It was ten years ago that I hatched Edible Paris and Les Petits Farcis, my Nice cooking classes, after an inspiring week in Montreal. It has also been ten years since I last set foot in Canada. Regular trips to England, where my parents lived, and occasional cooking classes in New York were the closest I came to experiencing "my" culture (we spent summers in England when I was growing up, and I'm sure I came from Manhattan in a previous life).
Lately, though, I have been starting to feel nostalgic for home. Over the years my definition of home has taken a more flexible form, going beyond the frozen city where I grew up to any place where people think maple syrup is a food group. While living in Alberta I rarely came to neighboring British Columbia because the rocky mountains acted as a kind of wall, making it a daunting drive. Yet after barely 48 hours Vancouver feels like home, even if I'm just learning that north is where the mountains are and west is towards the ocean.
Often ranked as one of the best places in the world to live, Vancouver is in a phase of its growth that might be compared to a weedy teenager who has suddenly shot up six inches. The city has grown up since I last visited, yet it's still struggling with its new identity, wondering if it can really compare itself to places like Toronto or even nearby Seattle (the question is, why compare?). Meanwhile, its streets are filling with a cosmopolitan mix of residents from China, India, Iran or Prince Edward Island, hip coffee shops are multiplying and the food scene is becoming one of the most fascinating in the world.
I had a perfect illustration of this when I arrived a couple of nights ago and set out looking for something to eat in the neighborhood where I'll be staying until the end of the month. Commercial Drive, best known as Vancouver's soccer (football)-loving Italian district, is lined with coffee shops and restaurants of all descriptions: Salvadorean, Indian, Middle Eastern, Belgian, Ethiopian, hippie, Japanese. Most were quiet on a Sunday night and I chose the liveliest one, a sushi place called Kishimoto. As I sat down, a waitress instantly appeared with a steaming cup of tea and a smile, and I knew I had chosen well.
It turns out that Kishimoto is renowned not just for the quality of its sushi but for the stunning presentation. My out-of-date iPhone couldn't do justice to the plate that appeared, but imagine paper-thin slices of white radish formed into pinwheels punctuated with an endamame bean, decorative cones filled with rice noodles, vegetable matchsticks and purple orchids, and inside-out rolls packed with colorful ingredients. I loved the BC roll, filled with crisp salmon skin, and the ebi filled with jumbo shrimp in tempura batter and a spicy sauce. Even more amazing was the price: $13 for three rolls so generous that I could barely do them justice.
The next day my host Anna, who has lived in the area for years, pointed me to her favorite spot on The Drive, as it's affectionately known: a Mexican place called Bandidas Taqueria where the food is vegetarian or vegan. I have a soft spot for hippie food, which is nonexistent in Nice and only barely making inroads in Paris, and Bandidas reminded me of my trip to Guatemala. Homemade ginger beer came in a locally made glass mason jar (I thought this was inventive until I watched the first episode of Portlandia last night), and besides the all-day breakfast you can order all sorts of fresh and colorful combinations for your taco, enchilada or burrito.
I chose the Ronny Russel, filled with roasted yams and onions, black beans, guacamole, green salsa and purple cabbage, and topped with toasted pumpkin seeds. To be absolutely sure I wouldn't leave hungry I ordered beans and rice on the side, but this proved an unnecessary precaution. Once again, the meal cost $13 and I don't think I'm mistaken when I said that the staff genuinely wanted to make me happy, going far beyond mere efficiency.
In the past couple of days I have also explored some of the local coffee shops and the light-filled Prado seems to epitomize the local scene with its obligatory MacBooks but also a few customers reading actual books or writing on actual paper. The owner is an accomplished barista and the cappuccino is of the highest standard, which doesn't surprise me. Over the next few days I'll be seeing old and new friends who will introduce me to their local spots, and I already know that Vancouver will have no trouble living up to its new worldly status.
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So nice to hear that you are enjoying your time in Vancouver. There are so many great places to explore! Gastown in another great area with loads of interesting restaurants and bars.
I so rarely see something so glowing about the place I call home. While I have many a dream of living where you do, I do call myself lucky to call Vancouver home. The variety and quality of food in all forms is one of those reasons. We are spoiled here in so many ways. I can imagine its pretty hard to get to everywhere you want, but somehow you ll manage:)
Paris, Nice, Vancouver, and a past life in Manhattan. Can I live in your trouser cuff, or under your hat? I promise I won't make too much noise, although I might steal food off your plate.
Tami, it's possible I am in the honeymoon phase but what I see of Vancouver excites me so far! Derin, you are more than welcome to tag along with me anytime...
Rosa, You are back. Where have you been? I just returned from a trip to Spain with a brief swing through Toulouse. I had forgotten why French cooking has been and will always remain my favorite cuisine. Have fun in Vancouver and keep on writing.
Jim, what a pleasure! I did drop out of the blogosphere for a while but am back now. Great to hear that you made it back to France. A bientôt!
Wow, sorry to have missed you in Vancouver! I left there in Oct last year after 8 months to work in Thailand. I am planning another trip to Nice in the fall and hope to see you there again. A trip to Nice is not complete without a cooking session with Rosa, LOL.
Take Care and safe travels.
Hi Rosa - good to see you back writing! And that Vancoucer is treating you well. We heard it was actually sunny there yesterday too! We should tell you about all the great Costa Rican food we're eating but we seem to be having a lot of pizza. See you Wednesday - will email before then. Andy&Candy
I find the same is true when I return to Philadelphia - everything I thought it once was (namely, less interesting than Paris) is incorrect. It's a fabulous place that I miss even more now! I've always wanted to visit Vancouver so I'm looking forward to seeing more of your highlights!