Every region of the world has them – indigenous foods or traditional ways of preparing dishes that seem peculiar, but are oh-so-delicious. Atlantic Canada is no exception. Join me on a tasting tour of some unusual foods in my part of the world. Here are some of the stranger food Canada is known for.
Our first stop is at the Wild Game Evening & Auction at Le Club des Audacieux in Quinan, which is one of the oldest Acadian communities in Southwest Nova Scotia. Quinan’s population is less than 400. It’s hard to believe that such a wee place can hold such a big event. Even more surprising is how 300 tickets sell out weeks ahead.
It’s all about the wild. Wild bear, wild moose, goose, duck, deer, sea trout, eels, lobster, porcupine, beaver—you name it. If it comes from the wild, you’re likely to find it here. It’s about keeping traditions like hunting and trapping alive. It’s also about raising money to keep the hall and events operating—and having a walloping good time in the process.
Lucky for me, this event is mere minutes away from where I live. I always taste whatever’s on the go, and continue to be amazed at the variety of wild foods and the flavour. No wonder I waddle to my car afterwards.
Another regional Acadian favourite is râpure, a.k.a rappie pie. Actually, râpure is neither a pie nor a dessert. It’s a main-course dish with a weird texture that looks like a lump of gray glue. Fans of rappie pie are not fussed about the visual aspect of the food. We think of it as soul food.
It’s found in some restaurants between Pubnico and the region of Clare, and is hugely popular as a home dish—especially for family gatherings, homecomings, and community celebrations.
Rappie pie is made from potato pulp (grated potatoes with the liquid squeezed out) mixed with hot chicken broth. In a large pan, you add chopped onion, salt and pepper and layer the base with cooked chicken dotted with bits of pork fat. After baking for three hours or so, the top turns brown and crispy. Râpure is usually served with butter and can be accompanied by chow-chow or molasses.
Now we’ll move over to the province of New Brunswick and up north to the city of Edmundston. Maliseets, the original inhabitants, called this place Madawaska, meaning “land of the porcupines.”
Acadians who had fled the Deportation and French-Canadian colonists from Quebec settled the area in the late 1700s. After the governor of the province, Sir Edmund Walker Head, visited in 1856, it officially became Edmundston.
Here’s the fun part: in 1949, two upstanding Edmundstonians invented the concept of the Republic of Madawaska, replete with a flag, coat of arms, and the Order of the Knights of the Republic. The concept stuck. Edmundston was declared the capital of the Republic, and whoever sits in the mayor’s seat automatically becomes the President of the Republic. Take my word for it; a place with a story like this has a lot of character.
It also has great food. One of the specialties in the region is “la ploye”—thin buckwheat pancakes (cooked on one side only), which are eaten either as an accompaniment to a meal, or for a snack. It’s common to spread brown sugar, maple syrup, or molasses on them, then roll them up and eat with your fingers. It’s also common to see outdoor stalls at fairs, festivals and community events selling ployes. They are undeniably addictive.
Now we’ll move into yet another province, Labrador. The first time I visited that part of the world, my husband and I ended up spending a couple of nights as guests of Cavell and Ned Burke at the Grande Hermine RV Park (about 40km from Labrador City).
Cavell cooked us a breakfast of bacon and eggs, sausages, bologna (referred to as “Newfoundland steak”), beans, toutons and molasses. On my! That was my introduction to toutons. Made with fresh bread dough, they are about the size of flat doughnuts and are fried in butter and oil to a golden brown. They are downright deadly.
We took a boat ride to the Wonderstrands, a historically significant 54km beach that juts from the mainland. After the boat trip we went to Packs Harbour, where our host Pete Barrett from Experience Labrador Tours heated up stewed moose for lunch.
Sopping up the moose juice with homemade rolls, the discussion turned to food and Pete asked if we’d ever eaten flummies.
“Nope,” I replied.
Within seconds she produced a bag-full for dessert. Flummies are a thick mix of flour, baking powder, salt and water. The mixture is fried in margarine, topped with a brown sugar sauce and frequently laced with rum. It was impossible not to have a second helping.
At Battle Harbour, a National Historic Site on a small island, Myrtle Rumbolt showed me how to make fish and brewis (pronounced “brews”). The soggy mashed bread and salt fish soaked in water, brought to the boil then drained, is not appetising to look at. But when topped up with pork scrunchions (fried cubes of pork fat) and sautéed onions, it’s really delicious.
Although I suspect that all the salt and fat was probably going straight to my heart, that didn’t stop me from having seconds—and fried leftovers the next day!
Once we crossed on the ferry over to Newfoundland, I vowed to ease up on the food but soon changed my mind. We chowed down to a “scoff,” featuring a Jiggs Dinner of corned beef, root vegetables and thick gravy served with peas pudding (split peas tied into a bag and cooked with the dinner) at Tuckamore Lodge in Main Brook.
What can I say? These regional foods are so delicious, so comforting, and so addictive, that it’s really tough trying to be moderate. Oh well, my husband says that it’s only polite to have seconds. Mind you, none of these foods would win a prize for plating or design in a culinary show. Matters not; each dish is comforting and full of flavour. Besides, one of the best parts is hearing stories from the people who prepare these foods, who often include some historical tidbits and rollicking tales.
The writer was a guest of Tourism New Brunswick and Tourism Edmundston and Madawaska; and Destination Labrador and Go Western Newfoundland.
For more things to do in Canada see Best of Canada.