More than just a Stopover
Disembarking from The Canadian early in the morning, I had arrived in the heart of Canada, at Winnipeg in the province of Manitoba. My journey had started in Toronto some two weeks prior to this half-way stop on my way over to the West Coast of Canada. I was very excited to be here, I have done some family research and know that I have family here, as well as friends; sadly, I was unable to find or meet them this time, but the province of Manitoba and the city of Winnipeg has always been a source of fascination to me – with its wild and frozen Northern areas of Churchill, the so-called “Polar Bear Capital of the World”, the Hudson Bay area , The Prairies, as well as the famous Hudson’s Bay Trading Company and those equally famous and historical Hudson’s Bay Point Blankets, and the First Nations and Mennonite settlements in the Province as well.
The weather was hot and sunny and it was hard to believe that this city is affectionately called “Winterpeg” by the locals as well as other Canadians, due to its severe icy weather conditions in winter, which often arrive early and leave late – but there was not a hint of ice or snow in the air on this balmy and cloudless day in the middle of September. I was met by Tamara Soroka, from Travel Manitoba, who took me on a very short journey to my hotel, the impressive and historic The Fort Garry, which is just opposite Winnipeg Union Station. Built in 1913 by the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, this beautiful hotel was one of Canada’s grand railway hotels and was designated as a National Historic Site of Canada in 1981, and my large and comfortable room at the hotel looked out over the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, as well as Union Station and The Forks area of the city – so, a real room with a view.
The next three days were packed with amazing activities and opportunities to explore the city, its food scene, national parks and monuments as well as the surrounding area, as I will now share…..it all started with some free time, so I decided to explore the local area around the hotel. Having just travelled on one of the most iconic trains in the world, and being an avid railway buff, I decided to visit Winnipeg Railway Museum. Climb the stairs of the historic Winnipeg Union Station to tracks 1 and 2, and there you will discover 37,500 square feet filled with railway history and artefacts. There were steam locomotives from the Canadian Prairies, also diesel and electric locomotives, rolling stock, maintenance of way equipment on display, and I spent an enjoyable couple of hours just wandering around the exhibits, with particular interest in the history of “Women in Railroading” section. The entrance fee was a very reasonable $5 Canadian dollars, and if you are interested in Railways and find yourself in Winnipeg, then I urge you to visit this fascinating museum.
It was then just a short walk from the museum to The Forks; so-called because of its position where the Assiniboine River flows into the Red River, it has a rich history of early Aboriginal settlement, the fur trade, the advent of the railway, waves of immigration and the Industrial Age, and is now a very pleasant pedestrian area with a large market and independent shops. Fascinatingly I learned that it’s been a meeting place for over 6,000 years; early Aboriginal Peoples traded at The Forks, followed by European fur traders, Métis buffalo hunters, Scottish settlers, riverboat workers, railway pioneers and tens of thousands of immigrants, and with the recent immigrants came their specialised cuisine and food. Being a “travelling foodie” my first stop was at The Market, where I was on the hunt for something to eat for lunch; the array of food in offer was diverse, with stalls and cafes offering Italian pizzas, Ukrainian perogies, Sri Lankan curries, Fish and Chips as well as home-made artisan breads and salads.
As one of the largest (recent) ethnic immigrant group in the city are the Eastern Europeans and Ukrainians, I decided to try some local perogies at Baba’s Tall Grass Pantry; I chose one of their “Perogy Plates” (Can$10:50) which comprised 3 meat perogies, a cabbage roll, some (nitrate-free) farmers sausage, coleslaw with caramelised onions and sour cream – it was delectable, with the perogy dough being meltingly soft and the filling being fragrant with dill and warm spices. The market also offers a chance for visitors to buy locally grown and sourced fruit, vegetables, bread, cakes, wine, souvenirs, locally made arts and crafts, books and clothing, and I spent a happy two hours wandering around after my larger than anticipated lunch. Within The Forks area is the newly opened Canadian Museum for Human Rights (which was sadly closed due to a private event the day I wanted to visit), Travel Manitoba Visitor Information Centre, several parks, garden and play areas and a Peace Meeting Site.
On my first night in Winnipeg I was treated to dinner at Peasant Cookery in Winnipeg’s historic Exchange District, by Travel Manitoba and hosts Cathy Senecal and Tamara Soroka; the restaurant was simply furnished with tables and chairs outside for al fresco dining. The dinner menu suggested starters of Beet Salad, Duck Bruschetta, Poutine and Charcuterie, followed by Tourtiere, Fish and Sticks, Berkshire Pork and King Salmon, all served with a choice of salad, seasonal vegetables and/or fries. We all decided to share a Charcuterie Platter, as all of the charcuterie (and pickles) are made on the premises – the platter came out with a selection of dry-cured sausages, terrines with local berries, pates and pickled vegetables. It was a wonderful selection, and alongside the platter we also enjoyed the Beet Salad, which is served with toasted seeds, puffed wild rice, goat’s cheese, rocket in a caramelised honey vinaigrette. For my main course I went with the local fish and chips, called Fish and Sticks, which was beer battered Pickerel, with a caper coleslaw, smoked paprika and piquillo pepper aioli and hickory sticks (very finely curt fries/chips) – the fish was moist and the aioli was pure heaven, especially when the hickory flavoured sticks were dipped in it! The first day had been a great start to my stay in Winnipeg.
Next day dawned hot and sunny again, and after a substantial breakfast of Denver omelette with fresh fruit and country potatoes in The Fort Garry Broadway Breakfast Room, where there was an impressive buffet as well as “cooked to order eggs counter”, Mike Green from Tourism Winnipeg collected me for what was to be a day filled with fabulous food, sightseeing and even a hands on cookery experience. Mike had organised a fun and interesting itinerary for the day (and evening), as follows:
- Dessert Sinsations – historical baking session/breakfast; tasting and talking about fruit cake with chef Barbara O’Hara. Barbara’s place is a temple to all sorts of sinful sensations, as her clever shop name implies, both sweet and savoury, and whilst we were there, she told us about how she had baked some of her famous fruit cake for HRH the Prince of Wales, and showed us the royal letter of thanks to prove it! “Dessert Sinsations Cafe” is situated at 505 St. Mary Avenue, and there is a full service restaurant serving freshly made lunch, dinner, and late night snacks. The Cafe is open for breakfast on Saturdays, although I was treated to special breakfast opening when I was there. It’s a family affair, with Barbara and Richard’s two daughters, Leah and Julie O’Hara, working in the restaurant and happily serving the everyday clientèle. I was offered breakfast, which looked and sounded delightful, but decided to watch, taste and talk “Fruit Cake” with Barbara, whose fruit cakes are renowned in the area – the day I visited, I was in luck, as Barbara had just baked a fresh batch of cakes which I willingly offered to test for her, with cheese of course! She very kindly sent me and Mike away with a slab of the famous fruit cake too. (The fruit cake is made from an 80-year-old family recipe)
- Journey to Churchill at Assiniboine Park Zoo to visit the orphaned polar bears. Assiniboine Park Zoo is home to many animals, but their biggest draw, and why not, are their polar bears, and especially the orphaned polar bear cubs; you can read more about their conservation of these wonderful animals here, Leatherdale International Polar Bear Conservation Centre, but for today’s post, let me just share some “cuddly photos” of these delightful orphaned bears, who were swimming and playing in their “viewing tank” when I visited the zoo. As well as the polar bears, the zoo is home to over 200 different species of animals and is set in an impressive 80 acres of parkland.
- Lunch at Sherbrook Street Delicatessen: where chef Jon Hochman told me all about Winnipeg’s Jewish deli roots. This was a real treat and with a big thanks to Mike introducing me to this very special place; we stopped here for lunch, and the chef, Jon, came out to talk me through the fascinating history of the deli’s Jewish roots. Jon Hochman was born with the delicatessen in his blood. The Hochman family had run the Oasis Delicatessen on Main Street from the 1930’s to the 1970’s. Growing up in a traditional Jewish family his exposure to the classic was on going, from pickling meat and vegetables with his Zaida to making chicken matzah ball soup with his Baba. The Deli’s inspiration comes from the New York Delicatessens of the early 1900’s, in addition to the flavours of Eastern Europe, both which marry into some pretty sensational food offerings with a Winnipeg twist…….some tasty gems that caught my eye on the menu there were the Earl Barish Smoked Meat Sandwich – which is named after a leading 20th century businessman who developed the Dickie Dee ice cream brand, Salmon Lox in a Seeded Bagel, Potato Latkes, Matzah Ball Soup and the Smoked Goldeye Sandwich – Goldeye being a freshwater fish, also called Winnipeg Goldeye, it’s a herring type of fish. After a great deal of debate, Mike and I settled on an Earl Barish Smoked Meat Sandwich Platter and a Salmon Lox Sandwich Platter, which we then shared. The platters come with a side of Kettle Chips (crisps), Coleslaw and a rather amazing Dill Pickle. It was all pretty damn good – the smoked meat was as good as any I tasted when I was in Montreal – beautifully spiced and tender with just enough fat to meat ratio, and the salmon lox was melt-in-the-mouth with a subtle flavour of dill, all perfectly served inside a home-made seeded bagel with sliced red onions, cream cheese and parsley…..I’d travel to Winnipeg again JUST to have lunch at the Sherbrooke Street Deli, and it seems that the locals agree with me, as you see from Mike’s review when the deli first opened here: NEW & NOTABLE: SHERBROOK STREET DELICATESSEN.
- Scenic driving tour of Winnipeg. Mike took me around Winnipeg, including St.Boniface,Winnipeg’s historic French quarter, where l’automne et l’hiver (Autumn and Winter) are magnifique! The area is home to the Festival du Voyageur, one of the world’s best winter parties. This year Festival du Voyageur runs from Feb 12-21 and features all sorts of winter events, parties, live music and outdoor activities such as traditional trades and crafts demonstrations, fiddling and jigging workshops. Then there’s the famous Great Ice Show in Winnipeg, where visitors can enjoy a magical winter festival of epic proportions in Winnipeg: with life-size dinosaurs and bears made of snow, huge toboggan slopes, frost-crystal sculptures, fantastic sled rides for the young and old through the Manitoba Legislative Building ice replica, explore labyrinths of igloos, be dazzled by the colourful fireworks, dance with DJ music, learn in ice workshops & weekly activities & have endless fun during this winter’s ice-frozen magic… clearly I need to come back in Winter! As well these Winter Festivals, Winnipeg has the most amazing architecture, including fine examples of Edwardian and Victorian Buildings and the Beaux-Arts School, all of which I saw on my scenic tour around the city with Mike. As well as the impressive architecture, the city regularly claims to have more restaurants per capita than any other city in Canada. The city has 900 restaurants, which is very impressive for this Prairie city, and beats Montreal into second place.
- Tall Grass Prairie Bread Company at The Forks – where I met Tabitha Langel (the German lady who started the company) and Loic Perrot, her baker from Brittany, and joined them for lunch with a little hands on bread shaping in the bakery! The food just kept on coming, and after lunch we made our way back to The Forks, where we had an appointment with Tabitha Langel and Loic Perrot. Tabitha is a Hutterite and is the driving force behind the Tall Grass Prairie Bread Company, which she and Paul her husband set up in the late 1980’s. I’d already visited their “fast food” place for lunch on my first day, but today’s visit was to look around the bakery and have a little hands on baking session. Tall Grass Prairie Bread Company is well-known in and around Winnipeg for its gooey cinnamon buns and its organic local baking and preserves, suffusing the marketplace at the Forks and its Wolseley neighbourhood with the aroma of fresh baking, and as I walked around the store, I was amazed how just diverse the range was on offer – from the famous cinnamon buns, German Rye Bread, Sourdough, Croissants, Fruit loaves to Hallah Bread, Light Sourdough Rye Bread and Pumpkin Pecan Muffins, the store was a vertible treasure trove of baked and yeasted goods. Not realising that Mike and I had had lunch, Tabitha took us to a quite part of the market, where we shared a plate of fried liver with onions, some pickles and a freshly made whole-wheat baguette with her and Loic. It was then time to shape a few croissants and look around the bakery. The bakery in The Forks was opened in October, 2006 and the bakery went one step further by opening a small kitchen at The Forks Market called Grass Roots Prairie Kitchen, where I had my fist meal in Winnipeg. The company celebrates the spirit of whole food in delicious take home meals, soups, traditional canning, jam and jelly making, as well as fresh cold-pressed Manitoba organic sunflower oil. On the days that they make the oil, you can actually watch the pressing process. Tall Grass Prairie Bakery also supports organic agriculture, that is, agriculture conducted without the use of artificial fertilizers or pesticides, and deal mostly with Manitoba farms which have been certified organic by the Organic Producers’ Association of Manitoba (OPAM). The visit and meeting with Tabitha was wholly inspirational and I was very impressed with what you can achieve when you have the drive and passion to carry out your dreams.
- Dinner at Deer + Almond. After a brief break from food, and after a long soak in the bath, Mike, accompanied by his wife, came to pick me up for dinner; dinner was at uber hip and very cool Deer + Almond, situated in the heart of the Exchange area, chef Mandel Hitzer has created the restaurant of his dreams. He wanted a place that would be full of friends, laughter and music, where homestyle cooking is served, perfect for sharing in a relaxed and comfy environment, and I think he achieved that. The menu is modern homestyle cooking with a Day and Night menu on offer, as well as Tipsy menu for the booze. We ordered several sharing plates, as well as taking advantage of a couple of Deer + Almond house cocktails called “Tiger by the Tail”. There was a definite Asian influence on the menu with dishes such as baby potatoes with kewpie mayo, cured pork, tobiko & togarashi, salt & pepper squid with vinegar & chilies, peppers andonions as well as papaya & pork iceberg with cucumber, pineapple and tang tang dressing making their way to our table. We also enjoyed a plate of nduja chicken with quince cheese, grilled BC peaches and rainbow chard, as well as bowl of sensational smoked goldeye & gnocci clam soup with dill, confit fennel, lemon curd and white fish caviar. Each plate, platter and bowl was a flavour explosion and the combination of ingredients was both innovative and very clever. The last course of “Sweet Stuff” was a semifreddo of peanut, caramel, chocolate cake and sea salt – it was an evening of good company, excellent food, catchy music in comfortable and unpretentious surroundings.
Day three and today I was being looked after by and shown around by Shel Zolkewich, a Manitoban culinary and lifestyle blogger. Shel took me for breakfast at Nick’s on Broadway – the cafe style restaurant specialises in sandwiches and salads, as well as damn good coffee! Breakfast was a “Breakfast Bowl” of fluffy baked salt potatoes, crispy bacon, scrambled eggs and Cheddar cheese, and was divine. Shel and I immediately hit of off and I enjoyed the hour’s journey to the first stop of the day, the Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach – somewhere that I had been looking forward to visiting very much. On our journey, Shel captivated me with tales (and the history) of The Hudson’s Bay Trading Company, The First Nations Peoples and her love of collecting Hudson’s Bay Point Blankets, much to my interest and delight – she was speaking my language! The day’s itinerary was as follows:
- Mennonite Heritage Museum, Steinbach Taste in Transition Exhibit – Spend some time in the kitchen learning about kielke (egg noodles, schmauntfat (white cream gravy) and/or pereschtje (meat-filled buns) before having a traditional Mennonite lunch at the Livery Barn Restaurant. The Mennonite Heritage Museum is working replica Mennonite Village that advises visitors to “Hitch your horses and pack your luggage for a harrowing tale of migration and settlement at the Mennonite Heritage Village. Travel through time to a turn-of-the century Russian Mennonite street village on our 40 acre site, taste traditional Mennonite fare at the museum’s Livery Barn Restaurant, and explore a classic Mennonite housebarn and a fully operational Dutch windmill during our summer season. View historic and heirloom treasures from Poland and Russia to Canada, displayed in the permanent and Gerhard Ens galleries, and find that perfect souvenir at Village Books and Gifts, all open year-round in the Village Centre”. It was UTTERLY fascinating and even more excitingly, I got the opportunity to cook ALONGSIDE the Mennonite ladies in the kitchen of the Livery Barn Restaurant before it opened, under the watchful eye of the restaurant manager, Dora (Penner). I prepared and cooked a Mennonite speciality called Plueme Moos, which is a mixture of dried fruits (apple, plum, apricot, raisins) simmered to perfection, which is served cold or at room temperature. The style of cooking offered at Livery Barn Restaurant is prepared in the Russian Mennonite traditional cuisine way of cooking, and there were two newly arrived young girls from Russia and the Ukraine, who were learning their craft in the kitchen that day. Following on from my cooking exploits, it was time to sit down for a traditional Mennonite lunch with Dora and Shel; we were served with a “Traditional Meal” (Can$15:50) comprising: Locally made Foarma Worscht (farmers sausage) with three Vereniki (perogies) smothered in Schmauntfatt (savoury cream gravy) with a side serving of coleslaw, a bowl of Komst Borscht (soup made from hearty meat broth, cabbage (komst), onions, potatoes, pieces of chicken flavoured with the distinctive taste of dill), a slice of stone ground whole wheat bread and plautz (delicious cake-like dessert with a crust, fruit filling and crumb or streusel topping). After lunch, Shel and I looked around the village, and the shop where several Mennonite cookbooks were purchased before er set off for the next place on the itinerary. This was one of the highlights of my trip to Canada, and I will be covering it in more detail, with recipes in separate posts.
- Prairie Oils & Vinegars, Steinbach – A visit with Bev Penner for a tour of her unique tasting shop that includes highlighting local producers including Bessie’s Best and Smak Dak Mustards. Another totally fascinating visit, with a unique oil and vinegar tasting session too……Prairie Oils & Vinegars is a locally owned company that specialises in the freshest and finest 100% Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Balsamic Vinegar and Speciality Oils. They are Manitoba’s first Oil and Vinegar Tasting Room, with an opportunity to taste before you buy, which is exactly what we did. My favourite oil and vinegar combination was the Persian Lime Olive Oil with the Fig Balsamic Vinegar, but there were so many other pairings that were delicious, it was very hard to choose from. The owner of the store, Bev Penner and her husband were on a culinary tour in Portland, Oregon in the States, where they discovered an oil and vinegar tasting room. They fell in love with the freshness of the extra virgin olive oil and the wonderful flavours of the aged balsamic condiments as well as the tasting experience, and so from this holiday the idea to open their own tasting room evolved. At Prairie Oils & Vinegars, they follow the olive crush in the northern and southern hemispheres to provide the most recently produced and healthiest oils available anywhere. In addition to the extra virgin olive oils, they also offer dark and white vinegars, both traditional and infused, that are aged up to 18 years and are certified to be from Modena, Italy, using a time-honoured ageing technique results in a rich, smooth product. The store was very popular with customers popping in and out all the time we were there.
- Nature’s Farm, Steinbach – A visit with Hermann Grauer to learn all about the Prairie business he built from scratch including the special eggs he developed for his pastas. Hermann has added ancient grain pastas to the line-up recently. Nature’s Farm history in food manufacturing began in 1987 when they started as a “designer–egg” wholesaler. After a number of years of careful research, and with their experience in the egg industry, they founded Nature’s Farm which sells high quality traditional and organic pastas of all shapes, flavours and sizes. We watched some of the girls he employs making pasta on the factory floor, and then investigated the shop where all the pastas are sold; the range is diverse and interesting with Einkorn Linguine (and ancient grain), Country Style Special Spaetzle, Porcini Pappardelle and Lavender Fine herb Fettuccine taking my fancy from the long list of pasta on sale. They also sell eggs, naturally, as well as their own Granola. Hermann’s passion for his produce was very evident and it certainly shows in the quality of their products, of which I have tried at home – Hermann very kindly gave me several bags of pasta to take away with me. (There is also a very handy Recipes page on their website)
- A Prairie Legacy: The Bison and its People – Get a taste of what the bison meant to early Manitoba peoples in this abbreviated version of the Canadian Signature Experience at Fort Whyte Alive. Our visit will end with wild bush tea, campfire bannock and a bison burger – SADLY, we ran out of time to do this, which was very disappointing, as I’d been looking forward to visiting the centre, and definitely trying out the wild bush tea, campfire bannock and a bison burger – but, ANOTHER time is my motto for all things missed! The menu certainly looks enticing, however, I DID experience a Bison Burger on my Via Rail train journey, so all was not lost! In place of the planned visit to The Prairie Legacy, Shel took me for a cheese tasting session at Bothwell Cheese, knowing that I was a cheese addict! I was particularly taken with the Black Truffle cheese – Made with the finest Italian Black Summer Truffles — an old world gourmet delicacy — this cheese features our Monterey Jack with black truffle pieces blended throughout to impart an earthy, complex flavour with a rich, smooth finish. The Maple Smoked Extra Old Cheddar was also divine – A matured Cheddar is gently smoked in smouldering pure maple wood. The result is a mild smoky flavour that complements the complex, nutty taste of this aged cheese. But then I’ve never met a cheese I didn’t like! A full range of Bothwell’s cheeses can be found here: 100% PURE CANADIAN MILK CHEESE.
Day Four – Back on The Canadian Train – and onwards to the West Coast.
I hope you can see from my post that Winnipeg is indeed more than just a Stopover – I loved the city and the surrounding area, and am keen to come back to see the wilder side of Manitoba “Up North”, as well as delve further into the local recipes and cooking traditions. The city of Winnipeg was elegant with a graceful and yet very edgy, vibrant feel – it bristled with cafes, bakeries, restaurants, bars and fast food stalls that offered a myriad of different types of food, from the Philippines to the Ukraine, the food scene in Winnipeg (and Manitoba) was exciting and very different from the other big Canadian cities; there was a certain pride in the city and the province, that as a Yorkshire lass from “Up North” in the UK, I recognise from being the national “underdog” when being compared to more affluent and popular cities. If you have a chance to visit this part of Canada, I urge you to take time out and visit Winnipeg, Steinbach and the rest of this enigmatic and yet fascinating province……it was a wonderful experience and has only piqued my taste for MORE MANITOBA! Karen
Disclaimer: I was the guest of the Destination Canada, Keep Exploring Canada, Travel Manitoba and Tourism Winnipeg, as well as various hotels, provinces and restaurants that I will mention in my individual posts: all my flights, transfers, train journeys, accommodation and meals were included, as well as all trips, excursions and special cookery sessions with local chefs. With profound thanks to all the people and organisations that looked after me and made my trip so memorable and exciting.
This trip could not have been possible without the following people, as well as others already listed above:
Other places to see and visit in Winnipeg
Wander The Forks—Manitoba’s number one tourist destination, featuring market-style shopping, dining, walking and biking trails, and attractions.
Visit Winnipeg’s hippest neighbourhoods from the architecturally stunning and artsy Exchange District to boho chic shopping in Osborne Village to the charming, historical French Quarter of St. Boniface.
Check out other must-see attractions, including Canada’s oldest civic art gallery — the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the cutting-edge Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art and The Manitoba Museum, which showcases the fascinating natural history story of Manitoba through life-size displays and artifacts.
Visit the recently opened Canadian Museum for Human Rights, the first museum in the world solely dedicated to the evolution, celebration and future of human rights.
Soak away any stress at the new Scandinavian-style spa Thermëa. This luxury spa is open year round, completely surrounded by nature in a picturesque urban forest. (Please note, a swimsuit
Manitoba is a Canadian province bordered by Ontario to the east and Saskatchewan to the west. Its landscape of lakes and rivers, mountains, forests and prairies stretches from northern Arctic tundra to Hudson Bay in the east and southern farmland. Much wilderness is protected in more than 80 provincial parks, where hiking, biking, canoeing, camping and fishing are all popular.
Links to my other Canada posts: