Decoding Winnipeg’s food lingo

Posted June 28, 2015

I’ve eaten a nip, downed a goog, why not a shmoo? Where am I, you ask? But of course, Winnipeg!

When it comes to food – and food lingo – this prairie city has a quirky sub-culture all its own. And I dig it. Forget fancy food and white linen, These are the hole-in-the-wall-haunts, the cult classics, the unpretentious, casual bites ‘Peggers have been devouring for decades. That’s what we’re talking about.

Just a little Nip

Don’t call it a hamburger. Not here, not at ‘Sals,’ the beloved local diner chain Salisbury House, which introduced the burger to Winnipeg in 1931. Owner Ralph Erwin didn’t like the name (too delicate!) so he called it a ‘nip’ of Salisbury steak. Over 80 years later, the nip still anchors the menu with 100 per cent Manitoba beef, Sals-own baked buns and plenty of grilled onions. As Winnipeg’s first 24-hour diner, Sals quickly spread through the city. In 2001, Winnipeggers, including former ice cream magnate Earl Barish and rock legend Burton Cummings, took ownership. Their Pembina Highway and Stafford Street flagship store is worth the visit alone to see Manitoba music memorabilia including Cummings’s former 1891 Heintzman piano and Randy Bachman’s first electric guitar.

Goog job

What the heck is a goog? If you guessed an upside down blueberry shake topped with a hot fudge sundae, sliced banana, whipped cream, peanuts and cherry-‘goog’ job! It’s delicious. And for Winnipeggers, nothing says summer’s coming like the first goog of the season from Bridge Drive-In or BDI in local parlance. The tiny take-out, an institution on the banks of the Red River since 1957, packs them in at its setting next to a century-old walking bridge. As for the goog’s origins? A college kid’s creation, maybe. No one’s sure. “It’s a mystery. It’s always been an item staple,” say longtime owners Allan and Wanda Rutherford who recently passed the torch to granddaughter Jessica and husband Justin Jacob. Ponder the mystery, goog in hand, while strolling the Elm Park Bridge across the Red River.

Shmoo good

“The shmoo will never leave. The shmoo is forever,” laughs the waitress at Baked Expectations, a funky diner known for its huge dessert menu (as well as salads, sandwiches, pastas and other goodies) in Winnipeg’s indie Osborne Village neighbourhood. But it’s no joke. “We try new things but we keep tradition. It’s been our thing,” she says of the shmoo torte, a decadent angel food cake layered with caramel sauce and topped with loads of pecans, whipped cream and more caramel sauce that’s been a menu mainstay for 30-plus years. The recipe has contested origins though it’s said to have come out of Winnipeg’s Jewish community and its name (occasionally spelled “schmoo” elsewhere) is often traced back to the Shmoo of Li’l Abner fame, a delicious and bountiful creature that produced milk, eggs and even cheesecake.

Mints and Jacks

Mordens’ of Winnipeg’s signature melt-in-your-mouth chocolate Russian Mints are so tasty (okay, revered), they won first prize at the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans. Also addictive? Apple jacks from Gunn’s Bakery, one of western Canada’s oldest family-run bakeries.