Winnipeg: a foodie’s city guide

Winnipeg: a foodie’s city guide

by Karen Burns-Booth 19 September 2016

Karen Burns-Booth offers her foodie guide to ‘The Peg’, a city with a vibrant and diverse food scene, as she spends two days there tasting local delicacies and international flavours.

Karen Burns-Booth is a freelance food & travel writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a passion for local, seasonal ingredients.

Karen Burns-Booth is a freelance food & travel writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a passion for local, seasonal ingredients. She is a member of the prestigious Guild of Food Writers and regularly contributes to a variety of print publications and online recipe sites, as well as creating bespoke recipes for numerous major brands and supermarkets in the UK and Europe. Key brands Karen has worked with are: McCormick, Organic UK, Maille, Cath Kidston, Churchill China, Le Creuset, Le Parfait, Tala, John Lewis, Celebrity Cruises, Asda, Waitrose, Aldi, Sainsbury's, Tesco and many more. Karen specialises in preserving, baking, seasonal fare and healthy low-calorie recipes having recently lost weight on the 5:2 intermittent diet. In addition to writing for her own site, the award winning “Lavender and Lovage” blog, she also writes for Great British Chefs and runs a seasonal cookery school in SW France. When she is not in the kitchen she can be found travelling the world with a camera and notebook, searching for new ingredients and recipe inspiration.

As I travelled from Toronto to Vancouver on board The Canadian, I told my fellow passengers I was breaking my journey in Winnipeg. Their response was not what I was expecting and even a little disconcerting: ‘You’re stopping in Winter Peg? Really? Why?’ was the common reply, and I was torn between feeling unsettled as well as wanting to champion the underdog of Canadian cities before I’d even been there!

But my fears were totally unfounded, and on alighting the train in Winnipeg one hot and sunny September morning I was met with a beautiful, elegant and historical city, with its four major rivers (the Red, Assiniboine, La Salle and Seine) influencing the city’s layout and architecture. As soon as I checked into my hotel I set off to explore this fascinating city and its food scene.

The first stop on my foodie journey of the city was 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 and is now a very pleasant area with a large market and small 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 – all of which had an affect on the cuisine of the area.

I wandered into the covered market where I planned to buy lunch, and found the choice on offer amazing – from Italian pizzas, Ukrainian pierogis, Sri Lankan curries to Swedish breads and even British fish and chips, the market had a myriad of different global cuisines to choose from all with an assortment of sit down cafés, small restaurants, takeaway stands and stalls. I was spoilt for choice.

Baba's Tall Grass Pantry
Baba's Tall Grass Pantry is famous for its pierogis
The meat-filled dumplings are served alongside onions, coleslaw and a cabbage roll

I decided to try some of the local pierogis at Baba’s Tall Grass Pantry. The Ukrainians are one of the more recent and largest ethnic groups to arrive in Winnipeg, and their cuisine was evident all over the city. But my first meal was a simple albeit filling plate of meat pierogis, a cabbage roll, some farmer’s sausage, coleslaw with caramelised onions and sour cream. It was utterly divine and excellent value at only C$10.50 (£6.10).

For foodies that are staying longer in Winnipeg and have cooking facilities, the market also offers a huge range of locally grown and sourced fruit, vegetables, bread, cakes, wine and meat. I was particularly enamoured with the sister shop to Baba’s Tall Grass Pantry, the Tall Grass Prairie Bread Company, where I was lucky enough to visit the bakery for a behind the scenes tour and bread-shaping class. The bakery offers an amazing selection of different types of bread, bakes and cakes, from their famous cinnamon buns, German rye bread, sourdough, croissants, fruit loaves to challah bread, light sourdough rye bread and pumpkin.

On my first evening I was treated to a meal at Peasant Cookery in Winnipeg’s historic Exchange District. The restaurant was simply furnished with tables and chairs outside for al fresco dining while jars of pickles adorned the window sills, adding to the atmosphere of the restaurant. The menu suggested starters of beetroot 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 fries.I started with the house charcuterie platter, as all of the charcuterie (and pickles) are made on the premises and opted for the fish and sticks, which was beer battered Pickerel with a caper coleslaw, smoked paprika and piquillo pepper aioli and hickory sticks (thinly cut fries).

Pickling is huge in Canada, and preserved vegetables of all kinds are often served alongside a meal
Smoked meat sandwich
The smoked meat sandwich is a Canadian classic

After a beautifully cooked-to-order omelette for breakfast at The Fort Garry, my hotel, the rest of the day unfolded in a foodaholic’s haze of tempting tastings! Hot on the heels of breakfast came fruit cake – not just any fruit cake, but one which had been served to HRH the Prince of Wales. I was taken to Dessert Sinsations, which serves freshly made lunch, dinner and late night snacks as well as a formidable selection of cakes and sweet treats, all made on the premises by chef Barbara O’Hara and her husband and two daughters.

Lunch followed very quickly and was taken at the Sherbrook Street Delicatessen, where chef Jon Hochman told me all about Winnipeg’s Jewish deli roots. The deli’s inspiration comes from the New York Delicatessens of the early 1900s as well as traditional Jewish cuisine, and with the addition of some flavours from Eastern Europe you can expect some pretty sensational food offerings with a Winnipeg twist. My lunch was the deli’s signature Earl Barish smoked meat sandwich platter: a classic smoked meat sandwich with a side of Kettle Chips, coleslaw and some amazing dill pickles.

After a brief break from food and a restorative soak in the bath, I was treated to dinner at Deer + Almond, which is in the heart of the Exchange District. The restaurant is the brainchild of chef Mandel Hitzer, who wanted to create a homey atmosphere with a menu of convivial sharing platters made with locally sourced ingredients. The menu is modern home-style cooking with a ‘Day’ and ‘Night’ menu on offer, as well as a ‘Tipsy’ menu for the booze. There was a definite Asian influence on the menu and each plate, platter and bowl was a flavour explosion and the combination of ingredients was both innovative and very clever.

My time was soon over in this exciting city and as I boarded the train bound for Vancouver I was keen to promote Winnipeg, if only to encourage visitors to sample the diverse range of food on offer. You can dine from morning to night with ease and in all types of eating establishments – Winnipeg is way more than a stopover and well worth a visit, especially if like me you are food driven!