Alex and I spent last weekend in Vancouver. Saturday was food tour day! Following a visit to the Vancouver Winter Farmers market we headed to Granville Island. Edible Canada is both a store selling artisan food products and a bistro serving local food. I had the Edible Canada breakfast:
scrambled eggs, pork and apple sausage and smoked bacon. There were two little smoked tomatoes, bright bursts of flavor, and my favorite thing, potatoes fried in duck fat. I’m going to get a duck and try that myself!
Granville Island Public Market is a year-round indoor market stuffed with vendors selling vegetables and fruit, cheese, sausage, tea, honey, grains, maple syrup…it’s overwhelming! Since we couldn’t bring fresh food across the border we loaded up on finished foods, honey, maple syrup, and birch syrup.
For dinner we checked out a brand new Vancouver farm-to-table restaurant, Forage. Chef Chris Whittaker is playing with two ideas. Our waiter described the menu as West Coast Tapas, composed of lots of little plates labeled “Boards”, “Plates”, “Irons” (hot skillets), and “Bowls”. The idea is that you order several of them and share them around the table.
We ordered a board of flatbread with alpine juniper duck confit, Neufchåtel, roasted garlic, arugula. Our plate was a “double-fried” pork cutlet, mustard greens, bull kelp, and pickled cipollinis. The iron we ordered came with a beautifully cooked salmon, locally named potatoes, sea asparagus, and pickled huckleberries. We split two desserts (“sweets”), small bites of French toast and an apple pie with a black pepper shortbread crust. Each composed bite included four or five of the tastes (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, umame) and smooth and crunchy textures. This isn’t the kind of food you eat absently while talking with your friends, it demands the front of your attention.
Did you notice the bull kelp and sea asparagus go by? The restaurant’s name literally means that in addition to offal (tongue, liver, bone marrow) the cuisine includes foraged weeds and other edibles. Chef Whittaker says, “To me forage means that we no longer seek out excess and indulgence, but instead revisit a time when we respected the land and oceans and took only what we needed to survive.”
We wrapped up our food adventures the next day at another farm-to-table eatery, Fable, founded by Top Chef Canada contestants. The entire staff was friendly to out-of-town visitors. I had the most unusual item on the brunch menu, jonnycakes (corn pancakes) topped with pulled pork, a tomato jam, and pickled jalapenos. I wanted more jalapenos! Another combination of tastes that worked well together.
After two days of touring local food sources and eating local food, we felt we had been exposed to a conscious cuisine, one rooted in place, and in an ecosystem which is contiguous with ours. It reminded me of Vermont – there is a sense of an established regional culinary identity, a northern identity leaning on animal fats and wheat rather than the southern-Mediterranean use of rice and vegetable oil. It does seem that Vancouver is farther along the path of generating a truly local sense of food. The foods local to Vancouver are the foods local to Kitsap, our farmers grow more or less the same vegetables, meats, fruits and grains, and our climate is very much the same as well, so it isn’t the food or farmers that makes the difference; I think it’s just a matter of having a regional sense of self.