CakeSpy Note: This week, I visited the city of Nanaimo, which true lovers of sweets will probably know best as the birthplace of the mighty Nanaimo Bar. This bar is beloved by many--the city has even created a "Nanaimo Bar Trail" with a guide to some of the best Nanaimo Bar experiences. My friends at Serious Eats even made a delicious slide show! On my visit, I checked out several of the spots on the trail and then some--here's a chronicle of what I saw, learned, and best of all, tasted.
Exhibit A: The Nanaimo Museum. In the City of Nanaimo, there is a place called the Nanaimo Museum. It has other exhibits, but the only one I went to see was the one focusing on the Nanaimo Bar. Hey, just being honest.
The display is not huge, but it is a loving tribute to this sweet triple-layer confection. And they have Nanaimo Bar benches. And you know what that means...PHOTO SHOOT!
They also sell tea towels featuring the official Nanaimo Bar recipe, but (sob) they were out when I visited.
Exhibit B: The Classic. Personally, my main objective was to sample the authentic Nanaimo Bar in its place of birth. Directly adjacent to the Nanaimo Museum, Serious Coffee makes the bars using the official city recipe, and I found theirs to be highly satisfying, with a deliciously crumbly base and a good-quality chocolate top acting as bookends to the real reason why I eat the bars, which is the custard-cream filling.
Also offering the classic style are Perkins Coffee:
...and Bocca Cafe, and McLean's Specialty Foods (which, btw, is also the home of "Haggis Extravaganza"). But truly, these bars are ubiquitous--you'll find them at Tim Hortons, grocery stores, on the ferry, and...well, everywhere! (BTW--my friend Allyson says some of her favorites are made by The Cakerie).
Exhibit C: Ice Cream Variations. The city boasts several ice cream variations, including Nanaimo Bar ice cream, a Nanaimo Bar Ice Cream Sundae at Jakeob's Ice Cream Parlour, Nanaimo Bar Ice cream sandwiches (pictured above) at 2 Chefs Affair (if you're stateside, you may also be able to get these in NYC!), and crumbled bars are a common topping or mix-in with ice cream.
CakeSpy note: I also found a recipe for a Nanaimo Bar Ice Cream cake here.
Exhibit D: Quaffable Nanaimo Bars. The city boasts a Nanaimo Bar Martini, which is always available at the Modern Cafe. I did not sample it. But it exists. Just wanted you to know. It is also occasionally offered as a special at the Grand Hotel Nanaimo (pictured above).
Exhibit E: Fancy Nanaimo Bars. I consider these a very blue-collar treat, but some establishments have raised it to pinkies-out status. One such place was Mon Petit Choux, where the cream filling was much more copious in terms of height and quantity, and yet it tasted lighter and fancier...delicious, but perhaps not as "authentic" as other versions. Also according to the City of Nanaimo site, a fair-trade, all organic/amazing version is made by Pastry Chef Sarah Wallbank and can be found at the various Farmers’ Markets in Nanaimo. The rest of the year she will make special orders.
Exhibit F: Awesome Overload. Also available, if you're seeking sweet excess? Nanaimo Bar Fudge from Rocky Mountain Chocolate (they didn't have it when I visited, though they DID have Chocolate covered frozen Nanaimo Bars), Deep-Fried Nanaimo Bars from Pirate Chips, Nanaimo Bar Cupcakes at A Wee Cupcakery (friday and saturday only), and Nanaimo Bar Cheesecake at Minnoz (side note: Minnoz is attached to a hotel which would like to be your home during your Nanaimo Bar crawl--they will even start you out with a Nanaimo Bar waiting in your room!)
CakeSpy Note: If you are not in Nanaimo, here's a recipe for Nanaimo Bar cupcakes!
Exhibit G: Other Variations. There are also peanut butter Nanaimo Bars, as well as variations in mint, coffee, and Irish Cream flavors; also, there are several confections which seem to have the same construction if not flavors. There was the "Kleinberg Bar" at aforementioned Perkins Coffee, which visually resembled a Nanaimo Bar and shared the same custard-cream middle layer, but had a peanut butter crispy base and peanut butter topping. It somewhat reminded me of the peanut butter krispy-based version at Savary Island in Vancouver.
Exhibit H: Transit. Don't forget that there are Nanaimo Bars to be found both on the ferry to and from Nanaimo, and at the ferry terminals on both sides!
...the end, for now. Create your own Nanaimo Bar adventure; visit the Nanaimo website here. Read about Miss 604's adventure here. Learn more about the history of the Nanaimo Bar and find more of my recipes for them here.