Its been six months since Vancouver hosted the Winter Olympics, and while the rest of the world may have turned its attention elsewhere, there is still plenty to be excited about in Canada’s jewel on the West Coast. The signs of post-traumatic tourist disorder are everywhere: you can snag an official Olympic hat, shirt or bag for 50% off, especially along the cheesy parts of the historic Gastown district. But for my money, I’d rather snag a table at Vikram Vij’s eponymous Indian restaurant in South Granville (I still remember the lamb lollipops from a visit there five years ago). We tried to put our name on the list early, but still faced a daunting three-hour wait. We opted to hit his more casual restaurant Rangoli, next door. The really cool thing about waiting for a seat at one of Vij’s restaurants is that the man himself walks around constantly, offering snacks like chaat-topped crispy papadums or fried yucca dusted in Indian chilies. Can you imagine seeing Bayless walking around Clark St. offering ceviche and taquitos to the folks who flew in special from Minneapolis?
We did love the slightly spicy shredded goat with jackfruit, paired up with cooling yogurt raita, crunchy purple cabbage, white rice and puffy naan. His chaat appetizer was closer to Mumbai than anything I’ve had on Devon Ave. in Chicago - jam-packed with sprouted chickpeas, bits of crunchy wafers and potatoes, all doused in tamarind and mint chutneys.
Vancouver is a city of great contrasts. ‚ In one vista, you can take in the beach, the city, the mountains, the ocean and the forest (just stand on Kits Beach facing Stanley Park and you’ll see what I mean). ‚ It exists in a temperate climate, so while it may snow, it never gets to be the bone-chilling brutal winter we all know in Chicago. ‚ Culinarily, it’s the perfect melting pot of Asian cuisines, with an emphasis on Japanese (downtown) and Chinese (mostly in nearby Richmond). ‚ Of the 2.3 million people here, about 800,000 are Asian (600,000 of which are Chinese). ‚ Since this is Canada, those pesky U.S. Department of Agriculture import rules don’t apply, so along with the vast bins of ginseng and sharkfin in Chinatown, you’ll also see fresh durian, rambutan, mangosteen and longan.
There isn’t really a true “Canadian cuisine” per se (moose, elk and maple syrup, eh?) but if you ask enough chefs in British Columbia that question, you’ll get a response mirroring the current trend in the U.S., which emphasizes a philosophy on sourcing local ingredients. ‚ Two Vancouver journalists made the “100 Mile Diet” a national story here, eating nothing for a year but food that originated from within the Province. ‚ It’s easy to see why it couldn’t have been that difficult: the Okanagan Valley (about a four-hour drive North of Vancouver) is the region’s version of Napa, producing clean, mineral-tinged German-style rieslings and sauvignon blancs. ‚ There is farmstead cheese from Vancouver Island, beef and poultry on the mainland (although the former is strictly grass-fed, resulting in leaner meat; a chef I spoke with at YEW still sources his corn-fed beef from the U.S.) and some of the most pristine, abundant fisheries and stocks of shellfish anywhere in North America. ‚ Restaurants carry BC oysters like Chicago hot dog joints carry Vienna beef. ‚ The tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico has only made these delicious mollusks even more attractive; you can literally gorge yourself on Fanny Bays, Kusshis and Gorge Inlets without fear of the environmental conditions from where they came.
One of the best places in the city to sample oysters - as well as tuna, wild salmon and any other sea creature - is the aptly-named C Restaurant on the water, across from Granville Island. ‚ Robert Clark is to responsible seafood sourcing, what The Publican is to pork: he was one of the original members of the Ocean Wise program instituted by the Vancouver Aquarium, having focussed on sustainably-caught seafood for more than a decade. ‚ I spoke with him about his passion, and will show you the interview in another post later today.