Granville Island Public Market- Vancouver, BC Canada

One of the best ways to discover the beautiful city of Vancouver is on bicycle.  Renting wheels for the day and riding around Stanley Park is perhaps one of the most popular activities for both locals and tourists.  Downtown Vancouver and its vicinity is big enough to house different neighborhoods each with its own unique characteristic and charm, but small enough to get acquainted with in one day.

Start at the entrance of Stanley Park and bike along the northern waterfront, past the interesting sculptures and installations on Cardero Park, the benches on Coal Harbor Road, Vancouver Convention Center, and eastbound by the railroad tracks into Chinatown.  On through the cobblestone streets of Gastown to get a glimpse of what Vancouver may have been like during the Depression, and due west into downtown to glide past upscale designer stores and hotels on Burrard Street.  Burrard will take you across the water into Kitsilano where you can stop at charming boutiques, cafes and restaurants.  Looping back upward across the Granville bridge will take you into one of the most fascinating locations in the city, Granville Island.

During the industrial boom in the early 20th century, Granville Island served as a key industrial hub for factories that produced machinery and supplies for the forest, mining, construction and shipping sectors.  Many of these factories closed down during the Great Depression, and the island was in shambles until the city embarked on a large scale project to reclaim the land and transform it into a thriving public space.  Save for a concrete factory and a drill bit manufacturer, all of the warehouses are now inhabited by artists, craftsmen, specialty vendors, theaters and the grand Public Market.

The large covered market is alive with the scents and colors of beautiful produce at the peak of their season, and friendly vendors will greet you with samples of their offerings.  Each stall showcases unique homegrown products and fine local delicacies that represent the bounties of Vancouver.  Bright orange mangoes as sweet as sap, fire red heirloom tomatoes, buttery green avocados like you’ve never tasted before, and the occasional unusual finding, like green bracken fiddleheads, all under the same roof.

Once a week Granville Island hosts a farmers market, the most established and oldest of its kind in Vancouver for the last 20 years.  Here you can find additional fresh produce straight from the field, to supplement your shopping for the week.  Whatever you can’t find there can be found back inside the regular market, like rambutan, mangosteen, litchi and longan at the exotic fruit stand.

Interspersed between produce stalls are seafood stores that sell Vancouver specialties.  Throw back some freshly shucked oysters, harvested in the local Canadian waters, or indulge in any one of their salmon delights, like salmon jerky, salmon sausage, salmon pepperoni sticks, smoked salmon slices, or double smoked sockeye salmon strips.

You can find rare herbs and spices all throughout the market, but a good place to stop is the South China Seas Trading Company, specializing in hard-to-find gourmet items from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. Fresh Thai chilis, turmeric, ginseng, kalamansi lime and jujubes will make for an interesting culinary expedition, along with the many kitchen gadgets and spices that are neatly packaged on the racks.  Not sure how to use them?  Pick up a cookbook and get inspired for an ethnic feast.

Sniff your way around the corner to ‘A la mode’, where they dish out pies and tarts by the slice or whole.  While waiting for your raspberry rhubarb pie to ring up, peruse the jars of papaya marmalade, red onion relish, cranberry chutney and sweet pear mustard at the stall next door, and envision all of the delicious ways in which to use them.  Take your pie outside with your newspaper, and enjoy your plate of heaven under the bright blue sky while watching boats sail by against the backdrop of beautiful condominiums and bridges.  At times they’ll have live music in the courtyard, or colorful art displays from the local galleries to peak your interest.

If the Vancouver chill sweeps in, run back inside and cozy up to the counter of the Granville Island Tea Company, where large black tins of teas line the walls and relaxed customers sip warm Darjeeling on the barstools by the walkway.  The menu here reads like an encyclopedia of teas, with rare leaves like organic gyokuro and organic orchid Oolong, and enticing flavored brews like Amaretto rooibos.

Across the way is Edible British Columbia, a specialty gourmet store where I spent an hour and a good amount of Canadian dollars on unique sugars and salts.  Any foodie will go berzerk in this beautiful candy store chocked full of gourmet surprises.  Wild smoked scallops, ginger creamed honey, Turkish fig and walnut wine jam, bing cherry vinegar and maple syrup with piment d’Espellette- amazing.  Not to mention their wonderful selection of salts, like the dark forest green Evergreen salt, bright pink BC spot prawn salt, lemon infused sea salt, maroon colored cabernet sauvignon salt, bacon salt and maple leaf salt.

If you didn’t already come to the market with a grocery list and an agenda, walking through the market will certainly give you inspirations for meals to enjoy for the next month.  One such Italian pasta stand will make it easy for you to build the foundations for dinner that evening with offerings like smoked gouda sachetti, yam gnocchi, black pepper pappardelle, herb chicken agnolotti and spinach linguine.  Perhaps throw in some grilled spicy sausages with sun dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, ricotta cheese and a few sprigs of mint, or pancetta with caramelized onions in a cream sauce.  The excitement of so many potential gourmet meals waiting to happen will overwhelm you here at Granville Island market.

Temptation from patisseries, boulangeries and confectioneries call out from all corners of this Vancouver market, but if you’re like me your nose will lead you straight to this final destination, the Oyama Sausage Company.  Here I spent about half an hour pressing my face up against glass cases of hams, sausages, bacons, terrines and pâtés that are mostly made by hand at this family owned business.  It was from here that the Salt Tasting Room got some of their wonderful charcuterie, like the sublime cured beef tongue that I had with Guinness mustard.

Blood and tongue sausage, British pork pies, garlic headcheese, pheasant terrine, and creamy mountain mushroom and pork pâté.  Smoked pancetta, boudin noir, double smoked bacon, duck prosciutto, Scottish black pudding and Ukrainian ham sausage.  Endless rows and columns of links like red pepper basil bison, lemongrass chicken, Lebanese lamb, chorizo merida and Moroccan merguez.  Oh my, oh my, oh my.

Granville Island is a true urban oasis, surrounded on all sides by the crisp cool waters of Canada, and a vibrant center for arts and culture.  The public market is open 7 days a week, until 7pm every day.  This is the epicenter of every Vancouverite’s daily nutrition, the heart through which rich oxygenated blood pumps forth into the kitchens of restaurants and households.  Easily accessed on foot, by bike, by car or better yet by Aquabus ferries, a visit to Granville Island market will make you wish you were a native Vancouverite.

‘If Granville Island is the king of Vancouver destinations, then the Public Market is the jewel in the Island’s crown’ – Granville Island website.


Dim sum at Kirin Restaurant- Vancouver, BC Canada

Dim sum is one of the most beautiful and delicious culinary traditions that brings people together, turning an otherwise ordinary Sunday morning into an extraordinary magical weekend.  The Cantonese tradition of dim sum began in southern China as yum cha 飲茶, which means to ‘drink tea’, with road side tea houses offering a relaxing cup of tea for weary travelers on the ancient Silk Road.  Over the centuries, it has evolved from a quiet moment of rest and refuge into a fast-paced fun morning of crowds, conversations and consumption.  The high level of energy is everywhere, in the hoards of hungry patrons, in the numbers shouted through the microphone, in the trolleys that weave through the dining hall and in the speed of the multi-tasking waiters who replenish your teapot.

Outside of Hong Kong, one of the best cities to enjoy dim sum is Vancouver, which boasts one of the world’s largest Chinese populations per capita.  The city offers an amazing diversity of Chinese cuisine, from Szechuan to Taiwanese to Hunan, but due to the predominantly Cantonese population, Cantonese cuisine reigns supreme.  Most of these restaurants are south of Vancouver in the heart of Richmond, a large Chinese community, but we found a precious gem called Kirin Restaurant in the heart of downtown Vancouver.

Open since 1987, Kirin has become a successful chain with 4 other locations around the city. Unlike traditional dim sum restaurants, the atmosphere at Kirin is more tranquil, reflecting the tea drinking yum cha origins of the ritual.  There are no ear piercing microphone announcements of your waiting list number, there is ample space between each table, and there are no trolleys charging your way.  The absence of trolleys definitely take away from the dim sum experience, but it’s reassuring to know that each dish is made fresh to order.

Large steamed prawn and chive dumplings were meaty, plump and delicious. The benefits of made-to-order were clearly evident in the doughy dumpling skins made from rice flour, which would normally fall apart after being in the trolleys all morning.

Dumplings, or gao, are perhaps the most beloved of all dim sum plates.  Shrimp har gau made with whole shrimp wrapped in translucent skin and cylindrical siu mai stuffed with pork are standard players.  We opted for the steamed prawn, scallop and sweet corn dumplings, big purses of savory delight.

Though originally Shanghainese, steamed pork soup dumplings, or xiao long bao, have become regulars on dim sum menus. The art of making the perfect xiao long bao is a complex one, but the version at Kirin, with the perfect ratio of juice to pork, was one which was worthy of satisfying any critic.

Steamed pork spareribs in XO spicy sauce were tender, succulent and melt-in-your-mouth perfect.

Steamed preserved meat in Chinese radish pudding made with dried shrimp and shredded preserved pork had a comforting and delicate flavor.

Northern Chinese style jiaozi dumplings (steamed and then pan-fried) surprised us all when we bit into these giant packages of savory meat and hot juice squirted across the table.   Without a doubt the star player of the morning, these dumplings were incredibly delicious.

Dim sum is not complete without a hefty serving of chicken feet, or phoenix talons (鳳爪 fung zao) deep fried to puff them up, then boiled, marinated in black bean sauce and steamed.  These lovely flavorful limbs were served on a bed of steamed pork tripe.

Beef tendon braised in spicy sauce jiggled with collagenous bounce and succulent flavor.

Shark fin dumpling in a wonderful bowl of consommé was the perfect dish to complete the savory meal.

Kirin’s mango pudding with condensed milk had generous cubes of sweet mango.

Warm black sesame rice balls topped with crushed peanuts and sugar oozed with molten sweet richness wrapped inside a pillow of soft doughy goodness.

I love the organized chaos of dim sum- the quick pour of hot tea, the rapid-fire ordering of food, the piping hot bamboo steamers that descend onto the table like the dramatic opening act of an opera, the shuffling of dumplings and chicken feet across plates, the swift distribution of condiments along the circumference of the table, the laughter and conversation that escalate as the feast reaches its climax.  Every person, like a worker ant, becomes a team player in tackling the joyous banquet, and by the end of the carnage every morsel of meat has been cleaned and every dish has been emptied- only bones and satisfying sighs remain.  The success of the culinary celebration can be seen on the tablecloth in the brown splatters of XO sauce, loose black beans that slipped out of a careless chopstick grip, bright red chili oil splotches and a spilt tea stain slowly spreading across the table, still warm.  Ah, the beauty of dim sum.

Kirin Restaurant

102-1166 Alberni Street
Vancouver, BC V6E 3Z3, Canada
(604) 682-8833

Random trivia:  Did you know that the name XO sauce comes from fine XO (extra-old) cognac?  This cognac, which represents high quality, prestige and luxury, is especially popular in Hong Kong.

Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar- Vancouver, BC Canada

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do,” the famous saying goes, conveying the notion that visitors should respect and understand other cultures by following local customs and traditions, but when I travel, my motto is “When in Rome, eat as the Romans do.”  One of the best ways to enjoy travel is to indulge in local delicacies, regional specialties and seasonal foods- a trip to Japan is not complete without sushi, a stroll through Paris is meaningless without freshly baked buttery breads, Italy is not the same without a real homemade pasta dish, and delectable tapas washed down with vino tinto is a must in Spain.  On a recent trip to Vancouver in June, I was determined to have BC (British Columbia) spot prawns, which were at the peak of their harvest season, not to mention Canadian salmon, fresh oysters and other locally caught seafood.

There are many seafood establishments in Vancouver, given its obvious geographical location, but we opted for a casual night out at Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar in the trendy neighborhood of Yaletown.  Blue Water Cafe is housed in an old warehouse with red brick and wooden beam construction on Hamilton Street, a brick-paved sidewalk lined with hip boutiques, galleries and restaurants in what used to be Vancouver’s garment district.  Heading the kitchens of Blue Water cafe since 2003 is Executive Chef Frank Pabst, who has trained at Michelin-star rated restaurants in Germany and France, and sushi master Yoshi Tabo who tends to the raw bar.  Together they serve exceptional fresh seafood fare using wild and sustainable harvest seafood at this restaurant that is noted for being a founding member of the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program.

Fresh seafood is the clear attraction in this beautiful restaurant where diners come for the casual atmosphere and exceptional service in the large dining room decked out in rustic maritime decor.  Many were indulging in the Blue Water Cafe Seafood Tower, a three-tiered ocean extravaganza with oysters, prawns, tuna, clams, mussels, ceviche, smoked salmon, lobster and sushi rolls, paired with local BC Rieslings and Chardonnays, while others snuggled up to the sushi bar for sashimi and rolls.  We were lucky enough to snag the last serving of fresh BC spot prawns, served raw with soy sauce and wasabi.  These local crustaceans were saturated with sweetness and so plump that they had a nice sharp crunch on the bite.

My favorite way to enjoy prawn heads is a simple deep fry with a generous squeeze of citrus.  These BC spot prawns, which were swimming around in the tank until the minute before preparation, were some of the best that I’ve ever had, full of savory green tomalley and bright orange eggs that imparted an indescribable umami to each bite.  BC spot prawn harvest season begins in May and only lasts for 8 weeks, so we were extremely lucky in timing our trip to overlap with this season.  We missed the annual BC spot prawn festival which is held at False Creek Fisherman’s Wharf, and didn’t get to sample all of the spot prawn specialty dishes at famed local restaurants like Vij’s and C Restaurant, but this simple raw preparation of fresh prawns at Blue Water Cafe was enough to satisfy my cravings.

I was ecstatic to see a whole page dedicated to oysters on their menu, with selections heavily weighted on local BC bivalves and a few from Washington state and the East Coast.  Of course, we ordered a BC platter, starting with the small plump Kusshi oysters from Cortes Island with a smooth and soft buttery texture.  Going from smallest to largest, the next were the Black Pearls from Quadra Island with a light and refreshing lettuce finish.  The Effingham Inlets from Barkley Sound, plump oysters in long blond shells, had a stronger flavor with a briny finish.  Beach Angels from Read Island were my favorite with its plump fatty flesh and pleasant briny finish.  Marina’s Top Drawer from Cortes Island had a flatter shallow shell with sweet fruity flesh while Fanny Bays from Nanaimo Bay, usually my favorite type of oyster, had a disappointingly muddy taste.

Dungeness crab salad, shrimp cocktail, baked scallops, or smoked sockeye salmon terrine?  All of the seafood appetizers sounded wonderful, but we went with the Albacore tuna carpaccio, a spice crusted thinly sliced delicately flavored carpaccio presented as a Niçoise salad.  Sweet smokey roasted red peppers, crunchy haricot verts, sliced eggs, crunchy cucumbers, tart radish slices, salty kalamata olives and microgreens all dressed in a wonderful anchovy vinaigrette were the perfect complement to the locally caught white tuna.

All of their seafood entrees sounded divine, like the white sturgeon with chioggia beets, miso sake glazed sablefish and Arctic char with braised leeks and fennel.  Our server was enthusiastic about the special of the day, grilled wild salmon with romesco sauce and broccolini served on a bed of basmati rice, chorizo, squid and shellfish beurre blanc saffron sauce, and so were we.  There’s really nothing better than locally caught wild proteins prepared with simple ingredients that enhance their natural inherent flavors.

A trio of sorbets- an incredibly tart cassis, a sweet guava and a creamy banana- garnished with berries and sliced star fruit ended our wonderful seafood dinner at Bluewater Cafe.

There are an infinite number of seafood establishments in Vancouver that offer the local ocean’s bounty, from oyster shacks and Chinese dim sum carts, to sushi bars and harbor view fine dining restaurants.  With seafood so fresh and flavorful, you almost can’t go wrong at any seafood joint, but the Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar is a true gem where you can savor both Western and Eastern preparations of fish, crustaceans and bivalves in one sitting.  A leisurely after-dinner stroll along the brick-paved streets of Yaletown for people watching and window shopping is the perfect way to walk off a full and content belly.

Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar

1095 Hamilton Street
Vancouver, BC V6B 5T4, Canada
(604) 688-8078

Random trivia: Did you know that spot prawns are protandric hermaphrodites, born as and spending their first 2-3 years of life as males, then changing into females to lay eggs at the end of their life cycle?

Chambar – Vancouver, BC Canada

Civilized debauchery‘ is the catchphrase at Chambar, a sexy restaurant in Vancouver’s Gastown that has been going strong for the last 6 years, and for well deserved reasons.  Chef and owner Nico Schuermans and his wife Kari, who manages the front of house, have created a beautiful setting where diners can enjoy superb Belgian food and scrumptious Belgian ales.  Chef Schuermans was born in Rwanda, Africa, after which he moved back to his native Belgium with his family.  There, after graduating from culinary school, he worked at several Michelin starred restaurants like Comme Chez Soi, and subsequently moved around the world to London, Puerto Rico and Australia to further his culinary career.

It didn’t take a lot of convincing for me to put Chambar on my list of restaurants to visit on a recent trip to Vancouver, as it kept coming up on my searches with excellent reviews.  Exceptional Belgian food with hints of North African influences, a breathtaking cocktail and Belgian beer selection, superb pastries from a rising pastry chef named Eleanor Chow, an inviting dining room and bar area dimly lit by glowing red lamps, attentive service, rotating modern art to adorn the brick exposed walls and a hip Vancouver crowd jiving to sensuous jazz music couldn’t paint a more perfect picture for a Saturday night in the city.  The large L-shaped restaurant with a lounge area in the front was completely packed with the beautiful people of Vancouver dining in this seductive and gorgeous ambiance. There was no pretentiousness though, from the moment we were warmly greeted by the house staff to the attentive and courteous service that we received all throughout the evening.

Chambar is not just a pretty restaurant with good food- they are 100% committed to reducing environmental impact by supporting local suppliers in sourcing regional seasonal ingredients, using Oceanwise-certified sustainable seafood, cleaning and reusing Chambar Ale bottles, and participating in recycling programs with food waste going to community garden composts.  They strive to be a carbon neutral restaurant by using all natural environmentally friendly cleaning products, using biodegradable corn products and cardboard in lieu of plastic for takeout containers and consistently utilizing post consumer recycled paper for menus, cocktail napkins and stationary.

Chambar’s Belgian Beer menu is quite impressive, offering lagers, witbiers, blonde ales, trappistes, lambics and dark ales.  I chose Triple Karmeliet, a smooth and robust blond ale with a sweet fruity finish, that went wonderfully with a starter of grilled green asparagus with sautéed morels, black peppercorns & truffled mayonnaise and crispy parmesan tuiles.  The grilled asparagus had an amazing fresh flavor, accented by the wonderful waft of truffle aroma that enveloped the soft chunks of morel mushrooms.

All of their Les Petit Plats sounded enticing, like seared scallops with smoked Kurobuta pork cheek, a bison carpaccio with truffles and a spiced foie gras terrine with port reduction, but we opted for a plate called ‘Les Tapas’ which came with 3 dishes, each filled with delicious surf and turf offerings.

Smoked sardines with basil, sun dried tomatoes and shaved red onions were tossed in a light vinaigrette that added the perfect amount of acidity to the dish.

My favorite was the pan seared shrimp and calamari tapas with aji vinaigrette, cubed red, yellow and green peppers and caraway seeds. The squid was perfectly cooked to a tender consistency, melting under the luscious aioli as the crunchy peppers imparted a delightful juicy textural contrast.

Generous meaty chunks of king oyster mushrooms were sautéed with smokey chorizo and garlic and garnished with a heap of sunflower sprouts.

La brochette d’autruche, grilled ostrich skewers served with pearl onions pickled in sweet balsamic glaze, marinated prunes, five-herb pesto, capers, pine nuts, sunflower sprouts and crisp potato chips was fantastic.  The tender morsels of ostrich tasted like lean beef and paired superbly with the vincotto sauce and all of the condiments that added differing degrees of texture and acidity to enhance the flavors of the meat.

Les grosses pièces offerings like the BC spot prawn taster, slow roasted pork tenderloin, spice rubbed duck breast and braised lamb shank with figs and honey all sounded tasty, but we decided on the entrecôte grillée d’Argentine, a grilled AAA ribeye steak with chimichurri sauce, charred tomatoes, chorizo, baby arugula, watercress and crispy polenta.  The ribeye was grilled to a perfect medium rare, so tender that we barely needed to use our knives to cut through the fatty piece of delicious meat.  This was one good steak.

Being a Belgian restaurant, the house specialty is moules frites, and they offer 3 types of mussels- Coquotte with white wine cream, smoked bacon lardons and spring onions, Vin Blanc with white wine butter, braised celery and leeks, and the Congolaise which we ordered, with tomato coconut cream, smoked chile, lime and fresh cilantro.  A huge deep pot of mussels came to our table, piled high with juicy briny mussels that tasted amazing with the spicy coconut sauce.

Robert Stelmachuk, Chambar’s sommelier who used to work at Le Crocodile, was particularly helpful and kind to us that evening, and showed us around the restaurant, explaining its history and food with great enthusiasm.  He arranged a dessert tasting menu for us, an incredible array of artistic desserts created by its resident superstar pastry chef, Eleanor Chow.  I had already heard about her desserts from my server at Bluewater Cafe who gushed about her work.  She started our dessert course with an amazing passion fruit parfait, made with lime sponge cake, passion fruit curd, passion fruit seeds, a smooth and silky passion fruit ice cream and crispy tuile on top.  This slightly tart and refreshing dessert was the one that made me swoon with ecstasy.

A light orange vanilla sorbet reminded me of Orange Julius, a drink that I adored as a child, and the vanilla custard cream, garnished with thin pear slices, was one of the most flavorful and decadent custards that I have ever had the pleasure of devouring.  It was a straightforward custard made with simple basic ingredients, yet somehow this pastry chef managed to take it to another level.

Crispy and light mille-feuille with cherry compote and chocolate ganache mousse were excellent as well.

We were so stuffed by the end of our meal that we got the homemade chocolates brownies and white chocolate truffles to go. Needless to say, it was gone before bedtime.

As if Chambar’s amazing food, stellar service and magnificent restaurant wasn’t already enough to keep us happy, Nico Schuermans spreads his love in so many other fruitful ways for us to engage in ‘civilized debauchery’.  Chef Schuermans’ delicious Belgian fare can also be enjoyed at the casual Cafe Medina next door along with Eleanor Chow’s Belgian waffles with accompaniments of compotes, caramels and chocolate sauces that are especially popular for weekend brunch.   In addition, both chefs teach their tricks of the trade at The Dirty Apron Cooking School, another project that they are involved with in the Gastown district of Vancouver.  Here you can learn snout to tail butchering, sinful desserts that come with free panties and even an opportunity to meet your future spouse over fig compote in any of their singles cooking classes.

Chambar Restaurant

562 Beatty Street
Vancouver, BC V6B 2L3, Canada
(604) 879-7119

Cafe Medina

The Dirty Apron Cooking School

Random trivia:  Did you know that most birds do not have a copulatory organ, but the ostrich does?  In fact, the male ostrich has a retractable one that can measure up to 8 inches long.  Civilized….debauchery….?

Salt Tasting Room- Vancouver, BC Canada

A cured meats restaurant in Gastown district with a street address named Blood Alley sounds suspicious, if not a bit scary, doesn’t it?  The hunt for Salt Tasting room, a charcuterie, cheese and wine restaurant in downtown Vancouver was in fact a tad hairy.  The 19th century architecture and heritage buildings that line the cobblestone streets of Gastown have a retained historic charm and old world spirit, but one step into a back alley or a dark street corner and you can experience skid row as Vancouverites saw it during the Depression.  Salt Tasting Kitchen, which opened in the summer of 2006, is located in an unmarked alley between Water Street and Cordova Street.  At first we circled round and around the area on bicycle, asking locals if they knew of Blood Alley, only to get a confused ‘no’.  As we walked our bicycles down the alley, winding through homeless people and drug addicts, we saw the majestic grey flag with a salt shaker motif hanging over the front door.  We had finally found it- but before entering the restaurant, we had to go back out the alley to find a safer place to park our rental bikes.

This haunting street, full of haunted street residents, used to be lined with butcher shops, hence the name Blood Alley for the bloody mess that would ensue after a day of animal butchering.  In addition, Blood Alley was a location for public executions in the late 19th century.  A most interesting place to serve sliced salami, trimmed beef tongue and shaved prosciutto; yet the discretely located Salt Tasting Room successfully creates a safe haven for foodies to congregate.

Salt Tasting Room specializes in artisanal cheeses, small-batch cured meats and a vast selection of wines, sherries, ports, beers and spirits which go through a constant rotation.  They offer wines from Europe, Australia, Argentina and the US, but most of their line up celebrates local harvests from British Columbia, like Okanagan Falls and Similkameen Valley.  Any of their liquids can be enjoyed by the glass or bottle, and one can also sample a wider variety through their 2 ounce tasters and tasting flights.

The entire menu consists of cheeses, charcuterie and condiments that are written on the large chalkboard wall in the rear of the restaurant.  The decor is simple, just a few tables and chairs aside from the large communal wooden table by the entrance in a brick exposed wall space, as the emphasis is on food and wine.  Diners assemble a Tasting Plate by choosing cheeses, meats and condiments, which are supplemented by crackers and bread.  It’s a simple and straightforward way of dining, which is actually refreshing in this day and age of complex menu items that come with encyclopedic descriptions.

Many of the charcuterie items come from local producers with whom Salt Tasting Room has a close relationship, and cheeses come through select cheesemongers all over the world.  On the day that we visited, the 10 cheeses included a Red Leicester from the UK, a French Comte and a local BC cheese called Happy Days.  The cured meats ranged from a fennel salami from Moccia’s, Sec Maison from Oyama Sausage Co., and hot capicollo from JN & Z.  Needless to say, with such a wide selection of delicacies, we chose our cheese and cured meats and entrusted our server to pair them with the appropriate condiments.

Our Tyrolean speck, a salt-cured and cold smoked pork charcuterie, tasted like refined and slightly more fatty prosciutto.  I loved that it was sliced paper thin, which gave off more smokey perfumes to aerate my nasal passages.  It was paired with a nutty and sweet Spanish fig & walnut bread.

Cured beef tongue from Oyama Sausage Co. was just what the doctor ordered.  With a hint of smokiness in the background, these luscious cuts of fatty and tender tongue practically melted in my tongue, complemented with a hit of locally produced grainy Guinness mustard.

A classic and most flavorful Italian Toscano salami with fig from Moccia’s was paired with briny meaty Basque olives, a perfect companion to enjoy with my glass of Alvear’s CB brand of Fino Jerez sherry from Spain.

We wanted to try a local British Columbian cheese, and our server gushed about the Ash Camembert.  It was paired beautifully with the honey-like fruity sweetness of Spanish quince paste.

Customizing your own Tasting Platter and pairing it with wines is the general rule at Salt Tasting Kitchen, but diners who may feel incomplete without a little more grub can order salads, soups, grilled sandwiches (for lunchtime only) and desserts.  Chef Lee Humphries of The Irish Heather, a local gastropub, also provides handmade terrines and pâtés.

Salt Tasting Room has a large room in their basement called The Salt Cellar which houses a long communal table that opens to the public on Friday and Saturday nights.  Otherwise, it’s used for private functions, parties and wine tastings sponsored by local wine producers.  We got to take a quick tour of The Salt Cellar, a beautiful industrial space that also houses their meat curing room, encased by clear glass on all 4 sides to entice hungry and tipsy diners.  What a perfect space to gather friends for a dinner party, drinking wine and sampling cheeses while enjoying an unobstructed view of hanging salamis and pork legs.

Salt Tasting Room is open every day from noon till midnight, and an ideal place for quick nibbles, mid afternoon booze or late night eats.  With cheeses and charcuterie that change daily, you will never have the same plate of food here, and every experience will be a new journey into gourmet heaven.  Dare to take the adventurous and shady walk down Blood Alley to find this gorgeous restaurant where they’ll reserve your space with a name tag and a not-so-bloody piggy bank to welcome your arrival.

Salt Tasting Room

45 Blood Alley Square
Vancouver, BC V6B 0C4, Canada
(604) 633-1912

Open daily noon till midnight

Random trivia: Did you know that ancient texts and historians suggest that Eve’s fruit of temptation in the Garden of Eden may have been a quince, rather than an apple?

Japa Dog- Vancouver, BC Canada

“Travel north.  It will bring you good luck,” my feng-shui studying friend told me one day.  And with that, my trip to Vancouver, Canada was planned on a whim.  Despite having traveled all over the world from Sierra Leone to Laos, and Cuba to the Canary Islands, I had never set foot in Canada.  I suppose it’s the comfort of knowing that I could go any day, given the proximity to the US- the same excuse of ‘local laziness syndrome’ that applies to trips within the US that I haven’t been able to materialize yet.  With the excitement of the Winter Olympics this year, it seemed only natural to travel way north past Napa, Portland and Seattle up to Vancouver to seek good luck, good fortune and of course good food.  Once my plane ticket and accomodations were secured I started researching Vancouver restaurants online, and was quite surprised to find the most buzz not in a 5 star hotel restaurant or in a harbor-view seafood dining establishment, but in a street food cart called Japa Dog.

Japa Dog, a street vendor specializing in hot dogs reinterpreted with Japanese flavors, was started by Noriki Tamura who moved to Vancouver in 2005.  Combining traditional comfort food with haute ingredients and giving it a fresh new twist seems to be the trend these days- maple bacon cupcakes, squash blossom & burratta pizza, kimchi kalbi tacos and black truffle & foie gras burgers.  Who isn’t reinventing our beloved staples?  Spruced up hot dogs aren’t a new concept either.  Hot Doug’s in Chicago is probably the first place that comes to mind for their innovative ingredients and flavor combinations.  Their signature foie gras dog had to be removed from the menu for obvious reasons, but they’re still an epic establishment.   Los Angeles has its share of gourmet wiener joints too.  Let’s Be Frank tops their grass-fed beef dogs with a marvelous Indian pickled pepper relish, Downtown Dogs serves a beef dog with avocado, arugula, basil aioli, tomatoes and fried onions,  Dogzilla demonstrates Japanese flair with their yakisoba and furikake dogs, and Wurstküche offers exotic dogs such as buffalo, alligator, duck, and my favorite rattlesnake and rabbit with jalapeño .

Japa Dog has several locations, and I was happy to discover that there was one practically outside of my hotel lobby on the corner of Burrard and Smithe.  The Burrard strip, lined with boutiques, hotels, tall office buildings, restaurants and the occasional historical church has an energetic Manhattan vibe.  Buses and yellow taxis whiz through the city grid as pedestrians with the haste and determination of a New Yorker scurry by.  It’s the perfect backdrop for a hot dog stand, only this one has happy and energetic Japanese staff in bright orange uniform ready to shower you with plenty of pep.  It was after the lunch rush on a weekday, but there was still a long line of tourists and locals waiting for their Japanese dogs.  I can’t imagine the craziness that these street corners experienced during the Olympics- news reports say that Japa Dog was one of the most popular pit stops for international visitors who waited for up to an hour in the winter chill for their hot dogs.

Japa Dog offers standard dogs such as all-beef, Kobe beef , turkey, kurobuta pork, jalapeño & cheese, bratwurst and veggie, but these are not what attract the masses. It’s the unique themed dogs, dressed up with classic Japanese ingredients like daikon radish and dried seaweed, that diners adore.  In true Japanese spirit, Japa Dog carts even sell dagashi, old-fashioned snacks and candies that evoke a strong sense of nostalgia for people like myself who grew up in Japan.

The Japa Dog staff recommended the Terimayo dog, the most popular selling item.  An all-beef dog tucked in a soft steamed sesame bun with teriyaki sauce, drizzles of sweet Japanese mayonnaise, fried onion and dried nori.  Japa Dog’s slit sausages are first boiled then lightly grilled to order, giving them a nice snappy crunch with a juicy moist interior.  Due to the immense popularity of the Terimayo concept, all of their other dogs can be made Terimayo style.

My favorite was hands down the Oroshi dog, a bratwurst topped with generous heaps of tangy grated daikon radish, special soy sauce and chopped green onions.  The light flavor of the bratwurst with the refreshing bitterness of the oroshi daikon was amazing.  Oroshi daikon is a staple in Japanese cuisine, adding texture and flavor to grilled fish, shabu-shabu, tofu and minced meat patties, but who knew that it could liven up a hot dog so perfectly?

With room only for one more dog, I skipped the Okonomi dog made with kurobuta pork sausage, okonomi-yaki sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, fried cabbage and shaved bonito flakes, and instead went for the Ume dog.  The light flavors of the oroshi dog made me want something even more refreshing.  Ume is short for umeboshi, salty and sour pickled plums, and it was used to garnish a bratwurst with thinly shaved onions.  I was hoping for a prominent ume flavor, one so strong and sour that it would make me pucker my lips and squeeze my eyes shut, but it was rather mild, possibly tempered for non-Japanese palates.

Other unique wieners at Japa Dog include the Edamame dog, a bratwurst impregnanted with whole green edamame beans, and a Kurogoma kimchi dog made with a turkey smokie with toppings of black sesame and kimchi.  Research revealed a Misomayo dog with Japanese mayonnaise and miso paste, but perhaps it’s been buried in the Japa Dog vault as I didn’t see it at any of the current carts.

Eating a juicy hot dog on the busy street corners of an urban jungle makes for a satisfying meal, but enjoying a delicious gourmet dog with Japanese flavor and flair is a special experience.  Vancouver’s got a good thing going in Japa Dog, which is why the owner has his eye on expanding to the US.  What better place to start than New York, where he plans to open a Japan Dog by the end of the year.  City dwellers will undoubtedly take to these loveable trendy wieners that have already gotten a stamp of approval by Anthony Bourdain in the Vancouver episode of No Reservations.

Japa Dog

available at various street corners in Vancouver, BC Canada

Random trivia: Did you know that the average hot dog is consumed in 6 bites?

“The noblest of all dogs is the hot dog- it feeds the hand that bites it.”  -Lawrence J. Peter