My Guide To Eating British Food In Vancouver, BC (without going bankrupt)
Written by Jaillan Yehia
After four amazing – and sometimes challenging – years living in Vancouver, British Columbia, I moved back to the UK.
When people ask me why I left Canada – a dream destination for many – the answer I give is simple but may seem trite: I couldn’t live without good cheddar cheese.
Of course there were plenty of other factors at play in my decision to move back to Blighty – I missed those tubs of M&S chocolate cornflakes too, and reading Heat magazine, and watching Gogglebox. And I realised that culturally I’m just really, really European.
But I can genuinely say that the difficulty of tracking down decent cheddar in BC, the tangy kind with delicate little salt crystals in it, and the high price and small portion size of said cheese when I did find it, was a major stumbling block to my continuing life as a Canuck.
Don’t get me wrong, living abroad was an amazing experience, and for every food I missed there was a Canadian food that I fell in love with. But isn’t it funny that almost as much as I longed for my friends and family, I craved British snacks?
I really did fall in love with s’mores and butter tarts, caesars and nanaimo bars, pumpkin pie and freshly caught salmon, cheap plentiful sushi and endless Vietnamese Pho….hmm maybe I need to move back.
But while living in British Columbia I really missed English foods – it was mainly cliched things like fish and chips, chipolatas and baked beans – and non-streaky bacon to go with them – as well as the availability of good quality interesting ready meals, but mostly if I’m honest it was the cheese I desperately wanted – so I searched far and wide for places to get a taste of home.
Now that I’m back in the land of giant blocks of cheddar for £2, I really feel for those who are stuck somewhere without this basic human right.
I saw a survey online about food costs abroad and it reminded me that I had always planned to share my own discoveries of where to get British grub In BC – so that other expats could benefit from my experience seeking out affordable places to eat British food in Vancouver.
– Here is my personal mini-guide to eating British food in Vancouver –
As a tea guzzling Brit I am a bit of a walking cliche, although I favour Earl Grey and herbal teas much more than Tetley, Yorkshire, or any ‘builders tea’ you might care to name.
Of course Canadian supermarkets have a decent selection of tea bags but if you are a tea connoisseur like me and miss European standard tea selections, the best place I found for impeccable quality tea and tea-related accessories was Silk Road Tea which actually started life in Victoria, which has more British eating options than Van City due to its historic connections with England. One of the nice things about Silk Road is that they will give a discount on tea if you bring back your packaging from the previous purchase so they can refill it, saving money and also preventing excess waste.
While reading a fabulous anthropological book called Watching The English all about why we Brits are the way we are, I particularly enjoyed the chapter about how you can tell a British person’s social class by what time they serve tea.
Of course an invitation for tea by a posh person means you should come mid-afternoon for some finger sandwiches and scones and actual tea, whereas oop North your tea is your dinner, served early evening, and there’s not a teapot in sight.
Places like the White Heather Tea Room in Victoria have really traditional High Tea offerings but in Vancouver I found the vibe to be more modern and trendy, and although it opened after I left the city Neverland Tea Salon is the place I’d head to in a heartbeat if I was in need of High Tea in Van.
The British Stores
During my time in BC I shopped at a few of the British stores dotted around the Lower Mainland and if I was really homesick or craving some junk food they were a great bet.
The problem with these shops is they sell a very specific cross-section of British food – let’s just say if they were a newspaper they’d be The Sun, not The Guardian. What I’m saying is they’re like a corner shop in Britain not a branch of Waitrose. But if you like your baked beans and Branston pickle as much as the next Brit (which I do), you’ll be able to get a few things you want there, though of course the prices make you wince.
My closest was The British Store in Surrey which also has a branch in Maple Ridge, but I also regularly popped into similar shops in New Westminster and Steveston and there’s a shop in Langley called Black Pudding – and I haven’t tried it but I noticed the Celtic Treasure Chest in downtown Vancouver.
Fish & Chips
One of the first places I was taken for a taste of England in the Lower Mainland was to the seaside town of White Rock, for Fish & Chips at Moby Dick.
I ended up going back time and time again and despite trying fish & chips at other places like Steveston which is a charming place to spend some time, I never found anywhere I enjoyed more.
For the food, the value for money (portions are huge), the seaside setting and of course the decor Moby Dick is a lovely spot- kitsch doesn’t even begin to cover it and it’s pretty unusual to find a restaurant in Vancouver which has much personality, most are modern, glass-clad architect designed affairs, so this for me was a welcome injection of fun.
I came to realise that for downtown Vancouver dwellers a trip to White Rock is practically like asking a Londoner to go to Southend for dinner but it’s well worth the journey for these fish and chips.
And of course, Cheddar Cheese
Of course Canadians will tell you that you can get good cheddar cheese in BC, and they’re right – but it’s not available absolutely everywhere like it is in the UK. I did find some nice cheese at farmers markets (though it never had as much flavour as UK Cheddar) – but you practically need to take out a bank loan to buy it.
I also went to a Canadian Cheese Association tasting event in downtown Vancouver, and a Canadian cheese tasting at a food show in Abbotsford (I told you I really missed good cheese) to see if I was missing something in condemning Canadian cheddars, and concluded I wasn’t.
In general I found the dairy products really lacking in BC – it’s almost impossible to get things we take for granted like soured cream, whipping cream and clotted cream, and even yoghurt just tasted of nothing. I learned that this is partly because they have a lot of regulations around cultured bacteria in foods – but let’s face it, it’s the bacteria that makes it all taste so damn good.
After all my research the places I ended up buying my cheese from regularly fell into 3 categories – for day to day supermarket shopping I’d see what offers were on in Superstore or at a push Safeway (generally Safeway is crazy expensive in Canada but has some selected items I’d go in for) and usually end up getting one of the Extra Mature Baldersons Vintage Cheddars.
If I was anywhere near Commercial Broadway I would go to the Italian deli there and the Italian shops in this neighbourhood were a life saver for me when I wanted some really nice flavourful cheese. I experimented with whatever was on offer that day – I remember getting a fabulous cheese with rosemary in it once that blew my mind. Because Italian food is so much easier to come by then British food in Van I found myself turning to it a lot (and let’s face it I love Italy so that was ok).
baked beans, Shortbread, pickle & assorted snacks
There are a few other little British tips I can give you – British style baked beans which can be found in most big supermarkets were a must for me versus the native Canadian version which seemed to be packed with salt and sugar by comparison.
I really noticed it when I came home and found British baked beans tasteless – then I realised my palate had become accustomed to overly salty and sweet food so I made sure I only ate the British beans after that (this post makes me sound like I am some kind of baked bean fiend, I promise I’m not – this covers a period of over four years!).
Branston pickle is actually available if you look hard enough, in certain branches of Real Canadian Superstore, but only sometimes. It’s quite different to the Braston we get in England but I actually really like it. It looks like this:
Finding one-off events, craft shows, food markets and pop-ups was definitely the best way to enjoy the kind of small scale home-baked goods and delicacies that we’re used to here in England and Europe in general so I recomend going to those type of places and seeing what you can pick up.
My final tip is to follow my friend Andrea who helped me get my shortbread fix while living in Canada – she started Short and Sweet Cookie and makes unbelievably delicious Scottish style shortbread in North Vancouver, selling locally at events and food markets.
I know I haven’t covered all of the places in Vancouver to eat like an English person, far from it – and one of my fave British pubs The Fat Badger closed down, so please add anywhere you have found, especially new places, in the comments below so I can try out your favourites next time I’m in BC.
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