If you’ve ever been to a Canadian street festival, chances are that you’ve already tried bannock (or at least the food truck version of it). However, if that’s the furthest you’ve dipped your toes in the waters of First Nations cuisine, there’s no better time to dive in deeper.Across the country, Indigenous-owned and operated restaurants and catering companies have been popping up, all of which celebrate a unique food culture. Here are just five worth checking out in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
Edmonton’s SC RestaurantThink that chef Shane Chartrand’s name sounds familiar? That may be because he was a finalist on the Food Network’s Chopped in 2017, not to mention the first Aboriginal chef to take top honours at a Gold Medal Plates competition. It could be because he’s currently starring in Red Chef Revival, a documentary series examining food as an entry point towards reconciliation. Or, it could be because his upcoming cookbook, Tawâw: Progressive Indigenous Cuisine, is getting a lot of buzz.Even if you don’t know his name though, you won’t forget his food. Located in the River Cree Resort and Casino, SC Restaurant’s menu is influenced by Chartrand’s Cree, Mi’kmaq and Métis heritage. Want a quick bite in between pulling slots? Try the pulled bison popovers served with peppercorn sauce. rivercreeresort.com/our-restaurants
Calgary’s The Little Chief RestaurantAsk most urbanites if they’ve ever been to a reserve and chances are, you’ll be met with a blank stare. But in Calgary, you technically don’t even have to leave the city to eat on one. The Little Chief Restaurant is in the Grey Eagle Resort Hotel, which sits on Tsuut’ina Nation.Chef Bill Alexander, who is part Iroquis and Mohawk, loves to include game meat on the menu, but there’s options here for vegetarians as well. Don’t miss the Heritage Bread Board, which includes house-made fry bread and bannock bread, paired with saskatoon berry jam, Tsuut’ina honey and smoked pemmican butter. greyeagleresortandcasino.ca/dining/little-chief-hotel-restaurant
Saskatoon’s Wanuskewin Heritage ParkImagine sitting wrapped in a warm blanket, roasting bannock over an open fire and watching the moon rise high over the banks of the South Saskatchewan River. This scene is just the amuse-bouche of Wanuskewin Heritage Park’s seasonal monthly Han Wi – Moon Dinners. There’s still three more courses to go, allowing you to sample ingredients that have been sourced from the surrounding valley below for thousands of years by Indigenous people. The highlight, arguably, is the bison tenderloin prepared by Métis chef Jenni Schrenk.If you can’t make it to one of the summertime events, Wanuskewin’s restaurant is open year-round and serves a contemporary take on traditional First Nations cuisine. Think pike tacos with juniper berry coleslaw and venison burgers with blueberry wojapi sauce in a bannock bun. wanuskewin.com/visit/dining
Regina’s The Bannock HouseThe Bannock House takes its name very seriously, so expect a lot of bannock: bannock bowls, bannock pizza, bison chili and bannock. . . you get the idea.While its Facebook page might lead you to believe that it’s just another casual restaurant where you can order modern versions of traditional Indigenous food, there’s a lot more going on in the back of house. Community-owned and operated, it’s also a training ground for budding young Indigenous chefs, providing valuable employment and training opportunities. facebook.com/The-Bannock-House
Sisika’s The River Ranche LodgeThere’s no restaurant here, but the homemade Indigenous meals make The River Ranche Lodge worth visiting. Only an hour drive from Calgary, the lodge is close to Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump and other sites of significance to the Siksika Nation.Specializing in cultural activities (such as Blackfoot elder storytelling and tipi camp stays) and outdoor adventures (including fly fishing, kayaking and cross-country skiing), everything is customizable for visitors, making it the ideal getaway for small groups. facebook.com/riverranchetourism