Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 21, 2017

Prairie oysters.

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Cod tongue, calf testicles and so much more

This summer, you can explore an unfamiliar and exotic world without ever leaving the country. Just grab your sense of adventure (and maybe some antacid) and sample some of the weirdest delicacies in Canada.

Newfoundland

There's no shortage of strange dishes on the Rock; in fact, you can find pickled moose nose at the supermarket. But a traditional dish that is making a comeback is cod tongue. It's not actually the fish's tongue but a gelatinous bit of flesh from its throat. Decades back, it was free to anyone who sifted through fish heads on the docks. Since the moratorium on cod fishing, it's now a prize piece gracing high-end menus. Described reassuringly as "an acquired taste," it's traditionally served battered and fried, topped with scrunchions (crispy bits of salted side pork).

Nova Scotia and New Brunswick

In France, as in most of the Old World, country housewives mastered the art of snout-to-tail cooking, where no part of the animal was lost. A holdover from those days is head cheese, made from simmering the meat from the pig's head and hocks and pressing it into a terrine. Its name is actually a gooey misnomer, as you'll see if you try this dish which is a still popular in the Acadian regions of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Quebec

Poutine (that heart-attack-inducing concoction of fries, gravy and fresh cheese curds) is in itself a strange québécois delicacy. In Montreal, you can get the ultimate: a foie gras poutine at Restaurant Au Pied de Cochon (which also serves pig's tongue, trotters and a whole pig's head). Here, the potatoes are sublimely fried in duck fat and the gravy is as near nirvana as you'll find. That said, the rare liver may not be everyone's cup of tea.

Ontario

Given Toronto's multicultural mix, there's plenty of weird food, from Korean bull's penis casserole to whole lamb's head in Greektown. But what really says weird Ontario? Haggis. Made from an appealing mix of sheep's heart, lungs, liver, ground oatmeal and onions, it's easiest to find on Robbie Burns Day (January 25) when pubs throw some on the menu. Head to Scottish butchers like Allen's in York or But 'n' Ben in Pickering or Scarborough to pick some up year-round.

Saskatchewan

Sloppy Elk, anyone? The restaurant in the new interpretive centre in Saskatoon's Wanuskewin Heritage Park takes aboriginal staples and adds a dash of Americana. This sandwich is ground elk in a herbed tomato sauce over grilled bannock (another traditional mainstay) with cheese. They also serve the Cajun-inspired pulled barbecued bison hump.

Alberta

Many people are fooled by the innocuous name Prairie oysters, but let's be blunt: these are calf testes. This honest-to-goodness local tradition dates back to the days when ranchers would pan fry them over the same fire used to heat branding irons after castrating young calves. Head to Buzzard's or Bottlescrew Bill's in Calgary between June and August for their Testicle Festival.

British Columbia

To anyone who doesn't live next to an ocean, the thought of eating seaweed is only really appealing when it's wrapped around rice and served with sake. Gnaw on a piece of bull kelp? No thanks. Actually that slimy green gunk is incredibly rich vitamins A, E and C and isn't usually eaten in its gluey form. There are 250 varieties of seaweed on the West Coast and wildcrafters will collect and sun-dry them to be sprinkled over salads or eaten as a snack. Pick some up at Granville Island Market in Vancouver.

Nunavut and Northwest Territories

Thanks to Governor General Michaëlle Jean we all know that the traditional delicacy of raw seal heart tastes like sushi. But what about muk tuk? This Northern staple has been part of the diets of the Inuit for generations. It's the skin and subcutaneous fat of a beluga whale, narwal or walrus, which is either boiled for about two hours or eaten raw. But you'll probably need to be on a hunting expedition to try some.
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