Log Cabin Chronicles

Royal Orr

Vacation Eating Time In Canada


Travel is all about busting out of your routine.

The first morning of our family vacation to PEI, we stopped in northern New Hampshire for breakfast. Our van was all but lost in a herd of logging trucks in the parking lot. Inside, big guys were tucking into six-egg omelettes with about a cord of sausage links on the side.

My routine is to eat fruit at breakfast. I get to the bacon and eggs eventually, but I like fruit to start. That's what I ordered. A big bowl of what tasted like that fruit salad in treacly syrup that comes in a gallon jar that had then been frozen in the back to await the arrival of an out-of-towner like me arrived. It was pretty grim.

Looking around, I recognized what should have been immediately obvious to me -- that logging-truck drivers in the North Woods don't let fresh fruit get anywhere close to their breakfast plates.

It reminded me that I was a traveler and so I resolved immediately to respect that most ancient travel advisory: when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Though in this case it was, when in West Stewartstown, do as the West Stewartstownians do. Bust out of your routine. Follow the local lead.

So on to PEI. Our cottage was out on the west end of the island by a little cove with the requisite red sandstone headlands and the gentle surf of Northumberland Strait. We were well off the beaten tourist track. Every morning our next-door neighbor descended onto the beach with an ancient Farmall tractor towing a beat-up plywood dory on a trailer to rake in the Irish moss that was drifting ashore.

There was a little harbor about five miles south of us with a 24-hour canteen that served the fishermen (and the mossers) as they came into port. Down we went as soon as we arrived. On a menu board propped up by the door was a dish called "The Works." It was much favored by the lads coming off the boats according to the buxom lass behind the counter (and I was in Rome after all!), so it was "The Works" for supper.

A large bowl of fries arrived, layered with generous portions of fried hamburger meat, swimming in brown gravy, and topped with a cupful of canned peas. They eat hearty, those fine folks on the island's west coast. But can a Quebecer, heir to the poutine and other blood-thickening, French-fry-based cuisine, really cast stones at "The Works"? I think not. I did, however, leave many of my peas behind.

For reasons having to do with my absurd work life, I had to interrupt my time in PEI to fly to North Bay, Ontario. North Bay is a rather nice place, best known as the birthplace of the Dionne quintuplets and the current home of Ontario premier Mike Harris. The city hugs the shore of Lake Nipissing in whose waters a few commercial fisherman still set their nets.

One brush with "The Works" cannot be allowed to destroy the inherited wisdom of ancient travelers, so I asked the waitress at lunch what she'd recommend.

"Oooh!" she said with a small conspiratorial smile, "The pickerel! Try the pickerel!"

Perhaps Mr. Harris's renowned cutbacks were in effect in his home town diners, or maybe the delicate flesh of Lake Nipissing's finest white fish literally melts into the deep-fried crust that envelops it. Somewhere within the golden breading I am sure there must have been a sliver of pickerel flesh, though I could not detect it. I crunched my way through my meal, content in the knowledge that I was sharing in the subtle culinary pleasures of the Nipissingois.

Perhaps for dessert, I thought, I should order the fruit cup.

Royal Orr is a writer and broadcaster living in Hatley, Quebec.

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