Sitting in the peaceful quiet of Pearson Island, breathing in pine scented air, it's remarkably hard to remember the sights, sounds and tastes of Vancouver city, where I was just a few days ago. So before the memory fades forever from my hole-riddled mind, here's a few notes from a city that certainly deserves several more gastronomic trips.
Given the brevity of my visit we set ourselves a tight schedule - first on the list, lots of local seafood, both raw as sashimi, and cooked, a little bit. Next? Well, it has to be Chinese, Cantonese style and finally, my host's favourite spot in town.
First stop was Miko Sushi, recommended by a local friend for good quality, traditional sashimi without emptying your wallet in the process. Miko also offers a large selection of appetizers, many from the robata grill. One of our group pronounced his grilled ox tongue to be the best he had ever tasted, for successfully delivering skewers of juicy, springy textured meat, lacquered with sweet-salty sauce and charred around the edges. Robata grilled chicken gizzards were almost as good, but definitely came second place.
We asked for locally sourced fish sashimi. Highlights included frilly fronds of mirugai (giant geoduck clam) that tasted sweet and buttery, generous slices of pale albacore tuna with a rosy blush and fat ivory slabs of toro, ready to melt on the tongue. Sockeye salmon was an almost violent orange-red colour compared to the ghostly tuna, and displayed none of the white fat seams characteristic of most salmon. It made sense that the taste was less rich, more delicate and quite gamey.
The next morning began with a late breakfast of Japanese hot dogs...yes really. The Japadog street cart is reputedly the closest thing to the real deal, outside of Japan. We shared a Terimayo, which is smothered with teriyaki sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, seaweed shreds and fried onions. Instead of the familiar sweet-hot taste found in the US original, this was more porky juices, mild mayo-savoury tang and briny finish, altogether pretty good. Add some tamago egg and you have the Japanese version of an English breakfast bap!
Go fish is little more than a shack, perched on False Creek fisherman's wharf, so near to the sea you could throw your chips in. A collaboration between Fisherman's Wharf and chef Gord Martin, the aim is to raise delicious awareness of local fish.
Wild with excitement, we ordered battered halibut and chips, white spot prawns in sweet and sour coconut sauce and tacones, soft tortilla cones stuffed with coriander, salsa, chipolte cream, 'Pacific Rim' coleslaw (white and red cabbage, sesame and pumpkin seeds, lightly dressed with sesame mayo) and tender albacore or just cooked oysters.
As our order arrived, so did the rain. Fleeing from the unsheltered plastic tables and chairs we took cover under a friendly car boot door. My favourite memory of the whole trip is sitting in the back of the car with my legs dangling over the edge, biting into chips so hot they burnt my fingers, peeling fat rosy prawns and munching tacones dripping with fruity Valentina hot sauce.
There was time before dinner for a quick aperitivo at Rodney's Oyster House, where I savoured a long awaited reunion with my beloved Kumamoto oysters and met some new bivalve buddies - plump, sweet Summer Breeze, the darlings of Vancouver Island, and crisp, briny Village Bays from East Toronto. These were washed down with a lemony 'Zydeco Stew Caesar', apparently Canadian for a Bloody Mary, made with clamato juice and garnished with a prawn.
If this is as appetitively exhausting to read as it is to write then I apologise!
Entering the Golden Ocean Seafood Restaurant was like walking into any decent family restaurant in Hong Kong, all chintzy decor, large round tables and Cantonese cacophony. The food was also just as good. Some say that San Francisco may have lost its edge, leaving Vancouver to be crowned the new capital of Chinese cuisine outside of Hong Kong. We ate roasted duck with glazed skin the colour of mahogany, delicate double boiled tilapia (zi4 yu3) soup, juicy pork and water chestnut patties and a quivering dish of steamed tofu, prawns and oyster mushrooms.
With one lunch left, it was hy host's noodle mecca or a plane straight back to London. On first glance, Shaolin Noodle House looks like any other shabby cheap Chinese, except all the tables are full and frequently there is a queue. Separated from diners by glass panels, Beijing chefs twirl and pull fresh noodles, plopping them into boiling water and tossing others into bowls to be dressed with soup and sauce.
To make my friend's favourite noodle dish (zha1 jiang4 shou3 la1 mein4), freshly made noodles are essential for their chewy bite. These are topped with little nuggets of chopped pork shoulder in a musky yellow bean sauce and a pile of raw cucumber shreds. You can toss the whole lot together and eat it as it is, or add lashings of black vinegar, chilli oil and/or minced garlic (if you're feeling really strong).
We could have just ordered noodles and been satisfied, but as there was a large menu and a girl with a mission, we also ate translucent hot and sour potato slivers, Chinese cabbage shreds dressed in white vinegar, cool sweet potato starch noodles with sesame paste and black vinegar and fried spring onion pancakes.
Then we left for Langdale ferry.
This is by no means a list of the best places to eat, but on a budget it was pretty good. Vancouver magazine's Restaurants section was a useful resource. It seems to offer a fairly comprehensive list of restaurants, and also gives out annual awards.