The Prairie Provinces of Canada: More than Just Fields

What do most people picture when they think of the prairie provinces of Canada? Wide, flat, open land? Freezing winters and buffalo? While that image isn’t entirely wrong, many fail to recognize that each of these provinces have a thriving food scene with deep indigenous roots that bring something unique to their culture.

Manitoba

It may surprise some of you that Manitoba is actually known for being quite diverse.  The city of Winterpeg… uhh, we mean Winnipeg… has a strong eastern European presence in the North, and the St. Boniface district is one of the largest francophone communities outside of Quebec.  There is a fairly large German population in south-central Manitoba, and the community of Gimli on the shores of Lake Winnipeg is known for its distinct Icelandic population.  You will also run into plenty of Ukrainians, French, South Asians, Italians, Filipinos, Vietnamese and Polish people throughout the Province.  Who knew our humble province Manitoba was such a mosaic?

Manitoba also has a rich indigenous history, and much of the food native to Manitoba comes from traditional first nations foods. What does this mean?  Read on to find out what foods you’ll get to wolf down during a trip to Manitoba.

Game meats and bison 

Wild game is popular, and with good reason! It is deliciously tender while also being lower in fat than traditionally raised beef and higher in many vitamins and minerals. Personally, we can never say no to a good bison burger and will pay for the $3 upgrade.

Smoked fish and meats 

Another provincial staple thanks to the indigenous peoples of the land. Lake Winnipeg Goldeneye and Pickerel are common.

Bannok 

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A traditional flat bread that is cooked over an open fire. It’s unique flavour and texture bring a special Canadian feel to any sandwich, flat bread, or wrap. We tried it for the first time at the Niagara Food and Wine Expo a couple of months back and were blown away.  We were also shocked we hadn’t heard of it until then! When you visit Manitoba, be sure to get your hands on some bannock, or try making it yourself this summer.

Ukrainian and Icelandic dishes 

see above.  And keep your eyes open for some restaurants serving up traditional foods from these cultures.

Shmoo torte  

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A cake layered with whipped cream, nuts, and caramel, and you can’t leave Winnipeg without stopping by Gunn’s Bakery for an Apple Jack, their famous apple-filled pastry.

It comes as no surprise that the majority of Manitoba’s vibrant dining scene is found in Winnipeg, the capital city. There you can find a variety of ethnic cuisines, ranging from Italian to Japanese. We do encourage you to venture out to some of the smaller cities and towns such as Gimil, which boasts the highest Icelandic population in Canada and is known for its incredible greek restaurants! For more on restaurants, pubs, and the culinary experience in Manitoba, visit here.

Saskatchewan

With a capital city whose name resembles a little too closely to a certain part of the female anatomy, it’s not too hard to see why people may not fully appreciated everything that Saskatchewan has to offer!

Like Manitoba, Saskatchewan is a big farming province and is flat as a pancake. Also like Manitoba, buffalo, or bison in the culinary world is not something you want to skip (sorry, vegetarians).  But what else does this vast flatland have to offer?

Wild rice

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Another gift from the Native peoples of Saskatchewan.  It’s actually a grass, not a grain, and is loaded with flavour- a perfect side dish. You’ll most often find wild rice mixed in with other long-grain wild rices.

Wild Fowl

Chickens, turkeys…you get the idea.

Berries 

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Saskatchewan’s berry selection is what really sets it apart from the other provinces in Canada.  Saskatoon berries, traditionally used by the indigenous peoples to preserve and flavour meat, are tart little gems that look a lot like blueberries. They can be used in pies or jams, and even to make saskatoon berry wine. Chokecherries, which are closer in colour to cherries, have been a staple part of the indigenous peoples’ diets for centuries, thanks to the protein rich seeds housed inside. Traditionally they are dried, and European settlers used them for wines, syrups, jams and jellies. They can range from tart to very sweet, and are primarily used in fruit leathers now. Saskatchewan is also abundant in wild blueberries, the smaller, more flavourful cousin to the cultivated version we see in most supermarkets.

Ukrainian Food 

Saskatchewan has a large population of Ukrainian Canadians, so you will always be able to find incredible, hand made, old-style Ukrainian foods like cabbage rolls, perogies, and specialty sausages. If you find yourself in Regina, be sure to check out Peg’s Kitchen for the best Ukrainian food in the province (so we’ve been told) and a big slice of Saskatoon berry pie.

Alberta

Alberta has a lot going for it and is easily the most renowned of the prairie provinces thanks to the West Edmonton Mall (North America’s largest shopping mall), the famous Calgary Stampede every July, and two of Canada’s most beloved national parks, Banff and Jasper. Whether you are a foodie, outdoor enthusiast, shopaholic, or want to pump up your Instagram game with cowboys, BBQ, and breathtaking views, this is the province for you!  But since we’re food-lovers we’re going to give you the food low-down.

Beef 

Alberta beef is world renowned for its extraordinary flavour and texture. Grilled, barbecued, braised, skewered, minced, or in a stew, there is no shortage of ways for you to enjoy Alberta beef. Game meats like Bison are also popular for a change of pace from traditional beef.

Alfalfa and clover honey 

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The sweetener of choice in this province, along with nuts and wild berries.

Corn 

If you love corn on the cob, then you should definitely take the time to stop by the town of Taber, where “Taber Corn” is sold at roadside stands and in restaurants all over the town. Thanks to the abundant sunshine the area gets, the corn is well known for its uniquely sweet taste.

Craft Beer 

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We can’t talk about food in Alberta without talking about the craft beer scene. The province now has Sippin’ Alberta, the craft drink trail that goes throughout the whole province. Follow the trail for amazing microbreweries, craft distilleries, meaderies, and fruit wineries. Not only will you get to see the whole province, but you’ll get to experience the unique flavours Alberta has to offer and meet cool people along the way. Need we say more?

Festivals on festivals on festivals

The Prairie provinces of Canada do not disappoint when it comes to food-related festivals…just be sure to choose one in the spring or summer if you’re not a cold weather kind of person because man does it get chilly out there in the winter!

Winnipeg Taste of the Nation 

The city’s top chefs, restaurants and mixologists come together to raise funds to end child hunger.  Eating and drinking to support a good cause?  There is no downside.  Check it out here.

Taste of Saskatchewan 

Every July Saskatoon’s best restaurants serve their house favourites in Kiwanis Park.  Bring your appetite because you’re probably going to want to try everything!  Learn more here.

Taste of Edmonton 

10 glorious days in July when the city’s best chefs set up shop in Churchill Square to show off… cause you know what they say- if you got it, flaunt it.  Read more here.

Open Farm Days 

more than 60 farms across Alberta open up their doors so you can see where your food comes from.  Go all-in and sign up for a culinary experience and indulge in field dinners, tastings and other tasty treats.  Get the deets here.

Really, Really Long Dinner Table 

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Ever wanted to dine at a table the length of a city block?  Well lucky you, because September in Calgary you can do exactly that!  Just be prepared to be people-watched by shoppers and other passer-bys.  Read more here.

These of course are just a few examples of the delicious culinary adventures you can have in Canada’s prairie provinces, so next time you’re on your way to Banff, think about taking the scenic route and stopping along the way to taste everything the prairies have to offer!

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