Let me start by saying that I realize Canadians don’t live on a daily diet of poutine and Caesar cocktails. Any more than Arizonans have a chimichanga and margarita for lunch every day, or San Franciscans, sourdough bread and cioppino.
Admittedly, they all sound lovely. But my point is they’re mostly restaurant and/or tourist foods – the images that come to mind when people think about visiting places like Canada, Arizona, or San Francisco.
Still, I feel like these types of foods offer a glimpse into the culinary heart of a region. So, when I say “how to eat and drink like a Canadian,” I know I’m not an expert after my brief stay in Vancouver. But I did get a little insight into the appetites of Canadians!
First, let me mention the poutine. We had been on the lookout for this distinctly Canadian creation ever since we crossed the border from Washington to British Columbia. Finally, on a Saturday evening in Vancouver’s Gastown, before a big Vancouver Canucks/Calgary Flames hockey game, we decided to check out a quintessential hockey hangout, The Pint Public House and Sports Bar.
Of course, featured on the menu was poutine – in several varieties. We had to go for it. And what we got more than satisfied our desire for that calorie-laden appetizer: A huge stack of thick steak fries, smothered with melting cheese curds, and a glistening layer of beef gravy.
I must say it was tasty, albeit a little too filling. And, as we looked around at other customers in The Pint, we realized that we didn’t see many plates of poutine on the tables. Rather, customers were ordering “The Pint Platter” – a tray piled high with an assortment of sliders (prime rib, bison, or chicken), chicken wings, and ribs, and all of it accompanied by nachos, fries, and veggies and dip. A little excessive – and not exactly what I would have guessed to be Canadian food, but still delicious looking!
Of course, poutine wasn’t the only food we were looking to try on our visit to Vancouver. Salmon, a little healthier choice, was also high on the list. And that was accomplished soon after we checked into the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, and headed upstairs to the 15th floor for afternoon “Tea at the Top.”
Featured prominently on the three-tiered platter of tea delicacies were beautifully composed “St. Mary’s River smoked salmon” finger-tea sandwiches with lemon ricotta and buckwheat blini. I love smoked salmon, and this was spectacular – moist and meaty, with a subtle smoke flavor. But it was far from the only delicious item on the tray. Other tea sandwiches featured curried chicken on a caraway roll – delectable – and mini bagels with salt beef, radish, and arugula.
Not to be outdone by the sandwiches, though, were the scrumptious desserts – spiced apricot cake, chocolate financier with salted caramel, and strawberry charlotte – and the opening course of honey yoghurt panna cotta with fresh berries. Oh, and of course, the scones – warm and crumbly, served with a house-made orange marmalade, and Devonshire clotted cream. If it sounds a little decadent and sumptuous, it was!
Topping it all off were our individual selections of tea. I chose the Fairmont’s special Kyoto cherry rose tea, which was aromatic and slightly spicy – just the thing for that rainy February afternoon.
Since salmon was so high on my list, I was also looking forward to the varieties of candied salmon and salmon jerky that I had heard were available at the Granville Island Public Market. So, the next morning, we took the short Aquabus ferry ride across, and started wandering the dozens of market stalls. Amidst the booths offering virtually any type of fruit, pastry, honey, or maple syrup imaginable were also a variety of seafood purveyors. At the Longliner Seafoods booth, I found what I was looking for – mounds of sweet/salty candied salmon chunks, and strips of smoky salmon jerky. I bought half a pound of each, and Longliner packed it all up with an icy pack to keep it cold. When I got home, I found that both varieties were great accompaniments with a chopped salad of romaine lettuce, tomatoes, celery, and walnuts, with a little ranch dressing.
Also on Granville Island, we had been advised to check out Edible Canada, a rustic bistro located across the street from the public market. When we walked in, I immediately noticed a huge stockpot on the stove in the open kitchen, cooking a rich beef stock. It was a good sign. We decided to go for a combination of healthy and less-healthy – two salads, one a kale Caesar with a soft-boiled egg, olive oil, and bread crumbs; and another a roasted acorn-squash and faro salad with spicy pumpkin seeds; along with a platter of fish and chips (with duck-fat fries). We couldn’t have been happier. The fish fillets were flaky on the inside and crispy on the outside, and salads were light, but hearty.
My son decided to have a Maple Bacon Caesar cocktail along with his meal. For those who are unfamiliar, a Caesar is like an American Bloody Mary, but with clamato juice instead of tomato juice. This one came with a generous lid of crispy maple bacon. Everywhere we went in Vancouver, people were talking about their favorite Caesars, and I would definitely try one next time, sans the bacon.
The night before, at our hotel, we also had checked out Notch 8, a sleek and fun eatery in the lobby of the Hotel Vancouver. Our group sat in the bar and ordered pretty much every appetizer on the menu. The salty cured olives and rich French onion soup were at the top of the list for me. We also ordered the duck-breast entree and the foraged mushroom toast – all wonderful. Oh, and the lemongrass mule cocktails (Russian vodka, lime, ginger beer, and lemon grass syrup) were pretty awesome too.
And who could forget what turned out to be one of the most ubiquitous Canadian eateries of all – the Tim Hortons coffee shops/fast-food restaurants? With a shop located on nearly every street corner (think Starbucks in Seattle), Tim Hortons appeared to be wildly popular in Vancouver. On the morning before our Granville Island visit, we decided to check out the famous “Timbits” – doughnut morsels similar to doughnut holes in the U.S. The place was packed that morning with people eating all sorts of breakfast foods, but the doughnuts were the centerpiece. We went for a small variety pack, and got a good sugar jolt with an assortment of chocolate-glazed, caramel, and apple-fritter bits. A cheap, cute, and portable breakfast for our walk to the Granville Island Aquabus.
All in all, a fine weekend of eating and drinking, Canadian style!