Nova Scotia's food scene has long made good use out of its most obvious resource: the Atlantic Ocean. But there's more here than just excellent fresh seafood.
This maritime province is home to wineries, dairies, and farms of all varieties -- which feeds locavore restaurants in the capital city Halifax and beyond, as well as supplying gourmet food producers, which you'll often find at farmer's markets.
Halifax has been a base of Navy operations since Colonial times and through this day, and is also the home of six degree-granting universities. Taken together, this adds up to a thriving beer scene.
Restaurants in Nova Scotia tend towards the more casual side of things. While there are a few more-formal restaurants in Halifax (Gio and The Press Gang, for instance), even restaurants with very serious food intentions tend to bill themselves as "upmarket casual".
In fact, among the restaurants that generate the most buzz for their creativity and use of local food products-- Jane's on the Common, Fid, Morris East -- there's nearly a décor formula, which includes a few modern shiny pieces, like lacquer tables, some exposed building materials (brick or pine), and a blackboard menu.
There's also plenty of pub fare, which includes fish n' chips and chowder. Debate rages over whose is best, but The Henry House is a good choice.
- Read more about Halifax restaurants, with picks for fine dining, trendy modern, fish and chips, with choices both near tourist attractions and far away from them.
Nova Scotia's wine is not much distributed outside the province, so this is the place to experience it. The wine industry here is young and small -- there are fewer than twenty wineries in operation, with a couple of new ones on the way. But they're energetic, and well-supported by area restaurants. The Annapolis Valley, just about an hour's drive from Halifax, is the largest area with about a dozen vineyards.
This is obviously a cold climate, and it's also one that is focusing on hybrid varieties, especially a white hybrid called L'Acadie Blanc. There are also some lovely ice wines and fruit wines being produced here.
Gourmet Food Shopping and Farm Markets
You'll find plenty of delicous locally-made Nova Scotia gourmet products to bring home for souveniers -- or to eat on the spot.
Look for The Tangled Garden in Grand Pre, which makes artisanal jellies, jams and vinegars in a tiny kitchen -- mostly from herbs grown in the shop's own garden. Fox Hill Cheese House produces a variety of cheeses, including a hard-to-find German spreading cheese called "quark" -- which you might like to spread on the work of Boulangerie la Vendéenne, a fantastic baker.
Many vendors sell at area farmer's markets. Halifax has two, a new Seaport Market, and a historic market on Saturdays at the Alexander Keith's Brewery. There are other farm markets in towns around the province.
Nova Scotia Seafood
If there's any food that's ubiquitous in Nova Scotia, it's seafood. Cod, lobster, scallops, oysters, mussels -- it's all here. The most traditional Nova Scotian recipes tend to feature seafood, whether it's chowder or fish cakes. New seafood creations are unveiled each summer at the Nova Scotia Seafood Festival.
To learn more about Nova Scotia seafood, head to the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic, in Lunenburg, a historic fishing and shipbuilding village about an hour from Halifax. You'll learn about why the province is so well-positioned for seafood -- it's underwater banks are home to a fortunate combination of depth, water temperature, and nutrients. You'll also learn about the life and risks of Nova Scotia fisherman, past and present.
Nova Scotia Cooking Classes
There are plenty of cooking classes in Nova Scotia, although not all are geared towards travelers. In Halifax, the Atlantic Superstore, which seems like your run-of-the-mill supermarket, also offers classes taught by local chefs. (There's a location near the Harbor, making it convenient for travelers.)The restaurant Fid offers cooking classes on Monday nights.
In Lunenburg, the cooking store Cilantro offers an array of cooking classes, focusing on local produce and locally influential cuisines.
Nova Scotia Chocolate, Rum Cake and Sweet Treats
When it comes to the sweets, Nova Scotia does not disappoint.
In the category of chocolate, check out creative chocolatier Sugah! whose entire operation from kitchen to storefront is on the Halifax Harborfront. There's a wide range of creative chocolate products, including those made with local ingredients -- sea salt, cranberries and the like. There's also locally made ice cream available. Rum Runners Rum Cake Factory is attached to Sugah, and makes the most of the area's history for running booze into the United States during Prohibition. The cakes are disturbingly good and easily packable.
Also keep an eye out for chocolates by Gourmandises Avenue, in Eastern Passage.
Halifax Beer, Pubs and Microbreweries
The oldest brewery in Nova Scotia is Alexander Keith's -- founded by Scotsman Alexander Keith in 1820, who remains something of a local hero even though he's long in his grave. (He was a local politician, big wig businessman, and basically a man about town.) The brewery is now owned by Anheuser Busch, but that doesn't stop Halifax from celebrating his birthday each October. Alexander Keith's harborfront brewery is now the site of popular tours, which last an hour, and are a mix of dinner theater, sing-a-long, and some explanation of how the beer is made.