To understand Canada it’s helpful to know the country’s great rivalries. In ice hockey, it’s the Habs vs. the Leafs (rare is the Canadian who will hesitate in stating where they side). But ask which Canadian city has the best food scene and it’s clear the battle lines are being redrawn. Like in hockey, people traditionally looked to Montreal or Toronto, but the rise of the Vancouver — and British Columbia — food scene has some food critics counting down to the days until the title of Canada’s best food city officially shifts westward.
British Columbia’s food scene is climbing to new heights thanks to a generation of young chefs, a constant infusion of fresh thinking from across the Pacific and up the West Coast, an exciting wine scene and the province’s legendary fresh produce and seafood.
Vancouver is a great starting point for exploring B.C.’s food scene, from food trucks to Michelin star-level establishments.
The food trucks in particular have fueled excitement over the city’s food scene. In the past few years, the sheer number clustered in the downtown area has grown from less than a dozen to hundreds dotted around the city. The phenomenon combines the Vancouver can-do spirit and growing interest in artisanal food with an alternative route for young entrepreneurs to build a following so they can afford rent.
Now Vancouver has more trucks than almost anywhere else in the country. The World’s Greatest Food Truck Tour will lead you to the very best venues which elevate humble dishes by adding out-this-world twists. Pioneers include Mom’s Grilled Cheese, whose owner Cindy Hamilton started out catering for the Hollywood and TV productions that regularly film in Vancouver. She now serves gourmet sandwiches such as meatloaf and marinara sauce between grilled cheese, or “The Jackson 3”: sourdough with brie, Boursin and gruyere.
Another example is Japadog, whose founders Noriki and Misa Tamura arrived from Japan in 2005 and quickly located a niche by combining Western hotdogs with Asian ingredients. The signature Hot Dog is dressed with teriyaki sauce, mayo and seaweed, and makes for a winning combination, while their kurobuta sausage and terimayo sauce dog was declared, “one of the must eat items in the world” by one food writer.
Vancouver’s seafood attracts connoisseurs from around the world. The Blue Water Cafe has been a Vancouver seafood institution for years, and the fact that it remains a must-visit restaurant in a city filled with chefs jostling to make their mark is a testament to its quality. The executive chef, Frank Pabst, worked in Michelin-starred restaurants across Europe, and what he and his team can do with local yellowfin tuna, sablefish and scallops has to be tasted to be believed.
British Columbia’s Wine Region
An exciting wine scene is a must for joining the ranks of the world’s top culinary destinations, and B.C.’s wine region, the Okanagan Valley— home to more than 200 wineries— is earning an international reputation for its Shiraz, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer wines. It’s also known for its distinctly Canadian varieties like sweet icewines, made from frozen grapes at the Inniskillen estate. The Okanagan, dry, near-desert region is about a five-hour drive east of Vancouver.
Wine aficionados, or anyone who would like to learn more, can explore the heart of British Columbia’s wine scene with a winery tour of the Great Estates of the Okanagan. Over two days of wine tasting, visitors can take in five unique wineries while experiencing the region’s wild beauty. The great estates range from Canada’s most awarded and recognized winery, Jackson-Triggs, to Canada’s first Aboriginal winery, Nk’Mip (pronounced ink-a-meep), where you can taste award-winning wines while immersing yourself in Okanagan First Nations culture.
Each and every winery has its own style. At the See Ya Later ranch, you’ll likely be offered a barbecue atop Hawthorne Mountain while overlooking the Okanagan Valley. At Sumac Ridge winery, staff offer an in-depth tasting tutorial where you’ll create your own food and wine pairing. Meanwhile at Inniskillin, you’ll get to see the vines where the frost freezes and sweetens the grapes up close.
Victoria’s Food Scene
The food scene in Victoria, B.C.’s capital, embodies the province’s farm-to-table philosophy and is a hotbed for young artisans relentlessly seeking to perfect their beer, bread, coffee, or chocolate recipes. With it's tagline 'Bistro + Bar + Farm', Victoria’s 10 Acres restaurant takes freshness to a new level. The daily menu, served by fireplaces in a garden courtyard, is dictated by what’s been picked from owner Mike Murphy’s 10-acre farm, 27 kilometres north of the restaurant. You can see what’s in season on the restaurant’s website, or ask Mike himself when you arrive. Fresh, flavourful produce is almost considered a birthright amongst B.C. chefs.
Another Victoria food institution is Spinnakers Brewpub, Canada’s first brewpub, where fresh local ingredients (the spiced latte pumpkin ale is made from locally grown kabocha squash chosen for its sweetness) meets an artisan’s obsession with constant improvement. That obsession has extended beyond beer to bread, as Spinnakers also runs its own bakery. It makes its own chocolate too, and malt vinegar. Just as it jumpstarted B.C.’s craft brewing revolution, its passion for perfecting the craft of food production is now seen all over the province.