I spent the majority of my life growing up on Vancouver Island in British Columbia and visiting Nanaimo and the surrounding areas. So when I moved away to Vancouver and THEN heard about the Nanaimo Bar Trail I was horrified that there was something like this from a city I grew up near and didn’t know about! However, much to my relief, the Nanaimo Bar Trail is only an invention of recent years.
To give you an idea of WHAT the Nanaimo Bar Trail is…it’s an invention of Chelsea Barr – the champion of Nanaimo. I got to know Chelsea through a bit of work I did with my job with Think! Social Media, and then started hearing about this “Nanaimo Bar Trail” thing. What Chelsea did was hand build a list of local businesses in Nanaimo that have put their own spin on the classic dessert. So now people can download the list Chelsea created and wander around downtown sampling all things Nanaimo Bar…in Nanaimo. The upside to it mostly being downtown is that it makes a great afternoon of walking so you don’t have to feel so bad about eating sweets.
Last month when my mom had her birthday I made arrangements to head over to the Island for the weekend and visit her. I thought it would also be fun to do something special for her birthday, and since her and I both share sweet teeth I thought that the Nanaimo Bar Trail would be a natural choice! Chelsea was amazing enough to lead us on a small tour of the Trail, and we only hit about 6 of the possible 20 places you can go!
We met Chelsea at Mon Petite Choux where we had our first Nanaimo Bar. This was probably my favourite one! They do a gluten-free Nanaimo Bar with a cocoa crumble base with what seemed to be nuts and rice crispies; the filling was a fluffy butter cream and the top was a nice smooth chocolate. If you could ever consider a Nanaimo Bar to be light and fluffy…well this was it, plus it was a tad less sweet than your average Nanaimo Bar.
Our second stop was a quick walk down the street to Pirate Chips where they do a deep-fried Nanaimo Bar. Now that might not sound like the most appetizing choice…but it was actually awesome! They deep-fry it in a light cinnamon batter and just long enough to lightly melt the Nanaimo Bar inside…on a dreary day this has got to be the ultimate comfort food!
Our third stop was a bit of a hike uphill away (which was totally fine since my conscience felt better after doing some walking…) this time we went to A Wee Cupcakery for the Nanaimo Bar Cupcake. We also tried their Eggnog Spice cupcake, which was pretty awesome too…I would just recommend going here…period.
Our fourth stop was literally just across the street at McLean’s Specialty Foods where we got the traditional Nanaimo Bar (we opted not to eat these right away and instead saved them for another day since we still had a couple stops left). This shop is a cheese shop and specialty food store, which is also right up my alley! My mom and I spent a while just wandering up the isles looking at all the delicious imported goods, and of course all the cheese…
I grew up in a house where we always had an array of different cheeses to nibble on. We love imported goods too – olives, crackers, various other snacks etc, so stepping into McLean’s was like stepping into heaven!
From McLean’s, the three of us wandered to Modern Café where we decided to have a bit of a break, while sipping our Nanaimo Bar Martini and Lattes (I had the Martini and my mom and Chelsea had the Lattes). Now unfortunately I’m not much of a coffee person otherwise I might have liked the Martini a bit more (it had a shot of coffee in it and otherwise just tasted like harsh alcohol to me…but I prefer sweeter drinks anyway so this was a bit of a miss for me on 2 points).
Our final stop was Minnoz Restaurant, located in the Coast Bastion Inn. We had their Nanaimo Bar cheesecake, which was just awesome. It came with 2 pieces so it was perfect for sharing! We actually ordered two servings of the cheesecake so we could all share one and then take the other home for the family.
So my favourites of the trail would probably have to be the Nanaimo Bar from Mon Petite Choux in #1, the deep-fried Nanaimo Bar in #2 and the Nanaimo Bar cheesecake from Minnoz in #3 :)
Once again, if you want to see the complete list & map that Chelsea created make sure you download it and bring it with you when you do the Nanaimo Bar Trail! I would recommend picking a few to do at one time instead of attempting to do all the stops…and that way you can come and do more on your next trip to Nanaimo!
And after looking at the list you’ll see that we barely scratched the surface of all the different stops on the Nanaimo Bar Trail. You can also find:
- Nanaimo Bar ice cream
- Nanaimo Bar sundaes
- Nanaimo Bar fudge
- Vegan Nanaimo Bars
- Nanaimo Bar shooters
Now…if reading all this info about Nanaimo Bars has given you a craving for them, hopefully this recipe can help tide you over until you can make it to Nanaimo! (It was the winner of a 1985 contest to determine the BEST Nanaimo bar)
½ cup unsalted butter (European style cultured)
¼ cup sugar
5 tbsp. cocoa
1 egg, beaten
1 ¼ cups graham wafer crumbs
½ c. finely chopped almonds
1 cup coconut
Melt first three ingredients in top of a double boiler. Add egg and stir to cook and thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in crumbs, coconut and nuts. Press firmly into an non-greased 8″ x 8″ pan.
½ cup unsalted butter
2 Tbsp. and 2 Tsp. cream
2 Tbsp. vanilla custard powder
2 cups icing sugar
Cream butter, cream, custard powder and icing sugar together well. Beat until light. Spread over bottom layer.
4 squares semi-sweet chocolate (1 oz. each)
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Cool. When cool, but still liquid, pour over second layer and chill in refrigerator.