Yes, David’s kissing a cod! More on this later, read on…
As with everything about life in Newfoundland, the food revolves around the sea.
In fact, seafood is the main reason that settlers from Europe came to the island in the first place.
Just five years after Columbus sailed the ocean blue, King Henry VII of England sent the Venetian explorer Zuan Cabotto in search of new lands to the north of Christopher’s discovery.
The captain, better known by his English name of John Cabot, came upon Newfoundland and wrote, “the sea there is full of fish that can be taken not only with nets but with fishing-baskets.”
Those fish were cod, and cod became the backbone of the economy, as well as the staple of the diet. It was only fitting that we would dive right in to some cod on our very first night.
How Many Ways Can You Cook a Cod?
Before dinner we heard stories about the fabled fish, some involving kissing them. Well, we can truthfully testify that not only will a Newfoundlander kiss a cod, they aren’t shy about using some tongue.
Cod tongue was our appetizer, and the first bite of food we consumed on the island. Fried tidbits straight from the fish’s mouth, served with scrunchions; deep fried bits of pork fat.
The tongues taste like cod, with a very slight gelled consistency. And everything’s good with a little pig fat on it… so down the hatch.
We were starting to feel like real live locals, so we ordered up the Fisherman’s Brewis for the main course.
This was a slightly fancier version of the Newfoundland classic Fish & Brewis, which consists of salt cod and hardtack, boiled, broken up, and mixed together.
There was none of that on the traditional plate we found a few days later, but either way, it tastes way better than it sounds… or looks.
Just in case we hadn’t had enough the night before, breakfast was focused on the fish too, cod cakes and eggs.
Then at lunch with Paul and Ruth Gale at Pirate’s Haven was another Newfoundland favorite, cod au gratin.
The next day we got to catch, and even kiss, a cod with Darren Park of Four Seasons Tours when he took us for a spin in his traditional dory around the Bay of Islands and Cox’s Cove.
Putting Some Mussel Into It
We are happy to report that all tongues stayed in their mouths, and the fish were set free.
We were finally going to eat something other than cod! Don’t get us wrong, — we love it — but as non-Newfoundlanders, our bodies craved a little variety.
Darren grabbed a bucket of mussels he had gathered nearby and scooped some water from the bay into it. At low tide, he simply walks along the shore and picks the shellfish up.
Toss in some fresh snow crab, give it a few minutes on the stove, and we were ready for a feast.
This was the first of several times that we would eat a meal fit for the finest gourmet restaurant while sitting at a picnic table by the water’s edge.
Getting Jiggy With It
At some point we had to eat something other than seafood, and we finally found a time-honored alternative at an establishment with an unlikely name, Fisherman’s Landing in Gros Morne National Park.
The special of the day was Jiggs Dinner, which features salt beef, and is kind of like a Newfoundland version of the good ole Irish corned beef and cabbage. Jiggs Dinner includes carrots, turnips, and pease pudding — a pudding in the British use of the term.
Made from split yellow peas and cooked in a pudding bag along with the rest of the ingredients, it is almost like a dumpling.
All we know is that we got downright jiggy with it.
The Non-Fancy Version of Fish & Brewis
Of course fish was also prominent of the menu, and this is where we found the more traditional Fish & Brewis,
Both of the dishes date back to the days before refrigeration, so they are based on easily kept ingredients like salted meat, root vegetables, and dried bread or hardtack.
Between sets of homespun humor and harmonies by this group of women who have been entertaining for over twenty years, we tried toutons, a traditional fried bread accompanied by molasses or partridge berry jam.
Lobsters Have Pools?
After our break from seafood we realized that we had not sampled the island’s most popular non-cod offering from the water, lobster.
They are so common in the area around Twillingate that folks remember it in their lunch boxes as children. Some say they actually got sick of it, like we did bologna or PB&J sandwiches!
There are signs all along the roads advertising lobster pools, so we stopped off to check one out.
The name is quite accurate, think swimming pool filled with lobsters, hundreds if not thousands of them just waiting for someone from a restaurant or store to haul them away.
As a sideline, and happily for those of us who are not sick of lobster, most of the pools sell steamed lobsters to curious wanderers like us.
We picked out a couple of beauties and settled in at a picnic table on the shore.
No five-star establishment could have been better – and the view was unbeatable.
Life’s a Screech
Of course food is not the only thing consumed in Newfoundland, libations have a long history too.
Distilled spirits played a big part in the early fishing trade as salt cod was shipped down to the Caribbean and rum made its way back up.
One of the most common types became known as Screech, allegedly for the sound a person makes after downing a shot.
Somewhere along the way “Screeching In” took hold as a way to induct folks who “come from away” but would like to become an honorary Newfoundlander.
This is a revered practice on the island, and as such must be performed properly by a registered screecher.
After a week or more crisscrossing the land we felt pretty close to real live locals, so we took the plunge, and the pledge. With a shot of Screech and a kiss of another cod, we were initiated.
We would never dream of tampering with tradition, but we did wish that perhaps one of the island’s iceberg infused beverages could have been substituted for the Screech.
Yes, up in iceberg alley, as the sea along the northern coast is called, vodka and beer are made with melted icebergs.
Resourceful captains have created a cottage industry of harvesting the bergs, hauling them ashore, and selling the pristine water. The Auk Island Winery is even using it to make wine.
The Elusive Moose Strikes Again
We were definitely noticing that land animals were rarely found on the bill of fare in Newfoundland, so when we saw moose steak on the menu at Chucky’s Seafood and Wildgame Restaurant in the town of Happy Adventure.
We figured we ought to take advantage of the opportunity.
One problem, moose are supposed to be thick all over the island — warning signs for motorists are everywhere — but the only time we got a good look at one was on our plate.
So this meal had no bearing on Veronica’s long held belief that the existence of moose is actually a myth perpetuated to fool tourists.
In any case, for all we know we could have been eating donkey.
Our last meal on the island was one of the best, a park ranger at Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve recommended the nearby Gannet’s Nest restaurant for the best fish & chips in Newfoundland.
He was most certainly right about the restaurant, fantastic fresh, crispy, lightly breaded fish right out of the nearby water. So we began and ended with cod, the Alpha and Omega of gastronomy in Newfoundland.
But the Gannet’s Nest offered something quite different too.
Something we had never seen before and doubt we ever will again, Bottle Moose.
A problem leapt to our minds — above and beyond our doubts that moose actually exist, or perhaps this confirms them — how could one fit in a bottle?
We are so grateful to Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism for making this adventure possible. As always, all opinions are our own.
YOUR TURN: Have we inspired you to visit Newfoundland? What would be the first thing YOU would order?