Loic Perrot has flour in his veins. Born in Brittany, France, he now lives in Winnipeg and works at the Tall Grass Prairie Bread Company. It’s in this kitchen that he’s elevated the lowly staple of a First Nations dish to fluffier heights.
“Il ne faut pas trop le travailler. Don’t overwork the dough, or you’ll stress it. You want it to be light,” he advises.
Perrot is teaching me how to make bannock. The bakery, located at The Forks sells bannock every day, along with its famous cinnamon buns and whole-grain breads that are made with local wheat and butter.
Bannock Then and Now
Bannock is the super-simple bread leavened with baking powder rather than yeast, historically a staple in First Nations’ diets. Traditionally, aboriginal and Métis bannock was made with cornmeal and a kind of flour made from ground turnip bulbs, rolled in sand and cooked in a pit or toasted over an open flame. It was heavy and flat.
But bannock has culinary roots in Scotland, too. The Scottish version is made with oatmeal and is lighter, almost scone-like. When European fur traders introduced the Métis to flour, they adapted their version of bannock.
Either way, the subtext of our Grade 4 history lessons about bannock was that it was survival food, a notion reinforced on our own summer canoe trips. Dry as a hot prairie day, bannock was a reason to be grateful we don’t live in the wilds.
But these days, bannock is going from mere subsistence to a trendy additional in the bread basket. The bread is popping up in traditional forms and in newly glamourized versions—grilled, pan-fried or baked—in bistros and bakeries across Canada.
If you’re keen to try this traditional bread, here are some eateries you should check out:
Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre
A complex created to inform and guide visitors through the living cultures of First Nations, the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre opened in 2008 in Whistler, BC, in anticipation of the Vancouver Winter Olympics.
Happily, the visitor’s cafe went beyond perfunctory soup and saltines, teaming up with noted Four Seasons Resort Whistler chef, Scott Thomas Dolbee, to put a modern spin on native staples like wild boar and wild salmon to create an innovative menu celebrating aboriginal heritage. One highlight: smoked salmon bannock paninis.
Location: 4584 Blackcomb Way, Whistler, BC
Bison and bannock are on the menu at the admittedly touristy restaurant Chief Chiniki in Morley, AB, 60 kilometres west of Calgary. Located near Mount Yamnuska, the restaurant offers a majestic view along with traditional native cuisine.
Let your snacks settle while you check out the adjacent Chief Chiniki Handicraft Centre, where handmade native crafts such as beadwork goods and moccasins are sold.
Location: Highway 1, Morley, AB
Jenni’s New Ground Cafe
Saskatchewan’s bannock joints are legendary for being quick eats with Indian tacos, bannock and chili for a couple of bucks. But Jenni’s New Ground Cafe in Birch Hills, about 175 kilometres from Saskatoon, is something else.
Owned and operated by Jennifer Willems, the café serves up dishes strong on local prairie ingredients that celebrate her Métis heritage, including golden flax bannock, served with bison meatloaf. Don’t miss the Birch Hills Fog, made with local dandelion honey, steamed milk and Earl Grey tea.
Location: 167 Bellamy Ave., Birch Hills, SK
Neechi Foods Community Store
On the scene since 1990, Neechi Foods Community Store is a North Winnipeg aboriginal food co-op selling bannock dogs and bannock pizza, along with freshly baked loaves.
“I like to think of bannock as the national bread of Canada,” says Candace Irvine, one of the owners. “It’s about time we started recognizing that and celebrating it.” The co-op is expanding this summer with a larger supermarket.
Location: 325 Dufferin Ave., Winnipeg, MB
Meaning “The Treaty” en français, this critically acclaimed restaurant opened in the Première Nations boutique hotel in 2008 by the Hurons of Wendake, QC. The mission here
is simple: sophisticated, contemporary twists on their culinary traditions.
Executive chef Martin Gagné’s dishes include wapiti broth with a side of bannock, rabbit casserole with mushrooms, black pudding with maple mustard and marinated deer flank steak with rosemary sauce. Each edible masterpiece is infused with herbs, edible flowers and roots that grow wild in Northern Quebec, including lavender, fennel and wasabi.
Location: 5 place de la Rencontre, Wendake, QC
Sweetgrass Aboriginal Bistro
Set in Byward Market, an Ottawa foodie fave, Sweetgrass serves warm bannock rolls and herbed butter with drinks and appies like elk dumplings with wild mushrooms and seafood fritters.
Make sure to save some room as chef and co-owner Warren Sutherland also gets creative with game. Try the bacon bison burger with cheddar, mushrooms and “duck butter” on a grilled sesame seed bun. Carbophobes, beware!
Location: 108 Murray St., Ottawa, ON
Salmon ‘n’ Bannock Bistro
When Vancouverite Inez Cook, a member of the Nuxalk First Nation, passed a Kelowna bakery that had a sign in its window, ‘Don’t Panic! We Have Bannock!’, she was inspired to open her own bannock-based resto in her home city.
In February 2010, she and Remi Caudron opened the Salmon ‘n’ Bannock Bistro. The cozy Vancouver eatery, adorned with First Nations art, serves plenty of bannock dishes, including barbecue salmon mousse with baked bannock, bannock berry bread pudding and Sockeye salmon burgers on bannock buns.
Location: 7, 1128 West Broadway, Vancouver, BC
Bake your own bannock
Salmon ‘n’ Bannock Bistro’s shared this bannock recipe with us:
- 4 cups of flour
- 1/2 tsp of salt
- 1 1/2 cup of sugar
- 4 cups of water
- 1/3 cup of baking powder cooking oil
- Combine dry ingredients
- Add half of the water
- Slowly add the rest of the liquid to completely moisten but not saturate flour mixture
- Let it rest for two to five minutes
- Shape and fry in shallow oil (1/4-inch deep in the pot) until it’s golden brown on each side
Makes two dozen medium-sized bannock breads
Photos by Ian McCausland and Darcy Aubin