Normally i wouldn't upload pictures at all without wifi, but the last two evenings i have ended up camping in the cold and rain and i need something to take my mind off it.
So, without further ado, here is a picture post of food from the southwest prairies.
I should begin by saying the food of the prairies has been some of the blandest and least interesting food i have eaten in my life. It's comparable to small town Germany, except worse, because at least in Germany you might find a döner place or some nice pastries. In fact, i think the best place to compare to is traveling across... the motherfucking prairies in the US. Or the midwest. Small town midwest, the towns where only white people live. It's just so eyewateringly bland, i don't understand how people can eat it and think it's delicious. It tastes like desperation food to me, the kind of thing you make when the government is rationing food and all you got was a pound of ground beef and some potatoes and possibly a wedge of iceberg lettuce or teaspoon of salt.
Also, absolutely everything on the menu is Not Vegan At All. Every main has meat, literally every single one. Aside from french fries, every side has dairy on or in it - including the salads. The appetizers are all drenched in cheese. It's just ridiculous. I suppose i could be a pain in everyone's ass and whine and complain and try to get them to make me something special, but instead i mostly 入鄉隨俗 - "when in Rome" (although literally translated it means "when in the village").
All of that said, how could it be that i opened with some delicious-looking Vietnamese spring rolls? Well, read on.
Firstly, here is a soup and salad from a spectacularly expensive restaurant in Pincher Creek, probably the most expensive place i have been to since (spoiler alert for a future entry) Weyburn. The soup was sweet potato and squash, i think. It was fine, although not at all worth what i paid.
Here is an unflattering photo of something that was actually reasonably delicious - a chicken teriyaki made in a little snack bar out back of a gas station on the Blood Indian Reserve. The pump attendant gave me a Powerade for free because he thought what i was doing was so neat.
Spring rolls from the Chinese restaurant in Milk River. This is the standard spring roll you will get all over the whole of North America - it just has cabbage and carrot inside, and it has that cloyingly sweet, marmalade-like sauce that is ubiquitous in American and Canadian Chinese cuisine, but i never encountered anywhere in China.
Here is something that might be interesting for my Asian readers. This is what they call mapo tofu in most Canadian Chinese restaurants. It kind of looks vaguely similar to real 麻婆豆腐 mapo tofu - it has cubes of silky tofu and a sort of meat-based gravy sauce, but that's where the similarities end. There is no 花椒 Sichuan pepper or 辣椒乾 dried chili pepper. There is no 豆瓣醬 doubanjiang or 豆豉醬 black bean sauce. There is only salt and black pepper (胡椒), and the gravy tastes like a shepherd's pie - meat, onions, peas and carrots. This one is special because it has button mushrooms too (western mushroom, not 香菇 shiitake). It is still very bland. The rice probably had more flavor.
This is the first burger i ate in Alberta, when i was staying in Foremost and just about to leave Alberta. Alberta is most well-known in Canada for being the beef capital, so i had to eat at least one burger before i left. It was made by the bar tender in the kitchen out back, basically just a generic fast food style burger. It was fine. Bland, but that's par for the course. I got the burger and a few beers gifted to me by a construction worker at the bar who thought my journey was cool.
This is easily the best thing i ate in Alberta - a slice of homemade rhubarb pie from the museum in Etzikom.
Ah, Maple Creek, home of the best food in Saskatchewan until i got to Assiniboia. This is from a diner in town - their "special" salad with a side of bannock (frybread). The "special" salad was just a standard salad with cranberries, walnuts and maple dressing on top (plus cheese, because prairies). I am not really a fan of sweet salads, but i didn't care, because the star of this show was the bannock.
After getting salad at the diner, i went back to the bar in Maple Creek where i knew they had poutine, and i got the poutine. I wasn't expecting much - yet again it was a place where the bar tenders just prepared a snack behind the bar - but it turned out this is one of the best poutines i have had in Canada, period. They used real cheese curds, and because the fries were cooked to order and the gravy was heated up just for me, it was really fresh and yummy. Green onions on top? How adventurous!
Here is a common gas station or convenience store get in Canada. A homemade ham and cheese sandwich. It's usually one of the few things in the gas station that isn't ultra-processed and super unhealthy. But, because it's the prairies, they didn't even put mustard on it. It was just ham, cheese, lettuce, bread. So i swiped a mustard from the hotdog roller place.
Other things you will occasionally find in gas stations or convenience stores are some home cooking from the owner or a local. These are just very simple baked goods that come wrapped in cellophane, no label on them, no brand names, you just get what you get. I bought this rice krispie square because i thought it was fantastically amusing to get one that was in a Rubik's cube size and shape. Funny story: in the background you can see a cattle guard, which in Saskatchewan is called a "Texas gate".
Another great get from the gas station, homemade banana bread. Yes, i know there is egg in it. Whatever. This was an excellent one, it was just the right amount of bitter. I don't much like sweet things and most banana bread you get has been sweetened far too much for me, especially if it's production line coffee shop banana bread.
Back to diner food, and this is a breakfast omelette from Shaunavon. I asked for mushrooms, green onions and salsa in my omelette. She looked at me - shocked - "no cheese!?" No cheese. Then, of course, they forgot to put the salsa in the omelette, so i had to get it on the side. It was... bland. The bread was homemade, and it was the best thing on the plate.
Ah, the famous burger from the Climax diner. This is the best burger i had yet. It was a bacon cheeseburger with some onions in it. Nothing special, nothing exciting, but the bun was toasted and buttered just right. If you want a plain old burger, the diner in Climax is pretty good.
Not so much the bar in Mankota. This was the cheeseburger from there. Gravy with the fries, who would say no to that when they offer? The burger was fine. Their special sauce was to put mustard and relish on the bun instead of mayonnaise or butter. That made it slightly more flavorful than the average prairie burger, but this is really not saying very much.
Finally! Some food with a spice! This was the palak paneer, garlic naan and lassi that i got made special by the Indian guy in the bar and grill in Lafleche. As i mentioned on the entry, it wasn't the greatest Indian food i ever had, and it wasn't very spicy at all, but compared to everything else in the prairies, it really seemed spectacular.
Well, that is until dinner. Folks, this is what you've all been waiting for. The place that also served the spring rolls which were well in my tummy by the time this dish arrived. A Canadian Chinese restaurant in Assiniboia, which also happened to be run by a Vietnamese family, and which bravely had a few real Vietnamese dishes on the menu, including a (shock! horror!) vegetarian section. I got vegetables and tofu as my main, and asked for it really spicy, not Saskatchewan spicy. And they delivered! They even gave me a side container of even spicier hot sauce and it was bliss. It was the best thing i have eaten in the prairies - hands down - and quite possibly the best thing i have eaten on my entire journey so far. Finally, finally something that made my nose run a bit, that gave me that chili punch that i love so much, something with bok choy in it, fresh vegetables, solid, hearty, delicious vegan food without any pretension of being Vegan™ food. It was glorious. A revelation.
That's it for the southwest prairies, or - as i am now calling them - the dry prairies. It's been raining since i left Assiniboia and although i think i am getting into slightly more populated parts of the province, the food is not really improving the way i thought it would. Stay tuned for my woes trying to find something that is either vegan or actually has flavor in the southeast. I'm not holding out much hope for the twofer, but who knows?