Our intrepid food blogger discovers the pleasures of First Nations cuisine at Ottawa’s booming Sweetgrass Bistro
In Ottawa a few weeks back, I discovered a food trend I would dearly love to see catch on in our more fashionable urban centres. Expounding on our restaurant options for the evening, a friend of mine suggested Sweetgrass, which bills itself as an “Aboriginal Bistro.” The small room in the Byward Market area has evidently been open since 2003, but is still in such demand that trying for a weekend table without a reservation is close to useless.
Sweetgrass serves “unique seasonal menus that follow the ancient hunting and gathering traditions of North and South America’s many First Nation People.” It is owned and operated by Phoebe and Warren Sutherland: Phoebe is Cree and grew up near Mistassini Lake in Quebec; Warren, her husband and partner, was born and raised in Jamaica. Both were trained at the New England Culinary Institute, and the restaurant’s menu looks, while tasty, a touch heavy on gimmickry (the “Grilled Tatonka,” a 10-oz. bison rib-eye, conjures unwelcome images of Kevin Costner wearing a handlebar moustache, humpbacked, and rooting in the dirt like a senile truffle pig). On the other hand, dishes like Awazibi Maple–glazed roasted wild boar, elk dumplings, and sustainably caught pickerel served with fingerling potatoes and “christophes mushrooms” raise a tantalizing possibility: the popularization of cuisine inspired by the food of Canada’s First Nations peoples. (more…)
JEJU-DO—The sun is broiling, the humidex is high, and in Korea that means it’s time for a nice, hot bowl of chicken soup. Just as people in the West associate certain foods with holidays, so do Korean people enjoy special meals during particular seasons. July 19 in Korea was Chobok, the first day of Sambok, a period that spans the three 복날 (pronounced “bok-nal”), or “dog days,” which Koreans believe are the hottest of the summer, and which are usually spent eating things that most North Americans would consider perfect fare for a cold winter night.
The consumption of hot dishes to beat hot weather is tied to Asian medicine, which suggests eating hot foods causes perspiration, cooling the outside of the body, while warming and rejuvenating the inside, thereby fighting fatigue brought on by the scorching heat. The Sambok tradition dates back hundreds of years to the dynastic period, when farmers believed that exhaustion caused by working too hard in the heat would lead to a bad harvest; they took the Sambok period off to vacation in a cooler locale, often somewhere in the mountains or by the seaside. (more…)
Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford’s new book, Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China, is one of the best cookbooks I’ve ever read. Duguid and Alford have compiled twenty-five years of personal history, observation, photographs, travel narratives, and recipes into a collection that illustrates just how rich and varied non-Han Chinese culture is today, and just how endangered. In a year when China is in the news more than ever, the book serves as a reminder that the country is more than its capital city. I spoke with Jeffrey and Naomi a few weeks ago at the Random House Canada offices.
Your own personal history is woven throughout this book and one gets the sense that these areas have been important to you for a long time. So why this book now? Why wasn’t it, say, your second book? What has changed politically, or in your own experiences, that made you want to write this book now?
Naomi: Well the ones out earlier, we put bits of those things in them—in our first book, Flatbreads and Flavors, we managed to squeeze Tibet in there, there was a lot of Xinjiang in there, and we started the book with flatbreads from Kashgar. But even now on our sixth book, we think this is lucky to be able to write about somewhere that is relatively so far out. So to have a contract even after a track record of six…that’s got to be our answer, partly. This has always been an interest of ours.
Jeffrey: in fact, a long time ago, Naomi wanted to do a book on Tibet. And I kept saying no way in the world…
N:…will anybody ever publish it. Stones and Silk, I thought. That would be a title.
J: Our editor was working on our second book with us, the one on rice, and she said, “you know, I’m okay to have my feet in the mud…”
N: “…in the rice paddies…”
J: “But please not over my knees.” (more…)