Nfld. & Labrador

5 things Anthony Bourdain will teach you about Newfoundland

You'll learn about local seafood and the island's isolation, but he can't teach you how to pronounce "Newfoundland."

The correct pronunciation of 'Newfoundland' is not one of them

Parts Unknown host Anthony Bourdain spent a couple of weeks in Newfoundland last fall to film an episode of his hit CNN show. (Twitter/@Bourdain)

Word spread quickly when Anthony Bourdain showed up in St. John's, where gossip travels just as quickly as it might in one of the outport towns in those famous Newfoundland and Labrador tourism commercials.

The hugely popular CNN host spent a couple of weeks on the island portion of the province last fall to film for the current season of his show, Parts Unknown. Each episode follows the culinary raconteur as he explores an area's food and culture with a mix of in-the-know locals and famous faces.

Judging from the video previews for the Newfoundland episode, which airs on CNN on Sunday, viewers will see moose, cod, wilderness and a screeching-in ceremony. They'll also hear Bourdain struggle more than once with the pronunciation of "Newfoundland" — a hint: it rhymes with "understand," not "Finland."

The teasers also show things Newfoundlanders themselves know about their home that may come as a surprise to people meeting us for the first time through the magic of television.

We don't actually eat that much fish

The fishery is steeped throughout the local culture of Canada's youngest province, but Newfoundlanders don't actually consume that much seafood, and it's surprisingly difficult to purchase fresh fish in a local grocery store.

"We're surrounded by water and we're not really a seafood-eating place," Dale Jarvis, intangible cultural heritage development officer for the Heritage Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, told Bourdain in one of the preview videos.

As much as 90 per cent of the seafood caught off these shores is consumed elsewhere.

In 2016, according to provincial government statistics, the value of seafood exports was more than $1 billion. Half of that went to the United States, and Asia is a growing market.

But there are signs of a shift back toward regular seafood consumption.

Provincial rules were changed in 2015 to allow restaurants and individuals to purchase local seafood directly from wharves, in part to make locally caught fish more easily available. And restaurants can serve local seafood either purchased directly from fishers or caught by the chefs themselves.

It's not about cod anymore

For centuries in Newfoundland, "fish" meant "cod." It was the backbone of the entire economy, and those salted white flakes of fish were as good as currency.

But in 1992, declining fish stocks led the federal government to put a moratorium — one still in place today — on North Atlantic cod, with an immediate and devastating effect throughout the province.

This screenshot from the upcoming Newfoundland episode of Parts Unknown shows a seafood tower at Raymonds, a fine dining restaurant in St. john's. (CNN/Parts Unknown)

Now, Newfoundland and Labrador's seafood industry catches, processes and exports a wide variety of species. Shellfish like snow crab, shrimp and lobster now make up more than 80 per cent of the value of fish exports, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

That variety can be seen on the plate at Raymonds, a fine-dining restaurant in St. John's where everything served is local.

In one of the preview videos, Bourdain eats with David McMillan and Frédéric Morin of the Montreal restaurant Joe Beef. The trio marvel at a shellfish tower with razor clams, whelks, mussels and sea urchin — "little plump sacks of goodness," as Bourdain puts it.

Game meat is an everyday food here

"Hunting is very much part of the culture here," Bourdain remarked in one Parts Unknown preview video.

"Traditionally, you hunted to eat, to stay warm, to survive."

This screenshot from the upcoming Parts Unknown episode shows a plate of local favourite moose meat. (CNN/Parts Unknown)

Though not actually native to the island — moose were first introduced in the late 1800s — the gigantic herbivores are still considered an essential food source by many local people. The not-infrequent arrival of wandering moose in St. John's is a good reminder of the fact that outside the northeast Avalon, this is still largely a wild and rugged place.

Unlike most provinces, Newfoundland and Labrador restaurants can serve wild game. Chefs in the province can get an annual permit to buy game from hunters, and hunters can get a permit to sell it. Some chefs do the hunting themselves.

On his visit, Bourdain and crew feasted on what Joe Beef's McMillan called "the champagne of animal protein," eating moose shoulder, ribs and neck braised in red wine along with wild mushrooms, grilled scotch lovage, pearl onions and roasted chestnuts.

Newfoundland is pretty far from the rest of Canada

In the preview videos, Bourdain remarked on the isolation of Newfoundland, a place he affectionately referred to as "the ass end of the universe."

The island is more removed from the mainland than other Canadians might realize. You can reach Newfoundland only by plane or boat. The province is considering building an undersea link between northern Newfoundland and southern Labrador, but that would still leave the island a couple thousand kilometres drive away from Montreal.

That isolation has everyday consequences.

Jarvis mentioned food security, a concern in a province that imports 90 per cent of its fresh produce. Communities are sometimes cut off from the rest of the province by storms that wash out roads, or make them too snowy or icy to travel. Parts of the province are still accessible only by boat.

But it's actually really close to France

Just off Newfoundland's south coast is St-Pierre-Miquelon, a group of islands forming the only remaining French territory in North America. Used earlier by both Mi'kmaq, and Basque and Breton seasonal fishers, the islands were first permanently settled by Europeans in the late 1600s.

Anthony Bourdain took a trip to the nearby French islands of St-Pierre-Miquelon during his shoot in this province. (CNN/Parts Unknown)

Bourdain visited the islands and found '"French cars, French food, pay in euros, and French attitude."

Today, there are about 6,000 people living on the eight islands, which can be visited by flight or ferry from Newfoundland. Canadian citizens don't have to bring a passport if they're arriving from Canada and staying for less than three months, but all other nationalities will need one.

Remember, it really is France.