The Royal St. John’s Regatta: A User’s Guide

What is the Regatta, anyway?

“Shall we go to the Regatta?” I asked my friend, a Regatta novitiate from Toronto who had never been before.

“What’s the Regatta?” replied the friend.

“Only one of North America’s oldest traditions!” I responded, aghast. Clearly, it was time to explain to my friend the nature of this important event and its proud role in Newfoundland and Labrador culture.

Poutine and sausages

Essentially, the Regatta is the province’s largest and most eclectic annual food festival. It’s a place where thousands of people from all walks of life congregate to eat poutine, sausages, curry, and funnel cakes. Indeed, for one day a year it offers the largest single concentration of poutine, sausages, wedgies and fries-dressing-gravy in the entire province.

But it’s more than that. It’s a window into the eclectic essence of our province’s soul.

Conception Bay DogsThis is reflected, for instance, by the innate variety in poutine: everything from the brave indie freestyle French fries of Joshua’s Cookhouse & Grill – courageously defying the corporate monopoly of the Ziggy Peelgoods French-Fry Industrial Complex – to World Famous Poutine (™).

There are other classical forms of traditional Newfoundland cuisine on offer as well: the Polish Sausage, for instance. The Regatta allows the true street meat gourmand to sample a wide range of varieties, from classic to fusion, each of them reflecting the unique culinary traditions of every corner of the island. There’s Conception Bay Dogs, for instance, to be distinguished of course from their more generic competitor Bay Dogs. Or for the discerning, demanding urbanite, there’s Speed Dogs – “The Fastest Meat on the Street!”

Fastest Meat on the StreetYou can also find poutines from every corner of the island. And if the finer hipster varieties – from Charley’s Wagon, say, or The Red Barn – happen to have daunting line-ups, there’s no need to despair. The city has implemented a new by-law requiring Winkies Wedges backup stations to be installed every 20 metres, to tide you over while you wait in line.

For a province that’s basically been at war with Quebec ever since Churchill Falls, we sure have bonded with them over French fries in cheesy gravy. Well, if Muskrat Falls turns out to be a bust for energy revenue, perhaps we can simply throw in a few million potatoes’ worth of fries, pump beef lard into the water and turn it into the world’s largest poutine. That’d make for an apt tourist attraction, wha?

Regatta is more than just poutine

Back to the Regatta. There are plenty of other forms of Newfoundland regional cuisine on offer here, too. The CLB Armoury steps up to the task, encouraging us to Fight The Good Fight with $1 toutons and fishcakes, or $3 turkey soup. There’s $2 grilled cheese for the meek, and tourists who want to experience traditional Newfoundland living can add bologna for only $1 more. Fight The Good Fight, indeed!

And once you’ve had your box of fresh-farmed mussels from the NAIA stand, you can pat your belly in satisfaction: first lunch done. Yes, the traditional ‘Regatta Round’ involves three courses. First lunch, naturally, is local cuisine – bay dogs, poutine, mussels, bologna, etc – in honour of local heritage. Second lunch, however, is when things really get good. That’s when you branch out to try more eclectic fare. There’s stalls of Caribbean food where you can try jerk chicken and fried plantains; there’s Indian and Pakistani booths where you can get your samosa on or sample any of a range of curries. This year Shalimar Restaurant was a surprise contender, with lineups stretching all the way down to the water.

Hindu Temple AssociationBut the highlight of second lunch – and a must-do Regatta Day tradition – is the Hindu Temple. Their delicious and eclectic range of curried offerings has become an annual staple, and is not to be missed. Don’t be daunted by the line-up; their crack team of curry couriers has trained all year for this and their service is a paragon of efficiency and excellence. It remains a mystery to me why they don’t simply build a drive-thru extension onto their Temple on Penny Lane and offer take-out; it’s really a shame we’re deprived of this wonder 364 days of the year.

Blood Pressure
All photos by Hans Rollmann.

Then, after reclining on a hillside while eating your samosas and curry, it’s time to contemplate your plan of attack for third lunch. Third lunch is four-star Regatta dining from mobile food trucks. For instance, there’s the Hitchin Kitchen by Blue on Water, or the Kozy Kitchen’s Mobile Unit. There’s even The Big R on wheelz. The mobile units often have the longest lines, so you’ll want to do a quick reconnoitre of the menus before planting your flag. You wouldn’t want to spend forty minutes in line only to discover the pulled pork tacos are at the other food truck next door!

What’s that? Worried about the health implications of all this? Pshaw. We got that covered too. Simply drop by the TLC Nursing & Home Care Services stall for a free blood pressure and blood sugar check. Then move on to your next course with a clean conscience!

Dessert’s on wheels!

Once you’ve had your first three courses, it’s time to consider dessert.

Regatta DessertHere, too, there are a wide range of options. You can go for the classic sno-cones and funnel cakes, but personally I encourage you to be adventurous. Once again, regional variations are on offer; I recommend activating your dessert palate with authentic Diamond Fudge from Lewisporte.

Now that your sweet tooths are tingling, find yourself some handmade gelato in a crepe. The true Newfoundland patriot will go for ‘The Republic’: custard spread, strawberries, kiwi, whipped cream, and condensed milk drizzle. If you’d prefer something lighter, there’s always fondue in a cup. To settle your stomach, finish your dessert courses off with some ice cream from Moo-Moos. Or, if you’re too hipster for Moo-Moos, there’s always Tracey’s Soft-Serve, or even the Mini Donuts stall. (Made while you watch! MADE WHILE YOU WATCH!)

But Regatta, of course, is a sporting event, and now that you’ve eaten your traditional three courses of lunch followed by three courses of dessert, it’s time to work off some of those extra calories.

Let the races begin!

The Regatta is the oldest sporting event in North America, and so I encourage you to begin your day’s athletics with one of the traditional sporting challenges — Plinko, perhaps. Or Pluck-a-Puck. Once you’ve warmed up, you can move on to more challenging and gruelling events, like Conk the Crow, or even Jooey Jump.

Not doing too well? Extra funnel cake or bologna grilled cheese weighing you down? Never fear — sidle on over to the Duck Pond, where there’s a prize every time!

For those who’d like to try something more challenging, there’s no shortage of options either. You can go vintage – Horseshoes – or visit the Avalon Karate tent to be initiated into The Way of the Cash Wheel.

Regatta Sporting EventsThese are the classic Regatta sporting events. There are other more subtle games afoot, mind you. There’s Dodge-a-Politician, for instance. This is a fun game, sort of like a reverse version of Capture The Flag. Each party has a big tent – a red tent for the Liberals, orange tent for the NDP – and that’s their base. But they send out candidates to try to shake hands with innocent passers-by. If you see a politician approaching, but manage to dodge them and slip into the crowd without them tagging you, you win, and you get a point. Accumulate ten points and you can cash them in for a free 50/50 ticket. But if a politician manages to sneak up on you and shake your hand, they win. For every hand they shake, they get a vote. When they’ve won ten votes, they can cash them in for a giant inflatable ninja sword.

Mind you, I only saw Liberal and NDP tents at this year’s Regatta. I might have just missed the Progressive Conservative tent. Unless it was that one with the big “Have you hugged a Minion today?” sign.

Regatta BallAnd for the truly athletic, these days you can pull a giant inflatable bubble over your head and play knockerball (bonus points if you bounce onto a politician!). Or for the intellectually inclined, there are more cerebral brain games as well – just follow the trail of pull tab gambling tickets to the source.

So, should anyone ever ask you what the Regatta is, feel free to forward them this handy guide. The Regatta is many things, to many people. Sno-cones and funnel cakes to some; wedgies and bay dogs to others. To some it’s samosas and fried plantains; hand-made gelato and curry masala. To others it’s airbrushed tattoos and Plinko.

But whatever your lifestyle choice, whatever your philosophy, whatever your taste in poutines, the Regatta has something for you.

Oh, there’s boat races, too.

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