Take Your Palette on a Journey
Apr 8, 2013
We Go North Guest Blog - written by Shari Johnston
As much as I love Grande Prairie, I also love getting away! I travel as much as possible and my travels usually focus on local food and drink, as much as they focus on the destination itself. I had no idea until recently, that traveling with an interest in local food is called Culinary Tourism.
I’ve traveled Canada from coast to coast, often with an idea of where I’d like to eat before I arrive at my destination. I often know of some sort of shop which carries specific ingredients or cooking gear that I want to check out while visiting place. When I need to book accommodations, I try to book a place that has cooking facilities so I can prepare some of my own meals, often using local ingredients. You can call me crazy but it’s what I love to do. Little did I know that I was actually tapping into a growing tourism market.
Culinary Tourism is the pursuit of unique and memorable eating and drinking experiences (International Culinary Tourism Association) and there are many ways to participate in culinary tourism, especially here in the Peace Country and the rest of the North. One of the easiest ways to partake in culinary tourism is to eat local. Whether you stop by a locally owned restaurant, track down some food carts or go to a local farmer’s market, you’re bound to find great, handmade food and, if you’re adventurous, you’ll probably find something you haven’t tried before.
A very popular spot to bring guests visiting Grande Prairie is the farmer’s market. Fairly recently, they’ve opened a food court at the market, which features four vendors selling Egyptian food, Indian food, sushi and Mexican food.
It is not uncommon for James at El Norteno to have a line up around the corner of his booth. And, while we’ve loved fish tacos ever since we found them being served out of an old trailer in a church parking lot, we’ve also become huge fans of Mona and Mohamad at Taste of Egypt.
We’ve also seen an increase in locally owned restaurants using local products on their menus. A couple of examples would be The Office, located in the Pomeroy Hotel (formerly the GP Inn) which uses beef from Spirit View Ranch (owned by Christoph and Erika Weder) and Maddhatters, which uses bison meat from Glendean Farm (owned by Glenn and Eldine Kjemhus).
While there are great options within the city of Grande Prairie, it’s not uncommon for me to bring guests on road trips around the area. Without a specific destination in mind, we’ve headed north, south, east or west and found ourselves in all sorts of places. From the straw church in Bad Heart to a complete stranger’s bison farm in Valhalla, I never know where I’m going to end up. What I do know, for sure, is that I’m going to be hungry at some point.
Luckily, there are all sorts of great places tucked away in Peace Country communities to eat. We’ve literally stumbled upon places by accident (Melsness Mercantile in Valhalla) or purposely headed out on a friend’s recommendation (Soups in Beaverlodge) and haven’t been disappointed by a single meal. I love the variety of foods, the people you meet and the stories you hear when you stop at locally owned places.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can head further afield. For example, if you ever find yourself in La Crete, stop at Country Grill for authentic Ukrainian food or head to Dawson Creek and check out Old Fashioned Bakery and watch your willpower fly out the window once you smell the delicious breads and pastries.
If you’re really lucky, you’ll have travel companions who’ll pretty much go along with any plan you come up with. If this is the case, next thing you know, you’ll find yourself in Dawson City, Yukon drinking Sour Toe Cocktails at the Downtown Hotel, or in Chicken, Alaska, having breakfast at the Chicken Creek Café or at Bullock’s Bistro in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, eating amazing fish and chips while watching the surly but personable cook handle a grill full of freshly caught fish. And, if you’re truly blessed, after spending a day touring Nahanni National Park, your pilot will invite you to the annual Fort Simpson community feast and drum dance, where you’ll become a part of community.
I’ve been in Grande Prairie for ten years now. Most of that time has been spent travelling around the area, taking in as much of the culture as I can. Next time you find yourself out and about, whether in the Peace Country, north of 60° or anywhere else in the world, leave your comfort zone and become a culinary tourist. Avoid the chain restaurants we’re all so familiar with. Head into a locally owned place, talk to the servers and order something you’ve never had before. There’ll be some hits, there’ll be some misses but, overall, there won’t be many regrets, just good stories and great memories.
About Our Guest Blogger
Shari Johnston has lived in Grande Prairie for ten years and is an avid home cook, local food advocate and food & drink junkie. Since 2011, she has written about her adventures, both in the kitchen and out, at her blog, Tales From A Small Kitchen. She loves everything about food: Cooking it, reading about it, tasting it and talking about it.