Diners enjoy a remote culinary adventure inspired by land, sea, and the people who call this place home under a canopy of dancing Northern Lights.
Churchill, Manitoba, Canada’s subarctic town, is located on the 58th parallel north and has a population of only 900 permanent residents. However, the 500,000 visitors who visit here each year more than compensate for the low population count. They come to see the Arctic wilderness, the infamous polar bears, the playful beluga whales, and, perhaps most importantly, the Aurora Borealis.
Churchill’s cuisine is as diverse as its landscape, incorporating tundra fare such as caribou and elk, fish such as trout and burbot, vegetables such as leafy greens and potatoes, and Arctic berries. And there’s an unforgettable way to experience it all for the lucky few adventurers who make it this far north. On certain days in February and March, visitors can board a Tundra Buggy (a large, roving vehicle designed specifically for polar bear viewing) and embark on a remote culinary journey along the frozen Churchill River, surrounded by vast subarctic wilderness, frozen fields, and massive snowbanks caused by drifting snow. After a short drive across the shivering frozen landscape, guests will arrive at the frozen river’s banks overlooking Hudson Bay, where Dan’s Diner, an unusual popup restaurant, awaits.
Diners can view the Aurora Borealis while enjoying an exquisitely curated multi-course menu featuring regional and local fare inspired by land and sea while seated in a converted Tundra Buggy with panoramic windows and overhead skylights. Churchill is located directly beneath the aurora oval, making it one of the best places to see the Northern Lights, with over 300 nights of auroral activity.
This movable dining hall is part of Frontier North Adventures Tundra Buggy Lodge and is named after Dr Dan Guravich, a polar bear enthusiast and photographer who first visited the area in 1979. Guravich converted an old school bus into a mobile kitchen in 1983, serving simple basic meals like corned beef. Lodge guests will be served potatoes and spaghetti carbonara. Guravich’s specialty was cooking on the remote tundra, so the restaurant honours his legacy and love for the area.
The meals are a little more sophisticated these days, thanks to chef Connor Macaulay’s culinary expertise and creative prowess, who is in his second season as a Dan’s Diner chef.
“The dishes we make are inspired by this area and reflect the flavours and tastes of the community of Churchill. “We try to include Manitoba growers, producers, fishermen, and butchers as much as possible,” Macaulay said. “Meats such as elk, bison, and wild boar are sourced from a certified butcher in Winnipeg, and fresh fish is provided by local fishermen.” and berries are delivered and frozen for use during the offseason by a Churchill resident who forages for them during the summer.”
The meals are all prepared in the lodge about 8 kilometres away, but the plating and finishing touches are done in the buggy just before serving. Guests are greeted with drinks and appetisers as Macaulay and his team introduce themselves and set the tone for the evening.
Jasteena Dhillon, a Toronto lawyer, and her niece were recent guests on a Northern Lights tour. “We thoroughly enjoyed our meal at Dan’s. We were served a gourmet tasting menu of the best Canadian foods. The elk tourtiere (meat pie), bison meatballs, and leek and potato soup were my favourites “She stated. “It was the perfect meal after a day of dog sledding.” She went on to say that as the meal progressed, the sky began to light up with the colours and patterns of the Northern Lights. “This magnificent finale complemented the delectable butterscotch sticky toffee pudding perfectly.”
Dan’s Diner is not just for Frontier North Adventures guests. Every year, the diner hosts two “locals’ nights,” where Churchill residents are invited to wine and dine under the stars. “I enjoy these nights when residents can come and see what we’re up to. It truly is a unique community, and this is our way of saying thank you “Macaulay stated.
Most Dan’s Diner customers remember the shared experience of watching Nature’s greatest lightshow overhead while dining fondly. “It was thrilling and a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be presented with a beautifully curated six-course menu of Arctic fare and excellent paired wines in a simple but elegantly appointed Tundra Buggy out on the frozen tundra, as the sky seemed to dance and ripple above,” said another guest, Mary Mogford from Newcastle, Canada. “It was even more fun because my family in England was texting me that the Northern Lights had been visible all over the British Isles that night.”
At the end of the night, one of Macaulay’s favourite parts of the meal occurs. The buggy drivers build a bonfire and a small ice bar, and everyone is encouraged to mingle and socialise over a glass of Scotch.
“It is, without a doubt, the highlight of the evening. Everyone is having a good time and is relaxed. And as the stars dance above our heads, we thank the stars for great friends, wonderful colleagues, and that breath-taking feeling of being alive to witness nature at its best.”
Integral to any Newroz feast, stuffed vine leaves celebrate the vegetables of spring. In her recipe, chef Pary Baban uses shallots, courgettes, aubergines, tomatoes and chard.
“From late February, the hills in Southern Kurdistan are blossoming with wild foods,” recalled chef Pary Baban, owner of Nandine, a Kurdish restaurant in Camberwell, South London. “Foraging for herbs and fresh ingredients, cooking feasts, and bringing picnics into the mountains are all common activities. Newroz is not just one day; it is the entire spring season.”
Newroz, also known as “Nowruz” in Persian, is the Kurdish and Persian New Year with roots in the Iranian religion of Zoroastrianism dating back over 3,000 years. Every year on the spring equinox, Newroz, which literally translates to “new day,” is celebrated to welcome a new year, new life, and new beginnings.
“Newroz is something special for us,” Baban explained. “When Saddam Hussein came to power, it was the only thing the government couldn’t take away from us. Kurdish people never give up; they continue to celebrate. It’s part of our identity.”
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While celebrations vary across Western Asia, festivities begin on March 20 in Kurdistan (an autonomous region that spans eastern Turkey, northern Iraq, western Iran, and parts of northern Syria and Armenia). On Newroz Eve, people walk through town centres in processions, jump over and dance around fires, and dress brightly coloured to represent spring.
In Kurdish culture, Newroz Eve is associated with a Kurdish myth in which a blacksmith named Kawa is said to have defeated the evil King Kuhak, freeing the Kurdish people. This myth’s symbolism lives on in the liberation of Kurds, one of the world’s largest stateless people.