It was ten years ago that I founded Edible Paris and Les Petits Farcis, my Nice cooking classes, after an inspiring trip to Montreal. It has also been ten years since I last set foot in Canada.
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.