The Flavours of Home
From asparagus to zabaglione, with every conceivable dish and ethnic food in between, Manitoba is a gourmand's heaven. Winnipeg places among Canada's culinary meccas, with this diverse, provincial capital possessing one of the highest ratios of restaurants per capita in Canada. You'll find traditional First Nations foods like bison, game, fish, wild rice and saskatoon berries featured on Manitoba menus. Try bannock, sample smoked Lake Winnipeg goldeye and look for wild blueberry desserts in season. Sushi, gelato, dim sum, tourtiŤre, pea soup, challah, fresh-baked bagels, vinetarta, souvlaki, kugel, perogies and borscht all coexist here in an eclectic culinary melange. In recent decades, they've been commingled with Filipino, south-east Asian, and Central and South American ethnic flavours.
Home-grown Food Heaven
Manitoba is home to dozens of ethnic groups, all with their own foods, and to unique flavours you won't find anywhere else - killingly smooth Co-op "Winnipeg-style" cream cheese, feather-light Winnipeg Rye Bread, City Bread and Kub Bakery rye breads, garlic-studded Winnipeg Old Country sausages, Old Dutch potato chips, Mordensí chocolates, Bothwell cheeses - Enough talk - letís eat!
Mordensí of Winnipeg: Look in any candy shop for these sweet treats (or stop by the Mordensí outlet at the Winnipeg Convention Centre). Most famous for their giant Easter bunnies and Russian mints (chocolates with soft ganache centres of creamy, mint-tinged milk chocolate), Mordensí of Winnipeg churns out a full ton of mints every three days from October through December. The factory and retail outlet is located at 674 Sargent Avenue - call 204-783-4551 for a tour and treat-fest. (They make truffles, jellies and nut clusters, too.)
The Bridge Drive-In: Aka the BDI to locals, itís famous for its boggling menu of soft ice cream offerings, capped off by the magnificent, towering, multiple fruit, sauce and ice cream flavoured Goog Special - a creamy blueberry ice cream shake, topped with chunks of banana, more ice cream, hot fudge sauce, peanuts, whipped cream and a cherry. It's at 766 Jubilee Avenue, open all summer, and we dare you..
Salisbury House: Now partly owned by Winnipeg's own brilliant, rock musician Burton Cummings, this 70-year-old traditional burger stop boasts a unique line of Nips (hamburgers), including the Mr. Big Nip for larger appetites, and the darling two-bite L'il Nip for pint-sized burger fiends. Standard toppers include sweet fried onions, gooey cheddar and a slice of genuine Canadian back bacon.
De Luca's: All things superbly Italian - from cheeses to sauces, olives, and sausages - are available both in grocery-store fashion and in the intimate little restaurant on the second floor (reservations are absolutely necessary and it's only open sporadically).
Rye Bread: Buy this delicious Winnipeg-style rye bread - made by Winnipeg Rye Bread, City Bread and Kub Bakery - at any grocery store. Former Winnipeggers have been known to beg friends visiting from home to bring dozens of loaves with them on the plane. Slather slices of the rye with Co-op style cream cheese, also available in most supermarkets.
Old Dutch Potato Chips: Ubiquitous in Manitoba, these chips are made the old-fashioned way - with paper-thin slices of real potato, not processed potato powder.
Bagels: The glorious bagel was never so crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside as it is at a Winnipeg delicatessen or at Gunn's Bakery on Selkirk Avenue, just off Main Street in Winnipeg's fabled North End. When at Gunn's, load up on Apple Jacks, rye bread and everything else your palate desires. It's a provincial bakery icon.
Jeanne's cakes: Without a Jeanne's cake, a Winnipeg child has not had a birthday. The official, historic purveyors of cakes to Manitobaís Lieutenant Governor (the royal representative in residence), Jeanne's Bakery boasts not just a secret cake recipe but also a secret icing and a secret shortbread cookie base. Where to get these delectable morsels is no secret though. Jeanne's Bakery is located at 931 Notre Dame Avenue (call 204-774-2554 to reserve a cake or find out which supermarkets carry them).
Alycia's: When you want home-style Ukrainian cooking, drop into Alycia's in Winnipeg's North End, find yourself a table and order up a plateful of made-right-there perogies with fried onion, bacon, sour cream and garlic sausage. Youíll find it at 559 Cathedral Avenue (phone 204-582-8789).
The Manitoba Fall (or Fowl) Supper: Every autumn, Manitoba churches, community clubs and social organizations of all kinds mount buffet-style banquets where you can load your plate with home-roasted turkey, pork or beef and side dishes including pickles, salads and feathery buns. Leave room for the dessert table filled with pies of all kinds - apple, berry, lemon, chocolate cream - homemade, of course. Where else can you invite yourself to dinner with a community hall full of brand new friends, for ten bucks or less? Dozens of these suppers are held each autumn weekend. Listings are in Travel Manitoba's guides and in local daily newspapers.
Made-in-Manitoba Restaurant Menu Items
Bison: At one time, bison numbered in the millions here, and today, Manitoba boasts herds of free-range bison that provide lean, completely organic meat - like beef, only better.
Caribou: The further north you venture, the more likely roast caribou will be on the menu. Tender and delicately flavoured, caribou gives venison a real run for its money.
Wild Rice: Harvested by Aboriginal people, this nutty, natural grain offers a hearty complement to game dishes.
Wild Blueberries and Saskatoons: Both are dark blue fruits - each with a distinct taste. Wild blueberries are packed with more flavour than cultivated versions could ever dream. Saskatoons possess a mellower taste all their own.
Smoked Goldeye, Tulibee and Whitefish: The native tradition of smoking fish has long been perfected in this province and these rich morsels are often served as appetizers.
Pickerel: More commonly called walleye, Manitobans insist on referring to it as pickerel. Either way, it's a remarkably light, delicate fish that chefs treat with justified reverence.
Beer and Wine: Manitoba's micro-brewing industry produces clean, strong ales and deceptively light pilsners. Look for Fort Garry, Two Rivers and Fort Gibralter labels among others from Fort Garry Brewing Co. Rigby Orchards makes light, fruity raspberry, strawberry and saskatoon wines, perfect post-dinner. Relative newcomer D.D. Leobard Winery has won four national medals in two years for its Iced Strawberry Dessert Wine, Wild Blueberry Dessert Wine, Wild Blueberry Wine and Rhubarb on Strawberry Wine - all of them made from Manitoba or Northwest Ontario-grown fruit. D.D. Leobard's newest addition is a white wine made from birch sap... light, not too sweet, and all-Manitoban.
Where to Eat
St. Boniface: Visit Winnipeg's French Quarter restaurants where local ingredients meet French technique with delightful results. In February, traditional French-Canadian dishes like pea soup, tourtiere and sugar pie are served up at the annual Festival du Voyageur, along with caribou - the drink (grain alcohol diluted with a little red wine).
Dauphin: Ukrainian comfort food - perogies (potato and cheese-filled dumplings served with onions and sour cream), borscht and bread fresh from outdoor clay ovens - is served up at Canadaís National Ukrainian Festival held here in August.
Steinbach: Itís just one of the Mennonite towns in southern Manitoba where you'll find small local restaurants serving up hearty soups, sausage and noodle dishes.
Gimli: This lakeside town is the best place to find vinetarta, the luscious Icelandic "cake" with seven cookie-like layers spread with prune filling and iced with almond frosting.
Little Italy: The Corydon Avenue area in Winnipeg, given over to the local Italian community, is home to restaurants, bars and ice cream shops serving everything from antipasto to gelato to pasta.
Chinatown: Just north of Winnipeg's City Hall and Old Market Square area, itís the place to find dim sum or tuck into good old Cantonese-style Chinese food.
Selkirk Avenue: Itís the North End grocery shopping area for Winnipeg's eastern European immigrants. Marvel at the myriad versions of sausages hanging on wooden dowels at the butcher shops and jostle tiny Ukrainian grandmothers in a battle for the last blood pudding.
The Forks Market: Located at The Forks National Historic Site in Winnipeg, this market is one a great place to sample a bit of almost every food Manitoba can offer, from fresh produce and specialty foods to Skinner's fabled, foot-long, European-style hot dogs.
Tearooms: They're ubiquitous in Manitoba, offering brief, delicious immersion into the British afternoon tea ritual - and they serve "dainties" (the Prairie term for tiny cookies and wee miniature cakes, squares and tarts).
Folklorama: The largest and longest running multi-cultural festival of its kind in the world takes over Winnipeg community halls, arenas and school gymnasiums for the first two weeks of August with more than 40 ethnic pavilions sharing their cuisine and culture.