Pig Faces, Puckering Up For Cod Fish, & Our Farewell

On our last night in the easternmost spot in Canada, it was appropriate to go out with a big splash.  Our time in St. John’s was complimented by the wonderfully surreal feeling that we’d actually made it as far east as we’d intended, and a kind of nostalgic sadness that the eastward portion of our trip was coming to a close.  We give a hearty thanks to all the people and organizations that got us there.

We attended the ‘From This Rock’ finale dinner, a traveling celebration of Newfoundland local food hosted by Newfoundland’s own Shaun Majumder (you may remember our first ‘From This Rock’ dinner in Harbour Grace). 

This 8-course dinner took place at the Sheraton Hotel, was created by collaborating chefs from local restaurants, and really solidified our belief that the St. John’s culinary scene is something remarkable.

We were already familiar with many of the names responsible for the dishes; the cheese and chocolate course was from Adam Blanchard of Five Brothers Cheese and Newfoundland Chocolate Company,

and the meal featured produce from The Organic Farm.  Two of our favourite courses included the carrot crème brulee amouse bouche by Chef Ivan Kyutukchiev of Bacalao, and a cider brined pork served with apple chutney and molasses by Chef Hans Uebel of the Sheraton Hotel.

Another exceptional course was the rosemary pork sausage with pureed parsnip and pickled chanterelles from Chinched Bistro

Chefs Michelle LeBlanc and Shaun Hussey own the bistro, and received an award that night for their promotion of local food in their restaurant.  We experienced their bistro first-hand later that evening, when we were invited to try their house-made charcuterie, including both ‘pig face’ salami and moose salami.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished for a rolled up and cured ‘la face du cochon’.  (In all seriousness, they make amazing stuff out of meat, and you should go there.  They have all the heart and warmth you’d expect of a Newfoundland business, too).

Overwhelmingly (but pleasantly) full from the event, and with a four-month road trip’s worth of fatigue, Lindsay and I planned to quickly tuck into a pub on George Street to get ‘screeched in’ before we left Newfoundland.  When we nonchalantly revealed our plan to those at our table, we soon found ourselves in a large pack of enthusiastic chefs and dinner attendees, all planning to accompany us for this important moment.  Honestly, I’m surprised we expected anything different from the evening.

Screech has long been an important drink in Newfoundland.  It originated in Jamaica, and was imported to Newfoundland in exchange for salt-cod.  Indifferent to the harsh taste, early fisherman used to knock back this high proof alcohol without batting an eye.  It was named after a reaction of an American WWII commanding officer; drinking it as his host had, in one large gulp, he produced a loud, sputtering yelp.  Another American soldier came to the door, saying “What the cripes was that ungodly screech?” to which the host answered. “The screech? ‘Tis the rum, me son”.   Now, to be ‘screeched in’ is to become an honourary Newfoundlander.   

We were brought to Christian’s on George Street, THE place to go according to the bunch.  After much merriment, Shaun Majumder himself retrieved a large frozen cod from the restaurant’s freezer and led us in a wacky—yet very official—ceremony.  There is actually no ‘right’ way to perform this, but the ceremony usually involves a playful mocking of the mainlanders’ accents and some variation on this exchange:

Hosting Newfoundlander: “Is ye a Screecher?"
Participator: “Deed I is me old cock, and long may your big jib draw!" (translation: “Indeed I am, friend.  May there always be wind in your sails”)

Honestly, the details are a bit fuzzy (thanks to all the prior merriment), but our ceremony involved Shaun Majumder in a fishing hat, something very important involving an iphone cord,

some attempted foreign language chatter, a shot of screech, and a few big final smooches with the frozen cod (the initial ones were apparently not good enough to seal the deal). 

Kissing a cod may seem strange (not terribly so, if you recall our sourtoe cocktail from the Yukon), but it’s an integral part of the ceremony.  It’s a nod to the goodbye kisses given to those who used to sail away to trade the cod in exchange for the beloved beverage.  

We felt honoured to be officially inaugurated into the Newfoundland community by the province’s most beloved comedian, and with a group of new friends.  We also stayed up about seven hours past our usual bedtime, and suffered the next day because of it.  TOTALLY WORTH IT.  

Did I mention just how hard it was NOT to stay in St. John’s….?