Prince Edward Island's Best Eats

P.E.I. — it's more than a menu abbreviation before mussels. This, the least populated of Canada's 10 provinces, is more than just lobster, mussels, and potatoes (although those are its signature culinary stalwarts). And with two culinary festivals during the fall, the upcoming time of year is great for experiencing its culinary scene.

The monthlong Fall Flavours Festival in September features more than 100 events including: harvests; lobster, potato, clam, and soup feasts; shellfish celebrations; chef-hosted dinners; and cooking classes. Midway through the month (September 15th to 18th) is the 16th annual PEI International Shellfish Festival. Some of the festival's great events include: potato seafood chowder championship, an international chowder championship, two oyster-shucking competitions — you can even take on local fishermen in a simulated mussel-boat competition.

Clamming, smoking, oyster-tonging, potato-picking, pickling, the island offers all these culinary adventures, and in addition to the seafood staples below snow crab, bluefin tuna, and scallops also make up a good portion of the side fishing that local fishermen are said to supplement their income with. There are also some signature restaurants on the island worth visiting. But before you go, you should have a primer of what to expect and look forward to from the island's culinary signatures.


P.E.I. New Potatos

There's a reason Prince Edward Island has a potato museum complete with a 14-foot tall fiberglass potato and claims to "the largest exhibit of potato artifacts in the world." Most of the year, potato fields planted in the island's rich red soil are signature landmarks of the landscape. According to P.E.I.'s Department of Agriculture these fields allow the island to annually produce "more than 30 percent of the total Canadian potato crop." Its status as one of the island's primary cash crops makes the recent wireworm infestation and news that the Health Canada Pest Management Regulatory Agency is phasing out Thimet, a product used to fend off the bugs, all the more troubling to farmers.

The island is famous for its new potatoes (a small, round variety), which locals boil in their skins, mash, and serve simply with butter, salt, and pepper. But there are plenty of other varieties whose preparations (boiled, baked, and mashed) are taken very seriously, as evidenced by Mid-Isle Farms' potato cooking guide. (Photos courtesy Flickr/Rick McCharles)

Potato Fish Cakes

Dovetailing on Prince Edward Island's renowned potatoes are a combination of this ingredient with another island staple: fish. Chef Michael Smith, the island's official food ambassador, notes that historically, "fish cakes have been one of the most common ways to eat fish in the Maritime Provinces of Canada." Traditionally, the cakes were made with preserved salt cod, but he advises, "today they're much tastier with fresh salmon." Still, you'll find plenty of restaurants offering the classic version.


Malpeque Oysters

Malpeques may have become increasingly popular in American restaurants over the past 20 years, but Canadians have long known and enjoyed their virtues. The oysters come from a bay of that name on the North shore of the island, nearly dividing it. The're fairly large (up to three inches), meaty, and often described as light-bodied with a clean finish. (Photo courtesy Galiano)



The P.E.I. Department of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Rural Development will have you believe the island's lobsters have particularly bright red shells and juicy, tender meat. Without question is that there are two lobster-fishing seasons a year (spring runs April to June, fall, mid-August to mid-October). During those seasons you're going to get great lobster, fresh from the sea. And lobster-wise there's nothing else like it. You must have a lobster supper.

There's been fairly big lobster news lately on Prince Edward Island. CBCNews reported that the island's lobster fishermen claimed to have won a crackcdown from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on fishermen with out-of-province licenses. They should have good luck with their hauls thie fall — the Journal Pioneer reported that the fall district "showed a dramatic 16.4 percent improvement in 2010 compared to the previous year." Less likely, after local fisherman Blair Doucette caught one in June (the first in his 35-year career), is that any of them will catch another extremely-rare blue lobster. (Photo courtesy Flickr_colros)


P.E.I. Clams

There are size, season, and possession limits, but you don't need a recreational license to go clam-digging in Prince Edward Island. That's a good thing, because many of the island's shores have very healthy clam stocks, and clamming can be a fun activity. The North Cape Coastal Drive steering committee notes "Soft-shell clams and quahaugs must be at least 50mm (approx 2 inches) in length and bar clams must be at least 102mm (approx 4") in length for harvest. A recreational fisher cannot have more than 300 clams in their possession, of which not more than 100 are bar clams and 100 are quahaugs." Questions (like how does 100 plus 100 equal 300?) can be directed to the Department of Fisheries & Oceans at (902) 566-7812. (Photo courtesy Flickr_wallyg)


Perhpas the most well-known seafood from Prince Edward Island are its blue mussels, a variety characterized by robust flavor and plumpness. According to the PEI Shellfish Festival, last year, Prince Eward Island produced more than 37 million pounds of mussels, approximately 80 percent of all of Canada's mussel prodcution. They're grown in "socks" during a period of 12 to 24 months in the nutrient-rich waters surrounding the island, with no feed or additives. (Photo courtesy Flickr_fiministjulie)


Restaurants, and Great Local Food Spots

Cow's Ice Cream claims that its secret ice cream recipes go back to the time of Anne of Green Gables. (Hopefully the ingredients are more real than that — Anne was a fictional character.) The store offers more than 32 flavors of ice cream made with a high butterfat content, and when berries are used, they're from the island. You can also tour the creamery. (Photo courtesy Flickr/Rick McCharles)

Island Chocolates Sample local chocolates at this little shop in Victoria.

Claddagh Oyster House Besides Prince Edward Island oysters to start off any meal (Malpeques, Raspberry Pt, and Pickle Pt) there's P.E.I. Halibut, P.E.I.-style bouillabaise, P.E.I. lobster, and crab cakes.

Prince Edward Island Preserve Company PEI Preserve Co. isn't just about preserves, though you'll find plenty of those (apple and cinnamon curd, apple chutney, Canadian maple, and several fruit sauces and syrups). There's also a restaurant open from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. that does lobster every which way: lobster quiche, lobster meat pie, lobster pot pie, and lobster pasta.

New Glasgow Lobster Suppers Open since 1958, New Glasgow serves traditional lobster suppers with rolls, chowder, mussels, salad, and lobster from its own pound.

Water-Prince Corner Shop Chower, soft-shell clams, Malpeques, steamed mussels, lobster dinner, scallop burger, fried clams, fish burgers — you've got all the classic island fare along with a rare blue lobster that has been preserved and mounted for display on the wall the restaurant's dining room.

Lobster on the Wharf Market, and wharf-restaurant, Lobster on the Wharf has all the classics as well as it's own alcoholic spin on seafood, like tequila lime scallops and shrimp cocktail Absolut.

Rossignol Estate Winery It's not be Napa, but it's worth stopping in at Rossignol to taste their High Bank Red, Isle Saint Jean Red, Marechal Foch, Little Sand White, Saint Jean White, and Ortega Chardonnay.


Think several great restaurants were missed? Name your own favorite Prince Edward Island spots for good food and drink below.