We Nova Scotians seldom have to trace our line back far to find saltwater lapping at the family tree: My own dad, for instance, did a lengthy, pre-law-school stint hauling lobster traps. That intimate connection with the fishing industry makes us uniquely qualified to say "our seafood trumps yours." But skeptics who don't buy the ol' ocean-in-our-veins argument need only look at a map for proof.
Notice how our little province looks strikingly like a lobster claw? Just a coincidence? Bluenosers think not. Notice, too, how the land mass thrusts waterward. Given that narrow Nova Scotia is bound by Northumberland Strait, the Bay of Fundy and the Atlantic, we can snicker when other provinces brag about 100-mile menus. After all, a source of seafood here is never more than 35 miles away.
Now zoom in closer on the map. You'll observe evidence of our diverse stock thanks to place names such as Mussel Cove, Salmon River and Grosses Coques (a.k.a. Big Clams). Moreover, you'll see the names of communities such as Digby, home to the world's largest inshore scallop fleet, that are recognized by foodies everywhere because their signature catch sets the gastronomic gold standard.
Understandably proud of such bounty, we showcase it at summer festivals that exalt mollusks and pay homage to homards. We even organize programs to initiate outsiders into fishy matters. Fundy Adventures ( www.fundyadventures.com/adventures.htm), for one, offers hands-on tutorials in clam digging, lobstering and, since seaweed in these parts counts as snack food, dulse gathering.
Needless to say, locals routinely eat boatloads of the stuff. That's easy to do considering fresh, flavourful seafood in some shape or form appears on virtually every Haligonian menu. There seems to be a direct correlation in Hali between the brevity of a restaurant's name and the breadth of its chef's talent. So Fid, Bish, Chives and Gio are all stellar options ( fidresto.ca; bish.ca; chives.ca; giohalifax.com).
Readers familiar with Atlantic Canada's burgeoning culinary scene won't be surprised to hear that Wolfville, situated in the fertile Annapolis Valley some 90 kilometres northwest of the capital, also boasts a show-stopping restaurant: chef Michael Howell's highly esteemed Tempest ( www.tempest.ca), where the choice of chowders alone is enough to make a seafood aficionado swoon.
Lunenburg, 105 kilometres southwest of Halifax, is buzz-worthy in its own right. This 18th-century fishing centre is so perfectly preserved that it has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
But Lunenburg is no museum: Area fishermen still go down to the sea in ships, and you can taste what they return with at unpretentious eateries all along the harbourfront.
The standouts, though, are a pair of restaurants that don't overuse the ubiquitous deep fryer. Fleur de Sel ( www.fleurdesel.net) adds a touch of je ne sais quoi preparing "moules and frites" and halibut loin with Bordeaux greens; while the more boisterous Trattoria della Nonna ( www.trattoriadellanonna.ca) counters with Italian dishes such as bacalla, cappesante or fettuccine di frutti di mare.
Because it's morally wrong to leave Nova Scotia without doing the communal lobster supper at least once, yet another spot deserving a shout-out is the Shore Club ( www.shoreclub.ca), a seasonal operation in Hubbards. Halfway between Lunenburg and Halifax, the homey hall has been serving whole boiled lobsters (complete with plastic bibs and unlimited mussels on the side) since 1946.
In low-key rooms such as this, the quality of our seafood speaks for itself. Are there lots of fish in the sea? Absolutely.
Do any taste better than those pulled from Nova Scotian waters? Not a chance.
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