Vancouver: Food for Thought
This blog post started with a dream I had earlier this week. It was a wonderful, beautiful, almost perfect dream; one of those ones that you’re genuinely disappointed to wake up from as you know it could never actually happen in real life. I dreamt that I found a Tesco supermarket in Vancouver. I was skipping gaily down the meat aisles, frolicking among the fruits and vegetables, and crying tears of pure joy in the cheese section. I couldn’t believe my luck that cheap groceries had finally landed in the City of Glass. Alas, just a dream it was; I woke up to a world where paying $2.29 for a tin of tomatoes is par for the course. And yes, I’m still going on about the tins of tomatoes. My week improved after I attended a BBQ organized by a lactose-intolerant host, and I left with a sizeable ziploc bag of cheese-based leftovers. Now that’s what I’m talking about. The final straw was when I spontaneously decided to visit Eat! Vancouver, Canada’s largest food and cooking show. Two hours after arriving I was unpleasantly full on samples of greek yoghurt, maple smoked salmon and grapeseed breads, weighed down with purchases of fudge, caramel apples and chocolate cake lollipops and determined to write this post about the diverse aspects of the cult of food in Vancouver.
I’ve already hinted at the amazingness of Eat! Vancouver, so I thought I’d start with this bit first. 2012 marked the tenth anniversary of the three day festival, which was held in the newly renovated BC Place stadium. The best way I can describe it is the Canadian version of the BBC Good Food Show. It’s part convention, part cooking lesson, part TV show, part free samples, part beer garden and part dinner.
All of the above sounded great, but what I was really going for was the free samples. I was particularly excited to be given a plastic carrier bag on arrival which contained a chocolate bar, granola bar, sachet of coffee and a bottle of hot sauce. That’s four take-aways bagged before I even entered the arena. Some stands were handing out samples to coax guests into buying their products, whereas others were offering no-strings free tastes solely to raise awareness. My favourites included McDonalds fruit smoothies (who knew?), some beautiful fresh green pesto, and a delicious roasted pine nuts flavoured hummus. It wasn’t all freebies though, and I did succumb to purchasing some treats for the weekend. I simply couldn’t turn down the local fudge producer (who was also selling chocolate caramel apples) or the pretty pink boutique cake lollipop stand. I’m still not 100% sure that the $16 ticket price (at the door) was entirely worth it for me, but it was definitely an enjoyable afternoon. I obviously wasn’t the only one to think so, as an estimated 40,000 fellow foodies attended over the three-day weekend.
Vancouver is long since famous for its intriguing selection of food carts, and May 2012 saw permits granted to 12 new vendors. Classic carts such as La Brassiere (French), Roaming Dragon (Asian Fusion) and Bada Bing (Philly Cheese Steak) have now been joined by the likes of Pig on the Street (British Sandwiches), Kaboom Box (seafood) and Slingers (Italian). Street food in Vancouver (quality) is nothing like street food in the UK (roadkill), and there are now a number of apps allowing foodies to keep track of locations, hours and menus of the 98 food carts currently up and running.
One of the most famous stands of all has to be Japadog, who have been serving specialist Japanese hot dogs since 2005. Their menu includes hot dogs with noodles, hot dogs with rice, and hot dogs with teriyaki sauce. Japadog now has 5 locations in Vancouver, and one in New York, and is a regular feature in guidebooks, blogs and tourist publications.
Sushi tends to be a running theme throughout my blog, largely due to it’s cheapness, and I’m going to talk about it again. Mainly because of how cheap it is. Sushi really is one of my favourite things in Vancouver. It’s a constant and a treat all at the same time. Each of the three places I’ve lived in Vancouver has had a handful of ‘local’ sushi restaurants within walking distance, but every time I visit one of them it’s always a deliciously decadent novelty. And did I mention it’s cheap?
My current favourite restaurant offers three maki rolls and miso soup for $6.99, while another’s 40% eat-in discount after 7pm brought the price of a yakisoba noodle dish to below $5. Lunchtime combos typically range from $6-$9 and make sushi a Friday afternoon staple in our office. The best speciality rolls I’ve ever eaten have been in Vancouver, with highlights including the Maple (salmon, cream cheese and smoked salmon), Angel (asparagus, mushroom, tomato, and mint Sauce) and King’s (prawn, wild salmon, onion and garlic). If you like sushi, then Vancouver is THE city for you. If you don’t, well….enough said.
The Social Feed
I’m going to confess right from the beginning of this paragraph that I haven’t actually attended a get together with The Social Feed; I’m writing about it because I desperately want to, and am just waiting for the stars to align our respective schedules. The Social Feed is essentially a dinner party with fantastic food and people you don’t know, but might like to get to know. It’s a way of meeting new and like-minded people (friendship included, it’s not a dating service) while sampling the best restaurants that Vancouver has to offer.
Venues tend to be local and independently owned, and three course menus are often served ‘family style’ for under $30, all in. I’ve heard fantastic things about the regular meetings and I’ll definitely be checking one out this summer to see what all the fuss is about.
I couldn’t write this post without mentioning the wide range of fresh and local produce that can be found not just at farmers markets but farms themselves. BC is ripe with prime farmland, and there’s no reason not to eat a wide range of local produce. Where you’re into yoghurt, cheese, fruits, vegetables or meats, there’s a nearby farm producing tons of the stuff. At a very high quality. The easiest way to get hold of any of the above is at a local grocery store. This is particularly the case with dairy, and my absolute favourite natural yoghurt comes from Fraser Meadow Organic Dairy in the Harrison Valley mountains.
If you fancy stretching your legs at the weekend, you could walk a little further to a regular farmers market. There are 5 main locations run by Vancouver Farmers Markets which range from Sunday mornings to Wednesday afternoons. If you’re up for a day trip a little further afield, you can check out the BC Farm Fresh website for information about over 80 local farms. Some offer tours, others have farm shops on site, and you can search by location or by product. I can’t wait to do some old fashioned fruit picking in the summer, and might just be able to fit a dairy farm tour in there too.
Now I’m dreaming again….cheese….