5 Must-Try North American Dishes

An illustration of four different students standing in a school hallway chatting with one another.

Whether you’re a new international student in North America, or have been studying in Canada or the United States for a few years, read on to learn about 5 must-try North American dishes. It might surprise you to learn that many of these dishes have humble beginnings–and one of them exists because of students! Read on to learn more.

Biscuits and gravy on a large white plate dotted with hot sauce.

Image Credit: Shreveport-Bossier Convention and Tourist Bureau, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

5. Biscuits and Gravy

Biscuits and gravy is exactly what it sounds like: soft, doughy biscuits covered in your choice of gravy, which often includes sausage or mushrooms. Although some find it a little too heavy for breakfast, it’s popular because of its rich, savoury taste, and really can be eaten at any time of the day. In fact, this dish has been popular since the American Civil War. It was once a staple, particularly in the southern parts of the United States, because of its affordable ingredients and quick preparation time. As Sarah Roahen notes in the Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook:

“Gravy implies a certain excess. And a certain economy. Spread butter or jam on a biscuit and you better it. But ladle sawmill gravy on a biscuit, until the crown of that biscuit can barely be seen amid a pool of sausage-pocked gravy, and you transform quick bread into a feed suited for plow hands. The Southern way with gravies was born of privation…and when folks are poor they make do. Which means folks make gravy.”

Today, biscuits and gravy, in simple and fancy variations, are on the menu at almost any breakfast restaurant in the southern US.

To make your own American-style biscuits and gravy, try out this recipe!


A plate of buffalo chicken wings with sides of celery, and blue cheese and ranch sauces for dipping

Image Credit: Shelby L. Bell from Omaha, NE, US, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

4. Buffalo Chicken Wings

In 1965, Teressa and Frank Bellissimo created the first Buffalo chicken wings at their restaurant, Anchor Bar, in Buffalo, New York. Their son and his college friends arrived at the restaurant one night, hopeful for a late-night snack.

With both leftover chicken wing pieces and a group of hungry students on hand, Teressa decided to toss the wings in hot sauce and served the very first plate of what soon became a much-loved North American food. From Philadelphia’s Wing Bowl to the National Buffalo Wing Festival, Buffalo chicken wings have since worked their way into the heart of North American cuisine.

Buffalo chicken wings are unbreaded and tossed in a vinegar-based cayenne pepper hot sauce that’s tempered with melted butter to create a smooth, spicy flavour. Although simple, the perfect Buffalo chicken wing will make you want second servings. Don’t forget the blue cheese dipping sauce!

To make your own Buffalo chicken wings, check out this recipe.


A cinnamon and sugar-topped pastry wrapped in a napkin, held by a happy diner.

Image Credit: Elisachang, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

3. BeaverTails

Starting as a family recipe, BeaverTails have since spread across Canada and beyond. Today, it’s a popular treat at carnivals and festivals, or anywhere folks are gathering to have a good time. Whether you’re walking Halifax’s boardwalk or riding rollercoasters at the Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver, it’s likely you can find a BeaverTail nearby to make your day that much sweeter. That said, this dessert is most popular in the provinces of Quebec and Ontario.

The original BeaverTail is a fried dough pastry topped with cinnamon and sugar. You can also add fruits or sweets, including bananas, whipped cream, crumbled Oreos, maple syrup, and much more. In fact, in a bit of Canadian snack-stacking, you can even order a BeaverTail topped with poutine!

Curious? Try making the BeaverTail at home by following this recipe.

Fit fun treats like this into your monthly budget with our student budgeting strategies.


A pair of In-N-Out burgers (a classic California fast-food chain)

Image Credit: Jef Poskanzer from Berkeley, California, USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

2. Hamburger

The hamburger is one of North America’s most famous dishes. It’s essentially a sandwich with one primary staple: a spices-and-herbs-infused patty.

Ground beef is the most popular patty option, but you might also see pork, lamb, or chicken burgers. Vegetarian burger options include mushroom, black bean, and meat substitutes like Beyond Meat or Impossible. At some restaurants, chefs will create classic and unusual hamburger combinations. At others, hamburgers are a “choose your own adventure” dish, where you can customize it with toppings like pickles, tomatoes, bacon, lettuce, sauces, cheese, and even onion rings or potato chips.

Today, you can eat a hamburger almost anywhere in the world. That said, no matter where you enjoy this North American food, eat it quickly! Burgers are at their best when they’re a contrast of flavours and textures: crisp, cool lettuce; soft bun; tangy-sweet tomato; sharp (or caramelized) onion; savoury burger patty with a bit of crispy char.

(Craving delivery? Go with pizza instead, or something else that handles the time delay better. Fun fact: the Hawaiian pizza was actually invented in Chatham, Ontario, Canada!)

Ready to try this North American classic? Make a hamburger with this recipe.


A plate of poutine (fries! gravy! cheese curds!) on a table with a hamburger, french fries, and a blue sippy cup

Image credit: Paulo O from Halifax, Canada, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

1. Poutine

From its origins in rural Québec in the 1950s, poutine has become one of Canada’s most famous dishes. You’ll find it at many fast-food and casual dining restaurants, especially in Ontario and Quebec.

While the classic poutine (fries, cheese curds, and gravy) is widely loved, poutine is easy to customize. From the supreme poutine (nacho cheese, sour cream, gravy, cheese curds, tomatoes, fries, and green onions) to pulled pork poutine (pulled pork, barbecue sauce, gravy, cheese curds, and fries), there’s a flavour out there for everyone. Vegans and vegetarians can enjoy this classic North American food, too: in cities like Toronto, some restaurants serve up a mighty tasty vegan poutine. Or, try making it yourself!

Can’t wait until you arrive in Canada? Try this classic poutine recipe at home.

Continue the flavour tour with us as we count down the top foods to try as international students in Australia and in the United Kingdom.

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