Canada 150: 15 Ways to Experience Nanaimo Bar

In my post 15 Canadian foods you need to find and eat, I described Nanaimo bar: “Chocolate, butter, sugar, nuts, coconut: what’s not to love? This iconic treat is a celebrity in my hometown and deserves a post all on its own.”

It’s been tough, but I’ve done it.

Armed with my trusty Nanaimo Bar Trail brochure, I decided to take the Nanaimo Bar challenge and find 15 different ways to experience the deliciousness that is Nanaimo Bar. There are 36 stops listed on the official trail: six of them offer ‘traditional’ Nanaimo Bars. Others are wheat free or ‘raw, organic vegan and gluten free’ but the trail doesn’t stop there. It keeps winding its way through all kinds of delectable variations on the theme, with even some non-edible options to tempt you.

  1. Traditional or Classic: there is a good selection of traditional Nanaimo bar venues on the trail, and some offer seasonal variations as well, if you ever get tired of the plain old chocolate-vanilla-custard-nut-coconut deliciousness that is a classic NB. Serious Coffee on Commercial Street served up a great classic, winner of the People’s Choice Taste Awards.
  2. Peppermint: a classic NB with a dusting of crushed candy cane on top from Bocca Cafe. Pretty please, it’s a perfect Christmas treat! 15626564_10154326127941896_426474269045651791_o
  3. Turtle: Bocca’s award winners are their classic and the salted caramel, but the turtle flavour is a nice alternative. With a luscious layer of caramel between the top two layers, cocoa in the custard layer, and pecans on top, it’s almost another square entirely. Only the dark chocolate and coconut base keep it anchored in the Nanaimo Bar camp. IMG_0804
  4. Pistachio: Hearthstone Artisan Bakery does a peanut butter crunch NB (see number 5) alongside its classic, but – and I think they should be broadcasting this farther and wider than they are – they do another speciality NB about every month, so there are always three choices. When I was there the special was pistachio; the next one up is maple (appropriately in this season of celebrating Canada’s 150th). Let’s focus for now on the pistachio though: with a graham cracker crust (laced with coconut just like a classic), a pistachio custard/icing filling and white chocolate on top, this specialty got mixed reviews, from close to raving to “It’s just not a Nanaimo Bar” to meh. I missed the dark chocolate topping and crumbs and nuts offsetting the sweetness of the rest, so found this one just a bit too sweet for me. DSC_1415
  5. Peanut butter crunch: although this got a range of reviews, I personally liked the peanut-y taste: crunchy peanuts in the chocolate topping, peanut butter in the custardy centre. DSC_1427
  6. Ice cream: has to be Island Farms! You wouldn’t normally have ice cream with your square, but if you were so inclined, I wouldn’t recommend NB ice cream. Keep that to savour on its own, or if you must have something with it, have a brownie. I did.
  7. Waffle: new on the trail for 2017 (we’re trend-setters here on Kennedy Street), we tried the Nanaimo Bar waffle at Waffle Magic. With a choice of Brussels waffle – crispy and light — or Liege – thicker, richer and chewier – we went with the Liege. Topped with vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, coconut and cream, it was a decadent treat. DSC_1419
  8. Spring Rolls: two fat little rolls of chocolate with crispy shells come with a coconut custard for dipping. What is not to like? Only in Nanaimo’s Noodle Box. Naturally.
  9. Cocktail: the Nanaimo Bartini (from The Modern Cafe) is a sweet blend of Absolut Vanilla, Creme de Cacao, Bailey’s Irish Cream, coconut infused syrup, milk and a shot of espresso – like I said, SWEET. My testing companion did not take more than a sip or two (we shared one) and promptly got a glass of fine cab sauv to cleanse her palate. If you like your alcohol like dessert, then this is the NB for you, for sure.

    This is half of a Nanaimo Bartini, by the way.
  10. Nanaimo Museum: See the Nanaimo Bar tea towel! Read the original Nanaimo Bar recipe! Sit on the Nanaimo Bar stool! This is for the calorie-conscious reader (yes, we are Canadianly all-inclusive). While missing a few sensory aspects of other Nanaimo Bar offerings, the visit to the museum will enhance your overall experience. And it’s by donation. And like I said, no calories!
  11. Massage oil: one thing that seems to tie all the NB experiences together is surprisingly not chocolate but coconut. This holds true for Lobelia’s Lair NB massage oil with its delicious scent of coconut and a hint of vanilla. It could make you hungry though.
  12. Cheesecake: The Buzz Coffee House serves up their NB cheesecake in a very NB rectangle, not the usual cheesecake triangle. With a dark chocolate biscuit crust, creamy cheesecake layer and chocolate ganache to top it off, it looks just like a robust Nanaimo Bar. However, taste-wise, more chocolate cheesecake than actual Nanaimo Bar, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. DSC_1438
  13. Cupcake: A Wee Cupcakery makes beautifully simple NB cupcakes: none of the overpowering mountains of buttercream here. With a darkly chocolate crust bottom and icing like a whipped buttery, custardy centre layer of a Nanaimo Bar, these chocolate cupcakes are extremely more-ish. DSC_1418
  14. Deep fried: This one had to be done, but I wasn’t sure I was the one to do it so I enlisted a couple of folks who were willing to ‘take one for the blog’. Turns out I should have just snuck in on my own one day (okay, my body says I did the right thing) because this warm concoction of fat and sweet – with ice cream and cream, of course – was just what the doctor ordered. Well, she would have if she was in Pirate Chips. It’s like a banana fritter, only much better. IMG_4007
  15. Pedicure: Of all the non-edible NB experiences, this is the one, even beating the sew-it-yourself table runner (which is also pretty cool, in its own way). After 70 luxurious minutes, I floated out of Kiyo Salon, chocolate, vanilla and coconut wafting behind me. A coconut scrub, chocolate mask and vanilla lotion along with a foot massage and some sparkly turquoise polish made my poor feet summer ready.

The one that got away:

The one I would love to try and didn’t is the maple bacon and dulce du leche from Smokin’ George’s BBQ. Another time!

Also, Sweet Somethings has Nanaimo Bar fudge (cover photo on their Facebook page, of course) that looks like the real thing. They’re not on the NB Trail, but should be.


The Nanaim-O-Mite! Chocolate: although still listed on the NB Trail website (but not on the ‘online and mobile friendly version’), the Chocolaterie Bernard Callebaut has closed – the “hugely popular single-bite” chocolate treat was only on offer in their Nanaimo outlet.

Also, Tea Desire’s NB Tea Latte is, for some reason, only available during the summer. We made both these discoveries within about 30 seconds of each other (the woman in Tea Desire also told us about Callebaut closing). It was a sad stop on the NB Trail, I tell you. We may get to try the latte this summer, but too late for you, dear reader, to hear about it.

Thank you to everyone who tested and tried with me, saving me thousands of extra calories.


Tourism Nanaimo’s Trail

This is part of my series of 150 things in honour of Canada’s 150th anniversary. Other posts include  our Canadian adventure highlights, quirky facts, and great Canadian destinations.


3 thoughts on “Canada 150: 15 Ways to Experience Nanaimo Bar

  1. I don’t know the exact measurements but my mom makes nanaimo bars with a port wine custard, a vanilla/chocolate swirl top and a salted caramel layer over the rum flavored bottom layer………..and lasts as long as it takes to let it set in the fridge……amazing mom’s recipe.

    Liked by 1 person

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