My relationship with Nanaimo bars goes back a really long time. It was probably during the early seventies when my mother-in-law at that time gave me a recipe for Nanaimo bars. I still have it and was able to colour copy it and include it an album I created for my granddaughter Briar. I don’t know, when I received the recipe and actually made Nanaimo bars,  if I ever associated the layers of chocolate, vanilla custard powder with icing sugar, coconut, graham wafer crumbs and walnuts with a city.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow I live in Nanaimo where the sweet treat is abundant in various forms. You can buy a knitted version as a cup cozy at Island—ish near Departure Bay Beach. At Acme Food Co on Commercial Street you can have a Nanaimo Bar-tini and the Grand Hotel on Rutherford Road serves a Nanaimo Bar Cocktail. It’s made with triple distilled chocolate vodka from Shelter Point Distillery.

nanaimobartiniThe Modern Café on Commercial Street offers a Nanaimo Bar Martini. You can easily recognize the Modern Café by its 1940s neon sign. It’s on top of a building built in the Classical Revival style in 1910 as the offices of A. E. Planta, a former eight-term city mayor.



You can get a Nanaimo Bar Pedicure at KIYO Salon & Day Spa at 404 Stewart Avenue. Just down the hill from KIYO, you can take the “harbour connection walk” with your shiny new toenails with their scents of chocolate and vanilla. Keep on walking through Maffeo Sutton Park and along the harbour, passing the sculpture of “pirate” Frank Ney on the way, and you’ll come to Javawocky where you can enjoy a traditional Nanaimo bar perhaps sitting outside on the waterfront.

No I haven’t sampled all these specialties but I have been to all the restaurants mentioned but one.

Making Nanaimo bars is very time-consuming and so I opt for Thrifty Foods or the many other places that make Nanaimo bars. Bocca Café on Fitzwilliam has a traditional as well as a peanut butter and a chili version. And while you’re up there, in the Old City Quarter, you can check out A Wee Cupcakery and their Nanaimo Bar Cupcake.

Across the street, on Fitzwilliam, you can pop into McLean’s Specialty Foods for a traditional Nanaimo bar.

For other traditional versions you can visit Serious Coffee at Hammond Bay and the Island Highway or Serious Coffee on Commercial Street beside the Nanaimo Museum.

nanaimobarexhibitPop into the museum and learn about the Nanaimo bar history, get a recipe and maybe purchase a Nanaimo bar stool or tea towel.

Yes, there’s a gluten-free version at Mon Petit Choux at 120 Commercial Street.  That’s in the Gusola Block which was built in 1937 on a triangular lot that followed the line of the original inner harbour (filled in during the 1960s). The style is late Art Deco and was once the location of a tobacco shop and razor repair service operated by Mr. and Mrs. Alex Gusola. (Yes, those were the days when wives were known by their husbands’ first names.)

Across the street from Mon Petit Choux, you’ll find Two Chefs Affair where they serve a Nanaimo Bar Ice Cream Sandwich.

And there’s a raw, organic vegan and gluten free version at Powerhouse Living Foods Co. at 200 Commercial Street. Layers of creamed vanilla bean, cashews and chocolate ganache, oh my.  A few doors away at 234 Commercial Street, Perkins Coffee serves a traditional version made in-house from a family recipe.

Nanaimo Bar Cheesecake is served at Longwood Brew Pub & Restaurant on Turner Road and at Minnoz which is inside the Coast Bastion Hotel. Their version is baked. For the deep fried version of a Nanaimo bar, you can visit Pirate Chips  on Front Street.

I could go on about the Nanaimo Bar Spring Roll at Noodlebox Port Place and the Nanaimo Bar Cake at Real Food on Wesley Street and the Nanaimo Bar Chocolate Truffles at Cherub Chocolate at 165 Commercial Street.

I have to mention the Nanaimo Bar Cinnamon Bun at Cinnamon Joes as that’s a unique location at 13 Victoria Crescent. Look for a window in the side of the building, a sign outside, and expect Joes to be open very late. In fact I think that building used to be Eaton’s a long time ago. Remember Eaton’s?

North of downtown, you’ll find Nanaimo Bar Tea Latte at Tea Desire in Country Club Centre or get this: the Truly Decadent Bacon Topped Nanaimo Bar at Smokin’ George’s BBQ at 4131 Mostar Road. (Powerhouse Living Foods also has a location in the north end at 6560 Metral Drive.

risoapril2014 006blogIn Lantzville, visit Riso Foods Inc for Italian-inspired cuisine from scratch, brick-oven pizza on the patio and Not Your Average Nanaimo Bar for dessert.  Sarah Wallbank is chef and owner at Riso. I especially like having a London Fog made with Earl Grey tea, vanilla syrup made in-house, and some oil of bergamot.

The Nanaimo Bar Trail brochure from Tourism Nanaimo will be in the package of information we give to visitors to the Cascadia Poetry Festival on April 30 to May 3 in Nanaimo. I’m sure with the likes of the poets coming to town there will be some poems created that reflect the place, the people, the bio-region, and something about chocolate and a sweet tooth.

The photos of the old recipe and of Sarah Wallbank are by me. The others are with thanks to Chelsea Barr and Tourism Nanaimo.