Raised on Red River cereal, Sara Waxman (DINE and Destinations magazine) tells me, “The thing about growing up in Winnipeg was that we had no lettuce in winter. Everyone learned to bake, and everybody baked.” Stretching from prairies to tundra, with long daylight hours during summer, Manitoba has some of the best growing conditions in Canada for a variety of grains. Known as the Buckwheat Capital of Canada, Manitoba produces the majority of that crop, as well as more than half of Canada’s dry beans from navy to yellow and green. The cultivation of buckwheat, alfalfa, sweet clover, canola and sunflower also enables ideal conditions for widespread honey production. Canola oil for human consumption was first produced at the University of Winnipeg. Today some of the highest yields of the world’s canola output come from Manitoba. A quarter of Canada’s wild rice crop (an aquatic grass seed also referred to as Canada rice) is grown in marshlands around Lake Winnipeg, Flin Flon and The Pas.
Traditional foods of the First Nations include large and small game from bison to rabbit; lake fish like pickerel and whitefish; Saskatoon berries, strawberries and raspberries in summer; and in winter, squash, potatoes and onions. Eastern European and Jewish immigration contribute pierogies and cabbage rolls, as well as smoked Goldeye and Schmoo Cake. Christa Bruneau-Guenther (Feast Café Bistro), member of Peguis First Nation, shares that in Winnipeg today there is a movement to embrace native ingredients by blending traditions and cultures. “Every culture has evolved in their food, and so on my menu I have a pizza of bannock crust with indigenous ingredients on top.” Her menus are authentic, innovative and flavour-forward. The dining scene in Winnipeg is becoming quite eclectic.