Nanaimo bars are hands-down one of my favorite things to eat. A Canadian classic, the layered no-bake bar is made with a chocolate crumb and coconut-based layer, topped by a layer of light vanilla or custard flavored butter icing, which is covered in chocolate and chilled. They apparently originated in Ladysmith, on Vancouver Island, in the early 1950s; it was the contribution of housewife Mabel Jenkins to the annual Ladysmith and Cowichan Women’s Institute Cookbook.
But in Nanaimo, British Columbia, also on Vancouver Island, if you ask the locals to recount the history of the bar that bears the city’s name, the answer may vary. Some will say that 35 years ago a Nanaimo homemaker whipped up the recipe, sweeping a national magazine contest with her chocolate-custard-graham wafer squares. Others claim that the bar actually made its first appearance long before that, namely in the lunch pails of local miners. Either way, this tasty bar has been captivating crowds for years, drawing sweet-tooth aficionados to the city where it all began.
If you’re ever visiting Vancouver Island, you can visit the Nanaimo Bar Trail: hit the Nanaimo Museum for background on the bar’s history and a sample before pounding the pavement throughout the city for a mix of classic and contemporary bites. You could, for example, nibble on all-natural, French-influenced morsels at Mon Petit Choux; tuck into a delightfully stackable ice-cream sundae variation at Jakeob’s ice cream parlour; dig into a deep-fried version at Pirate Chips; or savour a sweet sip of a Nanaimo Bar Martini at Modern Café. Should classic flavours be more to your liking, Serious Coffee and Bocca Cafe serves them up sweet and simple. To map out your self-guided, edible exploration, the city of Nanaimo has put together a Nanaimo Bar Trail brochure and map to guide you to all the locations and varieties of Nanaimo Bar available – for true fans. Warning: do not try to eat one from every source on the same day – may lead to overbliss.
Oh, and don’t forget to score the city’s “official” Nanaimo Bar recipe here.