Canada

Vancouver Satisfies Many Appetites

There's more than just one reason why Outside magazine calls Vancouver, Canada the world’s 'Best Weekend Escape'. It’s a destination with an incredible range of outdoor activities, cultural attractions, accommodations and restaurants, all set against some of the most picturesque scenery imaginable. Green spaces abound in this city, along with the natural beauty of mountain vistas and miles of coastal waterfront. As you stroll through the streets, you’ll feel a palpable sense of energy that lends an element of excitement to the town. You’ll also note the cultural mosaic that comprises this diverse and exciting, cosmopolitan hub. The varying ethnicities help to contribute to the city’s international feel, perhaps especially when it comes to its highly touted culinary scene, which teems with award-winning restaurants and chefs.

One of the best ways to explore this gastronomy landscape is via Edible Canada’s signature tour of the colorful Granville Island Market. It’s a two-hour sensory adventure, billed as “sightseeing for your taste buds” - with the best flavors of the region taking center stage. As you walk through the bustling European style market, your guide will introduce you to a diverse array of vendors from green grocers and butchers to bakers, fishmongers, cheese specialists and chocolatiers. There are more than fifty permanent vendors and a constantly rotating roster of farmers and culinary artisans, making Granville Island a true cook’s treasure and a foodie’s heaven. 

The first stop on our tour was the Granville Island Tea Company, boasting nearly 150 teas from all over the world. Our guide, Jamie, explained the differences between white, green and black tea, noting that it is the location of the leaves on the tea plant, as well as the harvesting time that is of prime importance. We sampled a delightfully spiced Masala Chai that had me practically purring like a cat with a bowl of cream and then took turns smelling a variety of teas from a toasty rice flavored Genmaicha to a smoky Lapsang Souchong. “This is a business based on love,” said Jamie. "Owners Mark and his wife Deborah are passionate about tea. They’ve created quite a tea culture here with a devoted following of regulars.” She adds that the hardest part of the experience for many is deciding which tea to taste! 

Next on our tour was The Stock Market, a company known for its hearty homemade soups, sauces, salad dressings and, to my surprise, hot cereals. We tried their signature seven grain with apple rhubarb compote on top – definitely a winner in my book. At the following vendor, La Baguette & L’Echalote, the aroma made me swoon, as did the array of pastries and artisan breads. We were given a dark chocolate pain au chocolat croissant to sample, which was light, flaky and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. At Benton Brothers, a well-known cheese company specializing in small farm cheeses, owner Andrew Benton gave us a cube of Alpindon to try. I claimed this Alpine style summer cheese with its earthy tones and creamy texture my new favorite. A stop at Zara’s Italian Deli provided a lesson in olives with samples of Barese Nero (black) and Barese Verde (green). Their meaty texture belies their mild and buttery taste with just a subtle hint of sweetness. “Zara’s olives are famous, as are their pastas, especially the handmade tortellini, which always sells out quickly,” noted Jamie. I was particularly enamored with the striped Raviolani, which looks exactly like ribbon candy. 

One of my favorite vendors was Chocolatas, a chocolatier specializing in Belgium-style confections, where we nibbled at squares of dark pink grapefruit ganache and dark ganache flavored with wasabi, of all things! On the savory side, there was Oyama Sausage, with its famed sausage cured with Granville Island sake and Okanagan red wine, and Seafood City, a thriving fish market featuring smoked salmon maple nuggets that were so sweet they could easily be mistaken for dessert. 

Our last stop was at Lee’s Donuts, a longtime vendor that consistently attracts crowds clamoring for its famed glazed donuts, especially when they’re fresh out of the oven. Head baker Alvin, who’s been there forever, will gladly tell you how much he loves his job, and why. “Every morning I wake up and go to work where I make people happy,” he says with a big smile. The tour ended at Edible Canada’s bistro and retail store, where a few more samples awaited us, including birch syrup from the Cariboo and chocolate balsamic vinegar, made by Vancouver’s own Dundarave Olive Company. 

The market tour gave my traveling companion and me a great introduction to Vancouver’s food scene and helped set us up for forays to three unique restaurants: the Oakwood Canadian Bistro, Sanafir and Campagnolo, all recommendations from locals in the know. The Oakwood is a casually hip little gem in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighborhood, where talented Executive Chef Mike Robbins crafts tasty, seasonally driven dishes inspired by locally sourced organic ingredients. Opt to start with the fried octopus with bacon aioli and Japanese mustard spinach, followed by the albacore tuna and fennel salad or beets with smoked vanilla goat cheese. For a bit of French Canadian fare, there’s poutine (French fries with curds, gravy and, occasionally, smoked brisket) and in typical Canadian East Coast fashion planted in this west coast city, you’ll find a fried egg adorning such entrees as branzino or sea bass. Desserts of various combinations like milk chocolate ganache, rum infused bananas and walnut brittle are served up in cute little Mason jars.

Sanafir offers an entirely different experience with its flickering candles and Moroccan-inspired, sensual surroundings. There are even dining 'beds' on the upper level, where couples can have a truly romantic meal. The cuisine is based on the Silk Road with infusions of exotic flavors from North Africa, China, India and the Mediterranean. Mezze plates, tapas, tagines and curries explode with spice and color under the deft hands of Executive Chef Ray Bear. Seafood takes center billing with offerings that range from Moroccan mussel & clams to wild salmon in coconut yellow curry. Meat lovers, take heart, as there are plenty of options for you as well! These include the Egyptian spiced striploin, lamb tagine and balgarbi ribs. Use the grilled naan bread to sop up the juices. 

Travel to the eastside of town to find Campagnolo, a casual Italian restaurant that consistently earns rave reviews. It’s an unassuming place and not easy to find if you’ve never been in the area, especially if you’re looking for prominent signage. Inside, the décor is simple: wood and brick with exposed beams. Start with the Crispy Ceci, a unique salad of chick peas that have been fried with chilies, mint and citrus, or opt for the Salumi platter made of the restaurant’s own cured meat. If it’s pasta you want, you’ll be more than satisfied with offerings, which include potato gnocchi with spot prawns and rigatoni puttanesca with Humboldt squid. But, if you’re a pizza connoisseur, you’re in excellent hands, as Campagnolo is known for its buttery, thin-crusted, simply adorned pies that will make you groan with pleasure, bite after heavenly bite. 

Though food is a big deal in Vancouver, culture also gets high marks. In summer, get your theater fix at Bard on the Beach, the city’s highly touted professional Shakespeare festival that takes place on the waterfront in Vanier Park. In its 23rd season, the festival, which is the largest of its kind in Western Canada, is a beloved season tradition for many Vancouverites. It’s famous for the high-caliber of its performances, as well as its eye-popping location. The unique stage with its open-back tent allows the majestic northern mountains and Vancouver city views to function as the literal backdrop for its plays. Each summer, four of the Bard’s plays are produced. 

For adventure, head out of town a short way to Horseshoe Bay and hop on a sea safari at Sewell’s Marina. Your two-hour guided ride will take you around Howe Sound and into the Strait of Georgia for an eco-nature tour. You’ll find yourself racing beside steep cliffs, nosing into caves and viewing harbor seals at play, while catching glimpses of cormorants and majestic bald eagles soaring overhead. Spectacular waterfront homes line the banks and hillsides, along with stands of striking arbutus trees. Your craft is a high-speed, 30-foot rigid hull inflatable boat and you’ll be well-equipped to handle the whipping wind and water spray while decked out in special Mustang Integrity suits. And yes, they make you look and feel like the Pillsbury Doughboy! Don’t be surprised if your captain decides to suddenly do a series of doughnuts during the tour to jar you from your state of seeming complacency. Ladies, the results are just as good as a microdermabrasion treatment, so you’ll be able to save yourself a trip to the spa. 

If your recreation tastes are tamer, take a stroll around 1,000-acre Stanley Park with its forested trails, sandy beaches and host of attractions, including a collection of hand-carved totem poles and the renowned Vancouver Aquarium. Allow some time for reflection at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden, a classical Chinese garden known for its traditional design. It’s a serene oasis in the midst of busy Chinatown, one of the oldest and largest in North America. 

Know that while you can easily satisfy all of your appetites in Vancouver, you’ll still leave hungry for more. For more information on this dynamic city, visit Tourism Vancouver online at www.tourismvancouver.com. 



About the Author

Deborah Stone is a features and travel writer, whose column has covered everything from Washington’s San Juan Islands to exotic Egypt. She enjoys writing about soft adventure experiences, cultural forays, wildlife encounters, romantic getaways and spa retreats. A long-time resident of the Seattle area, she is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association and the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association.



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 Full name: Canada

 Population: 34.3 million (CIA, 2012)

 Capital: Ottawa

 Largest city: Toronto

 Area: 9.984 million sq.km. (3.86 million sq. mi.)

 Major languages: English, French, Other

 Major religions: Roman Catholic, Protestant,  Other Christian, Muslim, Other

 Monetary unit: Canadian Dollar

 GDP per capita: US $40,300

 Internet domain: .ca

 International dialling code: +1

 Source: CIA World Factbook