By Dan Clapson & Robyn MacLean
While most towns, cities, provinces, and states have a “twin,” many people have never heard of the concept of twin cities.
Twinning cities was first introduced after the Second World War in an effort to mend diplomatic relationships, and offer goodwill and reconciliation by uniting cities that suffered the ravages of war. These days, the objective is to promote commercial and cultural ties between regions through trade, tourism, and education.
Of course, mutual economic gain is important to the success of such programs, and the subject of food is always a large part of any economy, so it should come as no surprise that we are most interested in exploring the food culture in some of our province’s twin cities!
Bergen Op Zoom, Holland — Edmonton
Bergen Op Zoom is a small city located in The Netherlands. They twinned with Edmonton because of a special bond previously established between the two regions during WWII when Canadian troops from a Southern Alberta regiment played a leading role in liberating the war-ravaged town.
The Dutch diet ranks as one of the world’s healthiest; we certainly knew there was more to The Netherlands than cheese and raw herring with onions! Pannenkoeken pancakes are a true national treasure, frequently topped with sweet or savoury toppings like bacon, cheese, apples, stroop (a Dutch syrup), raisins, chocolate, appelstroop (apple sauce), icing sugar and nuts. Unlike other countries where pancakes are considered a breakfast item, the Dutch typically eat them for lunch or dinner.
Indonesian cuisine in the Netherlands is practically synonymous with Dutch food. During the peak of the spice trade in the 16th century, the Dutch sailed to Indonesia in search of nutmeg, cloves and pepper, and Indonesia eventually became a colony of The Netherlands. The Dutch embraced and fell in love with the southeast Asian cuisine, and to this day the country remains heavily influenced with dishes such as bami gorengon, a stir-fried egg noodle dish with garlic, onion, vegetables, meat, egg and chili, and gado-gado, a popular vegetable dish served with peanut sauce, cooked vegetables, potatoes, raw cucumber, lettuce, and fried tofu, all topped with a hardboiled egg.
Jaipur, India — Calgary
Calgary twinned with Jaipur in 1973 after seeing a potential partnership due to common interests in industries like engineering and manufacturing. The ancient city is located in Rajasthan, India’s largest state and home to the inhospitable Thar Desert. Rajasthani food rules the roost, and cooking techniques were highly influenced by the limited availability of ingredients. Water and fresh vegetables were a scarcity in the arid climate. As such, food was made to last for several days and consumed without heat when required.
The food is rich, bold and ultra-spicy, with an abundance of curds, ghee and dried fruit. And you can’t mention Rajasthani food without referencing the popular dal baati dish. Dal is simply a “soup” of mixed lentils with spices, served with baati, a hard bread roll made of wheat flour that’s baked in a charcoal oven and then doused with ghee. It’s often served with rice, mint chutney, raw mango chutney, and green salad with lots of onion, and fresh buttermilk.
When it comes to street food, mirchi bada bumps elbows with the likes of the ever-so-popular samosa. You’ll find roadside mirchi bada vendors throughout the city deep-frying bright green chilies that have been coated in besan, a pulse flour made from ground chickpeas. Jaipur is a thriving international city, so you’ll also find an extensive assortment of regional and international cuisines, as well as a lively street food scene as old as the city itself.
Hokkaido, Japan — Alberta
Hokkaido is the northernmost island of Japan and home to Sapporo, the country’s fourth largest city. The region became Alberta’s sister province in 1980, sharing many similarities including a resource-based economy, topography and climate.
The local cuisine features an abundance of produce and dairy products sourced from the region’s extensive farmlands, and remains one of the island’s biggest attractions. There’s also a rich variety of fresh seafood and sea vegetation that thrive in the cold waters off the island. They’re especially renowned for the quality of sea urchin, crab, squid, salmon roe, and scallops found in the area.
Although it’s rural Hokkaido that brings in the impressive bounty of ingredients, Sapporo is at the centre of the food action, and no street in Sapporo is complete without a ramen shop. Most impressive are the streets wholly dedicated to serving the miso, soy or salt-flavoured noodle bowls, like the famous Ramen Yokocho or Ramen Alley.
Genghis khan barbecue reigns as one of the region’s most popular dishes. Lamb or mutton is either grilled premarinated in a special sauce, or grilled plain and then dipped into the sauce and served with vegetables on a domed iron plate. Since lamb and mutton are rarely consumed throughout the rest of Japan, this dish is unique to Hokkaido. Ishikari nabe (hot pot) is a hearty, traditional dish to help locals power through the frigid winter months. It uses fresh salmon from head to fin and is stewed in a miso kelp stock with potatoes, cabbage, tofu and konnyaku (also known as devil’s tongue).
See here for a simply, easy recipe for a classic Japanese dish, Ishikari Nabe
Nashville, Tennessee — Edmonton
Surprisingly, this booming Southern city shares similarities with our Alberta cities in that it has experienced a notable food scene boom in the past five years or so. Trying to shake the barbecue and biscuits image (much like we shake our Alberta beef and potatoes), many contemporary eateries now strive to highlight regional Southern cuisine.
Pimento beignets with onion ash at The Farm House or Husk’s sour corn cakes with charcoal butter are good places to start when it comes to eating out in Nashville. Hot chicken, fried chicken doused in a cayenne-based spice rub, is the city’s most famous dish — try it with buttery biscuits and eggs at local brunch hot spot, Biscuit Love, or on top of creamy white-sauced pizza at New York-style pizza spot, Two Boots.
Though there are many variations on the spicy theme, Nashville veterans swear by Prince’s (a no-frills institution) or Hattie B’s (a hipster-chic hot chicken chain now with multiple locations) for their more authentic preparations. Admittedly touristy, the Broadway strip in the heart of the city’s downtown is full-blown honky tonk fun times complete with cover bands that perform in every bar on the street from daytime to the early hours of the morning.
If you go to Nashville and don’t spend at least one night at Robert’s Western World sipping on a Pabst Blue Ribbon in between bites of their appropriately greasy, fried bologna sandwich slathered in mustard, then you didn’t do Nashville right.
Quebec City — Calgary
Originally settled in 1535 and officially founded in 1608, Quebec City’s cobblestone roads, stunning historic buildings and intact stone walls running the perimeter of downtown certainly make its sister city, Calgary, feel like a newborn in contrast. The Quebecois have always been intensely proud of their roots, and this pride certainly filters into restaurants here.
Expect ingredients like maple syrup, foie gras, and duck to grace most menus here. Owners of funky contemporary restaurant, La Buche, work together to offer a unique take on Quebecois cuisine with their mini tourtiere-inspired pie bites, maple barbecue rabbit “wings” and more. Quebec’s famous winter festival, Carnaval de Quebec, runs from late January to mid-February and is the time of year where locals truly welcome tourists with open arms. Bundle up for a stroll through the grand ice castle near the Parliament Building and then head through downtown streets while you chew on freshly poured maple taffy and fork into poutine avec saucisse. Come summer,
Quebec gets a little more Calgarian. Home to BBQ-Fest, this Quebec meat feast serves thousands with plenty of offerings from local food trucks, restaurants, as well as chef cook-offs and more. The city’s ten day music festival, Festival d’ete de Quebec, draws major acts, and is followed by Festiviere de Quebec, which is a prime opportunity to get a taste of Quebec’s ever-evolving craft beer and cider scene.
The city’s main market, Le Marche du Vieux-Port, is a must for anyone looking to bring home a taste of the province. There are purveyors of local cheese, like le 1608, plenty of unique charcuterie up for tasting (seal salami, anyone?) and canned confit duck. There’s also a group of Quebec residents who have an annual culture swap with representatives from the Calgary Stampede. While a group of Calgarians head over in the winter to throw a big pancake breakfast during Carnaval, Quebec makes an appearance during our Stampede to give us a little taste of their polar opposite (temperature-wise) festival!