Every year in October, over the course of about 10 days, there is a Celtic Colours festival on the island of Cape Breton. There are events small and large in many communities across the island. There is also the spectacular fall colours ablaze across the landscape. The best Celtic musicians and performers are featured during the festival which celebrates the celtic heritage, Gaelic language, arts and crafts of the area. You will never regret visiting Cape Breton during the festival.
In the south shore town of Mahone Bay, usually the last weekend of September or early October, you may spy some unusual citizens lounging on front porches and lawns, on street corners and shop fronts. They would be scarecrows of every shape and size. The Scarecrow festival is held over is a fun way to spend a day. They have a vintage car display, antique fare and a bandstand with music and plenty of other activities, both in the day time and in the evening such as a lit Pumpkin parade. Mahone Bay is about an hour's drive from Halifax on Highway 103 via exit 10.
see the travelogue for more photos and info.
While I was in Nova Scotia, I had the pleasure of attending a local junior league hockey game. When in Canada, right?
When I visited the food concessions stand between the three periods of play, I noticed that they sold Rolaids antacid tablets - they were literally ON the menu. Really. There are two particularly good reasons that Rolaids would be a top seller in such a venue. The first is that the locals order and enjoy "deep fried pepperoni". These are large chunks of Italian pepperoni that are literally immersed in cooking oil and fried for a couple of minutes. I didn't try it, but I can certainly imagine that indigestion might go hand in hand with deep fried pepperoni.
But, there's an even more pressing reason to consider Rolaids on a trip to the concession stand.... there's the poutine. Never heard of "poutines"? Me neither. I saw some little kid order one and when they handed him the plate, I literally said out loud "Christ, what's that?" A young teenaged girl with pink hair smiled at me and said "it's a poutine". Repeating a similar conversation that I'd had a few nights earlier with a waitress about donairs, I asked her what a poutine was. And her answer was....
It's a giant pile of french fries, covered with melted cheese and then covered with beef gravy. My, doesn't THAT sound like a little heartburn on the way? The combo alone made me want to take an extra Prilosec that day, and I didn't even eat one. :)
I've since brought up the subject of poutines with some local friends in Florida who lived in Canada in the past. They all smiled and fondly spoke of these poutine things, so they must be true Canadian comfort food. I'm not criticizing them, I do like french fries, I like melted cheese and I like beef gravy. And if I'd not been afraid of being awake all night with heartburn, I might have given it a whirl.
Want to see what made me say "Christ, what's that?" See the photo below.
I decided to just stick with having another beer. Good choice, eh?
Canada and the USA may be very similar, but there ARE differences. For example, there are food items commonly sold in Canada that were completely unfamiliar to us. The first example of this would be the ubiquitous donair.... ubiquitous in Nova Scotia anyway.
Apparently, this pizza-like casual comfort food was "invented" many years ago in Halifax. It's somewhat the product of mideastern cooking, with roots in both gyro sandwichs and various other grilled meat and flatbread meals.
A donair is basically made this way...
You start with a small circular flatbread. Onto this bread, you put "donair meat". This meat can vary by location and by whomever is making your donair, but in general, it's a spiced-pressed-chopped meat product. In most places, I think it's mostly beef, although some lamb may be part of it. The best way I can describe it would be "it's like peppery meat on a gyro sandwich".
Beyond the meat, they add chopped lettuce and chopped tomatoes, kind of the sort we find in America on tacos and in other Mexican fast-food cuisine. Then, there is the grand finale... the donair sauce. Donair sauce is a thick white sauce with a consistency similar to thin mayonaise, and a totally unique taste. It's both sweet and garlic-like in flavor, which is not surprising - considering that two of the four main ingredients are sugar and vinegar. Besides being used on donairs, this donair sauce is also popular in Canadian pizza parlors as a dipping sauce for cheese or garlic breadsticks. We first tried donair SAUCE at a Pizza Delight in Springhill. I later went beyond "just trying the sauce", full-montying my way to having an actual for dinner at another pub (The Lamp Cabin), also in Springhill. You can see my tips on both places on the Springhill page.
I've since found a recipe for donair sauce and I actually made some at home. It was pretty good, so if you'd like to try it yourself, here's a recipe for both donair meat and donair sauce. (I have only tried the sauce recipe)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground oregano
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound ground beef
1 (12 fluid ounce) can evaporated milk
3/4 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons garlic powder
4 teaspoons white vinegar, or as needed
To make the donair meat:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). In a cup or small bowl, mix together the salt, oregano, flour, black pepper, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, onion powder, and cayenne pepper.
Place the ground beef in a large bowl, and use your hands to blend in the spice mixture. If you want the smooth texture of meat that you see in a real donair shop, you must do this in a steel mixing bowl and on a sturdy surface. Pick up the meat, and throw it down with force about 20 times, kneading it after each throw. This also helps the meat hold together better when you slice it.
Form the meat into a loaf, and place it on a broiler pan. If you do not have one, a baking sheet will do. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes in the preheated oven, turning the loaf over about half way through. This will ensure even cooking. This cuts better if you chill the meat overnight before slicing.
To make the donair sauce, mix together the evaporated milk, sugar and garlic powder in a medium bowl. Gradually whisk in the white vinegar, adding 1 teaspoon at a time, until thickened to your desired consistency.
In general in the Maritimes, realize that people do not think it's rude to ask a complete stranger for personal details -especially where they live. They are fascinated with knowing where people are from and want to know if they know anyone where you live. They won't be deterred by general responses either, they will keep pressing for answers.
In urban areas people learn to avoid eye contact with strangers - Maritimers consider people who don't make eye contact with strangers as being shifty.
On the plus side, Maritimers will almost always help a stranger in distress (eg. car broken down) quite frequently without expecting any money in return (although gifts given at a later date are considered acceptable and show that the stranger is a good sort - such as a feed of lobster or a bottle of booze).
If you are in Halifax around noon listen out for a loud bang. The Halifax Citadel is a National Historic Site & is still guarded by the 78th. Highlanders The noon day gun is fired everyday - much the same as Edinburgh Castle but not as old. Prince Edward Duke of Kent, the father of Queen Victoria was commander of the British forces in Halifax from 1794 to 1800 & it was probably to his instruction the gun was fired & still is.
Nova Scotia makes good use of its dual langauge of English and French, both are spoken widely here in the Province. Most road signs are printed in both languages as are the entry tickets for the attractions. In Cape Breton Scottish Gaelic is also widely spoken, passed down from the Ancestors who came here over three hundred years ago.
While travelling around Cape Breton we noticed a lot of graveyards usually in remote areas and nearly always near a church.
The head stones were not laid out in straight lines or in neat rows but seemed to be placed at random but one common link was the head stones were all facing the same direction - east to Scotland and France.
...hey folks, when you hear this in a bar raise and tip your glass...just a tip, if you go into a Catholic mass the next day don't make the mistake of yelling sociable when the priest raises the chalice....you'll be a marked duck!
n Mahone Bay on the south shore of the province, they hold a wooden boat festival over a weekend in mid summer. There is a strong seafaring heritage in this province and Mahone Bay celebrates it with demonstrations, races, boat building demonstrations, a parade and fireworks.
The Highland Games are popular in Scotland. This part of NS is thick with Scottish descendants, arriving here on the Hector during the Highland Clearances of the late 18th Century. They brought the games with them and they've been an official event since 1863. It takes place during a mid July weekend every year during which time there are Highland dancing competitions, pope and drum bands/lessons, and of course the ever popular heavy events such as the caber toss. There is camping available and the town will have lots of accommodations.
Take the Trans Canada highway 104 towards Cape Breton and take exit 32 at Antigonish. The town is a lovely one, centered around St. Francis Xavier university so there's always lots going on.
Go and see the Highland Village Museum (An Clachan Gàidhealach) in Iona - it's very interesting and a lovely site. We were there in August-September 2002.
This place is overpriced. The are nice places to stay in Halfax that are cheaper than this.more
94 Pelham Street, Box 1378, Lunenburg, B0J 2C0, Canada
Good for: Business
96 Starrs Rd, Yarmouth, NS B5A2T5
Good for: Families