There’s no better way to enjoy an authentic cultural experience than by sampling a region’s traditional foods, and there are some delicious and curious culinary items on the menu in Newfoundland.
If you’ve never had a proper Newfoundland scoff, you’re in for an unforgettable experience. The traditional dishes enjoyed by the island’s first settlers still grace the dinner tables today, and they’re every bit as interesting as the land from which they come.
Bounty from the Sea
Not surprisingly, much of the traditional Newfoundland cuisine includes fish. All manner of fish are consumed here, but the codfish is king, so while other seafood is named accordingly, if you see the word ‘fish’ on the menu, it’s codfish they’re talking about. Although it’s prepared any number of ways—boiled, stewed, au gratin—pan-fried cod is the clear favorite, and you’ll find it on the menu just about everywhere you go. Filleted, dipped in milk and flour, and browned in a skillet of pork fat, this ubiquitous dish is a must-try.
Fish and brewis is another highly popular meal hereabouts. Brewis is hard tack, a brick-like, non-perishable biscuit, softened by cooking in pork fat along with the cod. The best part of this meal, at least in this islander’s opinion, is the scrunchions, which are small pieces of fat-back pork cooked to a golden crunch. These salty morsels are extremely tasty, and they really make this meal a treat. Fish and brewis can frequently be found on café and restaurant menus.
As befits a people historically plagued by hardship, nothing goes to waste here. Cod tongues and cheeks are sought-after delicacies. Britches are another such. Named for their resemblance to a pair of baggy pants, britches are the roe of the codfish, cooked and served in the original packaging, so to speak. You might say it’s the caviar of Newfoundland. Cod tongues are sold in grocery stores and served occasionally at restaurants. You may have to score a private invitation for a feed of britches, however.
A Taste of the Land
Moose is not native to the island, but moose meat has become a staple of the Newfoundland diet since their introduction in 1940. It comes fried, baked, boiled, stewed and bottled, and enjoyed as steak, honey garlic sausages, and even as burgers. Whatever form it takes and however it’s prepared, moose is a meat-lover’s delight. And for the health conscious, it’s the ultimate in organic, free-range fare. It’s illegal to sell moose meat here, but its occasionally available at special events, nonetheless. Ask around.
Every visitor to the island should try a jigs dinner. It’s a feast of salt beef and boiled vegetables, and the truest of Newfoundland culinary traditions. It’s usually served with pease pudding—yellow split peas boiled to a paste in a linen sack—and is generally available at least one day a week in local eating establishments. Note: If the potatoes look a little blue, it’s because they are. The blue potato is a variety common to Newfoundland and is as pleasing to the palate as it is to the eye.
What’s for Dessert?
Baked goods are pretty much a necessity of life in Newfoundland, and a cup of tea—an inherited British convention enjoyed at all hours of the day—isn’t complete without an offering of sweets. At the grocery store or at a kitchen table, you’ll be tempted by the lassy mogs and jam-jams, cookies made with molasses and homemade jam respectively.
Bakeapples, a.k.a. bog-apples or cloudberries, are the amber-colored berries of a low-growing plant found in Newfoundland bogs. They’re popular as jam or just as they are, with a generous helping of sugar and cream, and can often be purchased at farmer’s markets or souvenir outlets. Honestly speaking, those who like bakeapples are crazy for them, while those who don’t like them will tell you they taste like poison. You just won’t know until you try them, so be brave.
For the record, there are no figs in figgy duff, one of the island’s more unusual sweet treats. Originating with the very first settlers in the 16th century, figgy duff is a pudding made from bread boiled in a pudding bag with raisins, spices and molasses. Historically, figs is the name given to raisins here, hence the confusion. Figgy duff is the classic finale to a jigs dinner. It’s a dark and heavy dessert, but if you’re looking for an authentic food experience, don’t pass it up when it’s offered.
And that’s Not All
There are many other unique culinary delights to discover during your visit to Newfoundland. Flipper pie, toutons, partridge soup, baked turr, dough boys…the list goes on, each and every dish offering a true taste of an age-old culture. Check restaurant menus for a ‘Taste of Newfoundland’ section. Cafes and other small eateries often feature traditional dishes on a daily special board.
Of course, an invitation to tea or supper is the very best way to experience a good old Newfoundland scoff, and given the magnificent hospitality of this province, there’s every chance you’ll get one.