According to a Food & Drink booklet I picked up at the Tourist Office, the Halifax Metropolitan area is home to over 500 restaurants, pubs, and cafes. That’s about one per 800 people. You could live in this small capital for years and still not try them all. And this doesn’t even include the various gourmet food shops.

But what if you could check out seven of them over a two-hour period? This is exactly what I did on a rainy Sunday afternoon when I joined Local Tasting Tours for their Downtown Halifax Food Tour, led by owner Emily Forrest.

I love walking tours, and I love food, so I take every opportunity I have to join food tours when I visit a new city. Even though the weather was not cooperating, most of the time on this tour was spent indoors, with only 20 minutes (1.6 kilometre) spent walking between venues.

Barrington Street, one of downtown's main arteries (Halifax)

Barrington Street, one of downtown’s main arteries

Our group of 10 met up at the Prince George Hotel on Market Street, where Emily introduced herself and the tour.

Emily-150x150 Emily’s interest in the local food scene is obvious from the start. A 15-year resident of Halifax, her transition from actress to waitress is what got her working alongside chefs who imparted to her some of their knowledge and passion for local foods. For such a food aficionado, Emily is very slim. This is soon explained when she tells us about her other passion: long distance walking. She once walked around Nova Scotia’s coastline, a distance of 3000 kilometres, over a three-month period!

Our first food stop doesn’t even require us to leave the hotel. Gio tries to dispel the notion of what a hotel restaurant is expected to be, by making everyone feel welcome, whether or not a guest of the hotel. It uses local ingredients, while taking a global view with its menu. When it first opened in 2006, it vas voted one of the top 10 restaurants in Canada.

While waiting for the food, my eyes take in the sleek and modern decor, combining wood, metal, and glass. Finally, we are each served a sample of poutine topped with shredded short ribs meat, and a bite of a typical Canadian pastry called beavertail drizzled with salted caramel sauce. Yum! Now I’m feeling hungrier than before.

Emily telling the group about the history of Gio (Halifax)

Emily telling the group about the history of Gio

Then it’s off to stop number two: The Five Fishermen restaurant, one of the best and oldest seafood restaurants in Halifax. Opened in 1975, it occupies a historical building dating from 1817, which served as a funeral home during the early part of the 20th century when it played a role in the aftermath of both the Titanic and Halifax explosion disasters. No wonder it’s reportedly haunted!

Fortunately, no ghost shows up during our tasting: a cool avocado and crab mousse seasoned with ginger and chilli. We get a quick look around the dining room, with its dark wood paneling, columns, and stained-glass windows while we listen to the server recount her own ghost tale.

Five Fishermen dining room (Halifax)

Five Fishermen dining room

A bit further down on Argyle Street we come to the World Tea House launched by Phil Holmans in 2010. It has become the go-to place for loose leaf organic tea in Halifax, carrying more than 100 varieties. While we sip a small cup of orange spice black (a black tea from India blended with orange peel, cinnamon and cloves) we learn more about the “science of steeping”, where both the steeping time and water temperatures are important and make a difference in the resulting taste of the tea.

Because of its size, World Tea House is able to deal personally with small estates around the world that do not have the capacity to service chain stores, resulting in some pretty unique teas.

Tea selction at the World Tea House (Halifax)

Tea selection at the World Tea House

Reluctantly, we leave the warm tea house (cold rain is starting to fall) to make our way to Mezza Lebanese Kitchen which specializes in chicken shawarma. Pieces of meat are shaved off vertical spits of grilled chicken, then placed inside a pita with vegetables, condiments, and sauces. This casual family-owned restaurant has been serving shawarmas, souvlakis, and donairs to Haligonians for 25 years.

We get half a chicken shawarma each to sample, but this isn’t my favourite as I’m not very keen of pickled condiments. (Normally you can ask to hold them). Shawarmas are also particularly messy if you’re not careful. As we’re leaving, we have a chance to see the “changing of the spit”, when a new spit loaded with deboned whole chickens is put into place.

Hanging up a brand new chicken spit at Mezza (Halifax)

Hanging up a brand new chicken spit at Mezza

Stop number five, a restaurant called Chives on Barrington Street, offers one of my favourite food samples: a warm curried asparagus soup with a chunk of their famous buttermilk biscuit. (It’s so yummy that I later decide to come back here for dinner.) The locally-trained chef at the 14-year old restaurant aims to “take pretension out of fine dining”. The food is delicious, the service attentive, and you can eat here in your jeans if you want.

If you’re not claustrophobic and want more privacy, why not reserve the special table inside the vault? (The building was at one time a branch of Scotiabank’s predecessor, the Bank of Nova Scotia.)

Food samples at Chives (Halifax)

Delicious food samples at Chives

Reaching the waterfront, we’re now getting lashed by rain. Fortunately the next stop lets us replenish our sugar reserves. At Sugah! candy store, we’re given brittles with coffee grounds as well as white chocolate with cranberries. Next door, their sister shop Rum Runners treats us to small cake morsels on toothpicks: regular rum cake, whisky cake, and chocolate rum cake. Being a chocolate lover, I immediately declare the latter to be my favourite!

Candy from Sugah! and cake from Rum Runners (Halifax)

Candy from Sugah! and cake from Rum Runners

Raincoat hoods and umbrellas come on as we brave the increasingly bad weather for the five-minute walk to our last stop, the Foxhill Cheese House inside the Seaport Market. Despite its name, this long narrow shop sells more than cheese. Originally a dairy farm in Port Williams, it started selling cheese, then yoghurt, then gelato, and finally non-homogenized milk in returnable glass bottles. But our sample today is gelato. I pick the cherry flavour and never look back.

Foxhill Cheese House display case (Halifax)

Foxhill Cheese House display case

At the end of the tour, Emily is happy to make dinner recommendations for later that evening. Of course, the restaurants on our tour come highly recommended since they are already recognized as some of the top picks in the city.

The Downtown Halifax Food Tour starts at 1:30 PM on Sundays and Mondays, and I would suggest having a light lunch beforehand. The food samples are not meant to replace a full meal. It’s all about quality, not quantity

Next time you’re in town, why not “take a bite out of Halifax” by joining Local Tasting Tours on one of their six food tours around the city?

Tip: If you do one of Emily’s tours at the beginning of your stay, you’ll have enough time to revisit the venues in a more leisurely manner and have a complete meal, or purchase some food souvenirs from the shops.

For more information about the food stops along the Downtown Halifax Food Tour, check out these links:

Note: I was a guest of Local Tasting Tours on this walking tour called “Downtown Halifax Food Tour”.  As usual, all opinions are my own.

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