Three Seasons of Fresh Vancouver Dining
By Melody Fury
Countless Vancouverites are self-proclaimed food experts. And can you blame us? Our beautiful city is situated on the Pacific Coast, which boasts of bountiful sustainable seafood. To our east lies the fertile valley where farmers harvest organic delights. The Okanagan Valley, our version of Napa Valley, presents us with award-winning wines.
The temperate climate around Vancouver means the city sees three distinct food seasons and each season yields distinct edible specialties, which means the menus around Vancouver are always changing. (Lucky for us.)
It can be difficult to keep up with all the new, seasonal menu offerings. So to make sure you do not miss a bite on your next visit, here is a three-season guide of some of our favourite local and sustainable ingredients.
Spring–Summer: Wild Spot Prawns, Line-Caught Halibut and Salmon
The spot prawn is a prized specialty that appears on the docks and in the markets in early May, noted each year by the annual Spot Prawn Festival that celebrates the arrival of the ocean harvest. They are slightly softer than tiger prawns and are significantly sweeter and more flavourful.
Spot prawns are best enjoyed raw as sashimi, with their heads deep-fried to accompany some Japanese sake. If that makes you squirm a little, they are also prepared with flair in kitchens throughout the city.
As with much of the seafood served in the city, these large and succulent prawns are often sustainably trap-caught instead of farmed. Line-caught Pacific halibut and wild salmon are also in season and are deliciously sustainable, too. Look for the Ocean Wise symbol on menus to confirm the seafood being served is sustainably caught.
Where to Find It:
Enjoy a seafood patter while overlooking the sparkling waters of False Creek at NU Restaurant
holds a spot prawn boil every Saturday throughout May and continues to serve the delicacy throughout the rest of season. Master chef Hidekazu Tojo is reknowned for his cooking, but his expertise in prawns digs deeper. He’s even had a television crew follow him on a prawn-catching expedition, proving he can both catch and cook the tasty crustaceans. Check out the great spot prawn offerings on his menu at Tojo's Restaurant
Summer–Fall: Okanagan Harvest
The stunning summer is the Okanagan Valley's time to shine. Markets burst with colourful berries and stone fruits from “Canada's fruit bowl.” The many varieties of berries alone may boggle your mind: blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, currants.
Cherries are another local favourite. They range from the deep red bing cherries to the crispy and yellow-blushed rainiers. Let's not forget the sunny peaches and nectarines that are yummy eaten whole or sliced on salads.
This summer fruit medley can tickle your sweet tooth, too. During peak season, it's hard to go wrong with desserts that feature these juicy jewels.
Chefs also gather inspiration from the farmers’ markets that take place throughout the city. Heirloom varieties of tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, peas and even squashes naturally appear on restaurant menus.
Beyond the local fresh food, the late summer and early fall offer the perfect time for a wine enthusiast to go on a harvest wine tour in the Okanagan, which is the heart of B.C.’s wine country.
Where to Find It:
Check out great cherry desserts from talented pastry chefs, such as those found at Boneta Restaurant
in Gastown and YEW restaurant + bar
. If you’re looking for innovative dishes created in the farm-to-table manner, Cru Restaurant
and Diva at the Met
are wonderful dining options -- both restaurants specialize in farmers’ market freshness. Cru also features an award-winning wine list heavy on B.C. offerings. The menu at Diva is ever changing; look for dishes including B.C. mushrooms and local hazelnuts this time of year.
Fall–Winter: Pacific Oysters and BC Sea Urchin
When the weather gets chilly, the first instinct is often to curl up to a steamy pot of meaty stew. Instead of ordering the deliciously predictable game meats from Northern and Interior B.C. such as pheasant, elk, caribou or venison, try a unique type of comfort food: oysters and sea urchins.
Internationally acclaimed Pacific oysters are harvested sustainably along B.C.'s coast and around the islands near Vancouver. You may have heard the rule to only eat oysters in months that end in "er." Some may think it's for safety factors, but oysters are fattest and tastiest when the water is bone-chillingly cold.
Enjoy freshly shucked oysters on the half-shell with some grated horseradish or a touch of lemon juice. Some popular varieties to eat raw include Chef's Creek, Effingham's, Kusshi, Pacific Rim Petites and Royal Miyagi.
If you are not ready to go raw, deep-fried oysters are also popular at fish and chips stands. Fanny Bay is a larger variety that is commonly used in this style of cooking.
For the more adventurous eater, try a dish featuring the delicacy of sea urchin. Commonly called by its Japanese name, uni, these prickly crustaceans also live along B.C.'s coast. They may look menacing but they are considered a delicacy for a reason. The creamy roe inside the spiky shell hold a complex, briney flavour and a velvety richness that can best be described as foie gras from the ocean.
During the winter months, harvesters sell both red and green sea urchins at the Steveston Fishermen's Wharf and at Granville Island. A large number of them end up in Japanese restaurants, served straight up as sashimi or on nigiri sushi. Many chefs like to show off their creativity when they get their hands on these crustaceans. This unusual ingredient is transformed into all sorts of foams, parfaits, veloutés and gellies.
Where to Find It:Blue Water Café + Raw Bar
in Yaletown has a gorgeous cocktail bar where guests can sample the best of B.C.'s oysters alongside an extensive sake and wines list. This multi-award winning restaurant also serves outstanding and imaginative dishes. Miku Restaurant
is renowned for its aburi-style (or charcoal seared) sushi. Its seasonal menu is also filled with Ocean Wise seafood options, including fresh oysters and sea urchin. For those in the mode for the more traditional comfort food options try Abigail's Party
. Its braised bison short rib sloppy Joe and Peace River lamb shank are sure to warm you up on a chilly night.
Melody Fury is a Vancouver-based freelance writer specializing in food and cocktail writing. Check out her work at GourmetFury.com. She also owns and operates Vancouver Food Tour, which guides locals and tourists alike through the city’s best food and dining destinations.