September 21st, 2021

on the res

food in sk/mb picture post

Before i get to the scenic pictures of Manitoba (and there are quite a few!) i'd like to do another food post. This one is of the "wet prairie" east of Assiniboia (Saskatchewan) and stretching into Manitoba. The food did change a little bit with the landscape, notably having slightly more vegetarian or vegan options.

I know a lot of the foods appearing here are not very interesting to American (or Canadian) readers because it's pretty much the same food they can get anywhere, but it might be more interesting to readers overseas where the burger (for example) isn't an ubiquitous food item. Also, longtime readers know that i absolutely love food and all the stories it tells.

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So that's it! Definitely a more varied set than the dry prairies of southern Alberta and southwest Saskatchewan, but admittedly it's a bit of cheat because i'm including Brandon and Selkirk, which are much bigger towns than anywhere i visited across the first stretch of prairie. It seems once you hit a certain level of population density, vegetarian and even vegan options aren't so weird any more. And in towns that actually have more than one immigrant in them, you might even find an entire restaurant dedicated to cuisine that isn't bland.

Tomorrow or perhaps tonight i will put together the Manitoba picture post (minus Winnipeg). Winnipeg itself is pretty nice so far, it feels a bit like a tiny little baby version of Chicago. Or maybe like a smaller Minneapolis. I'll update you on that when i actually get to Minneapolis. I have my COVID test today, so wish me luck.
on the res

Winnipeg stories

I am somewhat nervous right now. I booked a Thursday flight to Minneapolis, but there are a lot of things depending on each other to be able to get there.

For people who haven't flown into the US during the pandemic, the procedure is still the Trump administration policy that vaccination status doesn't matter, but you must have a clean COVID test taken within 3 days of your flight to prove you are okay to get in. This turns out to be extremely difficult to do. COVID tests are free in Canada if you exhibit symptoms, but if you need a test purely for the sake of travel, you can't use the government testing facilities, you have to go to a private testing facility. I didn't realize this beforehand. There are only two or three private testing facilities in Winnipeg, and the cost of a test is comparable to the cost of the flight. That is, hundreds of dollars.

I got the test this morning, my first COVID test ever. It kind of sucked, but apparently the new version of the test they don't need to stab it right up your nose, it's just a little bit up the nose, so it was more uncomfortable in my wallet than in my nostril. But now i need to wait 24 hours and just trust that they will email me the result in time to show for the flight. I am really worried about what if it doesn't come back in time, or what if i somehow test positive, despite having remained social distanced pretty much this whole journey, and usually masked. Plus, of course, i am vaccinated. But still. Worried.

The other worry is my bike, which i gave to a local bike shop as soon as i arrived on Tuesday, because airport hotels don't have anywhere to store a fucking bike. They said they'll deliver the box right to the hotel for me, but it'll be after business hours on Wednesday.

So i am cutting it really fine, just trusting that these other people are going to get their shit done in time for me to have everything i need to get on the flight. If anything falls through, i will need to cancel or rebook, but the flight i got doesn't appear to have a full cancellation policy, so ugh.

To make matters worse, i am constantly being nagged by the Canadian government to check in every day for my 2 week quarantine after crossing the border from the Peace Garden back into Canada, which obviously i haven't been doing, because i had to cycle to Winnipeg and get a COVID test in between, and anyway was only "outside" Canada for about 2 hours. I know it's just bureaucratic nonsense, i'm probably just in the system as needing to quarantine despite being double-vaxxed because i didn't have a COVID test coming in, but the border officer didn't say anything about it, so fuuuuck.

Anyway. Stress level is fucking high.

After my test this morning i went to find real Chinese food, since that is something that always makes me happy. But then the first restaurant i went to was take-out only, and the second one was closed.

I suddenly now understand why people who live in big eastern cities are really fucking sick of all the COVID restrictions and closures. In smaller towns in the west - including Kamloops - most of the restaurants remained open for dine-in, although social distanced and with limited capacity as per government orders. Mask-wearing was really only a thing when absolutely required, which is to say indoors in BC and nowhere in Alberta or Saskatchewan. But in Manitoba, here in the city, people are even wearing masks outside. Outside! And all of these take-out only restaurants, what's up with that? It's bizarre, it's as if we're still in those fearful days of February 2020 and not the post-vaccine present, or even the "okay, those early restrictions were a bit over the top" days of last summer.

But then i found a dim sum restaurant, and i ordered two of my cheat dishes - 麻婆豆腐 mapo tofu and 叉燒包 BBQ pork bun, plus a Chinese sponge cake which had some other name here but in Shenzhen we usually called it 發糕 or 鬆糕. My God. It was delicious. Just to be in a Chinatown, even the tiny little one that Winnipeg has, it's one of my happiest places in the world. That smell of steam rice, of char siu, of jasmine tea... I don't know why, but it feels safe and cozy and like home to me.

Funny observation, a couple of Japanese ladies sat next to me and weren't sure what to order, so they asked the Chinese group at the table next to them - in English - "what's that dish?" and the Chinese answered "gān biān sì jì dòu", as if every Asian person in the world should be able to speak Mandarin Chinese. They kind of looked at each other, confused, then eventually the Chinese realized that they weren't talking to other Chinese and told them the number of the dish on the menu instead. I cackled behind my mask. Mainland Chinese are the new Americans.

Oh, and get this.

Yesterday afternoon walking back from the bike shop, i actually passed a Palestinian Café! Okay, it might not have been Palestinian, but it was an Arab street food joint called Yafa Café. I ordered hummus and foule mudammas and fattouche and basbousa and had the best damn dinner ever. So delicious. Man, being in a real city again - even a relatively small one like Winnipeg - is glorious.

After my Chinese lunch i felt better, so i decided to spend the day doing my pre-bike touring version of sightseeing, which is to basically just walk randomly around the city following whatever alleyways and trails look interesting. I wandered all around Winnipeg, which has a huge long system of riverside trails, and ended up in the French Quarter. Where i found a patisserie, because of course i did. So i had to order something there too, even though i was very full. I got a chocolate éclair, and it was stupid gluttonous, but i ate it on the steps of the Saint Boniface cathedral like a proper tourist.

Then i saw a place called Garbage Hill on my phone, and decided i had to see it, because the name is awesome. I walked a long way through some vaguely sketchy areas, but it was nothing compared to some of the shadiest parts of San Fran or Vancouver or - honestly - pretty much any city with more than a million people. Everyone who has been warning me about Winnipeg clearly has not traveled much in big cities. Yeah, there are junkies and dealers. Mind your business, move on. Yeah there are homeless people. And people whose skin isn't white and don't speak English. I mean, whatever. You do need to be a little street smart and have enough resilience to not give a shit about cat calls or people pointing and giggling about something in a language you don't understand, but there are way worse places to be than the rough streets of Winnipeg in the middle of the day.

Anyway, i got to Garbage Hill, and it is literally a hill made of garbage. The whole place is a mound of smashed up bottles that somehow has prairie grass growing on top. There are lots of disclaimers saying "use at your own risk" - apparently it's a popular sledding area in the winter, because it's the only hill in town. That also means it has a great view. It reminded me of being in China, where you climb a mountain and it almost feels kind of like you're in the wilderness, but then you look over and see a bunch of factories.

But, like, this city is full of history too, it's not just tweakers and trash mountains and great restaurants.

When i left Selkirk i noticed that there was a road that ran right along the river almost all the way to Winnipeg, so i cycled along that road and serendipitously found myself back on the Trans Canada Trail again, which i have hopped on and off of since BC. It took me past a bunch of famous sights from the history of the Hudson Bay Company in this part of Canada, the Red River Colony, and the Métis people (who are a unique cultural group originally made up of First Nations women who married French voyageurs, or English and Scottish company men).

It's been interesting, following the history of Canada in reverse. Starting in the west, which is mostly unceded native territory and where you'll see signs like "this bridge is named for Joe Bloggs, who was the first white man to cross this river in 1910". Then going into the prairies where the main historical plaque is "we killed all the bison and drove the natives away, then we had to send mounties in to kick the Americans out too, then when we finally settled the land we failed at farming it, so now all that's left is abandoned buildings and a Chinese restaurant". And now it's like stories of political and economic intrigue, mixed-descent cultural groups vying for power with both the Company and with First Nations... Catholics and Protestants, French and English... It's all very Canada, fuck yeah over here. I got a lot of photos of churches. The churches here look like real churches! They're made of stone, and have belltowers, and all that good stuff.

Winnipeg is a fascinating place to be, if you're a history buff.

And it's also a pretty nice little town. I think of all the major cities i have visited in Canada so far, Winnipeg is my favorite. It feels like a good balance of the multiculturalism of Toronto, the Frenchiness of Montréal and the chillness of Vancouver, but friendlier and more down-to-Earth than all three. I imagine if i was here in winter my opinion would probably be very different, because it gets cold as fuck.

I suppose at least i could get a sled and slide down the Garbage Hill.

But, for now, the plan is to head south. Just, God, please let all this other shit pan out. The COVID test, the bike packing, the "quarantine" i'm supposed to be doing... Let it all come together. Let me pop out in Minnesota and get on my bike again. Maybe i will retrace my steps to the SPAM museum, which i visited in 2016. And then perhaps i will go see Captain Kirk's future place of birth. And then KCMO, i have to see the Missouri river again, it's the real gateway to the west in my opinion. Does Dorothy have a hometown? Maybe there is a tornado in Kansas that can take me to Oz.

I just need things to fall into place tomorrow. I hate having to depend on other people to do stuff. But it's out of my hands. I will try to ignore it and maybe order some other exciting big city food while i have the chance. I suppose in 24 hours i will know, one way or the other. Send good vibes.