hot on the trail of the best Nanaimo Bar experience

I had a terrific time spending six weeks on Vancouver Island, just a few minutes north of the city of Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. Nanaimo is known as being a port city that had some pirate action in years gone by. But it’s also known as being the birthplace of the Nanaimo bar, a delicious confection featuring a crust of graham wafer crumbs, chopped almonds, coconut, and cocoa. The middle layer is primarily composed of icing sugar, vanilla custard power, cream, and butter. And the top layer features a thick layer of  semi-sweet chocolate melted with unsalted butter which forms a rich and decadent icing when cooled. (American readers can equate the Nanaimo Bar to the New York Slice, as they are very similar, if not identical in some places.)

Nanaimo-bar-stools

The Nanaimo bar stools are a cute part of the Nanaimo bar exhibit at the Nanaimo Museum.

Tourism Nanaimo is clever to be capitalizing on the popularity of the Nanaimo bar, and recently devised a self-guided tour of Nanaimo on which chocolate lovers could visit any of 34 locations for some sort of Nanaimo bar experience. How could I resist the invitation to partake on this incredible journey in search of the best Nanaimo bar?

nanaimo-bar-pedicure

Having a Nanaimo bar pedicure was a great way to begin my discovery of the Nanaimo Bar Trail.

My personalized tour began with a Nanaimo Bar pedicure at the Kiyo Salon and Day Spa. What a treat for my feet! My technician, Alison, first exfoliated my feet with a coconut scrub. She then encased my feet in a warm chocolate wrap, which detoxified my feet and readied them for the third treat of being rubbed with a delectable vanilla cream that made my feet silky soft and smooth. They never felt better!

We were now ready to hit the streets of Nanaimo in search of lunch. My enthusiastic guide, Chelsea Barr, took me to the Modern Cafe located on historic Commercial Street. The lunch was fantastic. The Nanaimo Bar Martini exquisite, and probably the best chocolate-based martini I have ever had. (And trust me … there have been quite a few along my research over the past 6+ years through 15 countries.)

nanaimo-bar-trail

The Nanaimo bar martini is created using locally made Coven Vodka, Absolut Vanilla, Creme de Cacao, coconut syrup, milk, and a shot of espresso coffee. It is one of the best “Chocolate Martinis” I’ve ever had. Look for the precise recipe in volume II of Chocolatour.

nanaimo-bar-cheesecake

I really loved the Nanaimo Bar Cheesecake at the Longwood Brew Pub. It went incredibly well with their Russian Imperial Stout pictured above. The Longwood Brew pub makes a good selection of craft beers, has a creative food menu, and also makes a decadent chocolate layer cake.

nanaimo-bar-cupcake

The Nanaimo bar cupcake at Wee Cupcakery in Nanaimo is a delicious treat.

And I really loved the Nanaimo bar cupcake served at Wee Cupcakery in the Old City Quarter. Also on Fitzwilliam Street in the Old Quarter is Bocca Cafe, a terrific place to have lunch or enjoy a baked treat. Bocca gets the award for having the most extensive variety of Nanaimo bars. I tried three different varieties and liked the traditional version and Bocca’s peanut butter Nanaimo bar best.

The wackiest stop along the way was at Pirate Chips, where you can try a deep-fried Nanaimo bar! This wasn’t my favourite dessert, but Pirate Chips is definitely worth a stop for lunch or a snack, and the chance to feel like a kid again!

deep-fried-nanaimo-bar

The kid in you will enjoy a visit to Pirate Chips on Front Street in Nanaimo.

For those wanting to experience a true Nanaimo bar in a more elegant setting, head over to Riso Foods Inc. located in the nearby community of Lantzville. We stayed in Lantzville, and it was nice to be so close to a beautiful location offering fresh-baked goods and wood-fired pizza within minutes of our abode. Riso is a busy place that does quite a few special events, so do call before making the drive out to avoid being disappointed.

gluten-free-nanaimo-bar

Nanaimo bars at Riso Foods in Lantzville are gluten free, with a nut base that features whole pecans.

I hope I’ve whet your appetite for a visit to Nanaimo, British Columbia, where you can find your own favourites. You can pick up the Nanaimo Bar Trail brochures at the Nanaimo Visitor Centre located next to the Bastion, and at any of the locations participating in the Nanaimo bar trail.

Have you been to Nanaimo? Have you tried any of the Nanaimo bar treats named above? Please join the conversation, and hope to see you on the trail!

And please note that the first volume of Chocolatour is now available in the Vancouver Island Regional Library network. Look for it, if you live near Nanaimo. We hope to have a launch of Volume II in the area when it comes out later in 2019.

Doreen Pendgracs

Known throughout the Web as the "Wizard of Words", I've been a freelance writer since 1993. I'm currently researching and writing volume II of "Chocolatour: A Quest for the World's Best Chocolate". Volume I was published in September, 2013.

44 Responses

  1. I have never been to Nanaimo and I have never heard of Nanaimo, either. The cheesecake looks the best to me of all the treats. Sounds like a sweet time.

    • Hi Michele. Nanaimo is a relatively small city, but it is friendly and its seaside setting provides lots of beauty and activities for naturalists and sea buffs. Vancouver Island is simply beautiful. My favourite part of Canada. And Nanaimo is ideally located within a two hour’s drive of just about everything on the island.

  2. Jan says:

    Love your descriptions Doreen! Felt like I was on the tour with you. As I am only a short ferry ride away from Nanaimo, I’ll admit to having indulged in these treats a few times. You missed a few of my favourites though. Did you get to taste the ice cream version? You’ll have to return to try the others.

  3. Beverly says:

    Your most descriptive post about Nanaimo makes me want to drop everything that I am doing and board a plane to fly to Nanaimo for a holiday.

  4. Phoenicia says:

    Chocolate heaven – the cheesecake and cupcake look delicious! I have a weakness for rich desserts and tend to look at this menu first when eating out!
    Phoenicia recently posted…Is integrity becoming a thing of the past?My Profile

    • I hear you, Phoenicia. I, too, love the decadence of rich desserts. I was amazed at how creative and innovative the entrepreneurs are in Nanaimo about coming up with unique Nanaimo Bar offerings. I didn’t even mention the Nanaimo Bar cinnamon buns! They, too, were delicious. 🙂

  5. lenie says:

    Doreen, I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating – what a tough job you have. LOL Imagine having to taste all those Nanaimo bars and all those martinis – I’ve ever had only one martini which I hated but I’m pretty sure I would like the chocolate one. I’m constantly amazed at the chocolate uses you find. Keep finding and we’ll keep enjoying.
    lenie recently posted…Organic Food Label – What’s Valid, What’s NotMy Profile

  6. Our Coconut Acolyte would know this better than me.

  7. Wendy Peck says:

    If quality of life is measured by what you can legitimately deduct from business income, you win, Doreen. Loved the story.

  8. I have never been there either but I love nanaimo bars. Yum!
    Suzanne Boles recently posted…Hello world!My Profile

  9. Donna Janke says:

    I love Nanaimo bars and I am craving one now after reading this. I never envisioned some of the other recipes though, but Nanaimo bar cheesecake and Nanaimo bar martini sound worth trying. Years ago I went to an old style movie theatre with my sister in Victoria and I thought it was so cool that you could buy Nanaimo bars at the concession stand. I don’t know if that theatre is still operating or not.
    Donna Janke recently posted…Wandering Through WinchesterMy Profile

  10. Ken Dowell says:

    All I could think of is how sticky my feet would be after being wrapped in chocolate.
    Ken Dowell recently posted…The Invention of the TeenagerMy Profile

    • Hi Ken: It’s the sugar that can make commercial chocolate sticky. But the warm chocolate mixture they wrap your body and feet in at spas contains no sugar, so it is not sticky at all. It’s really quite decadent! 🙂

  11. Your descriptions make me want to take the next flight there! And the picture of those Nanaimo Bar seats at the beginning of your post – OMG – how could it be that my mouth was watering! I love that you share your great adventures with us and I don’t have to put on one pound to enjoy.
    Patricia Weber recently posted…How Introverts Who Sell Can Rev Up Sales by Slowing DownMy Profile

  12. Esther says:

    I get to eat organic Nanaimo bars here in Vancouver, made with all-organic ingredients. No GMO sugar, no GMO chocolate, oh, and did I mention, it’s gluten-free, too, made with an organic nut crust. Next time you’re in Vancouver, I’ll treat you!

  13. Linda says:

    Nanaimo bars rock! And the Nanaimo cheesecake and cupcake look to die for!
    Linda recently posted…Joannie Appleseed; Sage Grouse habitat restorationMy Profile

  14. Doreen — I have to admit I’ve never heard of the Nanaimo bar, although it looks very familiar. And even though, until I moved to Florida, I was a life-long New Yorker I’ve never heard the term “New York Slice.” I love your photos — a chocolate foot rub sounds like something to die for.

  15. Okay I’m a tad jealous Doreen, you really do go to some great destinations. I must confess my ignorance, never heard of Nanaimo bars but they along with this town look wonderful. I don’t recall ever seeing Nanaimo bars on island but I’ve made a note and definitely plan to look for them on my next shopping trip. Thanks!
    Marquita Herald recently posted…Why We Love to Hate Positive ThinkingMy Profile

    • Hi Marty: The Nanaimo Bar is a big star on Vancouver Island and in parts of Canada. I’m not sure if it’s made it’s way all the way to Maui. But I will include the recipe in the next volume of Chocolatour. Cheers!

  16. Erica says:

    Oh my gosh, this post was so mean. I seriously want to go to Nainamo right now. And now, not only do I want the Nainamo Bar and the Nainamo Bar Martini, but I’m now also craving New York pizza!

  17. My mouth is watering for the cheesecake and the companion beer. Looks as delicious as you make it sound!
    RoseMary Griffith recently posted…Hawaii, Hiking – Part 3 – KauaiMy Profile

  18. Lisa says:

    I am from Nanaimo and I have lived here for 31 years! I have never left this beautiful city because why leave when you live in paradise? Surprisingly I have never tried Nanaimo Bar cheesecake, but that is probably because I have never been to the Longwood Brew Pub. One of these days I’ll have to go try it. I use to serve Nanaimo bars many years ago in my first job in a café. My favourite was the Irish Cream Nanaimo Bar! I encourage anyone reading this who has never been to Nanaimo to come visit! The summer time is the best time to fully enjoy all this city has to offer. It’s a true gem.

  19. Leigh says:

    I’ve been to Nanaimo more times than I can remember but I’ve never tried a Nanaimo bar. The tourism people are onto something.

    Just an an FYI – found it hard to tweet from the post. Couldn’t find a share button anywhere.

  20. Susan cooper says:

    Those Nanaimo Bars look like they alone would make the trip worthwhile. But I love their idea of eat it, drink it and slather it on your feet. What fun! There is nothing chocolate isn’t good for. 🙂
    Susan cooper recently posted…Lemon Fudge The Easy Way: #RecipeMy Profile

  21. Jeri says:

    I’ve never heard of a Nanaimo bar, but it’s safe to say I am dying to have on now. THe cheesecake form looks pretty great too. Thanks for making me aware of this treat.

  22. Catarina says:

    Nanaimo bars sound delicious. And I love the way Nainamo is using the concept to market themselves for tourism. Wonderful ideas to give Nanaimo bar pedicure, inventing Nainamo bar martinis, chees cakes and cup cakes. If I’m ever in the neighbourhood I will definitely pay a visit.
    Catarina recently posted…What’s the future of government?My Profile

    • Right on, Catarina. I think Nanaimo should be commended on knowing how to popularize/publicize its greatest asset to the culinary world as a lot of us are driven by our taste buds. Thx for stopping by to join the conversation.

  23. Miranda says:

    This is so my kind of tour – best of all worlds with a pedicure, Nanaimo-inspired cocktails and multiple takes on the classic Canadian dessert. A good friend of mine is from nearby Gabriola Island, I’m going to try to schedule this tour in next time I’m visiting her. Thanks for the sharing this sweet info.
    Miranda recently posted…Wolves in The Great Bear Rainforest: A Trip to RememberMy Profile

  24. Amanda says:

    Wow… the Nanaimo Bar tour is amazing… and the Nanaimo Bar is lip smacking looks so with the chocolate lay, nut base and mid layer with custard powder and icing sugar… other iteams here also nice, the cup cake and mocha, I mean the flavourful drink… geat taking this tour and a pedicure too… so chocolate cool and fun…
    Amanda recently posted…Get Rid Of Musty Smell From House Naturally | Ways To Remove Musty SmellMy Profile

    • Thanks for your comment, Amanda. Indeed, the Nanaimo Bar Trail offers an amazing number of ways to enjoy the flavour combinations offered by the Nanaimo Bar. Would love to be back there right now away from the cold of the Prairies.

  25. Lyn Hancock says:

    Just saw this post, Doreen, thank you. Your photos and conversation are superb. As you know I live in Lantzville a sand grain from Nanaimo and I know Nanaimo bars but when one lives in a place one can spend far more time away travelling to other places – as I do. However, now I will surely go back to the museum and see those evocative Nanaimo Bar stools (new to me) be a child again at Pirate Chips and try out Riso’s which I pass everyday next to the post office in the short trip from my house (once your house) to my village of Lantzville. Recently I had a chocolate wrap at the spa in Playacar in Playa del Carmen. first time for me, hmm! now a Nanaimo Bar one?

  26. I LOVE Nanaimo bars!! And have never been — hopefully one day!!

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