How I Ate & Drank My Way Around Western Canada (And You Should Too)
Written by Jaillan Yehia
When I made a mental checklist of all the things I was looking forward to about visiting Canada, stunning scenery was up there, epic train rides too – and exploring cool cities.
I just didn’t realise that the food in Vancouver and the surrounding area was to be one of the ultimate highlights of my time on Canada’s West Coast. Here’s an exhaustive list of everything that made me a Canadian cuisine convert. And I’m not talking about Poutine…
Before my head had even hit a pillow on my trip to Canada (or what I came to think fondly of as my great Canadian eating fest) I’d enjoyed two great tastes of the Vancouver foodie scene. Here’s a rundown of the highlights of the food in Vancouver that made an impression, and a couple of the drinks too…
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Tired and jet-lagged after the long flight from London I popped into the nearest pit stop – and without knowing it stumbled across one of the city’s top 10 sandwiches, Hubbub’s Pulled Pork Sandwich.
The meat (or chicken) can also be added to a plentiful and filling quinoa salad as a healthier alternative. I was pretty excited to see quinoa on the menu, until I realised that the superfood does a roaring trade here in Canada while back in London it seems to only exists within the confines of Whole Foods and veggie friends’ cupboards.
That night I compounded my strangely gourmet (if rather woolly-headed) day with a three course meal in the comfort of my hotel restaurant. Staying in the hotel for a meal might ordinarily inspire feelings of guilt but not here; this is one of the city’s best Modern European restaurants, with a British chef – and on my visit a brand new menu was being tried out, pretty successfully if my steak paired with Okanagan Valley wine was anything to go by.
La Casa Gelato
Next up is Italian Day on Commercial Drive – a festival, and of course a feast of Italian food, rounded off with a trip to ice cream parlour La Casa Gelato with its 218 flavours of ice cream, frozen yoghurt and sorbet, including some pretty out there flavours; green bean or garlic ice cream anyone? They also have some just ok cannoli.
Guilty Pleasures Gourmet Food Tour
Not content with eating recreationally as I stumbled across foods by chance, I then scheduled in a dedicated food tour to be positive I was sampling Vancouver’s most tasty and interesting snacks.
The Guilty Pleasures Gourmet Tour takes you on a journey through 14 tastings at a selection of the city’s restaurants and gelatarias – including six-time Dim Sum champion of Vancouver, Kirin and a stop for mouth-watering burgers and salmon sashimi washed down with a ginger lime margarita at Market by Jean-Georges.
It was a tricky choice between this version and the World’s Best Street Eats Tour which showcases the vibrant international food cart culture as you sample literally, from the city’s melting pot – including a stop at local staple, Japadog.
For daily deli staples I hit Urban Fare. Brits – imagine a Canadian version of Marks and Spencer food hall crossed with Whole Foods and you have this chain of 5 gourmet deli locations around British Columbia, with the slogan ‘Food Is Our Passion’. Italians and Americans may find it more akin to Eataly. From ready made meals to cheeses and boxes of sweets you can get it all here – admittedly at a price.
For authentic, cheap and tasty Cambodian and Vietnamese food you probably can’t go wrong with this Chinatown restaurant. Recommended by three separate Vancouver locals I understood just why after ordering the Lok Lak steak – which almost reached the standards of Lemongrass, my local London Cambodian, and a place I’ve been known to eat at 3 times in a single week. The chicken wings at PP were superb too and at $18 my pocket felt pleasantly closer to Cambodia than Canada.
For atmospheric and unusual tapas that makes you feel you’ve crossed back over to the more historic side of the pond Bin941 is a great choice in downtown Vancouver. Dishes were a little hit and miss – I may not have agreed with scallop ceviche being served with a side order of whipped cream but the watermelon set it off nicely, and what price innovation? Or as as the Canadians might say, ‘What price innovation, eh?’
A good selection of wine plus friendly yet laid back service scored points and as the rest of the dishes didn’t come with any unexpected dairy-based squirty accompaniments Bin941 is fine by me – I’d certainly go back.
In a city with this big an Asian population it seems fitting to double up on recommendations from the region. Unlike Phmom Penh Peaceful Restaurant isn’t actually in Chinatown though it does specialise in Northern Chinese cuisine – however just like Phnom Penh it has queues running out the door and is worth the wait.
Just be sure to look it up on Foursquare before ordering; the menu is pretty huge and the number of votes for the beef rolls (greasy in a good way, terribly tasty and almost as filling as a brick) will make your decision process a heck of a lot quicker and easier.
Walking around Vancouver one cannot help but notice the total domination of coffee chains. Starbucks is on almost every street corner, and other chains fill in the gaps that the Starbucks machine has somehow missed. So a tea haven like Teaja is a lovely sight for a Brit abroad.
There’s no Lipton Yellow Label lowering the tone here – just pure organic, hand selected loose leaf teas, which will be individually brewed to perfection upon order.There’s also a daily ‘tea of the day’. These guys seem to be holding the tea fort down all by themselves in this caffeinated city, so I was delighted to give them a hand.
Lovely bar, reminded me of home. I wanted a fruit beer. A grapefruit beer was suggested by the bartender. It tasted quite nice and fruity. So far so good. It all went a bit wrong when someone noticed the alcohol content. 2.5%. Suddenly I felt as unhappy as if I’d actually ventured to South London for the evening. 2.5% just isn’t cricket.
The Rocky Mountaineer Train
Sometimes the Orient Express passes by on the train line outside my bedroom window. I try to proverbially nod my head to the glamour of a bygone era of train travel by giving a regal wave to the people on board as they enjoy their white table-clothed dinner service complete with little antique lamps with tassels.
How delightful to be one of those smart people then, as I was on Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer train, eating three course luncheons while equally delectable views zipped past my nose. The food is far better than it has any right to be given the logistics of feeding up to 400 passengers while lurching about the place. Although as soon as you made the mistake of looking down at your perfectly presented meal, you’d find you’d missed some other version of perfection out the window. But that could be what they call First World Problems.
The Post Hotel
You may think the strict foodie standards of the urbanites of Vancouver wouldn’t extend up into the mountains but you’d be wrong. Of all the food I’ve consumed on my Canadian adventure, the cuisine at The Post has to be the most remarkable.
The Alpine luxury of the dining room at this Lake Louise hotel is perfectly matched by the food, which is unashamedly high-end and utterly lives up to the expectations. Portions are just the right side of generous to make make you feel just the right side of greedy if you decide to squeeze in all three courses – and as The Post has had just 4 chefs in 36 years, the consistency and reliability of the food can’t be faulted. Add in the cosiness of the wood paneled dining room and the retire-with-a-glass of-port snug complete with moose head over a roaring fireplace and you’ve got the perfect foodie mountain retreat.
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