VANCOUVER, British Columbia — All it took was one visit to the Granville Island Public Market to discover the variety of culinary delights in Vancouver. Open since 1994 and one of the city’s top sites, this is the prototypical food market. With more than 50 vendors, including many here from its inception, and a rotating roster of farmers and culinary artisans, the market is my idea of foodie heaven.
Fortunately my family and I were led around the maze of stalls by Jamie Wilson, a former chef with Canada’s Via Rail system, who now conducts food tours for Edible British Columbia. Our first stop was La Baguette, cherished by restaurateurs for its French breads and pastries. My children quickly devoured a just-out-of-the-oven pain au chocolat.
Next we wandered over to Seafood City to try their smoked salmon. A long glass case featured the ocean catch, including black cod, otherwise known as sablefish, halibut, sockeye salmon, monkfish, and large bins of oysters. “They sell only sustainable fish,” said Wilson. “Everything at Granville Island has to be sustainable, local, made in B.C.”
We passed bins overflowing with fresh fruit like large blackberries, Rainier cherries, golden berries, and loquats, often referred to as Chinese plums. We sampled different types of prosciutto at Oyama Sausage, the tomato, pesto, and mozzarella focaccia at Terra Breads, and a chocolate with a salted caramel middle created by the Belgium-trained owner of Abbotsford. Not everything was a hit with the kids.
“Yuck, this is the worst thing I ever tasted,” said Melanie, 13, before spitting a marinated black olive into a napkin.
I’m still amazed that she and her brother Jake, 15, have progressed beyond years of mac and cheese, pizza, and pasta. When they finally came out of the fog, they did so with aplomb, craving foods that span the globe. Now every Restaurant Week in Boston, Jake asks me to bring him to Taranta, a Peruvian restaurant on Hanover Street, while Melanie favors the spicy Indian cuisine of Brookline’s Tamarind Bay.
Food has always been the ingredient that, when chosen correctly, enhances my travel experience. This is especially true in a city like Vancouver. Blessed with a bounty of staples from sea and farm, a vibrant multi-ethnic canvas to spice things up, and a population that has supported the locavore movement from its early stages, it has become one of North America’s top dining locales.
That evening we headed to Coast, a restaurant close to the downtown office buildings. We had reservations and were escorted to a second-floor table with views of the oval-shaped raw bar and chefs slicing and dicing the fish.
All fish are line-caught, and the menu names the fisherman who hooked each. We started with a mango California roll. The chunks of Dungeness crab and creamy avocado mixed well with the sweet mango.
“This is a winner,” said Jake, a budding food critic.
The spicy ahi tuna roll was topped with a dollop of hot sauce, while the buttermilk-battered calamari were lightly fried and paired with a garlic aioli sauce. For entrees, the sablefish and slightly charred halibut, a fish I hardly ever order because it’s oven overcooked, cut like butter and were incredibly fresh and tasty. Melanie enjoyed the fish and chips, which were made from cod.
For breakfast the next morning we headed to one of the largest restaurants in the city, Floata. Located on Keefer Street in the heart of Chinatown, this third-floor emporium features dim sum daily. Share a table with locals and watch the ladies work their carts as you choose from shrimp dumplings, steamed pork buns, scallop shu mai, salt and pepper calamari, and my children’s favorite, sticky rice.
The best known green space in town is a jaunt to Stanley Park along the water’s edge. We rented bikes and pedaled along the seawall, peering inland at an enchanted forest, and out to sea at the oceanliners. A long bridge spans the bay waters, leading to mountains rising on the opposite shores.
We locked up the bikes at the Vancouver Aquarium and headed inside to see the jellyfish exhibition and a show outdoors featuring beluga whales. Back on the bike path, riding around the rocky shoreline, we were surprised to see all the nature in the wild, like seals lounging on the boulders and a mother otter feeding crabs to her young. Eventually we reached the Teahouse, one of my favorite restaurants in the city. Shaded by the towering trees, the Teahouse has front-row views of the Pacific.
The food is as glorious as the setting. Yet the venue caters to all, accustomed to bikers dressed in shorts and T-shirts dining with businessmen in suits and ties. We dined on salmon burgers, lightly breaded salt and pepper calamari, and sablefish topped with miso sauce. For dessert, the kids had slices of lemon meringue pie and red velvet cake. I could barely get my fork in for a taste.
On our final night, we took a cab to the Strathcona neighborhood and a local favorite, Campagnolo, known for its northern Italian fare. We sat at one of their butcher block wood tables and dove into a snack of crispy ceci, charred chickpeas seasoned with chili flakes, mint, lemon, and olive oil. The restaurant gets many of its ingredients at the farmer’s market at the train station next door.
One bite of the tasty margherita pizza, topped with oregano, red pepper, and Parmesan, and we knew we were in good hands. The agnolotti pasta dish featured slender ravioli filled with caramelized onions served in a pork broth. We ended with cherries, blackberries, and raspberries found that afternoon at the market, topped with whipped cream.
“That was the perfect meal,” said Jake, finishing the last bite.
Ask me about that blockbuster Surrealism show at the Vancouver Art Gallery last summer and I couldn’t describe one painting. But those sweet blackberries that burst with flavor in your mouth . . . I can taste them now.
Stephen Jermanok can be reached at www.ActiveTravels.com.