Food & Drink

4 Ways To Experience Indigenous Cuisine In Ontario

Do you know what bannock is? Ever tried a Blanket Dog, a Navajo Taco or a Trapper’s Snack? What about crushed strawberry or cedar tea?

Bannock (or frybread) is a versatile unleavened bread that is baked or fried, and is often served alongside a stew or soup or as a dessert with blueberries or maple syrup. It is used as the basis of popular comfort snacks like the Navajo Taco, which is bannock topped with seasoned ground meat, beans and all the usual taco toppings. The Blanket Dog is a hotdog or wiener wrapped in bannock, and a Trapper’s Snack usually includes bologna or luncheon meat with bannock. Staples in contemporary Indigenous cuisine include game meat like bison or elk, freshwater fish including salmon and trout, root vegetables, wild rice, maple, local berries, cedar tea, and of course bannock.

Here are four ways to savour Indigenous food and drink in Ontario.

Dine At An Indigenous Restaurant

NishDish, Toronto
NishDish is a casual caterer-turned-café built on the traditional Anishnawbe (Nish) food philosophy of using Indigenous ingredients wherever possible. The rotating menu includes fresh salads, harvest soups, hearty mains such as venison stew or arctic char, and sides like wild rice casserole and baked bannock. The selection of desserts here is impressive and tea drinkers will be tempted with flavours of sweetgrass, wild ginger, cedar and juniper. The early bird breakfast, served from 8am to noon, is guaranteed to make your morning beautiful. You can read more about owner and chef Johl Whiteduck Ringuette’s crusade for Indigenous food sovereignty here.

Dish from Tea N BannockImage credit: Tea N Bannock 

Tea N Bannock, Toronto
Diners gush over this comfy and inviting east end eatery that feels more like you’re in a friend’s kitchen. The seasonal menu, with ingredients sourced from sustainable-conscious local producers, features contemporary and traditional dishes like bannock, bison burgers, elk stew, grilled trout and tea. The prints and artwork adorning the walls plus to-go snacks are available for purchase.

The Restaurant at Kay Nah Chi Wah Nung Historial Centre, Stratton
Kay Nah Chi Wah Nung, meaning The Place of the Long Rapids, is a sacred Ojibwe burial site in northwest Ontario that holds over 8,000 years of history. In addition to the ‘Manitou Mounds’, the land was once home to thriving Indigenous villages and campsites. The Rainy River First Nations have developed an interpretive centre where visitors can book a guided tour of the ancient mounds and the outdoor trails under the supervision of a trained heritage interpreter. After your tour, dine at their restaurant which serves a variety of traditional wild rice dishes, bannock served with butter and jam, battered walleye and a selection of desserts, and overlooks the Manidoo Ziibi or Spirit River.

Dish from Pow Wow CafeImage credit: Emmie Tsumura for Pow Wow Cafe

Pow Wow Cafe, Toronto
Located in downtown boho Kensington Market, Pow Wow Cafe cooks up an Indigenous-inspired brunch, along with an all-day beef, chicken, fish or veggie taco menu, peanut butter and banana frybread and homemade cedar soda. Opened in 2016, owner and chef Shawn Adler’s menu is inspired by the food of his childhood, and his passion shines through in the flavours and creativity of his cooking.

Stay & Eat At An Indigenous Accommodation

Restaurant at Cree Village Ecolodge, Moose Factory
The Cree ‘shaapuhtuwaan’ was traditionally a dwelling structure used by multiple families to share in the food contribution and cooking during the winter. Dine in the shaapuhtuwaan or ‘great hall’ at this Northern Ontario lodge that honours the traditions of past generations in its décor and menu. Described as ‘living on the edge of the world’, Cree Village Ecolodge is located on Moose Factory Island, near the mouth of the Moose River at the southern end of James Bay.

Manitoulin Hotel and Conference CentreImage credit: Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre

North46 Restaurant at Manitoulin Hotel and Conference Centre, Little Current
This gorgeous First Nations-designed hotel is located on the north channel of Lake Huron on Manitoulin Island and incorporates natural décor elements of wood and stone. North46, the upscale onsite restaurant, focuses on authentic Indigenous-themed fare and treats guests to a stunning view of the lake and the nearby La Cloche Mountains.

Jackson’s Falls Country Inn and Public House, Milford
Just a short drive south of Picton, in Prince Edward County, the Public School House is a rustic, one-room 1870s schoolhouse converted into a cozy restaurant that presents a seasonal, local, wild-foraged and Indigenous-inspired menu. It’s part of the nine-room inn, including three Indigenous-themed suites, the Oneida Room, The Iroquois Suite and The Mohawk Suite. Proprietor and innkeeper Lee Arden Lewis harkens to her Mohawk heritage for decor and menu inspiration.

Set Out On A Guided Indigenous Food Tour

The Algonquin Bushfood Walk with The Algonquin Canoe Company, Eau Claire
You’ll be introduced to Indigenous-discovered plants used for food and medicine in the Algonquin forest on this guided two-hour bushwalk at the Eau Claire Gorge Conservation Area, just north of Algonquin Park. Learn to recognize what they are, what they taste like and how to use them. The Algonquin Canoe Company is based out of Long Sault Island in Thorne. 

Making bannock

Food and Tea Tours with Great Spirit Circle Trail, Manitoulin Island
Experience eco, educational and nature-based tours from an Indigenous perspective on majestic Manitoulin Island, the largest freshwater island in the world and home to a rich Indigenous culture. On the ‘Teas of Manitoulin’ tour, you’ll pick, boil and enjoy your own tea, while the ‘Bannock and Berries’ program will teach you how to make bannock over an open fire.

Traditional Tea and Bannock with an Elder at Indigenous Experiences, Ottawa
Groups of 25 or more are invited to an informative tour introducing the various living styles of Indigenous people on Turtle Island in the Ottawa River. Enjoy a cup of traditional herbal tea and sample bannock with berry jams, while an Elder shares traditional teachings and a smudge, a purification ceremony that involves burning sacred medicines to cleanse the body, mind and spirit.

Indigenous-Owned Food Businesses

Sayers Fishery, Batchawana Bay
This family owned business operates out of Batchawana Bay at Corbeil Point on the Obadjiwan Reserve, and fishes Lake Superior and Lake Huron for lake trout and whitefish. Pick up freshly caught and processed fish, or tasty smoked fish, including the popular smoked fish pâté.

Can of Swing Bridge blonde beerImage credit: Manitoulin Brewing Co.

Manitoulin Brewing Co., Little Current
Three friends, Blair Hagman, Joet Dhatt and Nishin Meawasige, have come together to brew something great! This little craft brewery on Manitoulin employs quality ingredients and the highest attention to detail to produce a small batch craft beer lineup that celebrates the flavour of the island. You can also snag cool merch like t-shirts, cups and mugs.

Coffees from Birch Bark Coffee Co.Image credit: Birch Bark Coffee Co.

Birch Bark Coffee Co., Ottawa
Here’s a java that tastes and feels good. Producing organic, fair-trade and SPP (small producers grown and produced by Indigenous farmers worldwide) certified coffee, this cause-driven company is dedicated to deliver clean drinking water to Indigenous communities. Proceeds from sales enable them to bring Certified Water Purification Systems to Indigenous communities. Here’s where you can pick up Birch Bark Coffee. Founder Mark Marsolais-Nahwegahbow is a member of the Whitefish River First Nation located on Birch Island.

Giizhigat Maple Products, St. Joseph Island
Home to some of Northern Ontario’s sweetest maple syrup, maple candies and maple butter, this operation is owned and operated by an Ojibway couple, Deborah and Isaac Day. Originally from the Six Nations of the Grand River where their families had been making maple syrup for generations, Deborah and Issac moved to a farm on St. Joseph Island and expanded their maple production with sweet results.

Discover even more about the history and culture of Indigenous peoples in Ontario, from pow wows to guided nature tours, crafts, artwork and traditional cuisine at ontariotravel.net.

Note: Appropriate respect and appreciation is essential when visiting spiritually significant sites.


Main image credit: Emmie Tsumura for Pow Wow Cafe