Exploring Vancouver’s Thriving Culinary Scene

Beth Kaiserman


When thinking of Vancouver, one might envision fresh outdoor markets, all-you-can-eat sushi, and comforting poutine. It’s easy to become hungry thinking about this beautiful seaside city in British Columbia, Canada.


The city has been ranked amongst the most livable in the world for over a decade. It is already a hotbed for tourism and will host the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Excitingly fresh things are happening in this city’s food scene, making it a fantastic place to explore, eat well, and relax.


A Fusion of Food and Comfort


Vikram Vij is perhaps the most visible chef to emerge from Vancouver. Vij’s is his eponymous restaurant in the South Granville district, which he has operated with his wife, Meeru Dhalwala, for almost 20 years. There is always a line outside, and it is often suggested to be the best Indian restaurant in North America. The restaurant does not accept reservations.


“I wanted everybody to feel equal and feel welcome,” Vij said.


Though maybe hard for residents of big cities to understand, Vij stuck with this method from the start because he didn’t want the process of eating at his restaurant to be rushed. Customers receive warm greetings and appetizers while they wait for a table.


“In a bank line behind the teller, you’re antsy because it’s terrible and you have nothing to look at,” he said. “When enjoying food, you enjoy somebody’s passion, somebody’s love, somebody’s feeling. We chefs put our heart and soul in it -- how could that be rushed and why should that be rushed?”


Vij and Dhalwala operate five restaurants, including Shanik in Seattle, which she launched. Vij doesn’t label his projects ‘fine dining,’ though he seeks to create the same standards of service. For people in a rush, Vij’s Railway Express roams the streets of Vancouver serving regional Indian dishes.


“Fine dining was I was taken care of by the chef, by the owner, by the person. Dining with love and passion - that’s all that matters.”


Vij uses whatever products he can from British Columbia, and his restaurant is partnered with Oceanwise, which seeks to educate consumers about sustainable seafood issues.


“Why buy frozen fish from india when there is beautiful local fish available?” he said.



Vij’s will soon move to a slightly larger spot, and the details on what Vij will do with the former space remain hush for now. His upcoming restaurant, My Shanti, will feature food from specific regions of India.


“People are traveling a lot,” he said. “People are going to India and remaining focused. People are becoming more and more savvy about [food].. I’ve always believed that when you eat cuisine you broaden horizons and build tolerance toward each other.”


Clean Living


Lindsay O’Donnell works in marketing for Whole Foods and writes a vegan food blog. She grew up in Vancouver and lives there now.


“Everyone’s a total health nut. It’s really multicultural. There’s a lot of Asian fusion everywhere and seafood and poutine and things like that. Vancouver is definitely like a yoga hippie city.”


Instead of showing off their Chanel or Nike labels, O’Donnell said people brand themselves with coconut water, a yoga mat, and knowledge of the latest food cleanse.



“People seem to be really aware about healthy food trends and the latest food news,” she said.


There’s also a big push for locally-sourced produce, she said, and legislation was just passed for using vacant land as urban farms. Sole Food utilizes empty spaces such as parking lots to serve as functioning farms.


“People are really pushing for food that’s grown right in the city,” she said.


It’s all Gravy

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s gravy, cheese curds and French Fries.


Though it originated in Quebec, poutine should be on anyone’s list when visiting Vancouver. Many restaurants and bars feature it on their menus, and even McDonald’s has their own version. But a worthwhile addition to any traveler’s menu would be visiting a place that specializes in this delicious hot dish. Luckily, it makes the perfect late-night snack.


Fritz European Fry House is a great place to satisfy this craving, especially after a night out on Granville Street, the location of Vancouver’s main entertainment district. The Mean Poutine is another spot that offers fried chicken poutine, and Belgian Fries is a local favorite that some call the best in the land.


For the adventurous poutine lover, La Belle Patate offers an all-you-can eat poutine fest for $19.50. The menu features around 30 poutine options, as well as Montreal-style smoked meat and hot dogs.


By the Sea

People who really love seafood and sushi often dream of living close to the sea. Vancouver is the realization of that dream. The fish is so fresh, making sushi a great and competitive product in the food world of Vancouver.


Sourcing local fish is “very difficult,” said Hidekazu Tojo, perhaps Vancouver’s most famous sushi chef.



“That’s why I make it creative, [using] many different types of fish and different ingredients,” he said. Local octopus is one type that most other sushi chefs don’t use, he said. Tojo has been creating sushi for nearly 50 years, and Tojo’s Restaurant has been open since 1988.  


“I’m very careful to buy the best ingredients because our customers are very ‘foodie.’ We have a lot of regular customers; they know about quality.”


Some customers come to his restaurant once or twice a week, so he tries making new dishes and changing presentation of dishes often, he said.


“It’s a very good challenge for me and a challenge for customers too.”


A Dive into the Future


The scene continues to expand, with more and more organic and superfood-focused places popping up. From classic staples like Vij’s to buzzing health food spots, Vancouver’s dining scene offers a lot to explore, and chefs continue to make it an exciting place to eat.


“There are chefs who have given extreme flavor to the dining scene in Vancouver,” Vij said. “They are like the cumin, cloves, fennel, and ginger to us in the dining scene. It’s not competitive; it’s about who’s doing great and who’s going to push the limit and try new things. It’s a fun thing.”


Author Bio:

Beth Kaiserman is the Chief Food Critic of Highbrow Magazine.

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