The Seven Best Places to Eat in Canada

Including a tent in Labrador. Next in our Thanksgiving season series.

By J.B. MacKinnon 5 Oct 2018 |

J.B. MacKinnon’s most recent book is the national bestseller The Once and Future World: Nature As It Was, As It Is, As It Could Be. With Alisa Smith he co-founded the 100-Mile Diet, a global phenomenon launched on The Tyee.

1. The simple table of the German-Canadian farmer I used to work for, planting seedlings maybe, or shoveling the steaming funk of the compost pile, until the cold rain came hammers and nails, and he called lunch early and we went inside to spread strong garlic and thick yoghurt on homemade bread while he cooked a soup called “one pot” because everything in the kitchen — apples, onions, cauliflower, herbs, mustard — got cooked up in just one pot, and then afterward we would have schnapps, and maybe a beer, and never would get back to working the fields.

2. My mother’s house, at the table her father made, which is nothing special, really, just benches and a butter-yellow table like you’d find in a children’s book, on the day that the orderly mind that is necessary for cooking somehow emerges from the wilderness of her dementia, and I arrive for a visit to find good fish, good rice, good broccoli, a warm bun, a salad, a small miracle, really, waiting for me to witness it.

3. In a tent in the middle of Labrador, in winter, at -40 Celsius, which is so cold that you can hear your teeth squeak as they expand and contract with each hot breath out, each frozen breath in, eating bunless hotdogs with my friend Jerry, 20 years my senior, and the steam fills the tent (it will freeze and in the morning we will sweep it up with a whisk broom, like dust), so much like smoke that we begin to hold the hotdogs between the fingers of our gloves in the manner of rich men, or gangsters, and take to calling the tent the Cigar Lounge, and laughing until tears freeze onto our eyelashes.

4. Any riverbank, beach, shore, sheet of ice, campsite or cabin where you cook over an open fire a fish that you have caught, having first humbled yourself before the fact that we all feast on the death of living things.

5. My own kitchen on those rare days when I bump into friends on the street, and the weather is fine and time feels limitless, and so we agree to eat together, not a “dinner party” with its elaborate modern scheduling dance and gift bottles of wine and performance anxiety around puff pastry, but a coming together for whatever can be made of that moment, say, omelets with cheese and sage, fried potatoes, frozen peas, two sweet-sharp apples broken into quarters.

6. Along the Nass Highway, where you might taste salmon, opened up like a butterfly and dried, and then heated again on a fire until the jerky drips with its own fat, or then again you might taste pickled bull kelp, or the grease extracted from oolichan smelt, which have fermented in open bins for nine days, or then again you might taste sea-lion stew, as rich as anything you will ever put in your mouth, unless you keep going north until you taste whale blubber, and any or all of it will remind you that in this place that we call Canada, the familiar can always turn strange, the strange always turn familiar.

7. There are some excellent restaurants, too.

This piece is one of a series of pieces The Tyee is running during Thanksgiving season republished from the book Sustenance, edited by Rachel Rose, Anvil Press, 2017. Find the whole series here.  [Tyee]

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