hear the clang of metal blades against hot griddles as street vendors prepare this national specialty. A combination of chopped roti, meat, eggs, onions, and chilis. Don’t forget a squeeze of lime! You can also find this dish at other Sri Lankan restaurants in town including Ceylonta and Karuna Cafe.

Mexico

 

What’s popular in Ottawa? Tacos
What we suggest you try: Pozole – extremely flavourful pork stew with hominy corn and Mole – a thick, rich, chocolate-tinged complex sauce that is often served with tortilla or meats. These dishes are on rotation at El Camino and well worth it. Mole can also be found at La Bonita.

Special shout out to By Abuela (formerly known as The Heirloom Kitchen), who also sometimes serve these dishes during their pop-up events.

Thailand


What’s popular in Ottawa? Pad thai
What we suggest you try: We love Northern Thai cuisine for its spice and complexity. Some dishes from that region that are worth trying include Larb/lahp – spicy minced chicken or meat salad, and Khao soi – a rich coconut curry egg noodle soup. Social Thai and Wandee Thai offer variations of these.

China


What’s popular in Ottawa? Golden Palace egg rolls, Dim Sum
What we suggest you try: There have been a variety of authentic Chinese restaurants that have opened in Ottawa over the past few years. We recommend you dive right into the deep end by trying a variation of noodle dish like the “Hot oil topped handmade noodles” at Rice Pea, the “Beijing noodle with fried bean and meat sauce” at Xiangzi, or the “Preserved Cabbage, Bamboo, Pork with Fried Noodle” from Cafe Orient. You won’t be disappointed.